Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, wife of Frederick, Prince of Wales and mother of George III of the United Kingdom was born on 30 November 1719, the youngest surviving daughter of Frederick II, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg and his wife, Magdalena Augusta. Princess Augusta came to Britain as a teenager who could speak no English on 27 April 1736, where she met her groom and was married immediately in the Chapel Royal of St James’s Palace.
Princess Augusta was even younger in experience and emotional development than she was in years. She was often seen playing with dolls during her first year of marriage, until she was told to stop by the royal family. Frederick took advantage of her naivety and passivity to dominate her and to install his mistress under her nose. Her childlike innocence and his mistress didn’t keep him out of Augusta’s bedchamber, however; she was pregnant before Christmas.
The Prince of Wales would grow to love his sweet-tempered, malleable wife, but he was also a selfish swine who used her as a way hurt his parents, regardless of the personal cost to Augusta. Most of these things were mortifying for Augusta, yet also petty as hell. For instance, Frederick would make his bride hold back before entering the German Lutheran Chapel for services just so she would have to push her way in front of Queen Caroline to get to her proper place, making sure everyone noticed that his wife inconveniencing his mother. Queen Caroline knew it was Frederick behind the behaviour and felt terribly sorry for Augusta, saying “Poor creature, were she to spit in my face, I should only pity her for being under such a fools direction, and wipe it off.”
The most egregious example of Frederick’s selfishness was during the birth of their first child, Princess Augusta, on 31 July 1737. In order to keep his parents from attending the birth (which he was legally obligated to do), he forced Princess Augusta “to travel from Hampton Court Palace while in labour … [to] St James palace [which] was not ready to receive them, no bed was prepared, no sheets could be found, and Augusta was forced to give birth on a tablecloth.”
Unsurprisingly, Frederick’s actions caused a massive breach in the family. This worked out better for his wife, though, because she and her husband were banished to was banished to Leicester House, where Frederick became a devoted family man to Augusta and their children. He took his family, which would expand to 8 children (and add another child shortly after his death), to live in the countryside at Cliveden, where Fredrick enjoyed a life of hunting and fishing and indulged his offspring.
When Frederick died unexpectedly on 2 March 1751, Princess Augusta was bereft. She continued to reside quietly in the country, and focused on the care and education of her family of nine children. Nonetheless, keeping the children in seclusion opened her to severe criticism from the public. Her eldest son, George, was next in line to the throne, and as such had a duty to the public to appear and participate at court events.
The public was even more unhappy when they discovered the recently widowed Augusta’s deepening friendship with her son’s tutor, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute. Augusta, having lived under Frederick’s thumb for so long, seemed to need to be held in affectionate bondage to feel happy. She foolishly insisted that “Bute was visiting her, and not her son, during his back door visits to tutor the prince”, leading to rumors (possibly true) that Bute was her lover. The press had a field day, and her popularity plunged.
Her popularity further declined after her son became King George III on 25 October 1760. She talked him into making Bute prime minister, which caused an uproar. The public and British politicians were furious that Augusta had wielded her influence to gain such a plumb position for her supposed lover.
Bute was hated with a rage there have been few examples in English history. He was the butt for everybody’s abuse; for Wilkes, for Churchill’s slashing satire, for the hooting of the mob who roasted his booth, his emblem, in a thousand bonfires; that hated him because he was a favourite and a Scotsman, calling him Mortimer, Lothario, and I known not what names, and accusing his royal mistress of all kinds of names – the grave, lean, demure, elderly woman, who, I dare say, was quite as good as her neighbours. Chatham lent the aide of his great malice to influence the popular sentiment against her. He assailed, in the House of Lords, ‘The secret influence, more mighty than the throne itself, which betrayed and dogged every administration’. The most furious pamphlets echoed the cry ‘Impeach the King’s mother’, was scribbled over every wall at the Court end of the town.”
The anger was so intense that Bute had no choice but to resign from his post, and Princess Augusta would never regain her former favoritism with the British public.
Augusta was also surprisingly cruel to her daughter-in-law, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, possibly because she was worried a new wife would displace her in her son’s affections. She even went so far as to install personal spies in the young queen’s court staff. Augusta was also purportedly bitter that her younger sons married without her consent, and took her vexation out on their wives.
For her interference in politics, her relationship with Lord Bute, and her standoffish behavior with the British public, the dowager princess was generally loathed by the time she died of throat cancer on 8 February 1772. Her popularity was at such a nadir that “her funeral procession attracted troublemakers who followed the coffin to the grave shouting insults.”