Charlotte Augusta, Princess
- Category : Royalty
- Type : ME
- Profile : 2/5 - Hermit / Heretic
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Penetration 4
Princess Charlotte of Wales (Charlotte Augusta; 7 January 1796 – 6 November 1817) was the only child of George, Prince of Wales (later to become King George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick. Had she outlived her father and her grandfather, King George III, she would have become Queen of the United Kingdom, but she died following childbirth at the age of 21.
Charlotte's parents disliked each other from before their pre-arranged marriage and soon separated. Prince George left most of Charlotte's care to governesses and servants, but only allowed her limited contact with Princess Caroline, who eventually left the country. As Charlotte grew to adulthood, her father pressured her to marry William, Hereditary Prince of Orange (later King of the Netherlands), but after initially accepting him, Charlotte soon broke off the match. This resulted in an extended contest of wills between her and her father, and finally the Prince of Wales permitted her to marry Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (later King of the Belgians). After a year and a half of happy marriage, Charlotte died after giving birth to a stillborn son.
Charlotte's death set off tremendous mourning among the British, who had seen her as a sign of hope and a contrast both to her unpopular father and to her grandfather, whom they deemed mad. As she had been King George III's only legitimate grandchild, there was considerable pressure on the King's unwed sons to marry. King George III's fourth son, Edward, Duke of Kent, fathered the eventual heir, Queen Victoria.
In 1794, George, Prince of Wales, sought a suitable bride. He did not do so out of any particular desire to secure the succession, but because the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, promised him an increased income if he married. George, despite receiving large incomes as Prince of Wales and as Duke of Cornwall, lived well beyond his means, and by 1794, his income was insufficient to cover even the interest on his debt.
George had attempted marriage once, to his mistress, Maria Fitzherbert. The attempted marriage was legally invalid as no attempt had been made to obtain the consent of King George III, the Prince's father, which was required by the Royal Marriages Act 1772. Nevertheless, the Prince kept Mrs. Fitzherbert as his mistress, that is, when other mistresses, such as Lady Jersey, were not in greater favour.
George considered two German princesses as possible brides, both of whom were his first cousins. Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the daughter of George's mother's brother, while Caroline of Brunswick was his father's sister's daughter. George's mother, Queen Charlotte, had heard disquieting rumours about Princess Caroline's behavior, and so favoured Princess Louise, whom she considered prettier, and who was her niece by blood, rather than by marriage. Princess Caroline had, it was said, behaved improperly with an Irish officer in her father's army, and earlier negotiations for her hand had broken off for unknown reasons. George, under the influence of Lady Jersey (who considered Caroline a less formidable rival than Louise), selected the Brunswick princess although he had never met her, and despatched the diplomat, James Harris, 1st Earl of Malmesbury, to escort her from Brunswick to Britain.
Harris found the Princess dressed in a dishevelled manner, and it was obvious that she had not washed in several days. He found her conversation coarse and overly familiar. Harris spent almost four months with her, doing his best to improve her behaviour and habits, before they reached England, a time lengthened by poor winter weather and delays occasioned by the war against France. The diplomat brought Caroline to St. James's Palace; on first sight of his bride, the Prince stated, "Harris, I am not well, pray get me a glass of brandy." After the Prince had left, Caroline said, "I think he is very fat and nothing like as handsome as his portrait." When the couple dined together that evening, the embittered Princess made coarse allusions to the Prince's relationship with Lady Jersey; according to Harris this served to cement George's dislike of her. Before the wedding on 8 April 1795, George sent his brother William, Duke of Clarence (later William IV), to tell Mrs. Fitzherbert that she was the only woman he would ever love, then went to the ceremony, drunk.
George later stated that the couple had sex only three times, and that the Princess had commented on how large his penis was, leading him to conclude that she must have had a basis for comparison and so was most likely not a virgin. Caroline on the other hand later hinted that the Prince was impotent. The royal couple separated within weeks, though they remained under the same roof. One day short of nine months after the wedding, Caroline gave birth to a daughter.
Charlotte was born at the Prince's residence, Carlton House, London, on 7 January 1796. While George was mildly unhappy that she was not a boy, the King, who preferred girl babies, was delighted at the birth of his first legitimate grandchild, and hoped that the birth would serve to reconcile George and Caroline. This did not come to pass; three days after Charlotte's birth, George made a will directing that his wife have no role in the upbringing of their child, and leaving all his worldly goods to Mrs. Fitzherbert. Many members of the royal family were unpopular; however, the nation celebrated Charlotte's birth. On 11 February 1796, the little princess was christened Charlotte Augusta, after her grandmothers Queen Charlotte and Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg, in the Great Drawing Room at Carlton House by John Moore, Archbishop of Canterbury. Her godparents were the King, Queen and Duchess of Brunswick (for whom the Princess Royal stood proxy).
Despite Caroline's demands for better treatment now that she had given birth to the second-in-line to the throne, George restricted her contact with the child, forbidding her to see their daughter except in the presence of a nurse and governess. Caroline was allowed the usual daily visit which upper class parents paid to their young offspring at this time; she was not allowed any say in the decisions made about Charlotte's care. Sympathetic household staff disobeyed the Prince and allowed Caroline to be alone with her daughter. George was unaware of this, having little contact with Charlotte himself. Caroline was even bold enough to ride through the streets of London in a carriage with her daughter, to the applause of the crowds.
Charlotte herself was a healthy child, and according to her biographer, Thea Holme, "The impression one gets from all the early recorded stories of Charlotte is of a happy recklessness, and a warm heart." As Charlotte grew, her parents continued to battle, and to use the young girl as a pawn in their conflict, with both parents appealing to the King and Queen to take their side. In August 1797, Caroline left Carlton House, establishing herself in a rented home near Blackheath and leaving her daughter behind—English law at the time considered the father's rights to minor children paramount. However, the Prince took no action to further restrict Caroline's access to her daughter. In December 1798, the Prince invited his estranged wife to spend the winter at Carlton House, which she refused to do. It was the last serious effort at reconciliation, and its failure meant there was little likelihood that George would have a legitimate son who would come between Charlotte and the British throne. Caroline visited her daughter at Carlton House, and sometimes Charlotte was driven out to Blackheath to visit her mother, but was never allowed to stay in her mother's house. During the summers, the Prince leased Shrewsbury Lodge at Blackheath for his daughter, which made visitation easier, and according to Alison Plowden, who wrote of George's relationship with his wife and daughter, Caroline probably saw as much of her daughter as she wanted to.
When Charlotte was eight, her father, whose affections had returned to Mrs. Fitzherbert, decided that he wanted Carlton House to himself. He took over his wife's apartments (Caroline received space in Kensington Palace instead), and moved their daughter into Montague House, adjacent to Carlton House. As James Chambers, another Charlotte biographer, put it, the young Princess "lived in a household of her own, in the company of no one who was not paid to be there". The move took place without the presence of Charlotte's governess, Lady Elgin (widow of Charles Bruce, 5th Earl of Elgin), with whom she was very close. Lady Elgin had been forced to retire, ostensibly on account of age, but most likely because George was angry that Lady Elgin had taken Charlotte to see the King without George's permission. George also dismissed the sub-governess, Miss Hayman, for being too friendly with Caroline—and the Princess of Wales promptly hired her. Lady Elgin's replacement, Lady de Clifford (widow of Edward Southwell, 20th Baron de Clifford), was fond of Charlotte, and too good natured to discipline the child, who had grown into an exuberant tomboy. Lady de Clifford brought one of her grandsons, the Honourable George Keppel, three years younger than Charlotte, as a playmate for her. Forty years later, Keppel, by then Earl of Albemarle, would remember Charlotte in his memoirs, the source of many of the anecdotes of Charlotte as a small girl. In addition to tomboy tales of horses and fisticuffs, he remembered them seeing a crowd gathered outside the Keppel house at Earl's Court, who were hoping to see the young Princess. The two children went outside and joined the crowd, unrecognised.
In 1805, the King began making plans for Charlotte's education, and engaged a large staff of instructors for his only legitimate grandchild, with the Bishop of Exeter to instruct her in the faith that King George believed one day Charlotte, as queen, would defend. The King hoped that these teachers would "render her an honour and comfort to her relations, and a blessing to the dominions over which she may hereafter preside". According to Holme, this instruction made little impression on Charlotte, who chose to learn only what she wanted to learn. Her piano teacher was composer Jane Mary Guest, and Charlotte became an accomplished pianist.
Princess Caroline's unconventional behaviour led, in 1807, to accusations that she had had sexual relations with other men since the separation. Caroline was caring for a young child, William Austin, who was alleged to be her child by another man. The Prince of Wales hoped that what was termed "the Delicate Investigation" would turn up evidence of adultery that would permit him to get a divorce, and forbade Charlotte to see her mother. The investigators did not interview Caroline or her purported lovers, but concentrated on Caroline's servants. When the servants were asked if Caroline had appeared pregnant, some said yes, some no, some were uncertain, and others indicated the Princess was so overweight that it was impossible to tell. The servants could confirm no individual as a lover, though Caroline's footman, Joseph Roberts, stated that the Princess "was very fond of fucking". Charlotte was aware of the investigation. The ten-year-old was deeply hurt when mother and daughter caught sight of each other in the park, and Caroline, obedient to the Prince's command to have no contact with Charlotte, pretended not to see her. To George's bitter disappointment, the investigating committee found no evidence Caroline had had a second child, though it noted that the Princess's behaviour was very much open to misconstruction. The King, who was fond of Caroline, had refused to see her during the investigation, but began to receive her again afterwards. After the conclusion of the Delicate Investigation, the Prince reluctantly allowed Charlotte to see her mother again, with the condition that William Austin not be a playmate.
As Charlotte entered her teenage years, members of the Court considered her behaviour undignified. Lady de Clifford complained about Charlotte's allowing her ankle-length underdrawers to show. Lady Charlotte Bury, a lady-in-waiting to Caroline and a diarist whose writings have survived, described the Princess as a "fine piece of flesh and blood" who had a candid manner and rarely chose to "put on dignity". Her father was proud of her horsemanship. She was fond of Mozart and Haydn, and she identified with the character of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility.
In late 1810, King George III began his final descent into madness. Charlotte and the King were very fond of each other, and the young Princess was greatly saddened by his illness. On 6 February 1811, Charlotte's father was sworn in as Prince Regent before the Privy Council, as Charlotte rode back and forth in the gardens outside Carlton House, trying to catch glimpses of the ceremony through the ground-floor windows. Charlotte was an enthusiastic Whig, as her father had been. However, now that he was exercising the powers of the monarchy, he did not recall the Whigs to office as many had expected him to do. Charlotte was outraged by what she saw as her father's treason, and, at the opera, demonstrated her support by blowing kisses in the direction of the Whig leader, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey.
George had been raised under strict conditions, which he had rebelled against. Despite this, he attempted to put his daughter, who had the appearance of a grown woman at age 15, under even stricter conditions. He gave her a clothing allowance insufficient for an adult princess, and insisted that if she attended the opera, she was to sit in the rear of the box and leave before the end. With the Prince Regent busy with affairs of state, Charlotte was required to spend most of her time at Windsor with her maiden aunts. Bored, she soon became infatuated with her first cousin, George FitzClarence, illegitimate son of the Duke of Clarence. FitzClarence was, shortly thereafter, called to Brighton to join his regiment, and Charlotte's gaze fell on Lieutenant Charles Hesse of the Light Dragoons, reputedly the illegitimate son of Charlotte's uncle, Frederick, Duke of York. Hesse and Charlotte had a number of clandestine meetings. Lady de Clifford feared the Prince Regent's rage should they be found out, but Princess Caroline was delighted by her daughter's passion. She did everything that she could to encourage the relationship, even allowing them time alone in a room in her apartments. These meetings ended when Hesse left to join the British forces in Spain. Most of the Royal Family, except the Prince Regent, were aware of these meetings, but did nothing to interfere, disapproving of the way George was treating his daughter.
In 1813, with the tide of the Napoleonic Wars having turned firmly in Britain's favour, George began to seriously consider the question of Charlotte's marriage. The Prince Regent and his advisors decided on William, Hereditary Prince of Orange, son and heir-apparent of Prince William VI of Orange. Such a marriage would increase British influence in Northwest Europe. William made a poor impression on Charlotte when she first saw him, at George's birthday party on 12 August, when he became intoxicated, as did the Prince Regent himself and many of the guests. Although no one in authority had spoken to Charlotte about the proposed marriage, she was quite familiar with the plan through palace whispers. Dr. Henry Halford was detailed to sound Charlotte out about the match; he found her reluctant, feeling that a future Queen of Britain should not marry a foreigner. Believing that his daughter intended to marry William, Duke of Gloucester, the Prince Regent saw his daughter and verbally abused both her and Gloucester. According to Charlotte, "He spoke as if he had the most improper ideas of my inclinations. I see that he is compleatly poisoned against me, and that he will never come round." She wrote to Earl Grey for advice; he suggested she play for time. The matter soon leaked to the papers, which wondered whether Charlotte would marry "the Orange or the Cheese" (a reference to Gloucester cheese), "Slender Billy" or "Silly Billy". The Prince Regent attempted a gentler approach, but failed to convince Charlotte who wrote that "I could not quit this country, as Queen of England still less" and that if they wed, the Prince of Orange would have to "visit his frogs solo". However, on 12 December, the Prince Regent arranged a meeting between Charlotte and the Prince of Orange at a dinner party, and asked Charlotte for her decision. She stated that she liked what she had seen so far, which George took as an acceptance, and quickly called in the Prince of Orange to inform him.
Artist's impression of the first meeting between Princess Charlotte (left) and Prince Leopold (in front of window, with Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna of Russia and the Russian Prince Nikolai Gagarin)
Negotiations over the marriage contract took several months, with Charlotte insisting that she not be required to leave Britain. The diplomats had no desire to see the two thrones united, and so the agreement stated that Britain would go to the couple's oldest son, while the second son would inherit the Netherlands; if there was only one son, the Netherlands would pass to the German branch of the House of Orange. On 10 June 1814, Charlotte signed the marriage contract. Charlotte had become besotted with a Prussian prince whose identity is uncertain; according to Charles Greville, it was Prince Augustus of Prussia, although historian Arthur Aspinall disagreed, thinking that her love interest was the younger Prince Frederick of Prussia. At a party at the Pulteney Hotel in London, Charlotte met a Lieutenant-General in the Russian cavalry, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. The Princess invited Leopold to call on her, an invitation he took up, remaining for three quarters of an hour, and writing a letter to the Prince Regent apologising for any indiscretion. This letter impressed George very much, although he did not consider the impoverished Leopold as a possible suitor for his daughter's hand.
The Princess of Wales opposed the match between her daughter and the Prince of Orange, and had great public support: when Charlotte went out in public, crowds would urge her not to abandon her mother by marrying the Prince of Orange. Charlotte informed the Prince of Orange that if they wed, her mother would have to be welcome in their home—a condition sure to be unacceptable to the Prince Regent. When the Prince of Orange would not agree, Charlotte broke off the engagement. Her father's response was to order that Charlotte remain at her residence at Warwick House (adjacent to Carlton House) until she could be conveyed to Cranbourne Lodge at Windsor, where she would be allowed to see no one except the Queen. When told of this, Charlotte raced out into the street. A man, seeing her distress from a window, helped the inexperienced Princess find a hackney cab, in which she was conveyed to her mother's house. Caroline was visiting friends and hastened back to her house, while Charlotte summoned Whig politicians to advise her. A number of family members also gathered, including her uncle, Frederick, Duke of York—with a warrant in his pocket to secure her return by force if need be. After lengthy arguments, the Whigs advised her to return to her father's house, which she did the next day.