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Newsletter - April 2014

 

Computer security

Members’ are still having their computer security compromised, with several instances of hacking in the last little while. If you use Microsoft Windows you can download their own Security Essentials on their website for free. Please make sure you do not send ‘malware’ to others and spread problems through your hacked computer. If you should be unlucky enough to receive a suspect email, do not open any link that may be a virus.

April lecture

The final lecture of the current programme year was the much anticipated one by Lucy Worsley, and she failed to disappoint. Her title of the Servants at Kensington Palace digressed slightly to the subject of Queen Caroline whom she described as her heroine.

She began by introducing herself as Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, the Tower of London, and Hampton Court with its 1324 rooms, and Kensington Palace, where there is a new exhibition about George II to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the start of the Georgian Age.

The King’s Grand Staircase
The King’s Grand Staircase

The King’s Grand Staircase in Kensington Palace, by William Kent contains 45 portraits some of which Lucy has managed to identify.

Queen Caroline (not to be confused with Caroline of Brunswick, wife of George IV) was born in Ansbach in south Germany and spent time at court in Berlin. She was a Protestant and in the tradition of clever princesses. In 1715 she married the man who was to become George II. His father, Elector of Hanover, later George I, had divorced his wife Sophia after a scandal and the future George II never saw his mother again after the age of eleven.

After a ludicrous quarrel George I took control of Caroline’s three elder children and the Prince and Princess of Wales set up a rival court – with better parties! George I, seeing he had lost popularity, rebuilt Kensington Palace to win back support from his courtiers and to extend extravagant hospitality. The Grand Staircase was part of this rebuilding but George I died in 1727 before benefitting from his new palace – and George II and Queen Caroline came to the throne.

Mohammed and an unknown lady
Mohammed and an unknown lady
Peter the Wild Boy
Peter the Wild Boy
William Kent and his mistress
William Kent and his mistress

In the staircase portraits, William Kent had included himself as well as (among others) Mohammed the Turk, born a Muslim, a milliner, a page boy and the feral child known as Peter the Wild Boy who was discovered living in woods near Hanover. He was unable to speak but was adopted as a sort of pet and lived into old age.

Caroline had political influence, and tolerated the fact that her husband’s mistress was a woman of her bedchamber. She was described “as superior to her waiting nymphs as a lobster to attendant shrimps”. The mistress, Henrietta Howard was allied with Caroline against the King. She had been left an orphan and married Charles Howard, a drunken reprobate and violent husband. Her position as royal mistress allowed her to have a formal deed of separation, but she would never see her son again. Henrietta eventually left the king and married an MP whom she evidently loved; in old age she became a friend of Horace Walpole.

In 1737 Queen Caroline fell ill and George’s affection for his wife was demonstrated by his concern for her. Caroline had placed great faith in science, having had her youngest children vaccinated against smallpox, a dangerous procedure, but she suffered botched surgery in her final days and, ironically, her doctors killed her. She died in St James’ Palace with her hand in the King’s.

In 1760 King George II died and George III, the eldest son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, came to the throne, his father having died. He was the first Hanoverian to be born and bred in this country, a fact he liked to state to emphasise his Englishness. The new king preferred to live elsewhere – Kensington Palace became run down and its extravagant decoration and its days of lavish entertainment were over.