Princess Augusta Sophia of the United Kingdom was born on 8 November 1768, and most unusually for a king, her father was hoping for a girl.
King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz already had four strapping, healthy little boys, but only one daughter. The king in particular was adamant he hoped for another daughter, such was his delight in the Princess Royal and his hopes to give her a sister to play with. This point of view was positively shocking to the Georgian courtiers. Want a daughter? What good were girls?
Queen Charlotte’s doctor couldn’t let the king’s preference go unmarked. He told King George that, “whoever sees those lovely Princes above stairs must be glad to have another.” The implication, of course, is that a king could never have too many sons. George was having none of that, though. He snapped back at the startled doctor, “whoever sees that lovely child the Princess Royal above stairs must not wish to have the fellow to her.” The king got his wish; his sixth child was a baby girl.
(Baby Augusta is pictured above in her mother’s arms, with the Princess Royal beside her. The other ‘girl’ sitting on the floor at the left of the portrait is actually Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, who was too young to be ‘breeched’ yet and thus was still in gowns.)
Augusta would wind up being closer friends with her younger sister, the 7th born Princess Elizabeth, but in all other respects she was everything King Geroge had happed for. She was a beautiful baby, and eager to please her parents in all things as a young girl, in spite of the occasional temper-tantrum. Even as an adult, Augusta often tried to make her parents happy and serve as the family peacemaker, especially when her elder brothers and her parents were in conflict. She was a dutiful student, and became a coin collector at an early age.
She was also devoted to her younger siblings, fond of coddling her little brothers. She was devastated when two of her small brothers, Alfred and Octavius, died within a few months of each other in 1782/83. Her only flaw as a princess was that she was exceedingly shy, and stammered when meeting strangers. As a public figure, this was a significant hardship.
Nonetheless, her beauty and good nature made her a sought after bride in her teens. In 1785 the Crown Prince of Denmark (later King Frederick VI) let King George know that he wished to wed one of his daughters, preferably Augusta. George metaphorically told Frederick to gi jump in a lake. Due to the horrible way that George’s baby sister, Princess Caroline, was treated when she married King Christian VII, the king was determined never to put any of his daughters into the hands of a Danish monarch.
He was planning to allow Augusta to eventually marry another suitable suitor, but he became mentally ill in a sudden and dramatic fashion, after which Queen Charlotte proved reluctant to allow any of her daughters to wed. Augusta received another proposal from a Nordic royal, Prince Frederick Adolf of Sweden, in 1797 but there was no way her mother was letting her go by then.
The heart is not so easily commanded to be deaf and blind, however. Sometime round 1800 Princess Augusta met Sir Brent Spencer, an Irish general in the British Army, shortly before Spencer was stationed in Egypt. When he retuned from the Middle East, he and Augusta were able to see each other more often and by 1803 Augusta confided in her eldest brother, the Prince of Wales, that she and Spencer were in love.
Her brother was sympathetic to her plight, but there was little he could do to help her. It wasn’t until after he had become the Prince Regent on 5 February 1811 that he was able to take steps to allow her to find some happiness with her lover.
While no official record of a marriage between the two exists, it was noted at the court of Hesse-Homburg at the time of her sister Elizabeth’s marriage in 1818 that Augusta was “privately married.” It was Spencer who informed Augusta of her mother’s death later that year, and Spencer was said to be holding a locket with Augusta’s picture when he died in 1828.
Although there is a strong likelihood the two were wed, the union never produced any children that would have forced public acknowledgement of their nuptials. During her purported marriage, Augusta continued to live primarily at the royal residences, mainly at Frogmore House with her mother. After the queen’s death, Augusta continued to live at Frogmore House until 1837, when her elder brother, King William IV, passed away and bequeathed her Clarence House. She finally had a home of her own. It was there that she died on 22 September 1840 at age 71 following a lingering illness.
She had remained popular with the British public throughout her life, free from scandal and therefore no target for criticism. Most people know little about her, because she was basically a good girl, and good girls rarely make history. Nevertheless, she was a royal who did her duties to the best of her ability, upheld the crown with dignity, and was kind to those who knew her. That should count for something. Decency should always count for something.