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Books: Forgotten Queen

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CAROLINE OF ANSBACH—R. L. Arkell—Oxford University Press ($4.25).

For most people who know their English history, Queen Caroline means the unhappy spouse of George IV. But George II’s Caroline of Ansbach was, between Elizabeth and Victoria, England’s ablest queen. Last fortnight her almost forgotten career was brought to light again by an English matron, in a biography that is a deft combination of scholarship and good storytelling.

As a fair-haired, fine-featured young Princess of Wales during George I’s reign, Caroline was the first Hanoverian to become popular in England. She quickly realized what her new subjects wanted, and gave it to them. None of her successors has more gracefully gone the approved rounds of gardening, child-rearing, churchgoing, public appearances, patronage of the industries and arts. “This Princess,” wrote the observant Voltaire, “was born to encourage.”

Queen Caroline’s real genius, however, lay in the unobtrusive management of her pompous, stupid consort. When they came to the throne in 1727, she teamed with fat, jovial Sir Robert Walpole, then Prime Minister, to keep the King in line and to strengthen his Stuart-threatened dynasty. She even gave the benefit of her wiles to the miniaturist Frederick Zincke, whom she secretly warned “to make the King’s picture young, not above 25.” Flattered, George bade the painter “employ all your time in pictures for me, for I will take them all.”

Since George thought it behooved royalty, like deity, to possess unflagging health, Caroline minimized her gout and hernia, wore herself out in a decade by constant attention to his Kingly interests. On her deathbed she advised the sobbing King to marry again, knowing his need for feminine sympathy. “No,” he spluttered inconsolably, “I will have mistresses.” He did.

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