Thursday, February 16, 2006

Queen Caroline

We were talking one day of Queen Caroline: a doubt was expressed whether some of the blame which attaches to her character may not be removed by attributing some of her extraordinary actions to insanity, by which alone they can be accounted for. Mrs. Kemble told me she had known, at Lausanne, a man, now a landamman or magistrate, formerly an officer in the Duke of Brunswick's Guards, who told her that it was the general opinion that in early youth the Princess had shown strong symptoms of insanity, and he gave the following instance to prove his assertion: A great ball was given, to which the Duchess would not allow her daughter, then aged sixteen, to go. The ball was just begun, when a messenger came to the Duke and Duchess to inform them that Princess Caroline was taken violently ill.

Of course, they returned immediately to the palace, all the court following them ; the landamman, then on guard, being one among them. When they reached the antechamber of the apartment of the Princess, they found she was on a bed in the next room, screaming with agony; they were told that she was black in the face, &c. &c. The doors were all open, when the Duke and Duchess went up to the bed and tenderly enquired what was the matter. The doctors were not yet arrived; the Princess said any attempt at dissimulation would be useless and im- possible. ' I am in labour, and entreat you, madam, to send for an accoucheur immediately.'

These words were spoken loud enough to be heard by all those who were waiting in the next room; their astonishment may be conceived. Soon after the accoucheur came: as soon as the Princess saw him, she jumped out of bed, wiped the livid colouring from her face, and with a loud laugh said to the Duchess,' Now, madam, will you keep me another time from a ball ?' At this period, when- ever she did go into public, there were persons appointed to watch that she did not give notes, &c. &c.; but it was supposed that she found means to elude their vigilance.

The idea of the unsoundness of the mind of the unfortunate Caroline is strongly confirmed by the following circumstances, related to me by Lord Redesdale in May 1828. Having been invited to dine with the Duchess of Brunswick at Blackheath, he and Lady Redesdale, coming at the time specified found themselves long before the rest of the company They passed half-an-hour en tiers with the Duchess who, having known him from his earliest youth, began talking very confidentially and imprudently of the misconduct of her daughter, ending with saying,' But the excuse is, that, poor thing, she is not right here.' She struck her forehead, and burst into a violent flood of tears.

By this time some guests were heard entering, and Lord and Lady Redesdale were obliged to support the poor infirm old woman to her room, and make the best story they could.

He told me also, and I forget how he knew it to be true, that when the Princess was at Baden and the Grand Duke made a partie de chasse for her, she appeared on horseback with a half-pumpkin on her head. Upon the Grand Duke's expressing astonishment, and recommending a coiffure rather less extraordinary, she only replied that the weather was hot, and nothing kept the head so cool and comfortable as a pumpkin.

Surely nothing that was said by Brougham or Denman could plead so strongly in extenuation of the nudities of the Muse of History, &c. &c., as the pumpkin.

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