Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World

Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World

Historic Royal Palaces and the Yale Center for British Art present a major new exhibition at Kensington Palace.

Opens 22 June 2017

A major new exhibition Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World explores the lives of three German princesses, whose marriage into the British royal family and wide-ranging interests placed them at the very heart of the enlightenment in progress in 18th century Britain. The exhibition, which opened at the Yale Center for British Art in February, will be displayed at Kensington Palace between June and November 2017.

While much has been written about the Hanoverian monarchs – the German Kings who famously feuded with their sons and lost control of the North American colonies - the important role played by their wives has never before been carefully evaluated. Now, thanks to new research emerging from a fruitful academic partnership between Historic Royal Palaces and the Yale Center for British Art, their story will be told for the first time. Three fiercely intelligent, dynamic and culturally curious women emerge from the shadows of history: committed patrons of the arts and sciences, and powerful advocates of ‘Brand Britain’. Their shaping of the monarchy leaves its legacy to our present day.

Caroline, Augusta and Charlotte were German born, Protestant princesses, who married into the Hanoverian dynasty and moved to Britain: Caroline and Charlotte became queens consort to George II and George III respectively, while Princess Augusta held the titles of Princess of Wales, Regent, and Princess Dowager, and was mother to King George III. Each fulfilled their dynastic role – providing heirs (they had over 30 children between them). From then on, each would break the mould. From advocating the latest scientific and medical advances – crucial to women’s health – to their involvement in charity work and roles as patrons of British trades and manufactures, Caroline, Augusta and Charlotte would each subtly alter the role women played in the British royal family, with lasting results.

The three women lived in an immensely dynamic and exciting time, and actively fostered the culture of the Enlightenment from their position right at the heart of the British establishment. Their glittering courts drew in the leading cultural and intellectual figures of the age. At Kensington Palace, Caroline’s drawing room welcomed writers Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, scientist and astronomer Isaac Newton – who performed light refraction experiments there – and composer George Frideric Handel, alongside a steady stream of Prime Ministers and international statesmen.

It wasn’t just within the confines of their palaces, however, that the princesses made their mark; Caroline, Augusta and Charlotte made use of the many products of empire – exotic plants, rare birds and wild animals – to create and recast each other’s gardens with imports from the Caribbean, India, Africa, China and Australasia. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew still stand today as a testament to their ambition and skill. From the kangaroos that would have greeted guests to Queen Charlotte’s Cottage – the first to ever appear in England - to the spectacular 10-storey oriental pagoda designed for Augusta by architect William Chambers, their gardens reflected not just the interests of the court, but also the complex geopolitics of the day and the imperial ambitions of the nation.

The three women were each mother to future kings, and took a great interest in education and child-rearing. Over the course of their lifetimes, attitudes to child-rearing changed rapidly, and the princesses became active contributors to the educational programmes devised for their children, seeking to draw them into experiences outside the palace walls. Beyond their own children, the princesses were involved in ambitious and wide-reaching public philanthropic projects, especially those connected to health and social welfare. They championed inoculation, and publically supported the creation of London’s Foundling Hospital to house deprived and abandoned children. Caroline acted as its founder’s patron, while Augusta both donated to the chapel’s construction fund and attended annual charity fundraising performances of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ in a move designed to entice fashionable and wealthy supporters for the hospital. Identifying tokens left by desperate mothers, as they consigned their children – each unclaimed token representing a child – go on display at Kensington for the first time, exploring the relationship between the women and their shared ambition to encourage charity and improve education in the wider community.

Joanna Marschner, Senior Curator at Historic Royal Palaces said: “Until this point, their contributions have been little understood and it is the aim of this exhibition to demonstrate how they influenced their era in the most vibrant of ways.”

“Caroline, Augusta, and Charlotte had sweeping intellectual, social, cultural, and political interests, which helped to shape the courts in which they lived, and encouraged the era’s greatest philosophers, scientists, artists, and architects to develop important ideas that would guide ensuing generations,” said Amy Meyers, Director of the Yale Center for British Art and organizing curator at the Center.

To reflect the diverse range of interests pursued by Caroline, Augusta and Charlotte, the exhibition will bring together for the first time at the Palace almost 200 objects owned by the princesses, including many highlights from the Royal Collection, the Yale Center for British Art and the royal collections of Denmark and the Netherlands. Personal possessions such as Charlotte’s hand-embroidered needlework pocketbook and pastels of the royal children will be displayed alongside artworks and fine ceramics commissioned from some of the greatest artists and craftsmen of their day, illuminating the inner lives of these three remarkable women, and celebrating the public roles they played in shaping ideas of a national identity.

Notes to Editor

For further information and images please contact Adam Budhram in the Historic Royal Palaces Press Office: adam.budhram@hrp.org.uk or telephone: 0203 166 6307.

Accompanying publication and credits:

The exhibition will be accompanied by a new fully illustrated catalogue of works, edited by Joanna Marschner, with the assistance of David Bindman and Lisa Ford. Co-published by the Yale Center for British Art and Historic Royal Palaces in association with Yale University Press, the book features contributions by an international team of scholars.

Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World is a collaboration between Historic Royal Palaces and the Yale Center for British Art. Lead curator Joanna Marschner, Senior Curator, was assisted by Samantha Howard, Curatorial Assistant. The organising curator at the Center, Amy Meyers, Director, was assisted by Lisa Ford, Assistant Director of Research; Glenn Adamson, Senior Research Scholar; and Tyler Griffith, Postdoctoral Research Associate.

Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World is kindly supported by Farrow & Ball, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany London and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in London.

Farrow & Ball is dedicated to creating unmatched paint and wallpaper using only the finest quality ingredients and high levels of rich pigments, following in the footsteps of founders John Farrow and Richard Ball. Still made in Dorset, England, home to Farrow & Ball since 1946, the distinctive and inspiring paint colours and finishes are renowned for their depth and complexity, bringing walls around the world to life. And the unique artisanal wallpapers are hand crafted using its own paints and traditional trough and block printing methods to give an exquisite, tactile feel and a seamless look in any space. Today, the timeless Farrow & Ball look transforms modern and traditional homes, large and small, inside and out. Farrow & Ball paints, wallpapers and accessories are available from showrooms and stockists around the world and www.farrow-ball.com

Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle.  We help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built. We raise all our own funds and depend on the support of our visitors, members, donors, sponsors and volunteers. With the exception of Hillsborough Castle, these palaces are owned by The Queen on behalf of the nation, and we manage them for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Historic Royal Palaces cares for Hillsborough Castle under a separate contract with the Northern Ireland Office. Registered charity number 1068852. For more information visit www.hrp.org.uk

The Yale Center for British Art houses the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom. Presented to the university by Paul Mellon (Yale College, Class of 1929), the collection reflects the development of British art and culture from the Elizabethan period onward. The Center’s collections include more than 2,000 paintings, 250 sculptures, 20,000 drawings and watercolors, 40,000 prints, and 35,000 rare books and manuscripts. More than 40,000 volumes supporting research in British art and related fields are available in the Center’s library. In May 2016, the Center reopened to the public following the completion of a multiyear conservation project of its iconic Louis I. Kahn building. Visit the Center online at britishart.yale.edu.

You may also be interested in...