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Caroline of Ansbach: the Georgian queen who brought the Enlightenment to Britain

Three hundred years ago, an unlikely set of circumstances led to a minor German aristocratic family becoming the British royal family. Once the Georges arrived, Britain took the first steps towards becoming the nation it is today.

This year, 2014, marks an important historical anniversary. Or rather two, although one has a substantially lower profile than the other. As you can’t have failed to notice from the newspaper supplements, special exhibitions and television documentaries, it is a hundred years since the outbreak of the First World War. But two hundred years before Britain crossed the channel to go to war against German imperial might, the ruling family of a small principality in Lower Saxony travelled in the opposite direction in order to sit on the British throne.

Superficially, the Hanoverian accession is a good deal less cataclysmic and a great deal more bizarre than a global war – no armies were involved, and instead George Louis, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, was ushered onto the throne by a long chain of coincidences. However, it is no less worthy of commemoration or re-examination, for it was under the rule of these unlikely monarchs that Britain took the first steps towards becoming the nation it is today.

It was at the beginning of the eighteenth century that parliamentary democracy advanced, constitutional monarchy was consolidated, freedom of the press was established, industry began to gather momentum, and the arts flourished – and yet when we hear the phrase “Georgian”, we most often think of the architectural style of places like Bath, or Hugh Laurie shouting “radish!” while trying and failing to put on his trousers as the Prince Regent in Blackadder the Third. It’s not a period of history that occupies a lot of time at school (we study Hogarth and the beginning of the British Empire, if we study anything from this time). Prior to this year, exhibitions and documentaries tended to steer clear too, for a very simple reason – these newly-British kings, the first four of whom were called George, just aren’t as exciting as what came before. It was all just a bit less fiery: the Catholic hell-fire had been extinguished in favour of perpetual Protestantism, nobody was burned at the stake for being a witch, and at no point was a large proportion of London on fire. Bo-ring, chant the schoolchildren. Can we do “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” again?

Well, no, but royal women (replete with heads) are just as vital to this age – indeed, they are how the Georges ended up in Britain in the first place, with a bit of help from institutionalised religious intolerance. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which saw the Catholic James II deposed in favour of his sensibly-Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William, the Stuart monarchy began to have a very Tudor problem – a distinct lack of heirs. The childless William and Mary were succeeded on their deaths by Mary’s sister Anne. Anne’s seventeen pregnancies resulted in just one child who lived beyond infancy, and he died in 1700 aged 11. Although by overseeing the Act of Union in 1707, Anne had united England and Scotland into “Great Britain”, she was left with no Protestant heir to whom she could pass it on. Her Catholic half-brother, who styled himself James III, was strutting about his Jacobite court in France and then Italy, waiting for his chance to take back his father’s throne.

It was to guard against this possibility that Parliament had passed the Act of Settlement in 1701. It excluded anyone who “professe the Popish Religion or marry a Papist” from inheriting the soon-to-be-united kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. The majority of it is still in force today (the sections forbidding royals to marry “papists” were only removed by last year’s Succession to the Crown Act). Most importantly, it named an heir to Queen Anne – her distant cousin: Sophia, the Dowager Electress of Hanover.

Overlooked almost entirely by popular British history, Sophia is in fact vital to understanding Britain’s dynastic and intellectual development. Via her mother Elizabeth, the younger daughter of James I who married the Elector of the Palatinate (ruler of territories along the Rhine near Heidelberg in Germany) Sophia was a granddaughter of the first Stuart king of England and Scotland. Thanks to a territorial gamble that didn’t pay off (Elizabeth’s husband Frederick was briefly King of Bohemia, but was deposed after a single season, leading to their nicknames as “Winter King and Queen”), Sophia was born in 1630 to a royal family without a kingdom. Her childhood and adolescence was spent in exile in the Netherlands, and as the twelfth of thirteen children, she can have had little or no expectation she would ever be in a position of influence over a nation like Great Britain. She grew up studying and playing with her siblings, and later joined her mother’s little “court-in-exile”, greeting the foreign dignitaries and dynastic contenders who came to pay their respects to James I’s daughter. In 1658, after a convoluted courtship that originally saw her promised to her future husband’s older brother, Sophia married Ernst Augustus, himself the seventh child of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and heir to a tiny sliver of northern Germany.

By the end of the seventeenth century, when the British political establishment began to look around for a Protestant heir to Queen Anne, Sophia and Ernst Augustus (who were a ruthlessly ambitious husband-and-wife team, by all accounts) had managed, through a combination of lucky inheritance and political machination, to unite a significant portion of Brunswick-Lüneburg land as the Electorate of Hanover. Anne had at least fifty nearer relatives than Sophia, but they were all Catholic, whereas the Electress of Hanover was staunchly Protestant and proud of it (her husband had even been a Protestant bishop at one point on his way to the electorship). Thus, Sophia was elevated to Heiress Presumptive of Great Britain, confirmed by Parliament as the people’s choice to succeed Queen Anne.

In her BBC4 documentary The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain, made to mark the anniversary of the Hanoverian succession, historian Lucy Worsley calls Sophia “the greatest Queen we never had”. It’s not hard to see why: she spoke five languages fluently, was personal friends with the philosopher Leibniz, took a learned interest in the philosophical, political and religious issues of her day, and – no mean feat – maintained an extensive correspondence with many of the royal houses of Western Europe (many of whom were her relations). The breezy, pragmatic approach to life which would have made her such a good queen is evident in the thoughts she recorded on seeing her future husband arrive for their wedding. She was “delighted to find that he was loveable because I was determined to love him”.

Sophia, Electress of Hanover.
Image: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Sophia read widely and participated in all sorts of debates at the salons she organised at her favourite palace of Herrenhausen, just outside Hanover. She encouraged the next generation to follow her example, with the result that both her niece Elizabeth Charlotte (known as Liselotte) who married the younger brother of Louis XIV of France, and her daughter Sophie Charlotte (known as Figuelotte) who moved to Berlin as the wife of the King of Prussia, became the centres of their own intellectual and artistic circles. This triumvirate of brilliant woman took every advantage offered by the advancing Enlightenment on the Continent: as long as royal woman established the boundaries with their husbands (which mostly meant avoiding direct political interventions), they were increasingly free to become intellectual and artistic patrons. Indeed, both Ernst Augustus and his son-in-law Frederick of Prussia seem to have recognised the inherent advantages to having a wife who wielded influence in spheres in which the ruling monarch could not directly intervene so easily.

Sophia’s friendship with Gottfried Leibniz was crucial to her role as the intellectual face of her family. The philosopher was ostensibly employed by her husband to research and write a genealogical history of the House of Brunswick, in order to further support the Hanoverian branch’s dynastic ambitions. This gave Leibniz the freedom to travel extensively in Europe, supposedly to consult research materials. In fact, the history never appeared, although Leibniz did use his time and electoral stipend to advance the study of logic, mathematics, geology and a whole host of other subjects, including inventing the “Steeped Reckoner” – the first mechanical device to perform all four arithmetic functions and a forerunner of the modern computer. Judging by his correspondence with Sophia, he also seems to have served as an all-round adviser and her eyes and ears out in the world, delivering books and news to her daughter in Berlin, and even facilitating a visit to Hanover from Tsar Peter the Great.

Tragically, Sophia died in June 1714 at the age of 83, just two months before her cousin Queen Anne. She had enjoyed good health right up to the end – on the day of her death, one of her ladies-in-waiting recorded that Sophia insisted on her usual brisk walk around the extensive gardens she had created at Herrenhausen, even though the day was overcast. She collapsed and died at the end of one of the beautiful walks that lead away from the palace as the first drops of rain fell – “a sweeter death was never seen, nor a happier one”, it was said. A statue of her now stands at the place where she died, and her extraordinary gardens are now open to the public. The vast fountains alone are worth a visit – designed with Leibniz’s help, this original centrepiece to the garden could shoot water to heights of up to thirty-five metres, intended to outdo Versailles as the highest in Europe (and, as Worsley points out in her programme, a symbol of the Hanoverians’ rapid ascent to high office).

Sophia never set foot in Britain, despite appetite from some quarters for her to visit once she became heiress – the dull, poorly-educated Anne clearly feared having a rival with such a formidable intellectual reputation in close proximity. The faction known as the Whigs coalesced around the idea of the Hanoverian succession, with several notables making the trip to visit Sophia and the royal family-in-waiting. For this reason, too, there was no love lost between Sophia and Anne – upon the former’s death, the latter is said to have remarked that the news was merely “chipping-porridge” which would give her “neither more ease nor uneasiness”. When Anne died two months later, it was Sophia’s son George Louis who travelled to London in the autumn of that year to add “King of Great Britain” to his existing monicker, Elector of Hanover.


George was 54 when he arrived in Britain. He didn’t speak very good English, and crucially for the formation of a new royal court, he hadn’t brought his wife with him. Sophia Dorothea of Celle (below, also George’s first cousin on his father’s side) had been imprisoned in Ahlden Castle since 1694 for her infidelity with the Swedish Count von Königsmarck, who was rumoured to have been murdered and dumped in a river for his part in the affair. Sophia Dorothea would die in 1726, long after her husband had departed for Britain, having spent more than half her life locked away. The fact that their new king had behaved so to his wife was a major source of concern to his British subjects – even more so since he brought his half-sister and his mistress with him to London instead, who the court quickly nicknamed “the elephant” and “the maypole” owing to their relative sizes. (Never let it be said again that the Georgians lacked the sexual politics and dysfunction for which the Tudors are so well-known.)

Since the new court lacked a queen, George I’s daughter-in-law Caroline of Ansbach was able to occupy a much more prominent role than was typical for the sovereign’s daughter-in-law. Caroline was a woman very like her husband’s grandmother Sophia – intelligent, well-read, curious, and crucially, poised to become Queen of Great Britain. In her 2010 book Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court, Lucy Worsley calls her “the cleverest queen consort ever to sit on the throne of England”. She had spent part of her formative years at Figuelotte’s court in Berlin, and then on her marriage to George Augustus of Hanover had been transplanted to Sophia’s circle at Herrenhausen. There, she clearly picked up a lesson or two in how to be a queen for the Age of Enlightenment, as well as a fondness for energetic walking and fine art.

Caroline was, like Sophia, an enthusiastic correspondent of Liselotte in France and Leibniz in Hanover, and when she moved to London as Princess of Wales, she seized every opportunity to become involved in the intellectual life of her new country. The fact that she had no mother-in-law around who could rain on her parade, and that she had arrived in Britain having already given her husband a son and three daughters, confirmed her immediately as a central figure of the new Georgian court. The newly-united kingdom was in great need of stability – when the Hanoverians arrived, there had been seven monarchs in the past hundred years, not to mention a civil war. The smooth succession of the Georges might, with hindsight, seem inevitable, but at the time it was anything but.

In these uncertain times, Britain lacked a pattern for how intelligent women could exert their influence in the highest circles. The Stuart princesses Mary and Anne were known to be dull and disinterested in learning. Previous examples of clever, learned Protestant queens such as Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey had both had their court careers cut short by an executioner’s axe. To all intents and purposes, Caroline had no British example to follow.

She therefore imported the German model of queenship, in which the wife of the ruler was the centre of cultural and intellectual life and court, and allowed Sophia and Sophie Charlotte to be her principal influences. The rise of the salon in the eighteenth century as a civilised place for debate and the exchange of ideas assisted her – as Princess of Wales she began to host such occasions, gathering around her the brightest minds from science, medicine, philosophy and literature. The Whig grandee Robert Walpole described the kind of company you could expect at one of her soirees as

a strange picture of the motley character and manners of a queen and a learned woman. . . learned men and divines were intermixed with courtiers and ladies of the household: the conversation turned upon metaphysical subjects, blended with repartees, sallies of mirth, and the tittle-tattle of a drawing-room.

As well as Walpole and a rosta of philosophers and scientists, writers like Joseph Addison, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift and John Gay frequently attended her parties. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Given her longstanding connection with Leibniz, it is no surprise that soon after her arrival in London, Caroline sought to make the acquaintance of his great rival, Isaac Newton. The rest of her little coterie were also enthusiastic correspondents of the German philosopher: Liselotte liked him so much she described him as “a learned man who knew how to behave and did not stink” (clearly a rarity). At this point, Leibniz and Newton were at the centre of a scandal that was convulsing “natural philosophers” (as proto-scientists were then called) all over Europe: the calculus dispute. Both claimed to have invented this mathematical system of expressing changes to curves and sequences – Newton insisted that he had begun using it as far back as 1666 but had not published any of it, whereas Leibniz had published his own version in 1684. This dispute over intellectual property became the hot philosophical talking point of the early eighteenth century, with battle lines drawn and sides chosen.

The King's Staircase at Kensington Palace, designed by William Kent.

The King's Staircase at Kensington Palace, designed by William Kent.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Caroline sought to find a way to contribute to the debate in the hope of healing the rift. She instigated an exchange of letters between Leibniz and the British philosopher Samuel Clarke, a supporter of Newton, in 1715-16, which was published after Leibniz’s death in November 1716. Despite her life-long loyalty to Leibniz, Caroline clearly appreciated the political pragmatism of developing a good relationship with Newton, who by this point was revered as a national hero. He accompanied Clarke to her salon to demonstrate his ideas, including his work with optics and prisms. In 1716, Caroline wrote to Leibniz that “the one that I have seen to prove the vacuum has nearly converted me”.

Caroline’s interest in science went beyond mere intellectual curiosity. She recognised the influence she could exert as Princess of Wales to improve the lives of her subjects. Her interest was a form of patronage, a way of legitimising research and garnering it greater publicity. Never was this more apparent than in the events of 1722, in which Caroline, no doubt alarmed by the prevalence of smallpox in London at the time, decided to have her children inoculated against the disease. Claude Amyand, surgeon to her father-in-law George I, performed the procedure on the sovereign’s second and third granddaughters, Amelia and Caroline. Later, a court doctor travelled to Hanover where the second in line to the throne, Prince Frederick, was holding down the fort in his family’s German territories and made sure he received the treatment too. The need was clear: Caroline’s eldest daughter, Anne, had survived a brush with the disease in 1720, while Caroline herself had already had her beauty marred by it in 1707.

The idea of inoculation, of infecting a child with a mild form of a disease in order to improve future immunity, was a relatively new one in London. The Royal Society had heard its first paper on the subject in 1714, which described how the practice was used in Turkey. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, another smallpox survivor who had spent two years living in Constantinople as the wife of Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, had inoculated her own children and was an enthusiastic proponent of the idea. The nascent scientific community in London (the Royal Society was barely fifty years old at this point) was predictably interested. But for a princess to involve the king’s own grandchildren in pioneering medical research? This was something new.

In the best tradition of natural philosophy, Caroline didn’t take the supposed merits of inoculation at face value (the Royal Society’s motto is nullius in verba, or “take nobody’s word for it”). She did her research, persuading her father-in-law George I to commute the sentences of six prisoners at Newgate Prison in return for taking part in an experiment. Foundlings in London were inoculated too as part of this quest for evidence. Caroline also interviewed doctors who had performed the procedure before, and asked to see Lady Mary’s own children before she gave permission for her own children to receive the treatment. In this, as in many other things, she was the model of an Enlightenment thinker: rational, empirical, and decisive.

Caroline’s decision to inoculate the royal children was widely reported in the burgeoning press of the day, and thus convinced many other parents that the procedure was safe. It also had implications for the way the Hanoverian dynasty was perceived in Britain: their Stuart predecessors had made much of their godly kingship, and there are even instances recorded of them “laying on” their hands in order to heal the sick. By associating the Georgians with medicine and science, Caroline was linking them to the new age of rationalism and progress, and rejecting mysticism and mumbo-jumbo. She was also reinforcing something that had been stated by the Act of Settlement and the Glorious Revolution – this new line of monarchs ruled the new age of reason not through divine right, but at the behest of Parliament and the people.

Her relationship with the likes of Newton had a bearing on the training of the next generation, too. Caroline’s mentor Sophia had received an outstanding education – in her beautiful volume about Queen Caroline, Joanna Marschner notes that Sophia learned

theology, mathematics, history and jurisprudence as well as Latin and Greek, and every Wednesday and Sunday professors from Leiden University were invited for dinner at the Prinsenhof, the nursery palace established for Sophia and her brothers and sisters

Caroline obviously intended to do the same for her own children. Newton recommended mathematics and astronomy tutors for them, and Handel taught them music. Even during a period of estrangement between George I and his son, during which Caroline was cut off from her older children as the king kept custody of them while his son and daughter-in-law were kicked out of his palace, surviving schoolbooks show that the girls were learning Plutarch, Heroditus and Thucydides, the history of the Roman Empire, and theology. Caroline intended Britain’s ruling family to hold their own in the drawing-room and the debating-hall alike.

The gardens at Herrenhausen, c.1708. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The gardens at Herrenhausen, c.1708.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Dynastic image-making was a big past-time of Caroline’s, and much of her refurbishments of royal palaces and gardens were undertaken with this aim in mind. Gardening was a hobby she shared with both Sophia and Sophie Charlotte; doubtless after growing up around the spectacular grounds at Herrenhausen in Hanover and the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin, Caroline felt equipped to turn her hand to her own improvements. This enthusiasm also cohered with the current ideas proposed by Whigs like Joseph Addison and the Earl of Shaftesbury about the connections between landscape and nationhood – the growing popularity of “natural” designs and devices like the ha-ha which allowed the formal garden to blend seamlessly with the farmland beyond embodied this. For similar reasons, the Hanoverians favoured the new neo-Palladian architectural style, which epitomised “order, restraint and politeness”, contrasted with the Baroque floridness preferred by the Stuarts.

At Richmond, Caroline created two particularly significant garden features, the Hermitage and Merlin’s Cave. Delightful as I’m sure they were, these were more than just the idle projects of a woman with too much money and time on her hands: both were designed specifically to wield the kind of soft power that would entrench the Hanoverian dynasty in the public’s mind as truly British. The Hermitage was a showcase for sculpture, and here Caroline’s scientific leanings come to the fore once more – her choice of subjects for the busts inside included Isaac Newton, John Locke, Samuel Clarke and William Wollaston, with Robert Boyle in the place of honour presiding over them all, since he “embodied the marriage between natural philosophy and Newtonian science,” as Marschner has it. Caroline’s Merlin’s Cave was a great deal more eccentric, and somewhat less successful. It contained various waxworks intended to suggest the mythical origins of the British people, and included references both to Arthurian legend and the Elizabethan epic poem “The Faerie Queene” by Spenser, but the allegory was a bit confused, and apparently many visitors didn’t quite “get it”.

This harking back to ages past was a particular preoccupation of both Caroline and Sophia. As the image-makers for new, upstart royal lines, dynastic precedence was one of the most powerful tools available to them. Although he never completed his family history for the House of Hanover, Leibniz did discover for Sophia in 1676 that an ancestor of her husband’s had in the twelfth century married Matilda, the daughter of the English king Henry II, thus providing the family with a genealogical link to Great Britain that long predated the Act of Settlement.

Caroline continued this work through her curation of the royal family’s art collection, which had been much dispersed and depleted by public auctions during Cromwell’s Commonwealth in the 1640s, but still extensive. She followed the example of many nobles on the Continent (including Sophia and Sophie Charlotte) and put together her own Kunstkammer, a room in which she exhibited portraits that showed off her family’s heritage and demonstrated their right to the throne. A room at Kensington Palace was converted for the purpose (amusingly, it would become the young Victoria’s bathroom a hundred years later) and Caroline set about forming her collection. Her biggest and most important find was a set of 63 drawings by Hans Holbein the Younger of members of the Tudor court, which she had reframed and hung. Other portraits she amassed included those of Edward III, Henry V, Mary I and Elizabeth I. The Winter Queen and her Hanoverian descendants got a look-in, too. Caroline even had sub-collections at other palaces, just to be sure her courtiers didn’t miss the point she was trying to make – around the walls of her bedchamber at Hampton Court was a mini exhibition of Tudor, Stuart and Hanoverian worthies.

Complementary to her picture-closet was Caroline’s Wunderkammer, a “cabinet of curiosities” in which she collected and displayed all sorts of weird and wonderful things. This was partly a matter of dynastic image again – the collection included a number of fine miniatures of important relatives – and partly her scientific curiosity at work. It was a way of straddling the divide between magic and modernity, of showing that these new kings knew how to venerate their new country’s history while at the same time sponsoring the efforts of a modern nation. She had jewels, medals, several bezoars (stones found in the stomachs of animals that were thought to have magical properties) and even two unicorn horns, which were in fact from Arctic narwhales.

Lucy Worsley with a portrait of Queen Caroline  by Joseph Highmore. Photo: BBC/Royal Collection Trust/Jack Barnes

Lucy Worsley with a portrait of Queen Caroline by Joseph Highmore.
Image: BBC/Royal Collection Trust/Jack Barnes

This enthusiasm also something she could share with her female mentors across the channel – Liselotte in France particularly shared her passion for collection. The two women wrote to each other about their hoards regularly, and exchanged objects like elaborately carved eggs and microscope slides. It was an important way in which they reinforced their bond – as Liselotte remarked in a letter to Caroline, they had a lot in common, and were “made of he same stuff – electoral children who have become royal”. Many of these objects are still in the Royal Collection, and are currently on display as part of The First Georgians exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery. It’s worth a visit, if only to peer at the intricate, tiny ivory carvings and imagine Caroline’s glee as she unwrapped and presented another new treasure to her court.


What, it must be asked, was Caroline’s husband up to all this time? George II was not particularly renowned for his intelligence or his social skills, and the degree to which he was in thrall to his clever wife did not go unnoticed by the satirists of the day. A contemporary ditty contained the lines:

“You may strut, dapper George but ‘twill all be in vain;
We know ‘tis Queen Caroline, not you, that reign.

However, his enthusiasm for his new country could not be faulted (he supposedly once declared that the English were “the handomest, the best shaped, the best natured, and lovingest people in the world, and that if anybody would make their court to him, it must be by telling him he was like an Englishman”). He was also smart enough to let his wife get on with her projects, and pick up the bills when she overspent on this portrait or that new bit of garden. Caroline was popular with the people – in her TV series, Worsley terms her “user friendly face of the Hanoverian monarchy” – and her husband knew that he benefited by association.

Since George II was still Elector of Hanover as well as King of Great Britain, the Regency Act of 1728 was passed by Parliament so that Caroline could rule in her husband’s place while he went on his extended trips to Germany. Sophia might have died before she could inherit the throne of Great Britain, but her granddaughter-in-law and protégée more than made up for it. Caroline mostly seems to have kept the ship on an even keel – once that we know of George lost his rag at her when he returned, and that was because she had moved Vasari’s painting of Venus and Cupid out of his drawing room at Kensington Palace (presumably because she didn’t think it was very good). George might not have cared very much about art, but he was still the king, and he made a fuss until she put his fat Venus back where he wanted it. You can still see it there, in the state rooms at Kensington, which have been newly-refurbished to how they would have looked when George and Caroline were in residence, with bright white panelling, gilded cornices, painted ceilings and silk wall hangings replacing the dark Victorian aesthetic that succeeded it. You can even get a “scratch and sniff” map for the full olfactory experience of the Georgian court (best avoided if you have a delicate stomach).

George did have mistresses, of course – in the eighteenth century, it was considered “educational” for a prince to have extra-marital affairs, and eyebrows would have been raised if he did not partake. However, he never allowed these flings to jeopardise the partnership he enjoyed with his wife, and his most long-standing affair was actually with one of her Women of the Bedchamber, Henrietta Howard. Here, Caroline displayed the shrewdness she had learned from Sophia and Liselotte, both pragmatic veterans of long royal marriages, and rather than dismissing the offending mistress, kept her busy with the daily grind of personal ablutions, dressing and undressing that a royal woman of her status required of a lady-in-waiting. This way, George got to keep his mistress, but since his mistress was also the woman who had to hold his wife’s basin of water every day while she brushed her teeth, she was never perceived to rival Caroline in political power or influence.

The Queen's Library at St James's Palace by Charles Wild, c.1819. Image: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

The Queen's Library at St James's Palace by Charles Wild, c.1819.
Image: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

In 1735, Caroline exercised this supreme pragmatism once more, when she suggested that her husband bring the object of his latest enthusiasm, Amelia de Walmoden, to London from Hanover (probably so she could keep control of this affair, too). However, this addition to her household would need rooms at St James’s Palace, and this meant Caroline had to clear out some of her books to accommodate her (she owned over three thousand volumes). As ever with this most resourceful of women, Caroline managed to turn a depressing chore into an exciting new project, and commissioned William Kent to build her a new library at the palace to house her books.

It was in her library, in 1737, that Caroline collapsed just as Sophia had done in her garden. Always on the plump side, by the end of her life she had become so fat and gouty that she had to be wheeled about the palace in a decorative wheelchair first made for a sea goddess in a masque. She lingered on for a week, until an unpleasant hernia (a legacy of her final pregnancy) and her doctors’ mistreatment of it, claimed her. She died holding her husband’s hand, and Walpole reports that George II afterwards declared that he “never yet saw a woman worthy to buckle her shoe”.

That great statesman had placed the stability of the court (and country) very much on Caroline’s shoulders. When she was taken ill, he demanded: “Should any accident happen to Your Majesty, who can tell what would become of him, of your children, and of us all?” Walpole’s reliance upon her was a great accolade in and of itself, and a sign that Caroline’s efforts to carve out a way in which an intelligent, shrewd woman could occupy a position of influence had been successful.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a woman who had lived her life in pursuit of the same aim, once wrote that a woman should conceal “whatever learning she attains, with as much solicitude as she should hide crookedness or lameness”. But thanks to her own perspicacity, and the lively network of intellectual woman to which she belonged, Queen Caroline was one woman who didn’t have to spend her life pretending to be stupid. The celebrations this year to mark the anniversary of the Hanoverian accession are all named after one George or other, but she’s there, if you choose to look for her – the woman who brought the Enlightenment to Britain.


If you’re interested in the anniversary of the Hanoverian accession, I would recommend Lucy Worsley’s three-part series “The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain” on BBC4, starting 1 May at 9pm, as a good place to start. The “Glorious Georges” season at Hampton Court, Kensington and Kew is good for appreciating the atmosphere and decor of the time. A lot of the paintings and objects I've mentioned in this piece are part of “The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714-1760” at the Queen’s Gallery. And at the Victoria & Albert Museum, you can learn more about George II and Caroline’s favoured designer at the “William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain exhibition.

For further reading, try Joanna Marschner’s “Queen Caroline: Cultural Politics at the Early Eighteenth-Century Court”, Lucy Worsley’s “Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court”, Tracy Borman’s “King's Mistress, Queen's Servant: The Life and Times of Henrietta Howard”, J N Duggan’s “Sophia of Hanover: From Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain”, Jeremy Black’s “The Hanoverians: The History of a Dynasty” and Amanda Vickery’s “The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England”.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Starting Star Wars: How George Lucas came to create a galaxy

On the 40th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars, George Lucas biographer James Cooray Smith shares the unlikely story of how the first film got made.

While making THX 1138 in 1970, writer/director George Lucas told composer Lalo Schifrin that he wanted to make a Flash Gordon picture, an updating of the 40s sci-fi serials that he’d enjoyed as a child. It would, however, be those serials not as they were, but how he remembered them as having been. When the rights to these proved unavailable, he began to work on original idea, hoping to create something similar, but which he would own himself.

In January 1973, after completing his 50s nostalgia picture American Graffiti but before its release, Lucas began his outline for this space adventure. The first line of this near-incomprehensible document was The Story of Mace Windu. Mace Windu, a revered Jedi-Bendu of Opuchi who was related to Usby CJ Thape, Padewaan learner to the famed Jedi.’

"Jedi" was a word Lucas had coined to describe a clan of warrior mystics who were essential to his story. A man whose fascination for Japanese cinema had become a general interest in Japanese cultural history, he’d named them after the branch of Japanese drama that drew moral and instructive lessons from stories set in the past – Jidai geki.

This version is set in the thirty-third century and features a teenage Princess, droids, an Evil Empire and a grizzled Jedi warrior, General Skywalker, whose plot role resembles Luke’s from the finished film, although his character is Obi-Wan Kenobi’s. It climaxes with a space dogfight and ends with a medal ceremony. Among the planets named are Alderaan (here the Imperial capital) and Yavin, at this point the Wookiee homeworld. Some characters from this draft (Valorum, Mace Windu) would eventually find a home in The Phantom Menace more than twenty years later.

By May Lucas had a 132 page script, The Adventure of Anikin Starkiller. Skywalker had acquired the forename Luke but was no longer the protagonist. This was Anikin (sic) Starkiller, one of the sons of General Skywalker’s old comrade, the partially mechanical renegade Kane Starkiller. Anikin had to protect a Princess, aided by two robots R2-D2 and C-3PO.

Lucas had worked backwards from Flash Gordon, looking to uncover the source of his appeal, hoping to transfer it to his own story. Once he’d worked his way through the comic strips of Gordon’s creator Alex Raymond, he tackled Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne and Edwin Arnold’s Gulliver on Mars. Conversations with his New Hollywood peers about the archetypes thrown up by his reading – and which he increasingly saw everywhere – brought him into contact with Joseph Campbell’s then newly published Myths to Live By (1972) an anthology of lectures and essays from a man who devoted his career to identifying the basic archetypal characters and situations which he felt underpinned all human mythologies.

"The book began to focus what I had already been doing intuitively" Lucas later said, an idea which seemed to him to itself reinforce Campbell’s contention that such archetypes and situations dwelled in a collective unconsciousness. Lucas expanded his reading to epics of all kinds, and began planning a visual style that would combine the vistas of Japanese master director Akira Kurosawa with the kind of static-camera realism which he’d used on American Graffiti.

Lucas wanted over-exposed colours and lots of shadows, but shot in a way that made them seem unremarkable. Seeing the Apollo missions return from the moon "littered with weightless candy bar wrappers and old Tang jars, no more exotic than the family station wagon" had illustrated to him the problem with every fantasy movie ever made. Their worlds never looked like people lived in them. His film would depict a "used future". Describing the aesthetic he’d sought to American Cinematographer he explained: "I wanted the seeming contradiction of…fantasy combined with the feel of a documentary."  To Lucas Star Wars wasn’t science fiction, it was "documentary fantasy".

There was only one studio executive Lucas thought had any hope of understanding what he was trying to do, Fox’s Alan Ladd Jr, son of the late actor. Like Lucas and his contemporaries in New Hollywood, Ladd was a man driven by a love of cinema. Lucas could communicate with him through a shared vocabulary, describe a planned scene as being like something from The Searchers (John Ford, 1956) or Fahrenheit 451 (Francois Truffaut, 1966) and be understood. Ten days after his presentation to Ladd, they signed a development deal. Fox agreed to pay Lucas $15,000 to develop a script, plus $50,000 to write the movie and another $100,000 to direct it, should it actually be made. American Graffiti associate producer Gary Kurtz was named as Producer for Star Wars, and received $50,000.

The script development money gave Lucas enough to live on whilst he continued work on the screenplay. As he did so it changed again; a ‘Kiber Crystal’ was written in and then written out. Skywalker became Deak Starkiller’s overweight younger brother before becoming the farm boy familiar from the finished film. Characters swapped names and roles. A new character named Darth Vader – sometimes a rogue Jedi, sometimes a member of the rival ‘Knights of Sith’ – had his role expanded. Some drafts killed him during the explosion of the Death Star, others allowed him to survive; across subsequent drafts his role grew. Some previously major characters disappeared altogether, pushed into a "backstory", Lucas choosing to develop the practically realisable aspects of his story.

This is an important clarification to the idea that Star Wars was "always" a part of a larger saga, one later incarnated in its sequels and prequels. That’s true, but not in an absolutely literal way. Star Wars itself isn’t an excerpted chunk of a vast plotline, the rest of which was then made over the next few decades. It’s a distillation of as much of a vast, abstract, unfinished epic as could be pitched as a fairly cheap film to be shot using the technology of the mid 1970s. And even then much of the equipment used to make the film would be literally invented by Lucas and his crew during production.

In August 1973 Graffiti was released and became a box office sensation, not only did the profits make Lucas rich (he became, at 29, a millionaire literally overnight) its success meant that Lucas was able to renegotiate the terms of his Fox deal. Rather than making demands in the traditional arenas of salary and percentages Lucas wanted control of the music, sequel and merchandising rights to his creations. Fox conceded him 60 per cent of the merchandising, aware of its potential value to them, but eventually agreed that Lucas’s share would rise by 20 per cent a year for two years after the film’s release. Few films made money from spin-off products for a whole 24 months, and Star Wars would surely be no different. Lucas got the sequel rights as well, albeit with the proviso that any sequel had to be in production within two years of the film’s release or all rights would revert to Fox.

Most important amongst Lucas’ demands was that, if it went ahead, he wanted the film to be made by his own company, not by Fox. That way he could control the budget and ensure all charges and costs made to the production were legitimately spent on the film. The experience of watching Mackenna’s Gold being made while a student on placement a decade earlier had taught him just how much money a studio could waste, and on a film like Star Wars – which was both ambitious and would inevitably be under-budgeted – it was crucial that this did not happen. Control of the music rights also had a sound reason behind it. Universal were making a fortune out of an American Graffiti soundtrack that was simply a repackaging of old hits featured in the movie. Of the profits of this Lucas saw nothing despite having selected the tracks featured and fought long and hard for their inclusion in his film.

In March 1975, Ladd took Lucas’ draft to the Fox board. They passed it and budgeted the film at $8.5m. Characters bounced in and out of that script right up to the preparation of the shooting draft, dated 15 January 1976. This was tailored to be as close to the film’s proposed budget as possible, and contain as many of the ideas, characters and situations Lucas had spent the past few years developing as he considered feasible.

This draft is the first version of the script in which Kenobi dies fighting Vader. Previously he had been injured, but escaped with Luke’s party. Alec Guinness, who had already been cast, was initially unhappy with this change, but was persuaded by Lucas that a heroic death followed by appearances as a spectral voice would prove more memorable to audiences than his spending the last third of the film sitting on Yavin whilst the X-Wings went into battle.

Filming began on location in Tozeur, Tunisia on 22 March 1976. Before shooting Lucas sat his crew down and made them watch four films which he felt between them defined what he was after in Star Wars. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (1969), Douglas Trumbull’s 1975 Silent Running, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time In the West and Fellini’s Satyricon (Both 1969). The Leone picture was full of the sun-blasted vistas Lucas wanted to evoke for Tatooine, and the Fellini film, with its aspects of travelogue and attempts to portray an entire society in a fly-on-the-wall manner gave an idea of the "documentary fantasy" approach the director was so keen on. All four films shared one vital element: they’re windows onto lived-in worlds remarkable to audiences but regarded as ordinary by the film’s characters.

The first scenes shot for Star Wars were those of Luke buying Artoo and Threepio from the Jawas outside his foster parents’ home. Producer Kurtz had allowed 11 days for the shoot, after that a borrowed army C130 Hercules was scheduled to pick up the cast and crew.

A few days into shooting, creature make-up man Stuart Freeborn was taken ill and had to be flown back to Britain where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Other crew members contracted dysentery. On 26 March Tunisia experienced its first winter rainstorm for half a century, damaging equipment and exterior sets delaying filming of key scenes.

Lucas wanted the stormtroopers to ride ‘dewbacks’, dinosaur-like domesticated beasts that allowed the troops to move across the desert. One dewback was built, out of foam rubber stretched over a wire frame. It could only be used in the background and no one was ever seen riding one. The other live animal Lucas wanted to portray was a Bantha, a huge horned, shaggy beast reminiscent of a prehistoric mammoth. It was to be the mode of transport for the Tusken Raiders, faintly Bedouin, vaguely mechanically-enhanced humanoids who attacked Luke in the Jundland wastes. In the end, creating the beasts proved impossible, and while they were referred to in dialogue in scenes that were shot (‘bantha tracks…’) none of their sequences were lensed.

As hard as the shoot was on Lucas, he at least had an idea of what he was trying to do and how it would all fit together. The actors, suffering stomach troubles, sunburn and long days, were less clear. Anthony Daniels trapped inside an almost immovable fibreglass body suit suffered the worst. Twenty five years later he would give credit for helping him to get through the Tunisia filming to Alec Guinness. "He was incredibly kind to me…I firmly believe that I wouldn’t have completed that arduous task of shooting without him."

Once the Tunisian shoot was over, the cast moved to EMI Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, outside of London. Star Wars was being made in the UK because it wasn’t possible to shoot the film in Hollywood at that time, not that Lucas – with his lifelong disdain of LA itself – wanted to anyway. Star Wars required nine stages simultaneously, something that no Hollywood studio complex could guarantee at anything like sufficient notice. In March 1975 producer Kurtz had flown to Italy to look at studio space, but found nothing suitable. He then caught a plane to London, where Lucas joined him.

Together they scouted UK film studios. Pinewood was a possibility, but management insisted Lucasfilm hire their technicians, a condition which became a deal-breaker. Neither Shepperton nor Twickenham had enough sound stages (although the giant Stage H at Shepperton  - bigger than any stage at Elstree – would ultimately house one scene of the film) which left only EMI Elstree. Then losing £1 million a year, Elstree was being kept open more or less on the insistence of Harold Wilson’s government, whose allies in the Trades Union movement considered the closing of the facility unconscionable. Elstree had no staff, and anyone who wished to rent it had to supply their own technicians and much of their own equipment. Off-putting to many, it sealed the deal for Lucas and Kurtz, who wanted to move their own people in. They hired the facility for seventeen weeks starting at the beginning of March 1976.

To design and build the sets needed to turn to Elstree into a realisation of Lucas’s screenplay they hired John Barry, a British designer who had worked under Ken Adam on Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975) a film Lucas admired enough to hire its costumier John Rollo as well.

Elstree’s two largest stages were given over to Mos Eisley Spaceport and the interior of the Death Star. Both the Mos Eisley hangar bay and the one inside the Death Star which replaced it on the same stage were constructed around the full size Millennium Falcon set created by John Barry’s protege Norman Reynolds. Built by Naval engineers at Pembroke Dock, Wales it was 65 feet in diameter, 16 feet high and 80 feet long. It weighed 23 tonnes.

The absence of Stuart Freeborn, still recovering from Tunisia, meant that most of the aliens seen in the Mos Eisley cantina sequence were completed by assistants and lacked any articulation at all. Unhappy with the scenes as shot, Lucas resolved to do to re-shoots back in the USA.

The last scenes to be shot were for the opening battle, as Vader and his stormtroopers boarded the blockade runner. With little time Lucas used six cameras, manning one himself (Kurtz manned another) and shot the sequence in two takes. The six cameras produced so many different perspectives on the action that even the duplicated events that are in the film are unnoticeable. The finished sequence, chaotic though the creation of it was, is amongst the best put together moments in the movie, a superb evocation of Lucas’ documentary fantasy approach, and the cameras dart in and out of the action like reporters shooting newsreel footage. Virtually the first live action seen in the picture, its style later went a long way towards convincing audiences that what they were seeing was somehow real.

Principal photography completed on 16 July 1976, although some re-shoots and pick up shots for the Tatooine sequences were undertaken in Yuma, Arizona in early 1977. Amongst those scenes shot were those featuring the Banthas. Lucas borrowed a trained elephant from Marine World, and had it dressed to resemble a more hirsute, fearsome pachyderm. Mark Hamill was unavailable to participate. He’d crashed his car of the Antelope Freeway in LA shortly before and was undergoing painful facial reconstructive surgery. Although Hamill should have been involved in the re-shoot, in scenes of Luke’s landspeeder moving across the desert, Lucas had no choice but to film them without him; he took a double to the shoot, dressed him in Luke’s costume and put Threepio in the foreground. Also re-shot, over two days in La Brea, California, were portions of the cantina sequence. New cutaways and background shots were filmed to be inserted into the Elstree footage in order to eliminate as of the unsatisfactory masks as possible.

While supervising editing of the film Lucas experienced chest pains, and was rushed to hospital where he was treated for a suspected heart attack. He was later diagnosed with hypertension and exhaustion, both exacerbated by his diabetes.

Fox were by now trying to book Star Wars into cinemas, and had picked a release date in May, long before the 4th July public holiday, long regarded as the opening weekend of summer. Fox wanted $10m in advance bookings for Star Wars, desperate to recoup an investment that internal studio sources had now decided was foolish. They secured less than $2m, and achieved that only by implying to theatres that they wouldn’t be offered Charles Jarrot’s much-anticipated The Other Side of Midnight if they didn’t sign up for Star Wars too. Before its release several exhibitors complained at this "block booking" and filed suits; Fox was later fined $25,000 for the practice, punished for forcing cinemas to agree to show something which was, by the time they paid the fine, the most financially successful movie ever made.

In early 1977 Lucas screened Star Wars for a group of friends, it was nearly finished – although the opening crawl was longer and many of the special effects shots were absent, represented instead by sequences from World War II films and real combat footage shot by the USAF. Among those present were Brian De Palma, Alan Ladd Jnr, Steven Spielberg and Jay Cocks. Martin Scorsese had been invited but troubles editing his own New York, New York meant he didn’t turn up.

De Palma hated Star Wars, and spent the post-screening dinner rubbishing it to anyone who would listen. Others present were unsurprised, De Palma had behaved in the same way during the group screening of Scorsese’s’ Taxi Driver; laughing loudly through Cybill Shepherd’s conversations with Robert de Niro, and at one point shouting "Shit!" halfway through a tense scene. Only Spielberg seemed impressed, and told Lucas that he thought Star Wars would take $100m. Lucas pointed out that nothing took $100m, and countered that Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind would do better at the box office. The two directors wrote what they considered realistic estimations of what each other’s film would make in its first six months of release on the inside of matchbooks, which they then traded. By the time Lucas got round to opening Spielberg’s matchbook and saw the figure $33m in his friend’s scrawling hand Star Wars had already made ten times that.

Odd as it seems now, when every blockbuster is prefaced by months of breathless, unrelenting media "enthusiasm", Star Wars wasn’t released on a wave of hype or accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign. It was released (on 25 May 1977) to thirty-two screens, after a barely publicised premiere at Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. It made $2.8m in its opening week, but didn’t receive a nationwide release for two months. Despite almost unprecedented success in preview screenings, Fox were still unsure of what to do with Lucas’ bizarre children’s film. Indeed it, only got a Hollywood opening at all because William Friedkin’s Sorcerer – which had been intended for this slot at Mann’s – wasn’t finished.

So negative had advance feeling about Star Wars been that Lucas left the country; he was still in LA on opening day, finishing the sound edit (he was unhappy with the copy playing downtown, and unknowingly embarking on a lifetime of revising his movie) but the next day he and his wife (and Star Wars film editor) Marcia flew to Hawaii, where they were joined by friends, including Spielberg and Amy Irving. It was an attempt to escape what Lucas felt would be the inevitable terrible reviews and wrath of the studio. Even when Ladd called him to share his excitement over the movie’s colossal opening weekend, Lucas was unmoved; all movies labelled science fiction did well in their first few days due to the business attracted by the neglected fanbase for such things. It was only when the film continued to do outstanding business and was expanded to more and more theatres that Lucas considered returning early from his holiday, and began to realise that the film he’d just delivered had changed his life.

As "Star Wars" expanded into more cinemas, and people began to queue round the block to see it, shares in Fox climbed from well under $10.00 to $11.50 each; over the next three months the value rose to $24.62, nearly trebling in price, such was the film’s value to the embattled studio. It was a magnificent vindication for Alan Ladd Jr, who had more than once had to intervene to stop colleagues closing down the film’s production completely. He had never lost faith in Lucas and his bizarre idea, but he was virtually the only person employed by Fox itself who hadn’t.

Just a few weeks before, as the end of the financial year approached, Fox had tried, and failed, to sell its investment in Star Wars to a German merchant bank as an emergency pre-tax write off.

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