It’s easy to get carried away in romance, especially where history is concerned. We imagine fine dresses and top hats, forgetting about lack of sanitation and bad personal hygiene. When we study historical princesses, the temptation to lapse into fairytale is even greater. But as you will know, if you have read my blog for a while, the life of a Georgian princess was anything but romantic!
So what happened when a prince finally did come along to sweep our heroines away? Well, settle down and I will tell you the unromantic story of George II’s eldest daughter, Princess Anne.
Assertive and ambitious, it was always Anne’s intention to marry well. But as a princess whose father’s throne depended on his Protestant religion, her choice was limited. After failed negotiations with the French and Prussian courts, it became clear there was only one path for Anne to travel down. Since the days of William III, England had looked kindly on the House of Orange as their liberators from Catholic oppression. An alliance with young William, Prince of Orange, would be joyfully received. Not that there was any alternative. As Lord Hervey put it, Anne’s choice lay between hell and Holland.
William was neither important or handsome, in the grand scheme of things. Moreover, he had a severely hunched shoulder, with increasing curvature of the back and chest. Considering the deformity, George II asked Anne if she was sure she wanted to proceed with the marriage. When she assured her father she would marry William even if he were a baboon, he replied, “There is baboon enough for you.”
Concerned for her daughter, Queen Caroline sent Lord Hervey to look at William and tell her “what sort of animal I must prepare myself to see.” Hervey assured her the prince’s body was as bad as possible, with a short waist, long legs and no calves. It seemed William’s breath was also distasteful. But, Hervey conceded, his countenance was “engaging and noble”.
Te treaty concluded, William arrived at Greenwich to wed the English princess. In true George II style, the King snubbed the new prince. In his opinion, William would be nothing until he married his daughter. But the people of London were excited by the young prince’s arrival, wearing orange cockades and decorating the streets with orange ribbon. This popularity sent George II into one of his famous rages.
Very soon after his arrival, poor William collapsed at church. He lay ill with pneumonia for three weeks, his life in danger. The wedding had to be postponed and George II forbade his wife and daughters from visiting the sick prince. While her fiance stood at death’s door, Princess Anne was calmly playing on her harpsichord. To do the females credit, they did have William over when he was well again – only to be told by the King that he didn’t want such an episode repeated.
The wedding finally took place on 14 March at seven in the evening, four months after William’s arrival. The Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace was fitted up suitably for the occassion with crimson velvet and tafetta, studded with golden roses. Anne wore blue silk looped with diamonds and robes of silver tissue, her train being six yards long. She was accompanied to the altar by her eldest brother Prince Frederick, which must have been an uncomfortable business. Not only did the siblings quarrel in private about music, running rival operas, Fred was resentful that his sister was marrying first – with a dowry of £80,000 – while he was strapped for money. Anne’s family (brother Frederick excepted) wept throughout the ceremony, making it “more like the mournful pomp of a sacrifice than the joyful celebration of a marriage.”
Whilst taking his vows, William was “a less shocking and less ridiculous figure” with a long peruke to cover his bad shoulder. But when the time came to put the couple to bed, the poor prince could no longer hide his deformity. In a rare act of sensitivity, the King arranged for William to be behind a curtain, so that the assembling masses in the bedchamber could only see his cap and brocade nightgown.But Lord Hervey glimpsed William’s body, and thought that from behind the prince looked as if he had no neck. Queen Caroline was frantic at the idea of her daughter going to sleep with “this monster”, owning his appearance had “stunned” her to the point where she might pass out.
The couple left England at the end of April – not soon enough for George II, who was jealous of the popularity William excited wherever he went. However, Anne’s stay in Holland was remarkably short. With war brewing in Europe, her new husband went to join Dutch troops on the Rhine, and she seized the opportunity to return to England. Her mother was overjoyed to see her again, especially when she confided she was with child.
Time passed. Neither sense nor politics could tempt Anne away from her family. She was constantly pressured to return to her new people by the Dutch ambassador. If she carried William’s heir, he argued, it was imperative the boy should be born at the Hague. But Anne clung to the hope she would give birth in England. It wasn’t until William sent Anne a letter announcing he would be home in two weeks that she finally set off – and even then, she had to be urged by her parents. Caroline had to remind her daughter: “You are now William’s wife – God has given you skill and judgement, you are no longer a child.”
When Anne reached my home town of Colchester, she received a letter from her husband saying he was delayed for a few days. She took this opportunity to return to London, despite the fact poor William was traveling day and night in a quest to get home on time. She managed to stay with her family another week before her exasperated parents packed her off again. Her ship actually set sail from Harwich on 7 November, but Anne pleaded sickness and convulsions, forcing the vessel to turn around. The King was at the end of his patience. He refused to receive his daughter back at St. James’s Palace. Anne’s exploits had cost him nearly £20,000 and earned her universal condemnation. She went back to Holland with her tail between her legs.
Sadly, Anne’s child turned out to be a phantom, and she was to suffer several horrific stillbirths and miscarriages in the course of her marriage. However, she finally had a healthy son and daughter. Even her thirst for power was eventually satisfied when, in 1751, poor William died aged just 40 and Anne was appointed regent for her three-year-old son. But I won’t leave you entirely devoid of romance. I can tell you that, despite Anne’s reluctance to return to Holland, she and William became a happy couple, addressing each other affectionately in letters as “Pepin” and “Annin”. Here is one of the last notes he wrote to her:
Farewell dear heart, pearl among women, my joy whom I love more every day. As God is my witness, you are my life’s good fortune. Know that I am your most faithful, most tender and best of friends, Pepin