Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Death of Caroline of Ansbach

Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach (Ansbach, Holy Roman Empire, 1st March 1683 – London, England, 20th November 1737)


Caroline of Ansbach by Jacopo Amigoni, 1735
Caroline of Ansbach by Jacopo Amigoni, 1735

Just a couple of days ago, we peeked in at the final hours of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and today we once again the share last moments of a queen. Caroline of Ansbach was, of course, the wife of George II, and had enjoyed several successful periods as regent. These periods won her the admiration and respect of the English people and she remained popular throughout her ten years as queen.


Like so many women of her era, Caroline underwent no small measure of trauma during her ten pregnancies and it was to be a trauma to her womb that would eventually kill her. Although she began to suffer a number of ailments as she grew older, the fatal blow came on 9th November 1737 when she attended a reception and was struck down by a terrible pain in her abdomen.


Despite the agony the queen tried to carry out her duties she was forced to retire to her private rooms at St James's Palace where the royal physicians descended, led by Dr John Ranby. The doctors decided that Caroline's womb had ruptured and set about treating her in their tried and tested way. When bleeding produced no solution they attempted surgery and the queen endured these unaesthetised procedures without complaint, growing weaker with every passing day.


Eventually Caroline and George told the doctors that, many years earlier, the queen had suffered from  an umbilical hernia. With this knowledge, Ranby could finally take action and went to work on the hernia, which over the years had caused part of her bowel to decay. In the gruesome operation that followed, the doctors sliced out the decayed flesh, completely opening her bowels and causing catastrophic damage. From that day on her fate was sealed; raw excrement oozed into her abdomen and out through the surgical wounds as Caroline clung weakly to life, suffering untold agony with every moment.


For a week the queen lingered on, well aware that her death was swiftly approaching. She begged her husband to marry again once she was gone but he refused, saying that he may take a mistress, but never another wife. In his eyes, no woman could truly match her and as she faded from life, he maintained a vigil at her side.


At ten o'clock on the evening of 20th November 1737, attended by her husband and daughter, Caroline's unimaginable suffering came to an end. She took George's hand and told him with her final breath, "I am going."


As she had been so many times, the queen was proved right. Plunging the public, court and her own family into mourning, Caroline of Ansbach passed away. She was buried in Westminster Abbey and when her husband joined her in death, their coffins were placed side by side and the sides removed, so that they might rest together for eternity.


Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.



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19 comments:

  1. Poor lady! It sounds as though the doctors 'dived in' with little thought of procedure or outcome. She must have been in agony .

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  2. She was a remarkable and able woman, but I have always wondered why she took such a dislike to her eldest son.

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    1. I've been musing on a post on that very subject!

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    2. I suspect that Poor Fred had had a homosexual flutter with the bi-sexual Lord Hervey and his parents couldn't forgive him for that. An attitude not unknown even in these more compassionate days!

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  3. Poor woman!! How very sad.

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    1. This is one of those tales that just turns the stomach!

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  5. Ugh! Imagine the fortitude required to have someone slice up your stomach. It is rather strange with the estrangement between Caroline and her son - guess George I carries a substantial part of the blame, separating the son from his parents when he was only seven...

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    1. I think you're right on the George I thing, he hardly set them up for successful relationships in later life!

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    1. I think it's one of the worst that I've featured!

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  7. Jesus! I clicked on it because I'm always attracted to phrases like 'gruesome death', but kind of wish I hadn't, ha ha!!!

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    1. Oops; I hope you weren't eating at the time!

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  8. Fascinating post! Stories like this make me understand why doctors were feared more than revered in the days before anesthesia and modern sterilization. Caroline must have had tremendous strength, both physical and mental, to have lived with a partially decayed bowel and then to have held on as long as she did after such ghastly surgery. What a terrible way to die, poor woman! Thanks so much for sharing this bit of "horrible history"!

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    1. I've recently been writing a far more detailed description of Caroline's fate for my forthcoming book, Queens of Georgian Britain, and it remains a story that fascinated and repels in equal measure. Poor Caroline, what a way to go!

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    2. Wow, you must have a stronger stomach than I! Just imagining the poor woman with a partially decayed bowel was enough for me. I'm not sure I would want more graphic details!

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