Followers of my blog will know I am always bewailing the fate of the Georgian queens. Or, more accurately, bewailing the fact that so few people know about them. This looks set to change, for Queen Charlotte at least, with the birth of the Princess of Cambridge. Huzzah!
My publisher has asked me to write something in honour of royal Charlottes. I am therefore pleased to present a potted biography of my very favourite Georgian, Princess Charlotte of Wales. You can see the full article below.
On 2 May 2015, a tiny baby took the nation by storm. TV channels went wild and the fountains in Trafalgar Square ran pink to celebrate her birth. Leaving St. Mary’s Hospital in her mother’s arms, she managed to charm without even opening her eyes. It seems fitting that this little princess should be called Charlotte. She shares the name with one of the most beloved heirs to the British throne.
Princess Charlotte of Wales was born on the morning of 7 January 1796, following a ‘terrible hard’ labour. Her birth was much anticipated; despite raising a family of fifteen with his faithful consort, another Charlotte, George III had yet to become grandfather to a legitimate child. He was delighted with the arrival of this little girl, who secured the succession as third in line to the throne. ‘If the Prince of Wales is blessed with such a daughter as mine are to me, he will be a very happy man indeed,’ he wrote.
But all was not as it seemed. Princess Charlotte had arrived in the midst of a failing marriage. Her mother, Caroline, was living a life of slow humiliation. Her indifferent looks and coarse manners had estranged her from Charlotte’s father, who now paraded a mistress before her. Not that the Prince of Wales was without his own troubles. He had illegally married a Catholic widow before Caroline, and the birth of his first child caused a crisis of conscience. He spent the night of Charlotte’s birth writing a wild and passionate Will – one suspects under the influence of much alcohol. In this strange document, he made it very clear that he wanted his new daughter to be protected from what he saw as the evil influence of his wife.
This was to be an ill omen for Charlotte’s childhood. She lived as a continual bone of contention between her parents, who fought for control of her. It is no wonder that she grew up to be an unconventional princess. Her laugh was too loud; she wiped her nose on her sleeve. She did not mind showing her drawers when she climbed out of the carriage. As a horse-mad tomboy, she picked up habits from the grooms in the stables, nodding at people rather than bowing to them and adopting a slouched standing position.
Despite, or perhaps because of these eccentricities, Charlotte was immensely popular with the public. After a few failed love affairs a broken engagement, she finally found happiness with Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. The nation rejoiced over the marriage of this golden couple. Their fame grew to such a degree, that Charlotte’s father became jealous.
Tragically, on the eve of starting her own family and providing another male heir to the throne, Charlotte’s life was cut short. She delivered a stillborn son on 5 November 1817 and experienced complications after the birth. Less than twenty four hours later, Charlotte was dead, aged just twenty-one.
The outpouring of grief from the British nation was unprecedented. Shops closed for a fortnight, even the poor went into morning. ‘It is difficult for persons not living at the time to believe . . .’ wrote Henry Brougham. ‘It really was as if every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child.’
But Charlotte’s legacy lives in. Her death paved the way for one of Britain’s most famous queens, Victoria, to take the crown. Victoria’s beloved consort, Albert, was coached in his role by none other than Charlotte’s widower, Leopold. The stage was set for another great royal love story. And now, this generation has its very own Princess Charlotte to love. She looks set to become every bit as popular as her namesake.
If you would like more in depth information about Charlotte of Wales – I am your girl! You can read about her relationship with her mother, trips to Brighton, her death, her husband’s life, a longer biography and a particularly unpleasant Christmas for a start. Also, look out for my novel about Charlotte and her mother, which will be coming in the Georgian series. Provisional title is Queen of Misrule.