Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Charlotte, the Forgotten Princess

by Susanne Dietze

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was born into bitter cold. Her winter birth (January 7, 1796) warmed the hopes of Britain for a stable monarchy, but did little to defrost the icy royal residence inhabited by her parents.

Portrait of Charlotte by George Dawe, 1817
Her father, George, the Prince Regent, was the son of the King, George III, and didn't wish to marry. He already had love with his various mistresses (including Maria Fitzherbert, whom he secretly--and illegally--married in 1785) but as heir to the British throne, he was expected to find a suitable bride and produce legitimate offspring. He also lived far, far beyond his means, and when Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger promised a greater allowance were he to wed, “Prinny” agreed.
George, Prince of Wales, by Sir Thomas Lawrence

At the time, two German princesses were under consideration, both of whom were his first cousins: Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Caroline of Brunswick. George’s mistress at the time, Lady Jersey, found Caroline less threatening, so George offered for her, sight unseen. He sent a diplomat, James Harris, Earl of Malmesbury, to bring Caroline to England.
Princess Caroline of Brunswick

George was not impressed. Upon seeing Caroline, his first words were, “Harris, I am not well, pray get me a glass of brandy.” Matters did not improve. Caroline thought him fat and ugly. She was regarded as somewhat coarse and vulgar, and George was drunk when he and Caroline exchanged vows in 1795.

Nine months scant one day from the wedding, Caroline gave birth to a healthy princess, Charlotte. George was reportedly disappointed the child was not a boy, but apparently not so disappointed that he was willing to try for a son. In fact, George sent Caroline away from their child immediately following the birth. While the nation celebrated the birth of the tiny princess, Caroline was forbidden to have any role in raising her child.

Young Princess Charlotte
Nevertheless, servants helped Caroline see Charlotte when she wished, although the situation was never ideal for anyone, especially Charlotte. By the time Charlotte was eight, George had moved the young princess to her own residence where no one lived with her who wasn’t employed to do so.

Meanwhile, her parents publicly traded insults, some of them of an intimate nature. Growing up as a pawn in her parents’ war, it was little wonder Charlotte gained a reputation as being a bit of a hoyden. She dressed immodestly, had crushes on her illegitimate cousins, and blew kisses in the direction of Whig leader Earl Grey in the theatre.

George wanted her settled down and wed, and he and his advisers settled on William, Prince of Orange, for her groom. Charlotte signed the marriage contract, but she was reluctant, having fallen in love with an unknown Prussian. This Prussian must have been unsuitable, but she stated if she couldn't have him, she'd settle for Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, whom George considered too impoverished to be a serious candidate for Charlotte’s hand.

Leopold I, King of the Belgians
Meanwhile, Charlotte’s mother Caroline opposed the match to the Prince of Orange, much to George’s vexation (which might have been her motivation). When Charlotte insisted her mother live with her after her marriage, the Prince of Orange refused, and Charlotte used the opportunity to break the engagement. George was furious and confined her to Warwick House. Then Charlotte did a shocking thing.

She ran away.

She had never walked down the street alone. Never been without a servant or chaperone. One wonders if she felt more frightened or exhilarated. Out in the street, a man helped her negotiate a hackney cab, which she took to her mother’s house. Charlotte’s flight was the talk of the London, and it took negotiation with family and Whig politicians to return her to her father's home. Her flight didn't go unpunished, of course. She was sent from London and her mother "left" for an extended stay on the continent, never to see Charlotte again.

Alone but under close scrutiny, Charlotte settled into her new life. When she learned her Prussian had formed another attachment, she set her sights on Leopold. George still wanted her to marry the Prince of Orange, but she refused, and eventually, George summoned Leopold. By all accounts, things went quite well when Leopold visited, for on March 14, 1816, the betrothal was announced in the House of Commons.

Huge crowds filled London for the event. At nine in the evening, May 2, 1816, in the Crimson Drawing Room at Carlton House, Charlotte and Leopold were married. 
1818 Engraving of Charlotte and Leopold's wedding

Charlotte’s wedding dress cost over ₤10,000. La Belle Assemblee described it thus:  

Her dress was silver lama on net, over a silver tissue slip, embroidered at the bottom with silver lama in shells and flowers. Body and sleeves to correspond, elegantly trimmed with point Brussels lace. The manteau was of silver tissue lined with white satin, with a border of embroidery to answer that on the dress, and fastened in front with a splendid diamond ornament. Such was the bridal dress ... The jewellery of the royal bride is most superb; beside the wreath, are a diamond cestus, ear-rings, and an armlet of great value, with a superb set of pearls.
The real deal: Charlotte's wedding gown, still stunning after two centuries

The couple enjoyed a brief bridal trip before settling into Claremont House, and they seemed to get along quite well indeed. Charlotte’s dramatic tendencies calmed, and they appeared to be a well-matched couple.
After a miscarriage, Charlotte became pregnant again. The nation was thrilled. They loved “the Coburgs,” as the couple was called. No scandal, no bickering, and an heir within the year.
"The Coburgs"

Charlotte grew quite large, so when her contractions began November 3, 1817, her accoucheur would not allow her to take any nourishment. The contractions continued for two days, but forceps weren’t used—in the days before antiseptics, mortality was high when instruments were used.

At last, a weak Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son the evening of November 5. Charlotte declared it the will of God, ate a bit of food, and tried to rest. Just after midnight, she complained of pain and started vomiting. She suffered from postpartum bleeding, but at that time, the treatment was to place hot compresses on the patient. Within hours, Charlotte died.
Charlotte sat for her final portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence a few days before her death.

The nation mourned; linen drapers ran out of black cloth. Even gambling dens closed the day of her funeral. She was buried at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle November 19, 1817, with her baby at her feet. Her husband had lost his family; her nation had lost its hope.

Charlotte had been King George III’s only legitimate grandchild; his children’s numerous illegitimate offspring were not eligible for the throne. Fearing what would happen when Charlotte's father, the Regent, died, newspapers urged the King’s unmarried sons (all over forty years of age) to wed, and the King’s fourth son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, decided to do something about it. He was living in Brussels with his mistress, but he dismissed her and proposed to Leopold’s sister, Victoria. Their daughter, Princess Victoria of Kent, grew to become Queen Victoria.

And what of Leopold? He married Louise of Orleans and became first King of the Belgians. He was invested in his little niece Victoria, however, and took an active role in securing her marriage to his nephew, Prince Albert. But he never forgot his dear Charlotte. 


What do you think might have happened if Charlotte had lived? 


Susanne Dietze has written love stories since she was in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others to the glory of God. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and spending time with family and friends. She won first place in the Historical category of the 2011-2012 Phoenix Rattler, and her work has finaled in the Genesis, Gotcha!, and Touched By Love Contests. Susanne is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. You can visit her on her website, www.susannedietze.com.

Originally posted on www.susannedietze.blogspot.com


  1. Sorry about the weird font sizes today. I couldn't figure it out. I should've used one of my kids to fix it...

  2. Queen Victoria is such an icon; it's interesting to imagine what might have happened had Charlotte not died. My guess is Victoria would never have been born.

  3. Wow. The description of her running away reminded me of Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. Funny/sad how we look at "royalty" and think it would be so wonderful, but they may just suffer more than the average Joe. Even today.

    You ladies never cease to amaze me with your research!

  4. Hey Niki, I hadn't thought of it like that Aladdin and Jasmine!

    It is interesting how sometimes we envy royalty. The luxuries, the status, the gorgeous clothes...I mean, Charlotte's wedding dress cost ten thousand pounds THEN. I have no idea how much that would equate to in modern terms.

    Yet Charlotte was a pawn in her parents' ugly warm from conception forward. It must have been miserable for her.

  5. Wow, Susie. This story is so sad. Poor Charlotte. A miserable childhood and such a short marriage. It does sound like she had at least one happy year.

    Was her father the George that the movie "The Madness of King George" is based on?

    Did anyone ever discover what became of Caroline?

  6. Thank you for your interesting post, Susie. You never know how history will unfold.

  7. Suzie, it is sad, isn't it? I can't imagine the bitterness in that family.

    "Mad" King George, the kind during the American Revolution, was her grandfather. Charlotte's father, the Prince Regent during his father's illness, became George IV in 1820.

    As for Caroline, well, she was living in Italy when she heard Charlotte died (George didn't bother to write to her.) George also spent a lot of time trying to prove she was an adulteress so he could get a divorce.

    When George became king upon his father's death, Caroline returned to England to assume her role as Queen. George didn't like it a bit, but she was very popular with the people. George wouldn't allow her to attend his coronation, and she died shortly thereafter.

    George, meanwhile, may have fathered a few illegitimate children. He didn't marry again, and his brother William became King after him. Their niece, Victoria, succeeded William.

    Convoluted, eh?

  8. Hi Karl, thanks for visiting! It's amazing to me as I do family genealogy how significant every change is--I know I wouldn't be here if my great-grandpa's first wife hadn't died in childbirth, like Charlotte did. If that poor lady hadn't died, my g-gpa wouldn't have married my g-gma and they wouldn't have had my grandmother.

  9. I've been waiting for this post, Susie. Thanks for the story of Princess Charlotte. I need to look at the family tree to figure it all out. Too many Georges...

    Makes me want to watch The Young Victoria again.
    Knowing what you know through research, do you think they covered history well?

  10. Susie, this story is exquisite. Halfway through, I felt like I was listening to Paul Harvey's, And Now You Know the Rest of the Story.

    And that's exactly what you gave us. So well done.

    Thank you for this. I never knew the complete story, only that Queen Victoria had married her cousin.

    What do I think? I think it was God's plan all along.

  11. And thanks for posting the photo of Charlotte's wedding dress. It's exquisite and so much better than the image of her wedding.

    I wonder how much the dress weighs. Did you find any specs on it?

  12. Ugh Deb, I wrote a comment and it was eaten by the Blogger Beast.

    Yes, lots of Georges. For the sake of this story, just put George III ("Mad" King George) out of the picture, because he was so ill during this time that his son George ruled as Regent. So when I say George, I mean the Regent.

    This family tree was certainly convoluted, and everybody was somebody's cousin. George's mom and Caroline's mom were sisters. Leopold's sister Victoria became Queen Victoria's mom, and Leopold's nephew was Albert, who married his cousin Queen Victoria.

    This family tree is braided like a ficus.

    As for the movie, which I love of course, I know they made up Albert being shot. As for Leopold's role, well, he was very eager to make royal connections in his family and he wanted Albert wed to Victoria. He had a role in their courtship. I think that was conveyed in the movie. I guess this gives me an excuse to go back and watch!

  13. Thanks, Anita Mae! This story breaks my heart--Charlotte was so young and endured a lot of anger between her parents. I'm glad her marriage was, while brief, happy, because healthy marriage was not modeled for her by her parents.

    I could not find specs on the wedding dress, but I imagine it was heavy. It cost ten thousand pounds back then, and I'm guessing a lot of that value was in the silver thread used in the embroidery, slip, and lama. Yes, it was real silver--so I imagine the gown was heavier than one of her usual gowns. When I was at the LACMA exhibit on fashion, one gentleman's court suit which was emboidered with silver thread weighed six pounds.

    It is interesting to compare the photo of the gown with the engraving above (and with other drawings from contemporary magazines like La Belle Assemblee). I don't think they match up that well! Yes, you can see the tiers in the sleeves and the gowns have the same general shape, but the sketch doesn't show the apron skirt. Also, you just can't capture the glittering of the silver in a sketch.

    I don't think Charlotte looks like her portraits in the engraving, either.

  14. wow, such a sad story. i can well imagine the pain Charlotte dealt with for most of her life. It sounds like Caroline was quite the bold woman who knew she had a husband who couldn't care less about her from the beginning and she wasn't going to just be a timid victim.

    i am happy to think that Charlotte had brief happiness in marriage before her death in childbirth. Poor Leopold.

    truth is stranger than fiction, eh?

  15. Hi DebH! I think you're right: Caroline was a bold lady indeed. She refused to go quietly.

    Charlotte and Leopold did seem well-matched. I'm glad they enjoyed some happiness, too.

  16. Hi DeAnna! It's an amazing story, isn't it? We all are so familiar with Queen Victoria. Yet if it hadn't been for Charlotte, Victoria would never have been born.


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