It's my great pleasure to welcome Catherine Curzon today with a very intriguing post, on the blog tour for her recently released 'Kings of Georgian Britain'.
I hope you'll be as fascinated as I was with this remarkable book, and as intrigued by what she has to tell us about:
The Wanton Widow
In her lifetime, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha was many things to many people.
She was the shy, teenage Princess of Wales, a loving wife, the mother of a king, the ‘Wanton Widow’ of caricature and a woman so loathed that her funeral cortege was jeered and spat at by the British public who had come to despise her very name. Yet what happened to the woman who was once a darling of the people, and what part did John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, play in the downfall of the widowed Princess of Wales?
Princess Augusta set foot on English shores as a shy, reserved princess in to begin a new life as the bride of Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of George II and Queen Caroline. They were married on 27th 1736 and among their children was the future King George III. Although Frederick was estranged from his father, George II, when Fred died in 1751 and left Augusta with eight children to raise and one still in the womb, she turned to the king for help.
George II came good and proved to be a far better father-in-law than he ever had been a father. With the family reunited, the people of Britain applauded Augusta for her devotion to her children and the dignity with which she seemed to be dealing with her grief. Yet it was that same devotion to her children that would cause Augusta to take a step from which her reputation would never recover. Without a father to guide him, Augusta sought a male influence for her young son, George, and took the fateful decision to find a friend and tutor who might steer him safely along the road to the throne.
The candidate she selected was John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, who Augusta had met years earlier when she and her party took shelter from the rain in a picnic tent at Egham races. As the time passed, the group decided to play whist and for that, they needed one more player. The chosen gentleman was none other than Bute and from this first meeting, he came one of Fred’s closest friends, so when when Augusta was looking for a tutor for her son, the respectable earl was the ideal choice.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the quiet young prince and the stern nobleman proved to be the perfect match. To the people of Britain, however, Bute was anything but the man for the job. They thought that the widowed Augusta and Bute were far too close for comfort and his influence over the boy was absolute. Rumours that Bute and Augusta were lovers were unfounded but this didn’t stop pamphleteers and caricaturists from depicting the pair as wanton and wicked.
The reputation stuck and when George III made Bute prime minister in 1762, his critics crowed that he had secured the office thanks to his affair with Augusta. Whilst there can be no doubt that George held his former tutor in high regard, to suggest that this was to repay sexual favours offered to his mother is spurious.
Despite all the mockery and rumours, Bute and Augusta remained friends to the last. When the dowager princess died at the age of just 52, Bute mourned her, yet he was one of few who did. At her funeral her coffin was heckled and spat upon in one final insult from the public that had once adored her above all others.
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Baker, Kenneth. George III: A Life in Caricature. London: Thames & Hudson, 2007.
Black, Jeremy. George III: America’s Last King. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
Black, Jeremy. The Hanoverians: The History of a Dynasty, . London: Hambledon and London, 2007.
Lovat-Fraser, JA. John Stuart Earl of Bute. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912.
Craig, William Marshall. Memoir of Her Majesty Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg Strelitz, Queen of Great Britain. Liverpool: Henry Fisher, 1818.
Edwards, Averyl. Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, 1701-1751. London: Staples Press, 1947.
Hadlow, Janice. The Strangest Family: The Private Lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians. London: William Collins, 2014.
Hibbert, Christopher. George III: A Personal History. London: Viking, 1998.
Tillyard, Stella. A Royal Affair: George III and his Troublesome Siblings. London: Vintage, 2007.
About the Author:
Her work has been featured on HistoryExtra.com, the official website of BBC History Magazine and in publications such as Explore History, All About
History, History of Royals and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She has provided additional research for An Evening with Jane Austen at the V&A and spoken at venues including the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, Lichfield Guildhall, he National Maritime Museum and Dr Johnson’s House.
Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, she lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.
About 'Kings of Georgian Britain':
Kings of Georgian Britain offers a fresh perspective on the lives of the four Georges and the events that shaped their characters and reigns. From love affairs to family feuds, political wrangling and beyond, peer behind the pomp and follow these iconic figures from cradle to grave. After all, being a king isn’t always grand parties and jaw-dropping jewels, and sometimes following in a father’s footsteps can be the hardest job around.
Take a trip back in time to meet the wives, mistresses, friends and foes of the men who shaped the nation, and find out what really went on behind closed palace doors. Whether dodging assassins, marrying for money, digging up their ancestors or sparking domestic disputes that echoed down the generations, the kings of Georgian Britain were never short on drama.
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