Princess Charlotte of Wales

The only legitimate child of George, Prince of Wales, and his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, was born on 7 January 1796 – almost nine months exactly after her parent’s wedding night.

Princess_Charlotte_of_Wales_and_Duchess_Caroline_of_Brunswick

It was fortunate the royal newlyweds conceived then, because they loathed each other so instantly and profoundly they would never have sex with each other after the consummation of their marriage. Thus, all the hope of the British monarchy rested on this one small granddaughter of King George III.

princess-charlotte-auguste

The little princess would become as popular as her father, the future King George IV, was reviled. In fact, his treatment of his daughter was one of the reasons the Prince Regent was wildly unpopular; he treated the girl as a pawn to hurt her mother and to spite his own father. One noted example of his careless cruelty toward Princess Charlotte was when he sent away her beloved governess, Lady Elgin, to punish Lady Elgin for taking Charlotte to see her grandfather. Charlotte’s heartbreak was inconsequential to Prince George, because his self-absorption was absolute and unheedingly selfish.

Charlotte, however, had a great deal of will power to go with her natural sweetness. Although she was as headstrong and determined as any Georgian royal, she was also kind-hearted. As she grew older, she refused to be commanded by her father or his conservative cronies; her sympathies lay with the struggles of the common person and she sided fiercely with Earl Grey and the most liberal faction of the Whig party.

Princess Charlotte_Augusta_of_Wales

In turn, the common Brit loved her. Her travails at the whims of her father, and her loneliness in her gilded cage, just endeared her to them all the more. In many ways she was the forerunner of Princess Diana, in that she was considered the “people’s princess”, and appeared to be sympathetically connected to the populace in a way the rest of the royal family were not. Princess Charlotte, like the later-day Princess of Wales, seemed to genuinely care about people … and in turn, they cared about her.

In August of 1814:

Charlotte was permitted to go to the seaside … As the Princess’s coach stopped along the way, large, friendly crowds gathered to see her; according to Holme, “her affectionate welcome shows that already people thought of her as their future Queen”. On arrival in Weymouth, there were illuminations with a centrepiece “Hail Princess Charlotte, Europe’s Hope and Britain’s Glory”

Princess Charlotte had also embraced the Romantic ideology of emotional worthiness and the validity of the heart. She compared herself to Jane Austen’s character Marianne Dashwood, claiming that Miss Dashwood and she were “very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, etc., however remain very like.”  The teenaged princess was determined to marry for love, regardless of Real Politick or her duties to the crown.

And marry for love she did. In spite of everything her father could do to force her to marry William, Hereditary Prince of Orange, whom the press called “Slender Billy”, Charlotte held out and was finally allowed to wed her choice of a husband – a younger son in a minor German principality and mere Lieutenant-General in the Russian cavalry, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

Charlotte_meets_Leopold

Charlotte and Leopold were married at 9:00 PM on the evening of 2 May 1816 in the Crimson Drawing Room of Carlton House, London. The city was packed to the rafters, and people celebrated as if an adored family member or friend were getting married, instead of a royal princess.

NPG D16053, 'Marriage of the Princess Charlotte of Wales to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg, in the Crimson Saloon, at Carleton House, May 2 1816'

The newlyweds, rightly believed to be madly in love with one another, were the toast of the town and the darlings of the British people. Everything they did was worthy of reports in newspapers, and in all the press they were lauded as loudly as the Prince Regent was denigrated. There public appearances were the subject of great rejoicing, and “when they attended the theatre, they were invariably treated to wild applause from the audience and the singing of “God Save the King” from the company.”

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They were not publicity hounds, however, and chose to remain in a quiet domestic setting for the most part. They didn’t even come to the ball in honor of Charlotte’s 21st birthday given by her father at the Brighton Pavilion in 1817, preferring to remain at home in their official residence, Claremont House. Sadly, this birthday would be Charlotte’s last. She died from the complications of childbirth in the early hours of 6 November 1817, leaving a nation in mourning.

the-apotheosis-of-princess-charlotte by john-hammond

Another legitimate grandchild must now be produced, and the royal sons of King George III rushed to get married and breed an heir to the throne.

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