Remarkably, the two feel deeply in love and both remained faithful throughout their 57 years of marriage.
George had been come king on 25 October 1760, at the age of 22. It was now seen as imperative that the young man take a bride, and this was proving difficult. They needed a highly born lady, preferably not one from England since that could cause all kinds of power plays, but also one that would not be seen as giving ‘too’ much influence to a foreign nation by her access to the king.
The king, his mother, and his advisors thus chose 17-year-old Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz because she was from a twee north German duchy that had very little political importance, and she would most likely have “no experience or interest in power politics or party intrigues”.
The bride-to-be was duly sent for, and arrived in London on the day of her wedding. Alas for the initial impression, the bride was considered to be “ugly” by many people who saw her, since she “had a dark complexion and flared nostrils”.
George liked her well enough, though.
The couple were jointly crowned on 22 September at Westminster Abbey, after which they lived primarily Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace), Kew, and Windsor Castle, with St James becoming the site of official governmental business. George didn’t like to travel, so they spent the rest of their lives in the area, with occasional trips to the seaside at Weymouth.
Her mother-in-law made things difficult for her at first, but Charlotte’s early and abundant reproductive success helped her gain confidence in her marriage. She gave birth to her first son on 12 August 1762, only 11 months after her wedding, and she would eventually fill the royal nursery with 15 children. Only two of the infants, their two youngest sons Octavius and Alfred, died in childhood.
In spite of suggestions that parents didn’t bond with their children in earlier times because of the risk of death, especially upper-class parents who let others care for their children most often, parents were just as likely to love their offspring in days of yore as today. George and Charlotte were very loving parents whom witnesses described as having “their Children always playing about them the whole time”. They were emotionally distraught by the loss of their boys, and mourned for them for the rest of their long lives.
According to Prince Alfred’s governess, Lady Charlotte Finch, when Alfred died shortly before his second birthday the queen “cried vastly” and was “very much hurt by her loss and the King also.” Octavius died less than a year later, and the already grieving parents were crushed by the additional bereavement. There was concern that such emotional agony would harm the queen’s pregnancy (which would be her last), and King George wrote that every day “increases the chasm I feel” because of his loss.
The royals would lose one other child, their youngest daughter Princess Amelia, in her early adulthood, to their great distress. She was one of the several daughters that the king never arranged a marriage for, preferring to keep them at home. King George has occasionally be portrayed as selfish for this, and perhaps even indecently attached to his daughters, but it was a natural reaction to how unhappy the king’s beloved sisters were in their arranged marriages. George and Charlotte could not bear to see their girls made miserable in a foreign country where they could do nothing to help them.
That sounds like very loving parents with altruistic motives, to me.
When Princess Amelia passed away on 2 November 1810, her parents were so bereft that the court physicians assumed grief had caused her father to become mentally unbalanced, and why he could never recover from his final bout of ‘madness’.
Her eldest brother, George, the Prince of Wales who would serve as Regent when his father went mad, was 21 years older than Amelia and so fond of her that he was nearly as devastated as his was father by her death. He would burst into tears at any mention of her name, even three years after her passing.
George and Charlotte did experience tragedies in their married life, including the king’s ‘madness’, but their was a great deal of joy as well. A dozen of their children would outlive them, and while George was in possession of his faculties he and Charlotte were very happy together. They had one of the most harmonious conjugal relationships of any royals in history, and until Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the longest.
During her reign, Queen Charlotte funded the General Lying-in Hospital in London to prevent it from being closed. It was later renamed Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital in her honor, and is “an acknowledged centre of excellence amongst maternity hospitals”. It is a fitting legacy for such a fertile and maternal queen.