CHARLOTTE OF WALES
A Nation’s Hope
Charlotte Augusta was born on 7 January 1796 and was the only child of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick.
The marriage between George and Caroline was one of convenience as George had been promised a higher income from Parliament to alleviate his considerable debts if he married. Two German princesses, Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Caroline of Brunswick, were proposed as suitable brides with George finally choosing Caroline against his mother’s wishes. Queen Charlotte, having heard rumours about Caroline’s behaviour, considered her unsuitable, and her fears proved to have some basis when Caroline arrived at court in a very dishevelled state. George and Caroline took an instant dislike to each other but were married at St. James’s Palace on 8 April 1795, only to separate weeks later.
Charlotte was born almost nine months to the day of the marriage and was mainly left in the care of governesses, with her father limiting contact with her mother. George was disappointed the child wasn’t a boy but his father, George III, adored his new granddaughter and hoped her birth would help reconcile her parents. Alas, the relationship between George and Caroline was beyond repair and grew increasingly hostile. Despite the animosity, Charlotte was a happy and healthy child who was immensely popular with the British public at a time when the royals were very unpopular.
In 1811, George became Prince Regent as his father descended further into madness and under pressure from the court, he tightened control over his unruly daughter who was beginning to take an interest in the opposite sex. Charlotte’s name was linked to a series of young men, much to her father’s dismay, and he did his best to keep them apart, despite her mother doing the opposite.
In 1813, George began to consider a suitable match for his daughter and settled on William, Hereditary Prince of Orange with Charlotte initially agreeing despite her reservations about his character. The idea of a match between Charlotte and William wasn’t a popular one, especially with Caroline who urged her daughter to reconsider. Charlotte made it clear to William that her mother would have to be made welcome in their home but William declined so Charlotte broke off their engagement. By this time, Charlotte had become infatuated by Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, a lieutenant-general in the Russian cavalry, but her father refused to give permission to marry. The Prince Regent was incensed with Charlotte for not marrying William and banished her to Cranbourne Lodge where she was practically under house arrest.
Charlotte continued to be stubborn in regard to marrying William despite continued pressure from her father, but George was finally forced to abandon the idea when William became engaged to Anna Pavlovna of Russia. With Leopold now involved in the war with Napoleon Bonaparte in Europe, Charlotte begged her father to reconsider their marriage but again he refused. In 1816, George finally agreed to meet Leopold and found him quite charming much to his daughter’s delight and their engagement was announced within weeks.
The new royal couple were very much in love and it wasn’t long before Charlotte was pregnant with their first child, however it ended in a miscarriage. The couple retreated to their Claremont residence to spend time away from court and by April 1817, Leopold was happy to announce that Charlotte was once again pregnant. For the most part, Charlotte remained healthy during her pregnancy but she put on far too much weight and her physicians believed the child would be too large for her to give birth naturally. The physicians put Charlotte on a strict diet, leaving her weak and undernourished, which contributed to the birth of a stillborn son on 5 November. Charlotte seemed to be recovering from her ordeal but later that night she began haemorrhaging and eventually died.
Numb with grief over the loss of his only child, George couldn’t even bring himself to attend her funeral and her mother collapsed after hearing the news. Leopold, who had been under the influence of an opiate the night she died, never got to say his goodbyes to his beloved wife and he was later described as being a shadow of himself. Charlotte was buried, with her son at her feet, in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 19 November 1817.
Always a favourite, Charlotte’s death hit the British public hard and there was an extended period of mourning before they started looking for a scapegoat. Sadly, much of the blame was placed on Charlotte’s physician who later took his own life.
The death of the princess also had serious implications for the royal family as she had been George III’s only legitimate grandchild and the prospect of further heirs wasn’t looking good. Edward, Duke of Kent, married Leopold’s sister, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and their child, Alexandrina Victoria, would eventually succeed to the throne. Queen Victoria maintained a close relationship with Leopold, later King of the Belgians, throughout her life and he was influential in her decision to marry his nephew, Albert.