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Introducing: Queen Caroline of Ansbach

Date: 29 April 2014

Author: Dr Joanna Marschner

Let me introduce you to Queen Caroline of Ansbach, the wife of King George II. She has escaped the attention of historians, but in my opinion, this is a very great shame – I find her an absolutely fascinating woman.

Caroline arrived in London, with her husband, in 1714, in the entourage of the new King George I. Though only Princess of Wales, she was the senior woman at court because King George I had no queen. She boldly initiated a pattern of receptions to which theologians, philosophers, scientists, artists, writers and gardeners were all welcomed.

She may have dressed unfashionably – her clothes were practical and comfy – but I admire her gumption climbing the scaffolding at the Banqueting House in Whitehall, wearing a mantua and petticoat and her favourite slippers, to inspect the conservation of the Ruben’s ceiling paintings.

Her life played out in the early years of the Enlightenment, and it is intriguing to map her journey from traditional Renaissance thinking into that of a new modern world.

While her cabinet of curiosities contained ‘unicorn horns’, which are in fact, the tusks of the artic narwhal, she was also entranced by the latest scientific experiments conducted by Sir Isaac Newton, exploring refraction, and which filled the palaces with rainbows.

Portrait of Caroline of Ansbach. The Queen is shown resting her right hand on a table with her crown and sceptre; wearing robes of state which she draws up with her left hand.

Image: Queen Caroline of Ansbach c.1730. Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

While her exotic thatched cottage at Kew, called ‘Merlin’s Cave’, contained such a curious set of waxworks contemporary journalists had a field day with their waspish comments, the sculpture she commissioned, from John Michael Rysbrack, for the decoration of her library at St James’s was a distinguished, elegant line of kings, and beyond reproach.

I love Caroline because she was funny, enjoyed a joke and was incurably curious about so many things.

Dr Joanna Marschner
Senior Curator, Kensington Palace

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