The Wives of George IV: The Secret Bride & The Scorned Princess
Pen & Sword History (2021)
Hardback, 216 pages, 32 black and white illustrations
Author Catherine Curzon once again reaches back into Georgian history to present her readers with a fresh and witty take on two of the era’s most well-known women, Maria Fitzherbert and Princess Caroline of Brunswick. While they shared a husband in George IV, the two women never met, but each of their names are familiar to Georgian and Regency history buffs. However, as usual for Curzon, the subjects have been given a new spin. Incorporating new material and a sympathetically frank examination of the lives of both, Curzon provides a fresh perspective on both ladies, on the politics of the era and on the impact of their relationships with George IV on both themselves and on history.
The Catholic, twice widowed Mrs. Fitzherbert could never have legally married George IV and no one knew this better than Maria herself. Yet the Prince Regent finally wore her down with persistence, tantrums, and suicide threats until at last she relented, and a highly clandestine marriage was arranged. The union was later sanction by the church in Rome but remained invalid in England. Regardless, Maria was safe in the knowledge that she was George IV’s true wife, a fact she never lost sight of, despite her husband’s fickle nature and mounting debts, which led him into marriage with his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, all neatly arranged by his father, King George III. Subsequent mistresses would come and go, he and Maria would spend decades apart, but in the end, George IV made clear that Maria was his one true love. The Duke of Wellington, his executor, made certain that his final wish was granted – the King was buried with a miniature of Maria around his neck.
If the Prince Regent fell in love with Maria at first sight, it is also true that he loathed his official wife, Princess Caroline, upon first glance. The unsophisticated, tell-it-like-it-is, often bawdy Caroline somehow managed to conceive an heir in the first few days following their wedding, despite the Prince Regent’s having shown up to the ceremony in a state some lengths beyond inebriated. This was good luck on both sides, as the heir insured that they never had to lay, or live, together again. Taking up separate residences soon after the birth of their daughter, Princess Charlotte, the couple would ever after live apart. One constant between the pair was their loathing for each other and the merry dance they set the ministers and Lords upon in their continuing efforts to out-maneuver the other.
George IV’s treatment of Maria Fitzherbert was shocking and his loathing for Caroline evident to all. Their stories have already been well documented, yet Curzon’s fair assessment of the facts and skillful treatment of their early lives, their temperaments and their loves shine a new light on both women and gives her readers another ‘keeper’ for their shelves.
Kristine Hughes Patrone