The first in a series of two posts, this one looks at the children of King George III and Queen Charlotte, and their complicated marriages and illegitimate children.
The second looks at the succession crisis which ensued after the death of Princess Charlotte, the only legitimate grandchild at the time of her death in childbirth.
Click here to read about A Funeral & Four Weddings: Princess Charlotte and the Succession Crisis
King George III and his descendants
By 1815, King George III and his wife, Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, had had 15 children, 13 of whom lived to adulthood.
The royal couple also had hordes of grandchildren. Not a likely recipe for a succession crisis, it might appear.
But a crisis was indeed brewing. Despite all the adult children and massed ranks of grandchildren, the succession hung by a teenage-girl thread – because, remarkably, although there were tens of grandchildren, they were all illegitimate, apart from one – the then 19 year old Princess Charlotte, daughter of King George III’s eldest son, the future George IV.
All George III’s daughters were past child-bearing age, and his sons had exhibited a remarkably consistant tendancy to form irregular marriages or relationships, which did not therefore produce legitimate heirs to the throne.
King George and Queen Charlotte seem to have been particularly protective of their daughters – some did not marry at all, while others only married in their 40s. Their parents appeared reluctant to have them live lives other than as their mother’s companions.
The sons, on the other hand, were a dissolute and unprepossessing group, taken as a whole. They ran up debts, the scale of which is almost impossible to imagine. The future George IV, for example, at one time had debts equivalent to about £50 million in today’s money.
There also appears to have been a considerable degree of in-breeding. Many of the children married first or second cousins. And all of the Hanoverians appear to have been a pretty ugly bunch!
King George’s children
1. George IV born 12th August 1762
2. Frederick, Duke of York, born 16th August 1763
3. William IV born 21st August 1765
4. Charlotte, Princess Royal born 29 September 1766
5. Edward, Duke of Kent born 2nd November 1767
6. Princess Augusta Sophia born 8th November 1768
7. Princess Elizabeth born 22nd May 1770
8. Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland born 5th June 1771
9. Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex born 27th January 1773
10. Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge born 24th February 1774
11. Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester born 25th April 1776
12. Princess Sophia born 3rd November 1777
13. Prince Octavius born 23rd February 1779
14. Prince Alfred born 22nd September 1780
15. Princess Amelia born 7th August 1783
The two youngest sons died before they were 5 years old, and the other 13 children lived to adulthood.
George Augustus Frederick, later Prince Regent, and later still King George IV, did his bit to contribute to the illegitimate grandchildren.
He married at the age of 21, but his marriage was not lawful for two reasons. Firstly, his bride, Maria Anne Fitzherbert, was a twice-widowed Catholic, and members of the Royal Family cannot produce heirs if they marry a Catholic. Secondly, he did not obtain (as he was obliged to do) the King’s permission for the marriage under the Royal Marriages Act 1772.
George IV and Maria Fitzherbert did not have children. George did father one named illegitimate son, George Seymour Crole, by another woman, and up to 5 other illegitimate children by various mistresses.
George IV was eventually pushed into an arranged marriage, with Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.
This was a disaster from the beginning. They did produce the one legitimate heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, but thereafter the marriage disintergrated into an undignified and public mess.
In a tactful move, Caroline of Brunswick was met on her arrival in the country at Greenwich by Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, her newly-appointed Lady of the Bedchamber and her future husband’s then mistress.
The couple disliked each other from the start. She thought he was ugly, fat and boring, he thought she was smelly, tactless and rude. They were probably both right. Nevertheless, they married in April 1795.
George IV later claimed they had had sex only 3 times, but fortunately one of those occasions lead to the birth of Princess Charlotte in January 1796.
George IV and Caroline separated immediately after Charlotte’s birth. Both were accused of taking lovers and having affairs.
In 1806, a secret commission lead by the Prime Minister investigate allegations that Caroline had given birth to an illegitimate son.
The commission cleared her of giving birth to a child, but said that her behaviour was appalling.
When George IV was crowned in 1821, Caroline arrived at Westminster Abbey but was barred from the building. She died a few months later.
Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany
Frederick married a cousin, Frederica Charlotte of Prussia, in 1791. They quickly separated, and had no children. Frederick is thought to have had several illegitimate childern, about 5 in total.
William IV, Duke of Clarence and St Andrews and Earl of Munster
William Henry spent 20 years living with his mistress, Dorothea Bland, better known by her stage name, Mrs Jordan.
William was another son of George III who realised he wouldn’t get the necessary consent under the Royal Marriages Act, so he co-habited with Mrs Jordan from 1791.
The couple had ten illegitimate children, 5 daughters and 5 sons, given the surname “FitzClarence”. William also had an illegitimate son by another woman before he started living with Mrs Jordan.
Princess Charlotte, The Princess Royal
Charlotte Augusta Matilda married The Hereditary Prince Frederick of Württemberg in 1797 when she was 21 years old – he later became, in order, the Duke of Württemberg, Elector of Württemberg, and King Württemberg.
The couple’s only child was a stillborn daughter born a year after their marriage.
Edward Augustus was also unmarried in 1815. Unlike many of his brothers, Edward did not have a long-term co-habitation. He had a number of mistresses, and at least one illegitimate daughter.
Augusta Sophia never married, and remained living in England until her death, when she was 71.
Elizabeth married Prince Frederick of Hesse-Homburg in 1818, when she was 48 years old. The couple had no children.
King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover
Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale and Earl of Armagh, inherited the throne of Hanover when his older brother William IV died, as Hanover had the salic law and women were barred from inheriting.
Unlike his elder brothers, Ernest kept his private life private, and was single until he married his twice-widowed first cousin, Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, in 1817.
The couple had a still-born daughter in 1818, and a son, Prince George, in 1819.
Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex
Augustus Frederick married Lady Augusta Murray in 1793, without the required permission of the King under the Royal Marriages Act. the Privy Council annulled the marriage in 1794, but the couple continued to co-habit.
The couple had two children, Augustus and Augusta (no ego in naming there…..). After his first wife’s death, Augustus married again, in 1831, Lady Cecilia Letitia Buggin, also in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act.
Adolphus Frederick did not have any illegitimate children that I know of, but at the time of Princess Charlotte’s death, was still unmarried. He finally married a cousin, Princess and Landgravine Augusta of Hesse-Cassel, in 1818.
Mary married her first cousin, Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, in 1816, when she was 42 years old. The couple had no children.
Sophia Matilda never married. There were long-standing rumours of an incestuous relationship with one of her brothers, Ernest Augustus, and also an allegation that she had an illegitimate child in 1800 by a royal groom.
Princes Octavius and Alfred
Both died before they were 5 years old.
The youngest of King George III’s 15 children, Amelia was often described as her father’s favourite.
She fell in love with a royal equerry, Hon. Sir Charles FitzRoy, when she was 20, and had an affair with him.
Amelia died unmarried at the age of 27, having been ill with tuberculosis for some years. Her death caused another episode of George III’s madness.