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Monday, 9 January 2012

Princess Charlotte (1796-1817) Part 2: 1813-1817

Princess Charlotte  from Huish's Memoirs of her late  royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Princess Charlotte
from Huish's Memoirs of her late
royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Princess Charlotte enters society

Having lived the first seventeen years of her life in virtual seclusion, Princess Charlotte was allowed, at last, to appear in public. Perhaps this was in response to her mother’s anxious letter to the king; perhaps it was to distract her from the disappointment of having her request to set up her own establishment refused.

Whatever the reason, on 5 February 1813, Charlotte was present at a fete held by her father, the Regent, at Carlton House, dressed in richly embroidered white lace over white satin, and adorned with diamonds. Soon after, she was seen at the opera with the Duchess of York, and the following year, she was formally presented to the queen at a drawing room.

Captain Hesse

Around this time, rumours abounded concerning Charlotte’s supposed relationship with Captain Charles Hesse, an army lieutenant who was said to be the illegitimate son of the Duke of York. The Princess of Wales had allegedly promoted the relationship, though more to antagonise the Regent than to bring about Charlotte’s happiness, and had arranged for them to meet at her home in Kensington.

The Regent was alarmed by this seemingly wayward behaviour and when her governess, Lady de Clifford, resigned, most probably as a result of the Hesse affair, she was replaced by the Duchess of Leeds, with Cornelia Knight as lady companion, and they were given strict instructions not to let Charlotte out of their sight. Unfortunately, his fears led George to act unfeelingly, cruelly denying his daughter the recommended visit to the seaside for her health in July 1813, refusing to believe that she was really ill.

George IV  from La Belle Assemblée (1830)
George IV
from La Belle Assemblée (1830)
“Silly Billy”

Despite the obvious failure of his own arranged marriage, George was now determined to promote one for his daughter. The chosen bridegroom was Prince William of Orange, an unprepossessing and indecisive young man who had served on the Duke of Wellington’s staff in Spain. He had subsequently been given a command at Waterloo which he had fulfilled with notorious incompetence. Unsurprisingly, he was often given the nickname, “Silly Billy”. When Charlotte discovered that she was expected to live largely in Holland, she was horrified, and on 10 June 1814, she told Prince William that she would not marry him and the proposed marriage had to be abandoned.

Charlotte runs away

The Regent was furious at Charlotte’s disobedience. He dismissed Cornelia Knight and the Duchess of Leeds and virtually all her servants and created a whole new household for his daughter. Dismayed, Charlotte ran away to her mother at Connaught House, but she was obliged to return in disgrace to Warwick House with the Duke of York.

Renewed seclusion

As a result, her conduct was severely monitored. She was sent to live at Cranbourne Lodge in Windsor Park, her correspondence was stopped and she was only allowed to see people connected with the Regent’s party, to the great concern of the Duke of Sussex who questioned this seeming incarceration in the House of Lords. Suffering from ill-health, she was sent to Weymouth to recuperate.

A happy marriage

The marriage of Princess Charlotte   to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg  from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
The marriage of Princess Charlotte
 to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg
from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
The Regent was determined that his daughter should marry as soon as possible. Charlotte was adamant in her decision not to marry Prince William of Orange, but instead fell in love with Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, a German prince, whom she had met at the home of the Duchess of Oldenburgh. Encouraged by the Duke of Kent, George eventually agreed to the match and the couple were married at Carlton House on 2 May 1816. They resided at Marlborough House in London and Claremont Park in Esher, Surrey, and lived together in obvious mutual affection.

Death of the Princess

After two miscarriages, Charlotte became pregnant again, but the joyful anticipation came to an abrupt end when she died on 6 November 1817, having given birth to a stillborn boy the previous evening.
Princess Charlotte  from The Ladies' Monthly Museum  In memoriam (1817)
Princess Charlotte
from The Ladies' Monthly Museum
In memoriam (1817)
A country in mourning

The whole country went into mourning. A public subscription was initiated by the Duchess of York for a commemorative monument and over £12,000 was raised by the adoring public. The Regent, however, in typical egocentric fashion, declared that the monument should be erected in the St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and not in Hyde Park in London, to the outrage of public who had funded it.

Read about Charlotte's unhappy childhood

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)


  1. At dinner Charlotte said something like "I hate Oranges", referring not only to the Oranges at the dinner table, but also to the Prince of Orange, title of the heir to the Dutch throne.

    I have never seen referred to Dutch King Willem II as "Silly Billy". "Silly Billy" was the nickname of the husband of Mary, daughter of English King George III. The Dutch King Willem II was likely a bisexual who was black mailed, and - in his youth - he was involved in schemes to become King of France. He hadn't a likeable character, but I don't think he was silly.

    1. One reputable reference book I read refers to the Prince of Orange by the name "Silly Billy" but I agree that he was not normally called this. I looked further into the question of who was "Silly Billy" in another post which I have linked to in the paragraph on "Silly Billy" in this post.

  2. I've heard him called "Slender Billy." Lovely post about Charlotte.

    1. Glad you liked the post. I have heard the nickname "Slender Billy" too - the Prince of Orange is called this in Georgette Heyer's novel Infamous Army, about the Battle of Waterloo.

  3. Silly Billy was the name given to King William III--brother of King George IV
    Margaret Seidel

  4. I'm Sorry--please ignore the above. Silly Billy was King William IV (not William III)

    Margaret Seidel

    1. You are right. The Duke of Clarence, who became William IV, was often referred to as "Silly Billy". However, my research shows that other people were also referred to as "Silly Billy" from time to time, including William of Orange.

  5. Bonjour ,
    Je possède , suite à succession , une aiguille à coudre grande , plate , épasees avec 2 chats et une pointe en boule.Il est gravé dessus 6 nov1817
    Princess Charlotte aged 21 .Auriez vous des indications à me fournir au sujet de cette aiguille ?
    Me répondre :

    1. I'm sorry, but I am struggling to translate your comment. You have inherited a large sewing needle? This doesn't sound right! Two cats and a ? Something engraved with 6 Nov 1817 Princess Charlotte aged 21 - so presumably a memorial to her death. I'm afraid I don't understand more than that. :(

    2. I think it's a large flattened sewing needle with an engraving of two cats playing with a ball, and a commemoration of her death. Maybe not a flattened sewing needle, and it's something similarly shaped like a letter opener?

  6. 'PRINCESS CHARLOTTE DIED' and another underneath 'NOV 6 1817 AGED 21'.
    Maker: W. Bartleet & Sons, Redditch, England, Great Britain, circa 1887

  7. C'est une aiguille de passementerie, commémorative de la mort de Princess Charlotte , permettant d'enfiler du ruban ..

    1. Thanks for your comment - Google translates what you have written as: It is a trimming needle, marking the death of Princess Charlotte, for threading ribbon ..

  8. RIP beautiful and popular Princess Charlotte Augusta, wonderful that the granddaughter of another beautiful and tragic popular Princess bears her name and that of her paternal grandma Diana

  9. RIP beautiful and popular Princess Charlotte Augusta, wonderful that the granddaughter of another beautiful and tragic popular Princess bears her name and that of her paternal grandma Diana