Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Richard Honey & George Francis, slain 14th August 1821, St Paul's Churchyard, Hammersmith

Here lie interred the mortal remains of
Richard Honey, Carpenter,
aged 36 years, and of
George Francis, Bricklayer, aged 43 years,
who were slain on the 14th August, 1821, while attending the
funeral of Caroline, of Brunswick,
Queen of England
The details of that melancholy event
Belong to the history of the country
In which they will be recorded
Together with the public opinion
Decidedly expressed relative to the
Disgraceful transactions
Of that disastrous day
Deeply impressed with their fate
Unmerited and unavenged
Their respective trades interred them
At their general expence
On the 24th of the same month
to their memory.
Richard Honey left one female orphan.
George Francis left a widow and three young children.
Victims like these have fallen in every age
Stretch of pow'r or party's cruel rage
Until even handed justice comes at last
To amend the future and avenge the past
Their friends and fellow-men lament their doom
Protect their orphans, and erect their tomb.

“Harris I am not well, pray get me a glass of brandy,” were George IV’s first words at being presented to his future bride, the German princess Caroline of Brunswick.  Lord Malmesbury introduced the pair and later described what had happened. Caroline had knelt before the then Prince of Wales who raised her to her feet and embraced her before wordlessly retreating out of earshot and begging the footman to fetch him a brandy. Apparently equally unimpressed Caroline turned to Malmesbury and speaking in French told him that the prince was rather fat.

Queen Caroline in 1820
It was a bad start to what became a disastrous marriage. Unbeknown to Caroline,  George was already secretly married, to Maria Fitzherbert, and had also just acquired a mistress, Lady Jersey. During the marriage ceremony on 8 April 1795 in St James Palace, George was visibly drunk. As regards the wedding night, George wrote to a friend that "it required no small effort to conquer my aversion and overcome the disgust of her person." Caroline claimed George was so drunk that he "passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell, and where I left him." Both agreed that despite mutual repugnance and George’s overindulgence in alcohol they managed to have sex twice that night. The following night they managed another loveless coupling but that signalled the end of their sex life. Caroline gave birth to a daughter 9 months later which George refused to believe was his. Three days after his daughters birth George made out a new will leaving all his money to Mrs Fitzherbert and one shilling to Caroline. George was a notorious philanderer but Caroline appeared to feel herself equally free to see whoever she pleased and rumour linked her with Admiral Sir Sydney Smith and George Canning amongst others. Hypocritically George, who had a string of mistresses, appointed a special commission to investigate his wife’s alleged adultery and refused to let her have access to her daughter. In 1814 Caroline went into exile in Italy where rumour linked her with a man she had hired as a servant, Bartolomeo Pergami. She continued to live in Italy until 1820 when her father-in-law died and her husband became King. After being snubbed by the Pope Caroline decided to return to England to assert her rights as a Queen. George ordered his ministers to get rid of her and they offered her an annuity of £50,000 if she promised to stay away from England. She refused the offer. George demanded a divorce and applied pressure on his ministers to change the law to allow him to annul the marriage. His behaviour scandalised the general public with whom he was deeply unpopular. When Caroline returned to England riots broke out in support of her and the Guards in the Kings Mews mutinied. George finally persuaded the peers to pass a law denouncing Caroline as an adulteress. Caroline is reputed to have remarked that he had indeed committed adultery – with the husband of Maria Fitzherbert. As for the general public – almost 800 petitions with over a million signatures were produced in her favour. Nothing George or his ministers could do seemed likely to dent her popularity. When she tried to attend the coronation the doors of Westminster abbey were famously locked against her whilst inside her husband made cow eyes at his latest mistress, the Marquise of Conyngham.

Queen Caroline's funeral procession

Three weeks later Caroline, at the age of 53, was dead. Inevitably there was speculation that she had been killed on her husband’s orders. It had been Caroline’s wish to be buried in Brunswick (beneath a tombstone with the epitaph ’Here lies Caroline, the injured Queen of England’) and on 14 August her funeral cortege set off from Brandenburgh House in Hammersmith to transport her coffin to Harwich. The authorities, mindful of public reaction, wished to travel north of London avoiding the city and any potential trouble but huge crowds took to the streets and barricaded all available routes north, forcing the funeral cortege through Westminster. In heavy rain the procession reached Hyde Park where the soldiers of the Royal Guard tried to repeatedly force a way northwards through an increasingly belligerent crowd. Stones and clods of mud were hurled at the soldiers. A magistrate sanctioned them to use force and fifty shots were fired from pistols and carbines into the crowd. Two men died, George Francis a bricklayer at the scene and Richard Honey a carpenter a few hours later. At their inquest the jury returned a verdict of “wilful murder against a life guardsman unknown,” in the case of Francis and manslaughter for Honey. No one was ever prosecuted.  

George Cruikshank's caricuture of the death of Honey & Francis

No comments:

Post a Comment