Originally posted on February 12, 2011, ahead of the other wedding of the decade, that of William and Katherine.
As I write this, there is no word on the designer Kate Middleton has chosen to create her wedding gown, though I have heard many breathless accounts of who is and who is not in the running. So let’s indulge our royal wedding mania by looking at some of the gowns worn in the past.
Above is the dress worn by Princess Charlotte of Wales at her May 2, 1816, wedding to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, as exhibited in the Museum of London here.
The Lady’s Magazine of May, 1816, described the gown: White silk net embroidered in silver strip with a spotted ground and borders. The wedding dress, composed of a most magnificent silver lama on net, over a rich silver tissue slip, with a superb border of silver lama embroidery at the bottom, forming shells and bouquets above the border; a most elegant fullness tastefully designed, in festoons of rich silver lama, and finished with a very brilliant rollio of lama; the body and sleeves to correspond, trimmed with a most beautiful point Brussels lace, in a peculiar elegant style.
The manteau of rich silver tissue lined with white satin, trimmed round with a most superb silver lama border, in shells to correspond with the dress, and fastened in front with a most brilliant and costly ornament of diamonds. The whole dress surpassed all conception in the brilliancy and richness of its effects. Head dress, a wreath of rose buds and leaves, composed of the most superb brilliants.” At right, an engraving of Charlotte and Leopold at their wedding in Carlton House.
The portrait of Queen Victoria, at left, is by Winterhalter. It shows a rather wistful young bride at the time of her wedding to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg (nephew of the above-mentioned Leopold) on February 10, 1840 in the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace.
It was this gown and veil that supposedly has inspired generations of brides ever since to wear white for their ceremonies, though many brides had previously dressed in fashionable white as well as in a variety of other hues.
At right, an image of Queen Victoria’s dress on a mannequin in the collection of Kensington Palace.
Left, the wedding gown of Alexandra of Denmark, who married Victoria’s son, eventually King Edward VII, on March 10, 1863 in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. She was Princess of Wales for almost forty years before becoming Queen in 1901. After her husband’s death in 1910, she was known as the Queen Mother until she died in 1925.
Like Charlotte’s mother, Caroline, Princess of Wales, and like the first wife of the present Prince of Wales, Diana (see below), Alexandra had to endure the infidelity of her husband. But unlike the other two, she stuck with him to the end. We’ve all heard the possibly-apocryphal story about how Alexandra invited one of his mistresses, Alice Keppel, to comfort Edward VII on his deathbed.
Princess Mary of Teck wed Prince George, Duke of York on 6 July, 1893 in the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace. She had been engaged to Prince Albert Victor, eldest son of the Prince of Wales in 1891, but Albert Victor died in the great influenza epidemic of 1891-92. Mary and George fell in love and were married with the approval of Queen Victoria as well as Edward and Alexandra, Prince and Princess of Wales. George succeeded his father as George V in 1910. Queen Mary, who was a godchild of Queen Victoria, had five sons and one daughter.
Her eldest son, known to all as David, was more than a disappointment. After inheriting the throne as Eward VIII in 1936, he abdicated less than a year later to marry Wallis Simpson.
After her husband’s death, Queen Mary chose to be addressed as Her Majesty, Queen Mary, rather than as Queen Mother. She was very supportive of her second son, who became King George VI after his brother’s departure from the throne. According to several sources, she was the first dowager queen of Great Britain to ever attended the coronation ceremony of her husband’s successor.
As Duke of York, the second son of George V and Mary grew up in the shadow of his dashing older brother. He married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on 26 April 1923 in Westminster Abbey. At the time of the wedding, it was not expected that “Bertie” would take the throne. Lady Elizabeth’s gown, perhaps for that reason, was not as elaborate as some of her predecessors. It was certainly in the style of the day, a rather loose gown, slightly less than floor length. Below is the dress on a mannequin in a Kensington Palace exhibition of several years ago, along with a detail of the veil and bodice.
On 20 November, 1947, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) married Prince Philip of Greece (later Duke of Edinburgh) in Westminster Abbey. The designer was Norman Hartnell and the fabric is silk spun at Lullingstone Castle in Kent. She wore a diamond and pearl tiara and a filmy veil. The long train was decorated with traditional symbols, such as Tudor roses and wheat. All the details of the royal romance, the wedding, the gown and the ceremony were eagerly read around the world. It is said the happy event was like a tonic to the war-weary Britons still enduring shortages of goods and rationing.
The Gown on a mannequin
Princess Margaret, second daughter of King George VI, married Antony Armstrong-Jones (later Earl of Snowdon) on May 6, 1960, at Westminster Abbey. Television cameras covered the event and the broadcast was seen worldwide. Like her sister, Margaret chose Norman Hartnell to design her bridal gown.The couple had two children: David, Viscount Linley in 1961 and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones in 1964. The Snowdons were divorced in 1978 and Princess Margaret died in 2002.
14 November 1973 – Anne, Princess Royal, married Captain Mark Phillips in Westminster Abbey. Born in 1950, she is Queen Elizabeth II’s only daughter.Anne and Phillips have two children, Peter Phillips born in 1977 and Zara Phillips born in 1981. After divorcing Phillips in 1992, Anne married Timothy Laurence, in Scotland on December 12, 1992.
On 29 July 1981, Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, Prince of Wales, were married in St Paul’s Cathedral. Her dress was controversial — and still is. The designers, David and Elizabeth Emmanuel, immediately shot to the top echelon of British fashion. Like many of Diana’s fashions, the gown (or a replica) travels around the world for popular exhibition.
Charles and Diana had two sons, Prince William, born in 1982, and Prince Harry, born in 1984, before separating in the late 1980s, the Prince living in Highgrove and the Princess at Kensington Palace. Formal separation came in 1992 and the marriage of Charles and Diana ended in divorce on 28 August 1996. On 31 August 1997, a year after the Prince and Princess divorced, Diana died in a car crash in Paris.
Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, married at Westminster Abbey on 23 July 1986. The Duke and Duchess of York had two children during their marriage: Princess Beatrice of York (born 1988) and Princess Eugenie of York (born 1990). They separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996, though they are often together for vacations and family events.
Of all the gowns shown above, I think I like Sarah’s best, as designed by Lindka Cierach. It is beautiful, flattering to her and has no gimmicks. Princess Elizabeth’s was lovely too, but I like Sarah’s veil better. All in all this one is the winner in the gown category, if perhaps not in the list of “most suitable royal brides.”
Had she lived, Charlotte would have been Queen of the United Kingdom. Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was the only daughter of George IV, then Prince of Wales, and his wife and first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, who loathed one another and who separated soon after Charlotte’s birth, never to live together, nor indeed be civil to one another, again.
A protracted battle of wills went on for years concerning Princess Charlotte. The Prince was willing to accede to the wishes of his father, King George III, but wanted Caroline to have no influence in her daughter’s education, while the king wanted Queen Caroline to be party to decisions about her daughter. In the end, Charlotte remained in the care of her father and the the Princess of Wales was forbidden to see her daughter and in 1799 she went abroad, inviting scandal by taking lovers and running up vast debts.
When Charlotte reached a marriageable age in 1813, the Regent engaged her to the Prince of Orange, whom she loathed, in December. Having served under Wellington (whose set referred to the Prince as “Silly Billy”), and been educated in England, he was eligible as a husband but his residence in Holland, owing to his father’s return from exile to the throne, became a necessity. Princess Charlotte was not happy. Not only did she not want to leave England, but she saw this as a means for her father to get her out of his hair. Things had not been going smoothly for some time, as mentioned in a prior post on this blog. Charlotte asked that the marriage treaty contain a clause to the effect that she should never be obliged to leave England against her will and told Prince William that her duty to England was ‘such as to make even a short absence inconvenient and painful.’
The following is from a book called The Beloved Princess: Princess Charlotte of Wales by Charles E. Pearce –
The Regent was bent upon hurrying the courtship. He came to see Charlotte the next day, bringing with him the Prince of Orange, whom Miss Knight further describes as “particularly plain and sickly in his look, his figure very slender, and manner rather hearty and boyish.” A more unsuitable mate for the robust, impulsive, and warm-blooded Charlotte could hardly be imagined, and if there was any love-making on this occasion it must have been of the most vapid and uninteresting kind. At all events, the young man had the opportunity, for the Regent turned aside, leaving the two together, and sat by the fire chatting to Miss Knight in an adjoining room. The object of the chat was to make it known to the lady companion that the Princess Charlotte was engaged to the young Prince, but that Miss Knight was to tell no one until he gave her leave. The Regent evidently had his doubts as to Charlotte’s real sentiments, for he desired Miss Knight to give her good advice, particularly “against flirtation.”
These doubts were soon confirmed, for while he was talking the conversation was interrupted in rather an embarrassing fashion. The Princess was suddenly heard sobbing hysterically. The Regent started to his feet, and Miss Knight followed him to the door of the other room, where they found the Prince of Orange looking very frightened and Princess Charlotte in great distress. ” What, is he going away ? ” exclaimed the Regent.
The question could only have been put in a bantering spirit. He saw something was amiss, but he did did not trouble to inquire further, and soon after took the Prince away, as they had an engagement to dine in the City.
When they were gone Charlotte explained what had caused her outburst of emotion. The Prince had told her it was expected she should reside every year two or three months in Holland, and even when necessary follow him into the army; that the Regent and his Ministers had not thought it advisable to tell her this, but that, as he always wished they should be open and fair to each other, he was resolved to tell her.
The announcement descended upon her like a thunderbolt. Apart from the humiliating thought that the father and the Ministers were plotting to keep her in the dark, there was also the suspicion that they wanted to banish her from England.
It can hardly be doubted that Charlotte had secret ambitions to fulfil the high station which fate had apparently designed for her. If at any moment the Regent died, she would be Queen of England. She could then marry any one she pleased.
Charlotte certainly never pretended to have any affection for the Prince of Orange, and did not hesitate to ridicule him even after their betrothal. She told her mother that his being approved of by the Royal Family was quite sufficient to make him disapproved of by her; for that she would marry a man who would be at her devotion, not theirs. “Marry I will,” said she to the Princess of Wales, “and that directly in order to enjoy my liberty, but not the Prince of Orange. I think him so ugly that I am almost obliged to turn my head away in disgust when he is speaking to me.” The engagment, for various reasons, ended in 1814.
In the end, Charlotte was married to Leopold George Christian Frederick of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield, (above) her own choice as a husband. Leopold was the youngest child of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf. The couple were married on 2 May, 1816, at Carlton House. After spending their honeymoon at Oatlands in Surrey, the country seat of her uncle, the Duke of York, the couple set up home at Claremont. The cool and collected Leopold was to prove a calming influence on his tempestuous and headstrong wife and life was idyllic for the couple.
However, in 1817, after two miscarriages, Charlotte became pregnant with what was hoped would be a grandson and the heir in the next generation to the British throne.
Once again we turn to The Beloved Princess: Princess Charlotte of Wales –
Princess Charlotte’s persistent ill-luck mysteriously pursued her to the last. When she was expecting to crown her hopes and those of her husband, and the question of her medical attendant became of importance, her intimate friend Lady Ashworth urged her to have Sir William Knighton, an accoucheur of some eminence. The matter was apparently settled, and Lady Ashworth went away to Rome. When she returned she found, to her dismay, that the Princess had, upon the advice of a lady, decided to appoint Sir Richard Croft. It was too late to alter the arrangement, and Croft, a pompous, vain, and selfopinionated man, entered upon his duties. Stockmar, who was part of the household at Claremont, describes him as ” a long, thin man, no longer very young, fidgety and good-natured, seems to have more experience than learning or understanding.” Croft had a craze for lowering the physical strength of his patients, and this suicidal course was pursued with the Princess Charlotte. Miss Murray tells that the Princess was accustomed to have a mutton-chop and a glass of port for lunch. Croft did away with this, and substituted tea and bread and butter. She became weak and depressed, and one day a friend found her in tears. This mistaken treatment was continued for weeks. The calibre of Croft’s mind can be guessed from his foolish remark in reference to his suggestion that the Princess should wear no stays : ” A cow does not wear stays, why should the Princess Charlotte?”
Her life was thrown away, for when the supreme moment was at hand, weak as she was, she was unsustained for fifty hours by any kind of nourishment in the way of food ; the obstinate and self-deluded accoucheur thinking it much better that she should not eat. The baby—a boy of unusual beauty—was born. It was dead, and Croft tried to bring back life, but in vain. Meanwhile the mother was left to herself, for the accoucheur refused to have any other doctor present. Not even any of Charlotte’s ladies were with her, only the nurse.
The child was born at nine o’clock, and apparently the mother was going on fairly well, but towards midnight Croft became alarmed and went for Stockmar, telling him the Princess was dangerously ill and that the Prince must be informed. Leopold knew that the child was dead, but he did not realise the nature of the impending calamity. It was all over when he set out for her room, and on his way he sank on a chair overwhelmed. Recovering himself, he staggered on, reached the bedside, and kneeling down kissed the cold hands—” those beautiful hands which at the last while she was talking to others seemed always to be looking out for mine,” were his pathetic words—and amid the stillness of death the falling curtain closed upon the tragedy.
Though the mother seemed at first to be recovering well from her horrendous ordeal, she complained that evening of severe stomach pains and began to vomit. She later developed a pain in her chest, before going into convulsions. Soon after the Regent was awoken by his brother, the Duke of York and informed that his only daughter was dead.
The following details of the Princess’s death are taken from a letter, addressed by Mr. H. F. Cooke to Mr. Thomas Raikes (under date November 6, 1817), and published in the interesting volume entitled The Correspondence of Thomas Raikes with the Duke of Wellington and other Distinguished Contemporaries.
” The Princess Charlotte’s death has caused a general gloom throughout the country. The particulars of this truly melancholy event will be made known to you through the papers, with all the accuracy of official report.
There are some few circumstances as attending the death of this interesting woman that may not find their way abroad; for example, the courage with which she suffered, and the resignation which she displayed in death. The faculty of mind never abandoned her. She asked, about an hour previous to death, whether there was any danger: the difficulty of breathing from about that time prevented her speaking much. When Baillie and Croft administered brandy, hot wine, sal-volatile, &c, she said, ‘ You make me drunk. Pray leave me quiet. I find it affects my head.’ And shortly after this, raising herself in the bed, she heaved a deep sigh, fell back, and expired.
“The act of dying was not painful. There certainly must have been spasm, but I have not heard that it was at the heart. Neither do I believe the family conceived that she was in danger, even an hour before she died. It is a blow which the nation really appears to feel acutely, as much as it is possible to suppose the fate of any one not materially connected with one could be felt.
“The Regent is terribly shook by this blow; so unexpected that he was completely overset when he was told of it. He had left Sudboum upon hearing of the protracted labour, but was in London informed that the child was dead and she remarkably well.”
Indeed, a deep and black mourning was proclaimed as soon as the Prince Regent and the country learned of the death of Princess Charlotte. No one was more bereft than Prince Leopold.
In her letters, Lady Shelly wrote, “To-day the Duchess of York goes into the country to receive the unhappy Prince Leopold of SaxeCoburg, whose grief is as deep as during the first. He spends some hours every day in the bedchamber of Princess Charlotte. That apartment is still as it was when the Princess left it the day before she died! Her pelisse, her boots, and even her hat, which she had carelessly thrown aside on the sofa, are left just as they were, for no one but the heart-broken Prince has entered that room. It is a case of real grief, and absolutely without parade.”
An austopsy was conducted upon the Princess and, at the time, it was believed that her death was due to a post-partum hemorrhage after giving birth to a stillborn son. Modern day doctors who have examined the autopsy findings now tend to believe that the Princess died from a pulmonary embolism.
Blackwood’s Magazine offered the following account of the events in the days following Charlotte’s death –
Yesterday the mourning for the much lamented Princess Charlotte commenced in this city, and was very general. The pulpits and desks of all the churches were hung with black. . . In the fore preserved in a similar manner to that of its royal mother, (the child) by being secured in several wrappers round the whole of the body, with light bandages, and being secluded, by means of wax, from the air, it will remain in a perfect state of preservation for a number of years. The whole of the body is enclosed in blue velvet, tied with white ribbons.
Windsor, Nov. 19—This morning, a little before one o’clock, the funeral procession with the remains of the late universally-regretted Princess Charlotte, arrived here from Claremont. They were received at the lower Lodge, where she is to lie in state this day, previously to the interment at night. The mourning coach, in which were the infant and urn, proceeded to the chapel, where eight yeomen of the guard, in attendance, carried and deposited them in the vault. The procession of the hearse and five mourning coaches, preceded by a number of men on horseback, was escorted into the town from Egham by a party of the Royal Horse Guards. Although the hour at which it arrived was so very late, the road and streets through which it passed were lined with spectators.
Funeral of the late Princess Charlotte – The last sad and solemn rites have been paid to the mortal remains of the lamented Princess Charlotte of Wales. It was near two o’clock before the procession arrived at Windsor. The remains of the Princess were received at the lower Lodge by a party of the yeomen of the guard, who carried the coffin. A guard of honour from the 3d regiment of Foot Guards, who are quartered at Windsor, was stationed on the outside of the lodge. Prince Leopold, his attendants, and others, in the mourning-coaches, alighted at the lodge. The anti-room was hung with black cloth, and the interior chamber, in which the coffin reposed, was entirely lined with the same . . . The coffin was covered with a large black velvet pall, with a deep white border that fell on each side, and spread itself on the floor. On the coffin was the Princess’s crown, and at the head of the coffin, against the wall, was a large escutcheon of silk, similar to those placed on the fronts of houses when death has taken place in a family. Three large wax candles were on each side of the coffin; numerous small wax candles were burning on all sides of the room—The gentlemen of the College of Arms were busily employed during the morning in arranging the stalls in the chapel for the reception of the Knights of the Garter, and in other preparations for the funeral. The machinery for letting the corpse down into the vault was completed. —Windsor continued crowded to excess throughout the day. At dusk, it was thought necessary to clear the Castle Yard, and none were afterwards admitted without pass-tickets. The 1st, 2d, and 3d regiments of Guards took a principal part of the duty. The door opened a few minutes before seven, and those who had tickets were admitted into the grand entrance of that superb edifice. By half past eight all was ready, and the funeral cavalcade was put in motion. Proceeding at half-foot pace, it was nine o’clock when it reached St George’s Chapel. At eight o’clock each fourth man of the Royal Horse Guards lighted a torch. About half past eight the procession began to move from the lower lodge.
This memorial to Princess Charlotte and her son stands in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor
The moon shone with peculiar brightness during the whole time. The procession entered by the gate on the south aisle of the chapel, through which it proceeded, and moved up the nave into the chapel. The aisle on each side was lined by a detachment of the Foot Guards, three deep. It is but pure justice to the assembled soldiery to say, that they conducted themselves with the most exemplary conduct, and evinced their full participation in the anguish and distress of their fellow-citizens. Prince Leopold followed the coffin as chief mourner. He walked along with unsteady step, and took the seat provided for him at the head of the coffin, between the Dukes of York and Clarence. The coffin was placed with the feet towards the altar. The usual anthems were chanted with proper solemnity; but the reading part of the ceremony did not attract any particular observation; the Dean went through his portion of it with dignity and pathos. When it was over, Sir Isaac Heard read the titles of the Princess, in a voice much more broken by grief than age, and the mourners walked back, though without the state accompaniments. The Prince Leopold looked distressingly ill; and indeed his state of health and feeling might excite alarm, if it were not that he has latterly been able to procure some sleep. The melancholy business was over before eleven o’clock, but the chapel and the avenues were not completely cleared till twelve o’clock. The baronesses who bore the pall were Ladies Grenville, Ellenborough, Boston, and Arden.
Below are a few examples of the momento mori connected to Princess Charlotte.
Further reading: Royal Mourning and Regency Culture: Elegies and Memorials of Princess Charlotte by Stephen C. Behrendt, Palgrave Macmillan, 1997, ISBN 9780312210496, 282pp.
On July 21,1814 the Prince Regent held a Fete in the temporary rooms in the garden of Carlton House to honor the Duke of Wellington. The first of the two thousand guests began to arrive at nine o’clock. They were received at the grand entrance by equerries who conducted the guests to the fanciful rooms and tents on the garden front of Carlton House.
John Nash built a series of temporary rooms and buildings in the garden at Carlton House to house the fete. The illustration at right depicts the side garden in 1820. A polygonal ballroom one hundred and twenty feet in diameter with a tented roof was the main feature. The room was brick with a leaded roof. The interior of the ballroom was designed to give the impression of summer light, airiness, and festivity. It was designed to replicate a huge bell tent so the umbrella shaped ceiling was painted to resemble muslin. The upper walls and ceiling were then hung with gilt cords and tassels to further the resemblance to a tent. Muslin draperies covered the walls. They were swagged open to reveal mirrors hung on the walls. The ballroom was illuminated with twelve sparkling chandeliers. A pair of flower covered temples had been erected in the polygonal ballroom to screen the bands. A covered promenade hung with draperies and rose colored cords led to a Corinthian temple. Inside was a marble bust of the Duke of Wellington by Turnerelli placed on a column in front of a large mirror engraved with a star and a capital letter W. Another covered walkway hung with green calico displayed transparencies representing such subjects as the “Overthrow of Tyranny by the Allied Power”. Elsewhere in the garden were supper tents and refreshment rooms hung with white and rose curtains and with regimental colors printed on silk.
The Regent himself appeared in his field marshal’s full dress uniform wearing his English, French, and Prussian orders. He had long wished to be made a field marshal of the British army, but his father had steadfastly refused on the grounds that since George was the Prince of Wales and several of his brothers were pursuing military careers they should hold some honors he did not. Now, as Prince Regent, George could suit himself. The fete was a great success. Even the Queen stayed until half-past four and many guests were still there at dawn.
It’s interesting to note that only a few days before the fete, George IV had much more on his mind besides the upcoming festivities – Princess Charlotte and he had come to loggerheads regarding the question of where she was to live. The following account is from George IV: Memoirs of His Life and Reign by Hannibal Evans Lloyd, though this is just one of a hundred accounts of the episode:
The differences between the Prince Regent and the Princess of Wales caused his Royal Highness some pain on account of the Princess Charlotte, who on several occasions took part with her mother in opposition to his wishes. This led to some very remarkable transactions. Determined that she should be more immediately under his own eye, in the year 1814, on the 12th of July, the Prince Regent visited Warwick House, and informed the Princess Charlotte that he was come to dismiss all her household, and that she must immediately take up her residence in Carlton House, and from thence go to Cranbourn Lodge; and that five ladies, whom he named, amongst whom were the Countess Dowager of Rosslyn, and the Countess of Ilchester, were in the next room in readiness to wait upon her. After some expostulation on the part of the Princess Charlotte, the Prince remaining firm and resolute, she appeared to acquiesce in his determination; but pleading a wish to retire for a moment, to compose herself before she was introduced to the ladies, she was permitted to do so; and whilst the Prince was engaged in close conversation with Miss Knight, a lady of the Princess Charlotte’s household, she, in an agony of despair, privately left Warwick House, and throwing herself into a hackney coach, in Cockspur-street, drove to Connaught House, the residence of her mother. Here she found that the Princess of Wales was gone to Blackheath. She despatched a servant to meet her; and threw herself on a bed, exclaiming, “I would rather earn my bread, and live upon five shillings a-week, than live the life I do.” Before the Princess of Wales arrived, the Archbishop of Canterbury went to Connaught Place, to fetch the Princess Charlotte away; but Sicard, a faithful servant of the Princess, refused to admit him.
As soon as the discovery of the flight of the Princess Charlotte was made known to the Prince Regent, he sent for the ministers, and a council was held at the Foreign Office, and also at Carlton House. The Archbishop of Canterbury not succeeding in the object of his mission to Connaught House, the Duke of York was afterwards sent with a written message from the Prince, containing her father’s commands to bring her to Carlton House.
On the arrival of the Princess of Wales from Blackheath, she drove immediately to the Parliament House, and eagerly inquired for Mr. Whitbread, who was absent; she then inquired for Earl Grey, who was not in town; and, disappointed, she hastened to her own house in Connaught-place, and had an affecting interview with her daughter, with whom she continued till three o’clock in the morning. Soon after this time the Princess Charlotte was conveyed, by the Duke of York, to Carlton House; having been previously informed by Mr. Brougham (who had been sent for by the Princess of Wales), that by the laws of the land, she must obey her father’s commands. Period.
So, aside from that, Princess Charlotte, how’d you enjoy the fete?
By February 5, 1811, both houses of Parliament had passed the Regency Act, making George, Prince of Wales, the Regent for his incapacitated father, George III, who was under doctors’ care at Windsor Castle. The Prince took the royal oath on February 6, 1811.
He was 48 years old. He had a legal wife, Princess Caroline, whom he despised, and from whom he had been estranged since shortly after the wedding.Their daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales, was 15 years old, and suffered from the great inconsistencies in her father’s attention and attitude.She was most often ignored by him, but occasionally she was flaunted before the public, which adored her and loathed him.
Princess Charlotte by Richard Woodman, 1816, NPG
Charlotte was a lively girl who had limited contact with both her mother and father. She was often with her aunts, the Princesses, and her grandmother, Queen Charlotte, and only rarely with girls of her own age. From time to time, the Prince spent time with her, but he complained that her looks reminded him, painfully, of his wife. Little wonder she had the German/Hanoverian stamp, since her George and Caroline were first cousins, both grandchildren of Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751), the son of George II.
Princess Charlotte led a lonely life, though surrounded at all times by attendants and court-appointed companions.
Caroline, Princess of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1798, VandA
Caroline, by 1811, had set up a separate establishment where she entertained and socialized. Some of her behavior was reported to be scandalous, and her access to her daughter was often restricted. Caroline enjoyed — and often flaunted — her personal popularity with the people. She resented her position as a cast-aside wife with little or no access to court and none of the honors due her. Little wonder that there were constant rumors circulating in London society.
Mrs. Fitzherbert by Gainsborough, 1787
Prince George had another wife, Maria Fitzherbert, though the union was not legal according to the requirements of the laws regarding royal marriages. Maria put up with a lot of misbehavior from George too. He left her not only for a legal wife, however temporarily, but also had numerous mistresses while he was associating with her. Like Caroline, Maria loved children; both women adopted other children on whom they poured their maternal love. One hopes that all three of these women – Maria, Caroline and Charlotte – managed some degree of happiness in their lives as they were consistently disappointed by the whims and caprices of George, Prince of Wales.
Prince George resided at Carlton House in London, a building he had turned into a palace filled with magnificent art works and sumptuous furnishings. Typical of his over-indulgence in all matters, as King, George IV had Carlton House demolished in 1825 for a new plan to enhance the new Regent Street. Meanwhile, he turned his Marine Pavilion in Brighton, from the tasteful building completed by Henry Holland in 1787, below, into a fantastical building in which the interior is Chinese style while the exterior is Indian-Mughal, whatever that is. Rev. Sydney Smith remarked upon seeing the Pavilion, “It looks like St. Paul’s Cathedral came down and pupped.”
The Marine Pavilion, Brighton Henry Holland, Architect, 1787
Brighton Pavilion, as remodeled by John Nash, after 1811
England at the beginning of 1811 had been at war with France on and off for decades. British armies were fighting in the Peninsular Wars in Portugal and Spain. Shifting alliances among the continental European powers kept Britain’s diplomats busy negotiating and re-negotiating treaties and mutual support pacts. The Prince Regent left the hard jobs to his ministers while he concentrated on his social life, his collections, his designs for army uniforms, and other even more trivial matters. We will dip further into some of these in future posts.
But George never was very popular. Sometimes the press was full of praise, but between the essayists, satirists and artists of caricatures, the Regent took his full share of criticism. Here is a fragment of the praiseful poem published by the Morning Post newspaper in honor of the new Prince Regent: Adonis! In thy shape and face, A liberal heart and Princely grace In thee are seen combined …
But Leigh Hunt and his brother John, editor of a literary magazine called the Examiner, published a different view: “… An Adonis of 50 … a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demi-reps, a man without a single claim to the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity …” Though many hailed them as heroes for their position, the Hunts were sued for and convicted of libel and served time in jail. Among the visitors to Leigh Hunt in prison were the poet Lord Byron, Lord Brougham, and essayist Charles Lamb.
Leigh Hunt, essayist and critic, 1784-1859
“The Prince of Whales, or The Fisherman at Anchor: George Cruikshank, 1812
We will look at the Prince, or Prinny as many called him, and his reign many times in the upcoming months. It was a time of excess in many ways, and he certainly led the pack. We will see many more caricatures — they were in their glory in those days — and we will look at the real achievements of the Prince, particularly in assembling his collections of art and decorative arts.
At his Pavilion in Brighton, a new exhibition is about to open: Dress for Excess, Fashion in Regency England. suitable title, don’t you agree? It will include the magnificent Coronation Robe worn by the Prince as he became George IV in 1921. Below, the King’s portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence (who else?).
Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales lived a short and largely unhappy life. But she was always popular with the people and the outpouring of public grief following her sad demise was immense. Some have compared it to an early 19th century version of the widespread mourning over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997.
Above, Princess Charlotte by artist George Davis, c. 1817, in the royal collection.
Last year on this date, we posted an extensive story about Princess Charlotte — click here to read the whole story.
While researching my recent talk “The Sensible Regency Wedding” for the 2011 JASNA AGM in Ft. Worth, I found the account Princess Charlotte wrote to her friend Margaret Mercer Elphinstone about reading Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen’s first published novel, which came out on October 31, 1811.
In her letter of January 22, 1812, the Princess wrote: ” ‘Sence and Sencibility’ I have just finished reading; it certainly is interesting, & you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne & me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c, however remain very like. I must say it interested me much.”
Engraving of Charlotte and Leopold at their 1816 wedding
As can be deduced from the quotation above, the Princess, who had just turned age 16, was not yet completely at ease with grammar or spelling! Her life was difficult, a pawn between her waring parents, George, Prince of Wales, the Prince Regent (later George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales.
my photo of an engraving of Margaret Mercer Elphinstone at Bowood, after a portrait by Hoppner
Mercer, as Charlotte called her, was herself an heiress and well-connected in London society. Her father was Admiral Lord Keith of the British Navy. The correspondence between Princess Charlotte and Meg Mercer lasted from 1811 until just before Charlotte’s death in 1817. Although requested to return the letters to the Prince Regent, Mercer kept them in her possession. Through her daughter, who became the Marchioness of Lansdowne, the letters were held at Bowood House in Wiltshire. They were published in 1949, in a volume edited by Professor Arthur Aspinall (1901-72).
Princess Charlotte’s wedding gown, 1816
The letters reveal a lively mind, if somewhat flighty, and a great interest in affairs of government on Charlotte’s part. The last 18 months of her life, after her marriage to Leopold of Saxe Coburg in 1816, were generally happy, we are pleased to say. RIP, Charlotte.