Before the mid-19th century, love was seldom even a consideration in royal marriages. Matches were dynastic ones, arranged to strengthen or secure political allegiances with other nations, or bring funds to the country through the bride’s dowry. However, even with these precedents, the marriage between George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick is spectacularly far from a love match.
Legendarily, his first words on seeing his own mail-order bride, Caroline of Brunswick, for the first time were ‘Harris, I am not well; pray get me a glass of brandy’. Her response was to complain that ‘he wasn’t so fat in his portrait’.
The ceremony and wedding night
Married on 8 April 1795, George was too drunk to walk up the aisle unaided, appeared to attempt an escape during the service, mumbled his vows – and sobbed when no objections were raised. The wedding night was similarly disastrous – he spent much of it unconscious in the fire grate on the opposite side of the room from his new wife. Nonetheless, the marital bed was occupied at least once, but the couple formally separated after the birth of their child, Princess Charlotte, nine months later in 1796.
Their marriage was – very publicly and scandalously – awful: amongst many other indignities, he forbade her from attending his Coronation in 1821 and tried to introduce a new bill (the Pains and Penalties Bill) in order to divorce her. The truth was that he had already secretly married his love, Maria Fitzherbert on 15 December 1785 at her house in Park Street, Mayfair. This wedding was, however, illegal: his father George III had not given his consent and Maria was Catholic, twice widowed and a commoner. He had only agreed to marry his cousin Caroline on Parliament’s promise to clear his enormous debts, nearly £50 million in today’s money.