King George IV
Part 8: Wicked Women
The death of King George III on the 29th of January triggered a general election which returned Lord Liverpool’s Tories with a substantial majority over the Whigs. The sixth parliament of the United Kingdom was dissolved on the 29th of February with the new Parliament summoned to meet on the 21st of April, the day after the birth of the King’s son. His Majesty was therefore in high spirits as he rode to parliament to open the new session. George IV used his speech to pay tribute to George III; “In meeting you personally for the first time since the death of my beloved father, I am anxious to assure you, that I shall always continue to imitate his great example, in unceasing attention to the public interests, and in paternal solicitude for the welfare and happiness of all classes of my subjects”. 
The King also took the opportunity to “extend the sincerest thanks to you, my Lords and Gentlemen assembled, and to those beyond this place, who have offered their warmest congratulations on the birth of my son, the Duke of Cornwall, whom I have been pleased to name George Frederick William
”. A polite round of applause met the King’s announcement, though some of the radical members of the Commons were noticed to roll their eyes and refused to join in. The speech also made mention of the recent “distress of the labouring classes” and the King condemned “acts of open violence and insurrection” whilst praising “the vigilance and activity of the magistrates, and the zealous cooperation of all my subjects whose exertions have been called forth to support the authority of the laws”.
The Lords Chamber as it existed before the fire of 1834.
There was one part of the King’s speech however that caused concern. Following the Kew Scandal, George IV (then Duke of York) had made a gentleman’s agreement with the Prime Minister, which was then relayed to parliament to placate them and diminish the Kew furore; the Civil List would be frozen for five years. Though the King had the right to renegotiate the settlement on his accession, he had pledged not to do so. But when George addressed parliament, he left the matter of royal expenditure somewhat ambiguous; “I do not desire any arrangement which might lead to the imposition of new burdens upon my people and I can have no wish, under circumstances like those present, that any addition should be made to the Settlement so recently adopted by parliament. I leave entirely at your disposal my interest in the hereditary revenues in the meantime, with sensible arrangements for you to consider on this subject deferred from advancement until such a time as the present distresses are peacefully resolved”.
Those on high alert for an indication as to whether the King would honour his agreement were left anxious. On the one hand, he appeared to be reconfirming his commitment to ask for no increase. On the other, “sensible arrangements to be deferred from advancement until…” left the door open to the prospect that within the next five years, His Majesty may well break his promise. Why George IV chose to be so vague is unclear, perhaps he wanted to assert his authority in parliament at the earliest opportunity. But he certainly didn’t need any more money, indeed, his finances were incredibly sound. Upon his accession, King George IV received an annual Civil List of £845,727. In addition to this, the King was also in receipt of the revenues from the Duchy of Lancaster, the Duchy’s separate identity preserving it from being surrendered with the Crown Estates in exchange for the Civil List by George III in 1760.
The costs of the planned coronation for August 1820 would be made available by the government as previously agreed following George III’s death and Lord Liverpool considered this a perfectly reasonable expense, especially as the new King had promised a more modest ceremony with economies to be made where possible. The King had also managed to keep his gambling debts low and affordable and whilst he had not inherited anywhere near the personal savings George III had once received from his father, George IV’s personal finances were not in any jeopardy.  But those concerned that the Kew agreement may be broken raised the matter in the Commons following the King’s speech. Liverpool insisted that the King “had spoken of advancement only in relation to the coronation ceremonies” and that “the government had made clear its position that no increase to the Civil List [would] be considered for the period of five years”. This time, the King was given the benefit of the doubt.
In the meantime, Queen Louise began making preparations for the christening of Prince George. Whilst it was customary for royal children to have four godparents as Princess Victoria had been given, the Queen decided that her son should have six. From the immediate families of his parents, his godparents were; his maternal grandfather Landgrave Frederick of Hesse-Kassel-Rumpenheim, his maternal aunt the Duchess of Cambridge, his paternal uncle the Duke of Clarence and his paternal aunt by marriage the Duchess of Clarence. In an effort to show goodwill to the Dutch with whom relations were somewhat tense following disputes arising from the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814, the King of the Netherlands was invited to stand as a godfather (represented by the Duke of Cambridge) whilst the Empress of Russia stood as another godmother (represented by Princess Sophia). 
Charles Manners-Sutton, Archbishop of Canterbury.
The ceremony was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Manners-Sutton, and was held at the Chapel Royal at St James’ Palace on the 22nd of May 1820. On the same day, Prince George was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester by his father.  The assembled guests were not given any refreshments, much to the irritation of Queen Louise who wished to hold grand celebrations to mark the occasion, because court mourning was still being observed for King George III. Prone to sulking, she was said to scowl throughout the ceremony and when the Archbishop of Canterbury splashed holy water in the baby’s eyes leading the little Prince to scream loudly, she was heard to mutter; “What a foolish man!”. Her mood did not improve when she suddenly realised that her mother, who had been resident at the English court since the start of the Queen’s pregnancy, would now be returning to Rumpenheim. With the Cambridges returning to Hanover, Louise was to be left with none of her relations at court and she once again felt lonely and abandoned.
She complained bitterly that Buckingham House was far too small and though the private apartments of the King and Queen had been renovated at a controversial cost of £70,000 the previous year, now she wanted to redesign the building itself. The King was not unsympathetic. Buckingham House was in a state of disrepair and whilst the rooms they had used before their accession were comfortable and spacious, the other rooms in the mansion were barely ever used. In the usual way of things, the royal residences would be redesigned, refurbished or repaired with money allowed specifically for the purpose by parliament in addition
to the existing Civil List. This was not a possibility under the terms of the Kew agreement but the King sided with his wife that the works were urgent. He thereby devised a plan, approved by the Prime Minister, that he would fund the works from the existing Civil List and that any shortfall would be met by selling off Carlton House, the late Prince Regent’s Westminster mansion.
Nash's proposal for the new Buckingham Palace, 1820.
The Prime Minister advised the King to wait a year before any construction began but keen to give his wife something to focus on, George IV summoned John Nash, the Official Architect to the Office of Woods and Forests, and invited him to work with the Queen on transforming Buckingham House into a palace. Nash’s proposal was to enlarge the building by extending the central block and rebuilding the two wings to the east entirely. This would enclose a grand forecourt with a triumphal arch in the centre that would form part of a ceremonial processional approach to the Palace (known as the New Avenue) which would celebrate Britain’s recent naval and military victories. The art collection at Carlton House, along with all furniture and furnishings from the mansion, were sent to Kew until they could find a permanent home at the new Buckingham Palace. The Queen added to the collection by taking advice from the newly appointed President of the Royal Academy, Sir Thomas Lawrence. Lawrence recorded his belief that the Queen had “no perception of what made a good purchase or not” and said that she “bought as an amateur would despite my advice, advice which allowed the Prince Regent to amass a very fine collection”.
Whilst one Palace was being made fit for a King, another was home to a member of the family who had already proven to be a thorn in George IV’s side. The Duchess of Kent had accepted the King’s offer of a suite of rooms at Kensington as a temporary measure and had agreed to remain in England until the birth of the King’s son. These gestures were not made with any kind sentiment to them, rather, both sides had ulterior motives. The Duchess hoped that by giving the King what he wanted, he would relent and pay the late Duke of Kent’s debts, debts which her private secretary Captain Conroy had found were significantly higher than first thought. The Duchess needed the King’s assistance, otherwise, far from returning to her palace in Coburg with her daughter, the Duchess might be forced to sell it and remain in her shabby suite at Kensington on a very limited annual income.
Since her arrival in England in 1817, the Duchess of Kent had forged few friendships at court. She was regarded as haughty and grand, aloof and a terrible gossip. Despite her precarious position, and ignoring warnings from Conroy, the Duchess grew too bold in assuming that, as she was leaving for Coburg anyway, she was practically untouchable. When she heard about the proposed transformation of Buckingham House into a palace, she wasted no time in criticising the Queen’s lavish spending and bemoaned the fact that the King had money to provide himself with a grand residence but could not honour the memory of his late brother (or secure the future fortunes of his niece) by paying off her late husband’s debts. For three weeks, the Duchess told her visitors that “the wicked little Queen will bankrupt England” and even suggested that the King was growing tired of her constant demands for paintings, furniture and jewels and may "put her aside as easily as he did the other one".
The Duchess of Kent.
It did not take long before this tittle tattle reached the ears of the King and Queen. Something would have to be done about the Duchess of Kent, and quickly, but there was still a sticking point the King could not find a solution for; he did not want his niece to leave England. It wasn’t only family loyalty but there were practical considerations too. What if his son died in infancy? What if he had no more children? What if the Duchess of Clarence, now expecting again, never had a child live beyond three or four months? Victoria’s position remained somewhat uncertain and would until the Prince of Wales reached maturity. Until he could be sure all was well, the King wanted his niece to remain in England. But he also knew his wife wanted the Duchess of Kent to leave the court as soon as possible. The court could not withstand another public scandal but both parties were stuck between a rock and a hard place. “Why is he bargaining with that woman at all?”, the Queen asked her ladies, “She should be sent away and the little Princess kept here”.
Since the Accession, none of Queen Louise’s ladies of the bedchamber had been removed or replaced as she had previously threatened to do. Indeed, despite her initial reluctance, she had become fond of them and had even taken the Marchioness of Cholmondeley into her confidence. Her husband, the Marquess, had been promoted to Lord Chamberlain of the Household and the couple were quickly becoming favourites of both the King and Queen. Now Georgiana Cholmondeley saw an opportunity to cement this position, ever aware that the Queen was prone to changing her attitudes on a whim. Visiting Kensington Palace, supposedly to to take a gift to Princess Augusta from the Queen, the Marchioness paid a visit to the nursery where the redoubtable Mrs Brock was protecting her charge, Princess Victoria.
Since the death of the Duke of Kent, Mrs Brock, the Princess’ nursemaid, had bombarded Lady Cholmondeley’s husband with complaints. Though she was nursemaid to the Princess and nominally the head of the nursery whilst more junior nursemaids were present, the true power in the nursery was Louise Lehzen. Born in Hanover, Lehzen had come to England as the Governess of the Duchess of Kent’s elder daughter Feodora, born of her first marriage to the Prince of Leiningen. But Lehzen had been thrilled to have such an important baby in her nursery as Princess Victoria and she was increasingly haughty with Mrs Brock who felt her position was constantly being undermined.  Lady Cholmondeley had advised her husband to ignore Brock’s protests but when a letter came a few days after the Queen had complained about the Duchess of Kent, Lady Cholmondeley saw a way to secure the Queen’s favour once and for all.
The Marchioness sent an invitation to Mrs Brock to take tea with her where all the grievances she had could be aired. As Brock sat and bemoaned Lehzen’s dominating and unfair nursery regime, Lady Cholmondeley nodded in agreement. She then set her trap. The most worrying thing in her mind, the Marchioness cautioned, was that now the Duchess of Kent was to go back to Germany, Lehzen would undoubtedly take full charge of Princess Victoria and poor Mrs Brock would be left behind in England. “But do not worry Mrs Brock”, Lady Cholmondeley said kindly, “I am sure I could find you a place in the nursery at Buckingham House. Of course, it would be a more junior post…”
Mrs Brock broke down in tears. The idea of losing her precious royal charge was too much to bear, let alone her nursery rival winning the ultimate battle. Lady Cholmondeley continued. It was such a shame, she said, that the relationship between the King and his sister-in-law had deteriorated so. He was even minded to keep Princess Victoria in England when the Duchess of Kent left but this was unlikely. The only thing that would prompt him to take such an extreme decision was the suggestion of scandal. Whilst there were vicious rumours (“quite unsubstantiated I am sure”) that there was something corrupt or immoral in the relationship between the Duchess of Kent and Captain Conroy, nobody could prove it. Of course, if they could that would be another matter entirely. Mrs Brock quickly caught on.
Whether there was any truth to her statement or not, she allowed herself to be talked into signing a letter to the Queen (“Who is far more likely to show leniency than His Majesty”) in which she said the entire household of the Duchess of Kent was in turmoil. Her relationship with Captain Conroy was causing “scandal to touch the palace” and she had serious concerns that it may “poison the reputation of the little Princess, something she may carry well into the future and which may even make a good marriage impossible”. In all likelihood, these were simply Lady Cholmondeley’s words committed to paper in Brock’s name. Either way, the Marchioness promised Brock she would not be separated from the little Princess and took the letter to Queen Louise.
The Queen put the letter before the King who, armed with supposed proof that his sister-in-law was having a love affair with John Conroy, made his final decision. The Duchess of Kent must leave England but she would not take his niece with her. How this was to be arranged was another matter entirely. At first, the King tried a soft approach. He was willing to leave the door open for the Duchess to make regular visits to England to visit her daughter who would be lodged with the Duchess’ brother, Prince Leopold. Prince Leopold, the widower of Princess Charlotte and still resident in England, was summoned to Buckingham House. Accompanied by his advisor and confidante, Baron Stockmar, Leopold promised to try and mediate between the King and his sister-in-law, though he left the donkey work to Baron Stockmar.
Stockmar tried to see the Duchess in person but she refused to receive him. She had been estranged from her brother since his love affair with the actress Caroline Bauer had been made public. Unfortunately, Caroline was also Stockmar’s cousin and so the Duchess of Kent left Conroy to meet with Stockmar instead. Stockmar pleaded with Conroy to force the Duchess to see the bigger picture. A brief separation from her daughter would allow things to calm down somewhat, the late Duke of Kent’s creditors would be placated by the payment of a first installment and the Duchess could at least return from Coburg when she wished to visit Victoria. The Princess would be lodged with her uncle who could only have the same best interests at heart for her and after a time, the King may even relent and allow the Duchess to return permanently to England, her debts paid for and her reputation improved. It is unclear as to whether Conroy put this plea to the Duchess personally but when Conroy made a return visit to Stockmar, he made it abundantly clear that the Duchess would not be separated from her daughter under any terms. Neither would she allow her to lodge with Prince Leopold for as long as he was in a relationship with Bauer and Stockmar was in his employ.
Patience with the Duchess ran so thin as to reach breaking point. Stockmar informed the King that Prince Leopold had been unable to mediate with his sister and that the Prince would support the King in whatever course of action he chose to pursue. Unfortunately for the Duchess of Kent, the King asked Queen Louise what should be done, eager to allow her to feel that same sense of importance and influence that his mother had enjoyed when she was Queen consort in all family matters. It was the Queen who passed sentence. The Duchess of Kent would return to Coburg with Princess Feodora and Princess Feodora’s governess, Louise Lehzen. But Princess Victoria would be kept in the charge of Mrs Brock in England. If the Duchess refused to allow Victoria to live with her uncle Leopold, then she would be sent to Clarence House to be raised by the Duke and Duchess of Clarence. Officially, the Duchess of Kent would be said to have returned to Coburg to oversee the running of her estates there and would return regularly to visit Victoria. Privately however, it would be made clear to the Duchess that if she returned without permission of the King or Queen, if she caused scandal, or if she continued to gossip against them, the debt payments would stop and she would never see her daughter again.
As for Conroy, his ambition far outweighed any sense of loyalty to the Duchess of Kent. He had seen royal service as the quickest route to riches and a position of influence as a courtier but he was still a Captain in the army when all was said and done had not officially left military service. The Marquess of Cholmondeley decided a commission would be found for Conroy in Ireland. Despite his relatively short length of time in royal service, he would be given a knighthood and a small pension. The pension would be cut off if he engaged in tittle tattle beyond palace walls. The King did not welcome the idea of honouring Conroy but Lord Cholmondeley assured His Majesty that it was the safest way to handle the situation. There could be no hint of scandal for, if there was, the King would hardly honour Conroy in such a way on his departure if he were guilty of adultery with the Duke of Kent’s widow.
It was left to the Queen to impart the judgement, a task she no doubt relished. When the Duchess of Kent arrived at Buckingham House on the 1st of June 1820, she had no idea what was about to transpire. If she had, she might not have been so foolish as to ask Captain Conroy to accompany her. Whilst she was aware of the gossip that surrounded them at court, she refused to be cowed by it and Conroy too wished to impress on everybody that he had nothing to hide and had carried out his duties in an exemplary fashion. It has even been suggested that Conroy asked to accompany the Duchess to her audience with the Queen in the mistaken belief that he might impress Her Majesty and be invited to remain in England to serve another member of the Royal Family after the Duchess of Kent had departed for Coburg. He was quickly disavowed of any such illusions when he was refused entrance to the Queen’s presence. Only the Duchess’ was to be admitted to the audience.
Queen Louise had chosen the cast well. On one side stood her ladies of the bedchamber with the Marchioness of Cholmondeley closest to the Queen. On the other stood the Dowager Princess of Wales, the Duchess of Clarence, Princess Augusta and Princess Sophia. The Duchess of Kent must have known by this assemblage how serious her situation was, nonetheless, Lady Campbell recorded that she; “curtseyed and smiled toward Her Majesty, nodding to her sisters-in-law but ignoring the Queen’s ladies entirely. I thought her most rude but if she had any inclination of what was to follow, she did not show it and one could almost admire her early calm”. The Queen was “somehow taller, more bold in manner, as if she were trying to infuse herself with the spirit of the late Queen who was always so composed yet so firm in such situations”.
The Queen was disarmingly kind to the Duchess at first. She asked if she had closed her house in Sidmouth without too many difficulties and inquired as to the well-being of Princess Victoria. Then she changed course.
“Where is Conroy?”, the Queen asked.
“He is outside Your Majesty”, the Duchess replied.
“That is good”, Queen Louise nodded, “Lord Cholmondeley wishes to speak with him about his new posting. To Ireland”.
The Duchess of Kent may have been surprised by this, even frustrated or upset, but according to Lady Campbell’s account of the meeting, she did not show it; “She stood upright and said nothing but avoided the gaze of the ladies assembled. She dared not look at the Queen in that moment”.
“You will travel soon too, I understand”, the Queen continued, “To Coburg?”
The Duchess replied that regretfully, she would. She had wished to stay in England where she felt her daughter should be raised, indeed, she felt it was what her late husband would have wanted. But with his debts unsettled, she had no choice but to withdraw to Germany with her daughter.
“I think not”, the Queen said coldly, “We have taken advice and we do not believe that Princess Victoria should be raised in Coburg...”
The Duchess of Kent moved forward. The Queen held up a hand. The Duchess froze. She must now have realised that something was afoot, something that would cost her dear. Lady Campbell recalled; “Her voice was suddenly tremulous, she began to talk of the Duke of Kent’s debts, of the King’s past kindness to her, of the poor conditions at Kensington, of her brother Prince Leopold and all manner of things until the Queen held up her hand and the Duchess fell silent”.
“You will make your arrangements to return to Coburg”, the Queen finally dealt the blow, “But Princess Victoria will remain here. With the Duchess of Clarence”.
The Duchess of Kent let out a yelp “like a wounded animal”. She fell to her knees and began to plead with Queen Louise.
“Do not take my daughter from me”, she begged, “No mother could bear the pain of such a thing!”
The Queen gestured toward the Dowager Princess of Wales. 
“She bore it well enough”.
The Duchess now became so hysterical that Princess Sophia stood up to hold her still. Lady Campbell recorded that the Princess seemed to offer sympathy which only enraged the Queen all the more.
“Did you really believe Madam we did not hear of your whoring with Conroy? Or that we would let it continue?”, Queen Louise spat, “Your own household brought the proof to us and do you imagine we should let you take His Majesty’s niece to Coburg with the lover you paraded so indecently before the court?”
The Duchess protested that she had never bedded Conroy, she had been foolish to rely on him but she was a poor widow with many difficulties, she had never been liked at court and she had no friends or allies.
“We shall cover your debts”, the Queen said, ignoring her pleas, “And then Madam, you shall take your devious servants and faded fineries and go to Coburg where you will remain. You will return to England only at my
invitation and I must tell you Madam, that shall prove a long time in coming”.
With that, the Duchess of Kent, shaking and weeping loudly, clutched to Princess Sophia who led her from the room. “We all felt very much for her in that moment but the Queen did not. As she was carried out by the Princess, the Queen called after her ‘Look upon her not with pity my ladies, for she is a most wicked woman’. It was all quite horrible but we were in full agreement among ourselves that Her Majesty was quite right to act as she did for if Conroy’s sordid behaviour was ever made public, the scandal would be most vicious and put us all in danger of ridicule”. The Duchess of Kent found the corridor outside empty. Conroy had already been given his new commission and had left Buckingham House. The Duchess was shown to her carriage which would take her back to Kensington where she would make her final arrangements to leave England.
The infant Princess Victoria.
But there was one final indignity left for the Duchess of Kent to face. When she arrived back at Kensington, she found Louise Lehzen and Princess Feodora weeping and comforting each other. Mrs Brock, accompanied by men from the King’s household, had taken the little Princess Victoria to Clarence House. The Duchess was not to be allowed to bid her daughter farewell. Ten days later, the Duchess left England for Germany. The Times reported that Her Royal Highness had decided to withdraw to her private residence in Coburg for a time but wished her daughter to remain in England until the New Year. Until her mother's return, Princess Victoria was to live in the care of her uncle, the Duke of Clarence. All had been arranged personally by the Queen, the report said, “who is so very fond of the child as she is of all small children”.
At Buckingham House, the King expressed regret that the situation had deteriorated so. He wrote to Prince Leopold and promised him that he would always be welcome both at court and at Clarence House to visit his niece; “We were grateful for your efforts and I regret that you could not bring that woman to heel, for the situation had become quite untenable”. The Queen meanwhile was “in vulgar good humour” that night, contented that she had rid the court of the Duchess of Kent whilst also pleasing her husband. Lady Cholmondeley was satisfied too. She had secured her position as the Queen’s favourite, if only temporarily.
But outside of the Queen’s Household, other royal retainers knew the truth of the matter and many felt the Duchess of Kent had been cruelly treated and horribly betrayed. Whilst she had never been wildly popular during her time in England, most thought it a heartless thing to separate her from her daughter, especially to forbid her the chance of a farewell. Some even referred to the Queen as “a wicked woman”.
It did not take long for their gossip to travel outside Palace walls. Whilst the King’s reputation was improving slowly with the passage of time, the Queen’s seemed to be on a course of rapid decline. With his coronation looming, support for the monarchy was dropping but the King seemed oblivious and believed that peace and order had been restored to his court. In the coming months, he would find out just how wrong he was.
 This is a modified version of the speech George IV (Prince Regent) gave in the OTL.
 These figures are based on the finances of 1820 in the OTL.
 Her husband stood as Princess Victoria’s godfather in the OTL and around this time Alexander and Elizabeth had reconciled, therefore it makes sense she would be considered. It also allows a little one upmanship between the Queen and the Duchess of Kent.
 If this seems a little quick, bear in mind that George IV (Prince Regent) was created Prince of Wales when he was just a few days old in the OTL. By the same token, in the OTL Queen Victoria created her eldest son Prince of Wales when he was only a month old.
 There is some truth to this in that Lehzen eventually pushed Mrs Brock out of the royal nursery in 1824 to be given sole charge over Princess Victoria in the OTL. Lehzen remained with the Princess after her accession until a few years after Victoria’s marriage. Unable to warm to Prince Albert, Lehzen took herself back to Hanover and out of royal service.
 The Prince Regent’s widow in this TL who had once been separated from her daughter, the late Princess Charlotte of Wales.
[Note] I found myself in a knot here. The Duchess of Kent had no reason to stay in England in this TL, even if her debts were paid. Her position was uncertain and her residence run down and cramped. She was also universally unpopular. Returning to Coburg meant a much happier life in every way. Whilst in the OTL, she chose to sacrifice that to gamble on her daughter’s position, that position in this TL changed somewhat with the birth of Prince George.
But I wanted to keep Princess Victoria in England for later in the TL. And I doubted the King or his brothers would have approved of her being raised in Germany with the ambitious Conroy and the Duchess making decisions for her, i.e. her later education and marriage prospects. In the OTL, Prince Leopold and Baron Stockmar were instrumental in persuading the Duchess of Kent to stay in England, it seemed right that they should feature here but put Victoria before the Duchess, especially with the estrangement between brother and sister.
Laying the groundwork for the Queen and the Duchess to become rivals meant a clash was inevitable and using some palace intrigue and nursery squabbles allowed me to separate mother and daughter in a way that was (IMO) believable and logical given the TL so far.