Trial by Media: The Queen Caroline Affair
Two hundred years ago the newly crowned King George IV charged his long-estranged wife with adultery, in an attempt to be rid of her for good. The resulting trial of Queen Caroline became the center of a media frenzy the likes of which Britain had never seen. London booksellers sold an enormous variety of pamphlets, broadsides, and books. This outpouring of printed material made George IV the first British monarch who was recognizable to the general public. It also fueled a division of the nation along class lines, and fed a public hungry for gossip about the lifestyles of the rich and famous, foreshadowing today’s tabloid press.
As Prince of Wales, George IV had been forced into an arranged and loveless marriage with his German cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. They separated soon after the birth of their daughter. He ascended to the British throne in 1820 following a decade as regent for his ailing father, George III. George IV’s enormous gambling debts and extravagant lifestyle made him deeply unpopular. His attempt to divorce Queen Caroline through a bill in Parliament gave his political opponents their opportunity to strike back. Accordingly, the reform movement adopted Caroline as their figurehead.
Drawing on the strengths of Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library in graphic satire and Lillian Goldman Law Library in trial accounts, “Trial by Media” examines the role of print media in documenting the Queen Caroline affair and shaping public perceptions. Today these sources serve as a lens for studying gender roles, class divisions, publishing, political satire, and British politics.
Cynthia Roman, Curator of Prints, Drawings & Paintings, Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University
Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale University
Published March 13, 2020