Princess Charlotte of Wales, 7th January 1796

7 January 2011

The wedding of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves was not the only disastrous royal wedding; the one on the 8th of April 1795 between George, Prince of Wales and Caroline of Brunswick was just as hideous and involved disappointment on both sides. The Prince for his part was horrified by the sight of his badly dressed, scruffy and rather malodorous bride and declared to the diplomat who had brought her to him: ‘Harris, I am not well, pray get me a glass of brandy.’

His bride was just as horrified and told her companions that: ‘I think he is very fat and nothing like as handsome as his portrait’. It must have been like the worst Facebook blind date EVER. Nonetheless, the ill matched couple were married shortly afterwards, with the Prince turning up drunk to the ceremony. The honeymoon was short and it was reported that the royal couple had only had sex three times before deciding that enough was enough and parting company, although they continued to live under the same roof.

Luckily for all concerned, three times was just enough and Princess Caroline was soon found to be pregnant. She gave birth to their daughter, Charlotte Augusta almost exactly nine months after their terrible wedding day on the 7th of January 1796 at Carlton House in London.

George was petulantly dismayed that the baby was not a boy, probably because he anticipated further traumatic bedroom incidents in his future as he tried to conceive a male heir, but everyone else seems to have been delighted – in particular his father, George III, who adored baby girls. There was also the hope that the birth of a child would reconcile her parents, but this proved not to be the case as it only seemed to increase hostilities between them as George tried his best to separate his wife from her child and she in turn flaunted his rules, even to the extent of taking Charlotte out in her carriage with her.

The battles continued throughout Charlotte’s childhood as her parents, very wrongly, tried to use her as a pawn while the young princess grew up to be an adorable but often wayward tomboy. She was universally adored, both within her own family and by the greater populace, who were charmed by her blonde curls, wide blue eyes and ready smile. It didn’t take long before Charlotte, at this time the only legitimate grandchild of George III and with a host of awful and disliked uncles began to be seen as the hope of the nation.

The battles between her parents continued into Charlotte’s teens, when she began to be criticised somewhat for her free and easy manners, which were considered to be rather too undignified for a princess and heiress to the throne. Her mother, who had lived a somewhat disorderly and ramshackle life since her separation from George was held to be to blame for her daughter’s conduct and so the rows continued.

Charlotte herself is said to have strongly identified with the character of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility and it is easy to see why as she was equally dismissive of convention, a great believer in wearing her heart on her sleeve and just as keen to fall in love as soon as possible, which she swiftly proceeded to do when she first lost her heart to her illegitimate cousin, George FitzClarence and then to a Lieutenant Hesse of the Light Dragoons, who may have been another illegitimate cousin as he was said to be the son of another of her uncles.

In 1813, at the age of seventeen, Charlotte became engaged to William, Prince of Orange, heir of the King of the Netherlands amidst much negotiation about her position as Queen of Great Britain and unwillingness to ever leave her country. The engagement was to be short lived as her fiancé objected to her demand that her mother should be allowed to live with them and so Charlotte called the whole thing off.

Her next infatuation was to end more happily when she fell in love with the impoverished Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and after some machinations was permitted to marry him. The royal wedding took place at Carlton House on the 2nd May 1816. It was one of the first big royal weddings with enormous crowds thronging London in the hope of seeing the princess bride, who wore a gorgeous spangled dress that cost £10,000, a huge sum at the time and her handsome groom.

The mutually devoted and blissfully happy young couple spent their honeymoon at Oatlands and like her mother, the princess soon became pregnant, only to sadly suffer a miscarriage. She became pregnant again shortly afterwards to the joy of everyone, but the pregnancy ended with tragedy when the baby was born dead after a very long labour and then the Princess died too a few days later. She was just twenty one years old.

Her husband was devastated by her loss and kept her cloak hanging on its hook on the back of a door, just as she had left it the last time she had come in from a walk outside. Her parents and family were equally distressed and their misery was echoed by that across the nation, where it was said that ‘It really was as though every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child’ as everyone went into mourning for the lost princess.

The death of Princess Charlotte was seen as a terrible tragedy and affliction. She had truly been the hope of the nation, who viewed the imminent Kingship of her father with disfavour and hoped that he wouldn’t be succeeded by his equally dreadful brothers. Charlotte’s own immense personal charm would also be missed and the immense outpouring of grief was very much akin to that experienced after the untimely death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.

Charlotte was buried with her son at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on the 19th of November 1817, mourned by all. It did not take long after her funeral for the dynastic implications of her demise to become clear and there followed an extremely undignified scramble by her uncles to rid themselves of their mistresses, take wives and beget legitimate heirs. A scramble that was, of course, to result in the birth of the future Queen Victoria on the 24th of May 1819.

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