The Death of Princess Charlotte, 6 November 1817

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.

Happy Birthday to Prince Albert

Prince Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was born August 26, 1819. His wife, Queen Victoria, was born on the 24th of May in that year. They were first cousins.

Right: Prince Albert by Charles Brocky, 1841

The exhibition Victoria and Albert in Love can be seen in the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London, until October 31, 2010.

The jewelry, musical compositions, drawings, paintings and furniture exchanged by the royal couple make an interesting statement about the depth of their love and commitment. Many of the items were birthday gifts given to the Prince by the Queen.

Rupert Friend (right) as Prince Albert in the film The Young Victoria. The costumes and settings were sumptuous, but the story left a bit to be desired by those of us who paid attention to the details! 

John Lucas painted Prince Albert in 1841, left. 

Prince Albert, right, by Winterhalter, in 1842.  Albert had an excellent private education. With his older brother Ernest, he was tutored at home and later attended the University of Bonn. He excelled in fencing and riding, and traveled in Italy.  Almost from birth, many considered the possibility of uniting the cousins, and King Leopold encouraged the marriage.  Victoria and Albert met several times and she was eventually quite taken with him, but after she took the throne at age 18 in 1837, she was in no hurry to wed.
After her coronation, however, she wrote to Uncle Leopold: “Albert’s beauty is most striking, and he so amiable and unaffected — in short very fascinating.” Louis Auchincloss in his Persons of Consequence: Queen Victoria and Her Circle (1979) observes: “A principal industry of the German States in the nineteenth century was the production of marriageable princes and princesses.”
The wedding took place on February 10, 1840.  Albert’s role in the realm was unclear, and it changed, evolving over the next few years until he became very influential and quite popular (though only after his death was his popularity recognized by most in the government).  Albert and Victoria became the parents of nine children.

At right is a family portrait, also by Winterhalter, of the family in 1846.

One of Albert’s greatest achievements was the Great Exhibition of 1851.  As a supporter of science and technology, he was particularly influential upon industrial advancements of the day. In addition, he single-handedly modernized and revamped the running of the royal palaces and the financial administration of the monarchy.  

Prince Albert died of typhoid fever at 10:50 p.m. on 14 December 1861 in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle, in the presence of the Queen and five of their nine children, leaving the Queen devastated. Though she lived on until 1901, Victoria never shed her widow’s weeds.

Happy Birthday, George IV

On 12 August 1762, England rejoiced in the birth of a son to King George III and his Queen.  Later known as George IV, he was the King of Hanover and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death on 26 June, 1830.

Volumes have been written on the life of George, The Prince of Wales, known as Prinny.

Above, how the caricaturist George Cruikshank (1792-1878) celebrated the Prince Regent’s 50th Birthday in 1812; The Prince dances while outside the people suffer.
George Augustus Frederick was the eldest child of George III and Sophie Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, usually referred to as Queen Charlotte.
In this family portrait by Johann Zoffany (1733-1810) from about 1765, Prince George is on the right, his brother Frederick (Duke of York, 1763-1827) on the other side of their mother. They were the first of 15 children.

By 1770 when Johann Zoffany painted the family again, George (in red) and Frederick (in gold) had been joined by four more siblings: left, William (with parrot), Edward (center with dog), Charlotte and baby Augusta.
According to his biographers, young George was a good student, fluent in several languages and “very promising.” However, in the tradition of the Hanoverian kings, his father was disappointed in him, worried about his lack of obedience to the scriptures and his loose ways with the truth.

The miniature of George, right, was painted by the famed Richard Cosway about 1780 when George was nearing his majority.

John Hoppner (1758 – 1810) painted the Prince of Wales in 1792. The portrait hangs in the Wallace Collection in London.

 The portrait below also hangs in the Wallace Collection.

By the time he turned 21 in 1783, the Prince had already experienced several passionate love affairs, most notoriously with the beautiful actress Mary Robinson* who performed at the Drury Lane Theatre as Perdita in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. The Prince was smitten and wrote to her, signing his name as Florizel, and the affair was soon known to the general public. The King was very angry and their relationship never improved vastly.  But we shall leave the story of the Prince of Wales —  “First Gentleman of Europe,” collector of houses, furniture, paintings et. al., bigamist and serial adulterer, gambler and spendthrift, and father least likely to succeed — until a later blog.

For now we offer our felicitations on the 248th birthday of George IV, Prince, Regent and King.
* Mary Robinson’s life (1757-1800) was short and sad.  She retired from the stage after various afflictions and became a well-known poetess and novelist. For more details on the life of Mary Robinson, we recommend Hester Davenport’s biography published in 2006: The Prince’s Mistress Perdita: A Life of Mary Robinson.

The Young Victoria – My two Cents Worth

And here I thought that spending an inordinate amount of time researching the Duke of Wellington and Queen Victoria was a good thing . . . it seems not, since all that I’ve learned gets in the way of my enjoying films like Young Victoria. It was a visual delight – the sets, the costumes, the interiors – but I felt that the story itself was disjointed. I followed it with no problem, but I can see that anyone who doesn’t know the full story of Victoria’s early life would be lost. Here are just a few points that grated on my nerves:

We see Victoria with her doll collection, it’s referenced in a conversation between Princes Albert and Ernst, but there’s no explanation of what it means. Why insert it into the film if you’re not going to make a point?

Why show King Leopold getting all pissy over Albert’s neglecting to correspond with him if you’re not going tell the film goer the importance of this?

We see a somber, dark clad woman in attendance on Victoria in a few scenes – then we see her being sent away in a carriage and Victoria telling Albert, “I needed her so much at one time.” Needed who? Do you think the average viewer would have cottoned on to the fact that this Lehzen, Victoria’s nurse and rock through most of her life?

Albert takes a bullet . . . . . I won’t comment.

As I said, these are just a few points. Imagine how my head was spinning while I actually watched the film. I’m surprised it wasn’t more historically accurate, or cohesive, what with Sarah Ferguson being one of the producers. As she is quick to remind us, she’s an authority on Queen Victoria.

I thought the casting was spot on in some places and way off the mark in others. Baron Stockmar, Prince Leopold and Sir John Conroy were excellently cast, as were the Duchess of Kent and Queen Adelaide. Rupert Friend could have been the young Albert reincarnated. On the downside, Emily Blunt did a fine acting job but was too dark, IMHO, to play Victoria. And where was the slight Germanic accent? And Julian Glover as the Duke of Wellington? The fake hookey nose was good, but his body type was miles away from that of the real Duke and I just wanted to scream every time he was on screen.
So, after venting I shall now put my money where my mouth is. Were I to cast the part of the Duke of Wellington in a film, I would choose either Adrian Brody, Daniel Day Lewis or Pierce Brosnan (with prosthetic nose) to play the Duke. Do you agree? Which would be your choice? Or do you have another suggestion? I’m looking forward to your comments . . . . .

The Forgotten Queen

This is the birthday of Caroline of Brunswick (17 May 1768 – 7 August 1821), Princess of Wales, Queen Consort of King George IV, one of the saddest characters in the last 200 years of British royal history.  Many have pointed out the parallels between Caroline’s life and the more recent sad Princess of Wales, Diana.

 Both married men who loved another woman (or women, in the case of George), both were loved by the public, both engaged in questionable romantic relationships outside of their royal marriages, and both died well before their husbands.

 George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and then King George IV, already had a wife when he found himself out of funds again, and had to appeal to his father, George III, and governmental leaders in Parliament for an increase in his allowance.

Some probably knew of the marriage ceremony in which Prince George had illegally wed Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. But since the wedding of a royal heir required the permission of the king, the marriage did not exist officially.  So in return for an increase in his allowance, Prince George agreed to wed Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, his cousin from a German principality. The wedding took place April 8,1795.

The marriage was a disaster from the beginning. Prince George did not care for the appearance or the hygiene of his bride.  She thought he was much fatter than his pictures and a drunkard. Worse, he flaunted one of his mistresses, Lady Jersey, by making her Caroline’s lady-of-the-bedchamber, which Caroline did not appreciate. (See Kristine’s post on the Two Lady Jerseys posted April 2, 2010). George and Caroline separated almost immediately and lived in distant households for the rest of their lives.

However, nine months later, Princess Charlotte was born on January 7, 1796, and became the heir to the throne after her father and grandfather. To the right, Caroline and Princess Charlotte of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1802.

We will tell Charlotte’s sad story another day, but it suffices to say that both Caroline and Charlotte led unhappy lives because Prince George tried to ignore their very existence. Eventually, Charlotte married and later died in childbirth in 1817.

By then, Princess Caroline, her mother, was living in Italy at the Villa d’Este on Lake Como. (Victoria will post about this the Villa, now a hotel, soon.)
Caroline was living the high life, it was said, and had a very close friendship with a certain Signor Bartolmeo Pergami, which was widely caricatured.

After George III died in 1820, George IV had Caroline tried for adultery in the House of Lords. Though many believed she was guilty, it was not proved, to the King’s great irritation. He refused to allow Caroline to enter Westminster Abbey for his coronation in July of 1821.  She died just a few weeks later on August 7, 1821.  To the left, a detail of the Trial of Queen Caroline by Sir George Hayter.

There were inquiries into the cause of Caroline’s death, but again, nothing could be proven. She was buried in Brunswick.

To the left, a portrait of Queen Caroline by James Lonsdale. Caroline always had a popularity with many of the people who despised her husband for his profligate ways, overspending and general excesses in everything.  Jane Austen famously wrote, “I will always support her as long as I can, because she is a woman, and because I hate her husband…I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first.” (From letter of 16 February 1813 to Martha Lloyd)

Flora Fraser published her excellent book The Unruly Queen: the Life of Queen Caroline in 1996. It tells most of the story in detail with many more pictures. But, of course, the questions remain, nearly 200 years later. Was her behavior as bad as George IV’s was? Probably not. He was the penultimate spoiled child, self indulgent to the extreme.  But no one probably will ever know the full story of Caroline, the forgotten queen.