Often compared to Catherine the Great or Elizabeth I, Caroline of Ansbach is the great queen Britain forgot it had – a thinker, politician, schemer, patroness and matriarch. This brilliant book offers a remarkable portrait of a woman of great political astuteness and ambition, a radical icon of female power.
The intellectual superior of her buffoonish husband, George II, Caroline is credited with bringing the Enlightenment to Britain through her sponsorship of red-hot debates about science, religion, philosophy and the nature of the universe. Encouraged by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, she championed inoculation; inspired by her friend Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, she mugged up on Newtonian physics; she embraced a salon culture which promoted developments in music, literature and garden design; and she was a regular theatregoer who loved the opera, gambling and dancing. Her intimates marvelled at the breadth of her interests. She was, said Lord Egmont, ‘curious in everything’.
Caroline acted as Regent four times whilst her husband returned to Hanover, and during those periods she possessed power over all domestic matters. No subsequent royal woman has exercised power on such a scale. So why has history forgotten this extraordinary queen?
In this magnificent biography, the first for over 70 years, Matthew Dennison seeks to reverse this neglect. The First Iron Lady uncovers the complexities of Caroline’s multifaceted life from the child of a minor German princeling who, through intelligence, determination and a dash of sex appeal, rose to occupy one of the great positions of the world – and did so with distinction, élan and a degree of cynical realism.
Caroline of Ansbach was born in 1683 as the daughter of Margrave John Frederick of Brandenburg-Ansbach and Princess Eleonore Erdmuthe of Saxe-Eisenach. She was orphaned at a young age and was raised at the court of King Frederick I of Prussia and Sophia Charlotte of Hanover, who would later become her aunt by marriage. She was considered as a bride for the future Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor but ended up marrying George Augustus of Hanover in Herrenhausen, who would become King George II of Great Britain. They would go on to have a successful marriage which produced seven surviving children. Caroline was considered to be far more intelligent than her husband and she was an avid reader. The Regency Act 1728 made Caroline rather than their son Frederick regent when her husband was in Hanover for five months from May 1729. She was again regent in 1732.
The First Iron Lady: A Life of Caroline of Ansbach by Matthew Dennison is the first in-depth biography for over 70 years, the last being Caroline of Ansbach by R.L. Arkell in 1939. The First Iron Lady is very well written despite being a bit long-winded at times. I’ve learned a lot about her and it is certainly a must-read for those interested in the Georgian era. Matthew Dennison is certainly not new to writing royal books. He has also written The Last Princess: The Devoted Life of Queen Victoria’s Youngest Daughter (UK & US), Queen Victoria: A Life of Contradictions (UK &US) and Livia, Empress of Rome: A Biography (UK & US).