I am by nature a woman’s woman. I like the sense of female solidarity you get when you are with a group of like minded women. When the husband was working abroad, my daughters and I would have weekly ‘girlie nights’, huddled on the sofa with bowls of Haribo, covered by our quilts and watching episodes of ‘Pingu’ and ‘Friends’ – an eclectic mix. As a special treat they would be allowed to attend the ‘Prichard soirees’ – friends would be invited round for supper, and coerced into making lavender bags and cakes for the school fete. All this would be accompanied by lively conversations with a distinctly feminist agenda – reclaiming our femininity on our own terms.
During the course of my research for the exhibition I came across the ‘Queen Caroline Quilt’ – Caroline of Brunswick’s story intrigued me. Travelling down to Cardiff, I spent a day with the lovely curator of St Fagan’s National History Museum who generously agreed to the loan of the quilt to the exhibition. Like so many quilts, very little is known about the original maker – but I like to think it was a woman. At the centre of the patchwork is a printed octagonal panel which features a portrait of Caroline, the much maligned consort of the Prince Regent, later crowned King George IV (19 July 1821). Despite the inscription ‘Her Most Gracious Majesty, Queen Caroline of England’, Caroline was never crowned, in a cruel and vicious act she was famously refused entry to the coronation. Over the years every scandalous detail of her ill treatment was reported in the popular press, in 1813 Jane Austen declared ‘Poor woman, I support her as long as I can, because she is a woman, and because I hate her husband’. When the Prince Regent filed for divorce in 1920, mobs of angry women across the country protested – as Caroline made her way to the House of Lords to stand trial ‘hundreds of women were seen crying in the streets’.
We have no way of knowing whether the maker of the quilt intended her work for the marriage bed, if she did her husband was under no illusion as to his wife’s political allegiance – I hope he felt as passionately about the cause as she did.
Claire Smith will be presenting her paper ‘I shall support her forever because she is a woman: The political tales behind the Queen Caroline Quilt’ at the Quilts 1700-2010 conference (11 and 12 June 2010). A small number of tickets are still available for the conference see http://www.vam.ac.uk/whatson/event/545/quilts-1700-2101-hidden-histories…
I’ve also been asked if it is possible to download images of quilts from the V&A website – I’ve been advised that you are welcome to save a copy of the low-resolution images from this site, free of charge, for your own personal use. Personal use means the use of a single copy for non-commercial purposes, e.g. education, academic study, scholarship or research. All images reproduced on the web or in print or in any other approved format for the above purposes, must be accompanied by the appropriate
caption, and the creditline: ©V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London. A selection of images of quilts are also available to buy as prints or canvases from www.vandaprints.com – have a look!