The prize for the worst Royal Wedding ever could easily go to the man who would become George IV. He was Prince of Wales at the time and later Regent. George married his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, in 1795. It was not a love match. George expected his massive debts to be cleared by Parliament in return for a legitimate marriage and heir. The whole thing was doomed from the start.
George was a flirt and a philanderer. He’d previously ‘married’ an older widow called Maria Fitzherbert in a bizarre ceremony without his father’s permission. Mrs Fitzherbert was a Catholic, so the marriage could never have been legally recognised.
George and Caroline’s first meeting set the inauspicious tone for a union that ended with separation within months. Unlike Prince William admiring Kate Middleton’s beauty on the catwalk at St Andrew’s University, George was appalled by his future bride when he first saw her in the flesh.
Introduced at St James’s Palace on April 5th 1795, he managed to embrace her briefly and then, saying not a word, retreated to his private apartments. He asked a courtier in despair: “I am not well; pray get me a glass of brandy.” Caroline was equally unimpressed by her fiancé. She thought him very fat and not at all like his portrait.
The Prince’s love of drink was also evident three days later at the Royal Wedding. He told his brother William (the Duke of Clarence and later William IV), that Mrs Fitzherbert “is the only woman I shall ever love” as he went to the ceremony. Witnesses say he was clearly drunk at the wedding and, quite literally, supported by the Dukes of Bedford and Roxburghe as he took his vows. At one point, George rose confused during prayers to leave.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend John Moore, presided and he made his own concerns about the marriage implicitly clear as he conducted proceedings. He paused purposefully and laid down his book and looked, directly at George III and his eldest son, when he asked whether there was any just cause or impediment why the marriage shouldn’t proceed. His Grace was concerned about the canonical implications of the Prince’s previous ‘sham marriage’ which had been conducted by an Anglican priest.
Observers commented that the Prince and his new bride barely spoke as they walked up the aisle as man and wife. Caroline apparently asked her new husband more than once as they left the Chapel Royal: “What is the matter, my Prince? You have such a sad face on.”
The wedding night was a further disappointment. She said that he “passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell, and where I left him.” Yes. George collapsed drunk in the fireplace on the day he was married. It’s something close to a miracle that Caroline gave birth to Princess Charlotte in January the following year, little more than 9 months later. Even so, the marriage was a total disaster and when George ascended to the throne in 1820, Queen Caroline was barred from their Coronation.
photo credit: Leonski