Today I want to tell you about the time there was a riot at the Queen’s funeral procession. The year was 1821 and the Queen was Caroline of Brunswick, whose husband had recently been crowned King George IV.
George, then Prince of Wales, had agreed to marry Caroline only because it meant that his father, King George III, would pay off his gambling debts. He was in fact already married to Maria Fitzherbert but the marriage was not recognised because it had taken place without the consent of his father. Caroline was chosen for him as a suitable bride because she was the daughter of the king’s favourite sister. Yes, they were cousins, but the two did not meet until three days before their marriage. They did not like each other at all. When George met his future wife, his first reaction was to call for a glass of brandy. Her first thoughts were that he was very fat and not as handsome as his portrait.
They married in April 1795. George was clearly drunk at the ceremony. Nine months later Caroline gave birth to a daughter and three days after that George wrote out a will leaving all his possessions to Maria Fitzherbert and to Caroline, one shilling. George claimed that they had only had sex three times, twice on their wedding night and once the night after. He said that it had taken a great deal of effort on his part: to conquer my aversion and overcome the disgust of her person. While Caroline said that George had: passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell, and where I left him.
In less than two years the couple were living apart. There was a lot of animosity on both sides and probably a lot of affairs too. Caroline agreed to leave the country in exchange for a substantial allowance. George III died in January 1820 so Caroline was now nominally Queen. She was offered even more money to remain in Europe but she declined and returned to Britain. George was not a popular man, he was terribly extravagant. The press were quick to point this out and it did not go down well. Caroline, on the other hand, was seen as a wronged woman and had a great deal of support when she returned.
The King, however, wanted a divorce. He aimed to prove that she had had an affair whilst in Europe with a man called Bartolomeo Pergami. She probably did, but that didn’t make her any less popular with the people (they really didn’t like George). Eight hundred petitions were raised in her favour, carrying almost a million signatures.
George refused to allow Caroline to attend his coronation. When she turned up at Westminster Abbey, she was greeted with drawn bayonets and the door was slammed in her face. She fell ill that night and died three weeks later. She had asked to be buried in Brunswick in Germany so her body had to be taken from her home in Hammersmith to Harwich on the coast. The people wanted to mourn their Queen but the government found the whole affair a terrific embarrassment and decided it would be best to send the coffin all around the north of London quietly instead of parading it through the City. They were worried there might be trouble. There was. When the cortège tried to turn north at Hyde Park they found their way barred. The Queen’s working class supporters had got there first and built a barricade. When the soldiers that were accompanying the procession tried to tear it down they were pelted with missiles. They tried to take different route, but the way to Knightsbridge and the entrance to Hyde Park were also blocked. This time the barricades were on fire. The crowd were determined to force the funeral procession through the City. There was a terrible altercation. Soldiers were pelted with stones, many of the people were injured and two men were shot and killed. This only made the now huge and furious crowd even more determined to have their way. The now less than splendid cortège found every escape route blocked by the angry mob and they were forced towards the City. This show of mass solidarity against authority by ordinary people was unprecedented.
Victims like these have fallen in every age
Stretch of pow’r or party’s cruel rage
Until even handed justice comes at last
To amend the future and avenge the past
There was a trial following their deaths and the verdicts were murder and manslaughter, but as the soldier who had pulled the trigger could not be identified, no one was ever brought to book. Caroline’s London home is long since demolished but you can still see this monument in the churchyard of St Paul’s, Hammersmith.