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Saturday, 7 January 2012

Princess Charlotte (1796-1817) Part 1: 1796-1813

Princess Charlotte of Wales
from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
The birth of Princess Charlotte of Wales

Princess Charlotte Augusta was born on 7 January 1796, nine months after the ill-fated marriage of her parents, George, Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline of Brunswick. The prince announced to the queen that his wife had given birth to “an immense girl, and I assure you notwithstanding we might have wished for a boy, I receive her with all the affection possible”.

Of this affection, however, Charlotte was to see little evidence. Not three days after her birth, George fancied himself ill and on death’s door and drew up a scandalous will leaving his worldly wealth not to his new baby daughter or his legal wife, but to his mistress, Mrs Fitzherbert.

An engaging child

Until the age of eight, Charlotte was in the care of her governess, the Countess of Elgin, with supervised visits to her mother at Blackheath, and visits to her father when it suited him. Dr Porteus, the Bishop of London, described Charlotte in 1801 as “a most captivating and engaging child”; The Earl of Minto declared that she was a “remarkably firm, thriving child, very lively, intelligent and pleasant”. She was, however, rather temperamental and had a stammer which got worse when she was excited.

A strict regime

George feared that Charlotte had inherited her mother’s emotional instability and sought to reduce her influence even more. He subjected his daughter to a new educational regime, conveniently forgetting his resentment of his own similarly harsh upbringing. John Fisher, Bishop of Exeter, was put in charge of her education, with Lady de Clifford as governess, Mrs Alicia Campbell as sub-governess, and the Reverend George Nott as sub-preceptor.

Huish says that the Princess was well versed in literature and languages, a competent artist and an able musician, playing the harp, piano and guitar, and singing sweetly if not strongly. However, her handwriting was illegible and her spelling was atrocious.

“A strong enthusiasm of character”

But Charlotte had developed faults of character and person that no one seemed able to correct. She lacked good manners, leaving doors wide open and wiping her nose on her sleeve. Her behaviour was inclined to be hoydenish, her language crude and her temper unrestrained. Once, she became so exasperated with Bishop Fisher that she grabbed his wig and threw it into the fire in a fit of rage.

Her early biographer, Robert Huish, was inclined to look on these faults of temper kindly: “A strong enthusiasm of character, which was construed by many into a violence of temper, manifested itself in her Royal Highness at a very early period. She never qualified her opinion of persons nor of things, but spoke it boldly and without consideration.”

Educated in seclusion

The Princess was brought up in almost total seclusion at Windsor and Warwick House. Mary Berry, visiting Charlotte in 1811, remarked that “she knows no creature, but the royal family and their attendants” and that “she has never yet seen a play or an opera”.

The Princess of Wales shared this concern and wrote to the king on 14 Jan 1813 saying that: “The plan of excluding my daughter from all intercourse with the world appears to my humble judgement peculiarly unfortunate. She, who is destined to be the sovereign of the great country, enjoys none of those advantages of society which are deemed necessary for imparting a knowledge of mankind to persons who have infinitely less occasion to learn that important lesson.”

Caroline, Princess of Wales
from Huish's Memoirs of her late
 royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818) 
Parental neglect

Although he would loudly profess his paternal concern for Charlotte in his quarrels with the Princess of Wales, in reality, George was largely indifferent to his daughter. He restricted visits to her mother and yet did not choose to see her himself as often as he could, despite being urged to do so by his mother and sisters. This neglect may have been due in part to Charlotte’s growing resemblance to her hated mother, but it was more likely the result of the Prince’s defining self-absorption.

Find out what happened to Princess Charlotte when she grew up

Sources used include:
Hibbert, Christopher, George IV (1972, 1973)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of her late royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (2001)

3 comments:

  1. It's wrong to describe Maria Fitzherbert as George's 'mistress' - she was his wife. It was illegal of George to marry her, but the marriage was valid, which is why it was such a secret.

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  2. I was challenged by your comment and so I looked up the wording of the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which, interestingly, is still in force today.

    It reads: "No descendant of the body of his late Majesty King George the Second, male or female, (other than the issue of princesses who have married, or may hereafter marry into foreign families,) shall be capable of contracting matrimony without the previous consent of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, signified under the great seal, and declared in council (which consent, to preserve the memory thereof, is hereby directed to be set out in the licence and register of marriage, and to be entered in the books of the Privy Council); and that every marriage, or matrimonial contract, of any such descendant, without such consent first had and obtained, shall be null and void to all intents and purposes whatsoever."

    While I am sympathetic to Maria Fitzherbert's position, the marriage act is clear: there was no royal consent and so the marriage was null and void, technically making her his mistress and not his wife.

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  3. The british royal family are rife with inbred's, parasites all of them, but nowt we mere mortals can do about it.

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