Heir to the throne – Princess Charlotte
By 1815, the succession hung by one teenage girl, Princess Charlotte. King George III and his wife, Queen Charlotte, had had 15 children, 12 of whom lived to adulthood.
But although George III had at least 20, and perhaps as many as 35 grandchildren, all except Princess Charlotte were illegitimate, and couldn’t inherit the throne.
In 1817, 21 year old Princess Charlotte died in what was known as the “triple obstetric tragedy”. She was second in line to the British throne, after her father, the future George IV.
And her death in childbirth, and the stillbirth of her infant son at the same time, meant that there was a serious problem. (The third death was that of the doctor who attended her in labour, who shot himself.)
Heirs to the throne suddenly looked to be in short supply.
Her many bachelor uncles had to disentangle themselves from various mistress and live-in lovers, and join in a rather undignified stampede to the altar, to try and produce another legitimate heir for the British and Hanoverian thrones.
The uncles were by then all in their late 40s or early 50s, and had to select young German princesses and duchesses to marry.
This is the second in a related series of posts. The first isabout King George III’s children, their mistresses, and various illegitimate children.
Princess Charlotte’s Childhood
Charlotte Augusta, named after both her grandmothers, was born on 7th January 1796 at Carlton House, in London. She was the only child of her parents’ marriage.
Princess Charlotte’s parents loathed each other from the moment they met, shortly before they married in April 1795.
Prince George had agreed to marry Caroline of Brunswick because he wanted more money from Parliament. He hoped for a further increase when Charlotte was born, and was furious that his request was denied.
Charlotte’s father, later George IV, claimed they had only had sex 3 times.
After Charlotte was born, the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline separated and rarely saw each other again.
Charlotte was used as a weapon by both parents against the other from the time she was born, and throughout her childhood.
Her mother was forbidden from seeing her more than once a day, and then only under supervision. Her father visited her every few weeks, if he could be bothered.
She had a strict and disciplined childhood, ordered by her father, with a timetable and little access to social life.
At the age of 11, on holiday, Princess Charlotte was described as overweight and too noisy, and was also prone to mood swings.
In 1811, when Charlotte was 15, her father became Regent of the country, as George III, Princess Charlotte’s grandfather, had succumbed again to insanity.
George used his new powers to restrict Caroline’s access to their daughter, and Caroline responded with a propoganda campaign, leaflets, and pamphlets.
Prince George then caused details of a secret enquiry into Caroline’s sexual conduct to be leaked.
In 1814, Caroline agreed to leave the country, in return for a higher allowance, and she left, initially for Italy.
Princess Charlotte’s Marriage & Pregnancies
Also in 1814, the Prince Regent arranged for his daughter Charlotte to marry Prince William II of the Netherlands, but both Charlotte and her mother, Caroline of Brunswick, refused the match.
Charlotte then married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld at her place of birth, Carlton House, in May 1816, when she was 20 years old.
She became pregnant quickly, twice, and mis-carried on both occasions.
Her third pregnancy within a year was subject to the sort of medical attention more likely to do her harm than good – her diet was very restricted, and she was bled regularly.
The Triple Obstetric Tragedy
Charlotte carried her third pregnancy to term – in fact, two weeks overdue.
The 9lb baby, however, was lying sideways, instead of head down or even head up, and the labour lasted 50 hours before she gave birth to a stillborn boy on 5th November 1817.
Princess Charlotte herself died the following day.
Sir Richard Croft had been Charlotte’s doctor though her pregnancy and labour. Three months after Charlotte’s death, Croft shot himself, leaving a copy of Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labour Lost open at the scene which says, Fair Sir, God save you! Where is the Princess?
The Rush to the Altar
King George III’s two eldest sons, Prince George and Prince Frederick, were both married but separated from their wives.
Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale and Earl of Armagh, had married before Charlotte’s death. In 1815, he had married his first cousin, Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
At the time Princess Charlotte died, they had had no children.
Ernest and Frederica went on to have a stillborn daughter in 1818, and a son, later King George V of Hanover, born in May 1819.
After Princess Charlotte’s death in November 1817, the following year saw 4 of King George III’s children marry.
In April 1818, Princess Elizabeth married Prince Frederick of Hesse-Homburg, but as Elizabeth was then 48 years old, children were unlikely.
The Royal Dukes had to find brides, and had to do so quickly.
The first was Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, who married Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel, his second cousin, on 7th May 1818.
The marriage produced three legitimate grandchildren for George III, George, born on 26th March 1819, Augusta, born 19th July 1822, and Mary Adelaide, born 27nd November 1833.
The next to marry was Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. He had not had a long-term, live-in lover, but did have a bastard or two lurking.
Edward married, on 29th May 1818, a widow, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, who was the sister of the Prince Leopold who had married Edward’s niece, Princess Charlotte.
In a further example of the incestuous royal marriages at this time, Princess Victoria’s first marriage had been to a man previously married to her own aunt.
The third Royal Duke, the future William IV, had previously lived with Mrs Jordan for 20 years, and the couple had produced ten illegitimate children (William had other bastards, too).
William and the actress Mrs Jordan had more or less separated by the time Princess Charlotte died.
In July 1818, 50 year old William married the 25 year old Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen. William and Adelaide had two daughters, Charlotte Augusta Louisa (born 1819) and Elizabeth Georgiana Adelaide (born 1820) but both died within a few months of birth.
Adelaide also suffered several miscarriages, but had no more children.