18 AUGUST 1939, Page 29

The Good Queen Caroline THE good Queen Caroline has had

two excellent pioneer biographers in Doran and Greenwood, neither of whom is mentioned in Mrs. Arkell's bibliography. Mrs. Arkell has drawn upon a formidable list of archives, and has enjoyed the benefits of the recent edition of Lord Hervey's memoirs. Her study is bright and jerky, but well-documented. It is a refreshing change from the endless and squalid books about the uncrowned Queen of George the Fourth.

" The first two Georges," says Mrs. Arkell, " were merely tolerated as alternatives to a Popish king, who might have been preferred to them upon slight provocation. But Queen Caroline, by her acumen and geniality, ensured the dynasty's rooting itself in England, where it has long since been held in affectionate esteem." This is a sweeping claim, and there is little to support it. Queen Caroline was certainly a clever and commanding woman. Her personality marked her out from among the dimmer Hanoverians and their brides. Lord Hervey drew an almost day-to-day picture of the masterful Queen feigning deference towards a ridiculous husband. But Hervey was writing up an effective theme. He was the Queen's hanger-on ; and the fact that she accepted such an individual as the recipient of her confidences must cast some doubt upon the extent of her acumen.

Queen Caroline, with her libraries and tame philosophers, belonged very much to the age of Voltaire. As a girl the ablest of Jesuits had failed in an attempt to convert her to the Roman faith so that she might marry the Archduke Charles and future King of Spain. This Protestant tenacity gave her some prestige among the English, though no more than her husband's bravery at Oudenarde. On four occasions she acted as a capable and conscientious Regent on behalf of her home- sick King. She patronised Handel and Kent and Gay and

Savage, and dabbled very early on with the mock-Gothic taste. As Voltaire himself observed, " this Princess was born to encourage." It seems doubtful whether she was born to any much higher destiny.

The outstanding merit which is always attributed to Queen Caroline is her steady support of Walpole. She has been represented as the real holder of political power.

" You may strut, dapper George, but 'twill all be in vain ; We know 'tis Queen Caroline, not you, that reign."

Historical judgements are too often decided by such bits of doggerel. A few catchy words out of a party pamphlet are allowed to clinch the most complicated matters. Dapper George, apart from his frequent absences in Hanover, was doubtless inferior to his wife in intellect ; and her influence upon him was correspondingly great. Walpole did not culti- vate her for nothing. Yet his Government survived her death by five years ; and had the King been minded to get rid of Walpole during Caroline's lifetime, it is hard to suggest whom he could have raised into Walpole's place.

The most fundamental issue that arose during Walpolc's long years of office was that of English intervention in the war of the Polish Succession. In this matter, Walpole showed himself a cynical Tory. He threw overboard the ancient Whig doctrine of hostility to France. " Madam," he said, " there are fifty thousand men slain this year in Europe and not one Englishman." The Queen took an entirely different view. As a German, she favoured intervention ; and as an intelligent Englishwoman, she believed in the balance of power. There could be no more important point of disagreement between two individuals. That the Queen continued her favour towards Sir Robert Walpole after having been defeated on this issue suggests rather that she mistrusted the alternative candidates for office.

Let all credit be given to the obvious virtues of Queen Caroline ; yet it is still unfair that George II should be treated as a mere foil, by comparison with whom her solid worth can be written up as brilliance. Like his grandson, George II had a ridiculous manner ; and, like his father, he was not at home in England. It is easy to poke fun at him: but he was no dummy. The two grave mistakes of his life were his successive quarrels with his father and his son. Caroline backed him to the bitter end in both. It was the greatest weakness of the dynasty, then and later, that it could not find a proper niche for the heir-apparent. Neither as wife nor as mother of the heir-apparent did Caroline attempt to ease this family difficulty.

Mrs. Arkell does not over-praise Queen Caroline. Her judgements on the whole are very fair ; but at times the temptation is indulged to fall back upon Lord Hervey's facile caricature of George II. His life was not wholly spent in sea- sickness and self-importance and Walmoden revels. It is time for somebody to make a case for him.