“It’s only a girl . . . hardly worth waiting so long for, as there are quite enough princesses in the world, and we are often most useless beings.” So said the grandmother of Brunswick’s Princess Augusta, upon the occasion of her birth in 1765. A sad, but perhaps accurate remark. Few of the Georgian princesses are remembered today. Even in their own time, they were largely dismissed once out of sight and married to a foreign prince. There are too many of these unfortunate girls for me to write at length about them here, but I thought you might like an introduction to some of the princesses England forgot. If you want the full story – well, I’m working on the novels!
The picture above is one of George II’s three eldest daughters: Anne, Caroline and Amelia. They weren’t actually born in England, but they became English princesses from a young age. They filled a large gap in George I’s court, left empty as it was by his imprisoned wife and one daughter who was already married to the King of Prussia by the time he ascended the throne. Indeed, George I took possession of the three girls, at one time separating them from their parents completely.
The eldest, Anne, was her father’s favourite at first. A determined and astute young woman, she rarely provoked George II’s famous temper in her younger days. She married William IV of Orange who was a sensitive, slightly deformed man. They loved one another deeply, but their marriage was to be a difficult one. Rebellion tormented their days and they were spectacularly unlucky in their reproductive efforts. Poor Anne suffered several miscarriages, a stillborn child, a daughter who died a few days after her birth and, most horrific of all, a labour of some four days before the decision had to be made to crush the unborn baby’s skull to get it out. Thankfully, they did end up with two living children, Carolina and William. But their happiness was cut short by William’s death, the curvature of his spine causing all manner of medical difficulties under which he suffered bravely before expiring and leaving Anne alone. Alone to rule a foreign country in her own right. She is the only English princess to ever do this. Unfortunately, Anne’s duties to her new country, coupled with a very foolish attempt to out-stay her welcome on a visit to England, alienated her from her father. Far from being the favourite, she was now described by him as “arrogant, imperious, false and foolish.”
The second daughter, Caroline, is a shadowy figure who evokes my pity. When the family first travelled to England in 1714, she had to be left behind with her brother Frederick due to her delicate health. Plagued by illness, she simply wanted to be on good terms with everyone. This was not a possibility in a warring Hanoverian household. She took comfort in food, growing extremely fat and developing a reputation for indolence. She also obsessed over her health, becoming a hypochondriac in later life. After a time, this behaviour estranged her from the rest of her family and she withdrew, barely trying to relate to others. Having said that, she did take pleasure in attending the opera and theatre with her family and was, when Queen Caroline died in 1737, entrusted with the education of her two youngest sisters.
Amelia is perhaps my favourite of George II’s daughters. Eccentric and irreverent, she lived life on her own terms. My favourite snippet from her life is the fact that she used to take her dogs to church with her. She was mad about horses and hunting, hated her eldest brother Frederick and her father’s mistress Henrietta Howard. Her strange taste in fashion was often commented on, and is quite wonderfully reproduced in the TV series The Aristocrats. Most scandalous of all, she had a lover, Grafton, and made no secret about it. As a consequence, she was rarely granted access to her nieces and nephews, being considered a bad influence. She was close to her brother William, the infamous “Butcher” Duke of Cumberland and took interest in his plans to develop Virginia Water. She became very close to George II in his later life, staying with him until the end. Even George III and George IV had a fondness for her – despite, or perhaps because of her rakish nature.
The two youngest daughters, Mary and Louisa, married abroad. Neither were fortunate in their unions. Mary, diffident and gentle, was doomed from the start when she married Frederick of Hesse, whose drinking and cold manner towards her caused comment even at their wedding. She bore him three sons, one of which died in infancy. It was perhaps fortunate that war forced her to flee into exile with her father in law and two sons, escaping her drunken and sometimes abusive husband.
Louisa, the youngest, fared better in her marriage to the King of Denmark. The couple were very popular and got along well together. But once again, childbirth was to prove this princess’ downfall. Her first son died at the age of three, to be followed by the birth of two useless daughters. The much-needed heir did finally arrive in 1749, but he was to prove insane – the same Christian of Denmark who was disastrously married to Caroline Matilda of Great Britain years later. Poor Christian was doomed to create havoc wherever he went – his birth injured his mother and two years later, she had to have an operation on her intestine. This went badly wrong, killing Louisa at the age of only twenty-seven. Her husband was devastated.
These are just very brief summaries of the lives of these astonishing and tragic princesses. And yet, who has even heard of them? I hope, in time, I will be able to show you their amazing characters through my novels. But if you would like to know more in the meantime, I would recommend the book Royal Discord by Veronica Baker-Smith.