The licentious career of Caroline of Brunswick, the most notorious queen in modern British history, was only exceeded by that of her husband, George IV, and the scandal that emerged when he attempted to obtain a divorce inspired one of the most unusual episodes of nineteenth-century British history. For six months the attention of the country was focused on the queen's trial; massive demonstrations in her support were familiar sights in London streets and news of the matter dominated the columns of the press. The popular outpouring of support for the queen often took the form of reviling the king and his ministers, and revolution seemed to be in the air, yet because no lasting political change resulted from this tumult, historians have tended to dismiss the affair as relatively unimportant. However, to view this interlude primarily in terms of party politics is to overlook the fact that the majority of the people who formed the massive crowds that so alarmed the government were neither radicals nor reformers, and many, if not most of them were unenfranchised. In order to better understand the implications of this unrest, it is important to identify those factors that inspired British men and women to openly denigrate their ruler and to heap opprobrium on the members of government in defense of a woman who, ironically, many believed to be guilty as charged. Such an examination makes it clear that this was an event of profound cultural significance and was in some respects the first wide-spread popular expression of the moral standards that have come to be labelled “Victorian.”
Any attempt to judge “public opinion” is fraught with difficulty. Most of the surviving journals, memoirs, and collections of letters from this period were written by members of the gentry and aristocracy; most of the middle and working-class people who actively demonstrated in support of the queen or who signed the numerous addresses sent to her have tended to remain silent and anonymous. Newspaper and other written accounts of the affair were often extremely partisan, for British society was sharply divided on this issue. Political caricatures, however, overcome some of these difficulties.