Sadness of King George at courtiers' prying eyes

Royal secret: Restorers at Hampton Court find device for excluding officials
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The Independent Online
The average Briton today may get little privacy, but our problems are nothing compared to the difficulty George II had in getting a bit of peace and quiet with his Queen Caroline.

Life at Hampton Court involved constant interruption. Even in the Royal bedroom. For although George II could lock the door, his leading courtiers - the equivalent of the Prime Minister, the Lord Chief Justice, the Archbishop of Canterbury - all had keys. They could, and did, walk in unannounced.

But George II dreamed up a solution, which although known about at the time, has only now been rediscovered as a result of the restoration of the palace following the 1986 fire.

Work recently began on the bedroom suites used by George II before his death in 1760. As the tapestries were stripped in the Georgian Rooms - what had been Queen Caroline's bedroom - experts were surprised to notice a knob of brass on the door frame and a system of pulleys round the room.

"We thought, 'This is really weird'," said Dr Simon Thurley, curator of the Historic Royal Palaces. "We lined up the pulleys and we realised they led down to this strange brass thing." Mystified as to what the pulleys were for, the curators consulted the experts for ideas. But they drew a blank until somebody mentioned a similar gadget used by Queen Victoria at Osborne House, in the Isle of Wight, to lock herself inside her bedroom.

"It dawned on us that this thing at Hampton Court could be similar. So we ran a wire round the pulleys and put it down to the brass thing on the door frame, put on a big tassel, and it worked," said Dr Thurley.

It was an extraordinary discovery, for it revealed as few others have in recent years how difficult the Royals of past centuries found it to be alone.

This was where the King and Queen went to be alone in the days when taking a bath or going to the lavatory was a ceremonial event attended by the Groom of the Stool.

It is the first time the palace has announced its discovery, which will be told in full at 8.30pm tonight in One Foot In The Past on BBC2. "This bit of surviving technology gives one a little window into how the kings and queens who lived at the palace had to struggle to keep themselves private," said Dr Thurley. And apparently it worked. George and Caroline had eight children.