Princess Charlotte of Wales

Not to be confused with Princess Charlotte of Cambridge.
Princess Charlotte
Princess Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Duchess in Saxony

Portrait by George Dawe, 1817
Born (1796-01-07)7 January 1796
Carlton House, London, England
Died 6 November 1817(1817-11-06) (aged 21)
Claremont House, Surrey, England
Burial 19 November 1817
St George's Chapel, Windsor, England
Spouse Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (m. 1816)
Full name
Charlotte Augusta
House Hanover
Father George IV of the United Kingdom
Mother Caroline of Brunswick

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales (7 January 1796 – 6 November 1817) was the only child of George, Prince of Wales (later to become King George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick. Had she outlived both her grandfather King George III and her father, she would have become Queen of the United Kingdom, but she died following childbirth at the age of 21.

Charlotte's parents disliked each other from before their arranged marriage and soon separated. The Prince of Wales left most of Charlotte's care to governesses and servants, but only allowed her limited contact with the Princess of Wales, who eventually left the country. As Charlotte grew to adulthood, her father pressured her to marry William, Hereditary Prince of Orange (later King of the Netherlands), but after initially accepting him, Charlotte soon broke off the intended match. This resulted in an extended contest of wills between her and her father, and finally the Prince of Wales permitted her to marry Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (later King of the Belgians). After a year and a half of happy marriage, Charlotte died after giving birth to a stillborn son.

Charlotte's death set off tremendous mourning among the British, who had seen her as a sign of hope and a contrast both to her unpopular father and to her grandfather, whom they deemed mad. As she had been King George III's only legitimate grandchild, there was considerable pressure on the King's unmarried sons to find wives. King George III's fourth son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, fathered the eventual heir, Victoria, who was born 18 months after Charlotte's death.


In 1794, George, Prince of Wales, sought a suitable bride. He did not do so out of any particular desire to secure the succession, but because the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, promised him an increased income if he married. George, despite receiving large incomes as Prince of Wales and as Duke of Cornwall, lived well beyond his means, and by 1794, his income was insufficient to cover even the interest on his debt.[1]

George, Prince of Wales in 1792
Caroline in 1795, shortly before her marriage to the future George IV

George had attempted marriage once, to his mistress, Maria Fitzherbert. The attempted marriage was legally invalid as no attempt had been made to obtain the consent of King George III, the Prince's father, which was required by the Royal Marriages Act 1772. Nevertheless, the Prince kept Fitzherbert as his mistress, that is, when other mistresses, such as Lady Jersey, were not in greater favour.[2]

George considered two German princesses as possible brides, both of whom were his first cousins. Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the daughter of George's mother's brother, while Caroline of Brunswick was his father's sister's daughter. George's mother, Queen Charlotte, had heard disquieting rumours about Princess Caroline's behaviour, and so favoured Princess Louise, whom she considered prettier, and who was her niece by blood, rather than by marriage. Princess Caroline had, it was said, behaved improperly with an Irish officer in her father's army, and earlier negotiations for her hand had broken off for unknown reasons. George, under the influence of Lady Jersey (who considered Caroline a less formidable rival than Louise), selected the Brunswick princess although he had never met her, and despatched the diplomat, James Harris, 1st Earl of Malmesbury, to escort her from Brunswick to Britain.[3]

Harris found the Princess dressed in a dishevelled manner, and it was obvious that she had not washed in several days. He found her conversation coarse and overly familiar. Harris spent almost four months with her, doing his best to improve her behaviour and habits, before they reached England, a time lengthened by poor winter weather and delays occasioned by the war against France.[4] The diplomat brought Caroline to St. James's Palace; on first sight of his bride, the Prince stated, "Harris, I am not well, pray get me a glass of brandy."[5] After the Prince had left, Caroline said, "I think he is very fat and nothing like as handsome as his portrait."[6] When the couple dined together that evening, the embittered Princess made coarse allusions to the Prince's relationship with Lady Jersey; according to Harris this served to cement George's dislike of her. Before the wedding on 8 April 1795, George sent his brother William, Duke of Clarence (later William IV), to tell Fitzherbert that she was the only woman he would ever love, then went to the ceremony, drunk.[7]

George later stated that the couple had sex only three times, and that the Princess had commented on how large his penis was, leading him to conclude that she must have had a basis for comparison and so was most likely not a virgin. Caroline on the other hand later hinted that the Prince was impotent.[8] The royal couple separated within weeks, though they remained under the same roof. One day short of nine months after the wedding, Caroline gave birth to a daughter.[9]


Charlotte as a young girl

Charlotte was born at the Prince's residence, Carlton House, London, on 7 January 1796. While George was mildly unhappy that she was not a boy, the King, who preferred girl babies, was delighted at the birth of his first legitimate grandchild, and hoped that the birth would serve to reconcile George and Caroline.[10] This did not come to pass; three days after Charlotte's birth, George made a will directing that his wife have no role in the upbringing of their child, and leaving all his worldly goods to Fitzherbert. Many members of the royal family were unpopular; however, the nation celebrated Charlotte's birth.[11] On 11 February 1796, the little princess was christened Charlotte Augusta, after her grandmothers, Queen Charlotte and Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg,[12] in the Great Drawing Room at Carlton House by John Moore, Archbishop of Canterbury. Her godparents were the King, Queen and Duchess of Brunswick (for whom the Princess Royal stood proxy).[13]

Despite Caroline's demands for better treatment now that she had given birth to the second-in-line to the throne, George restricted her contact with the child, forbidding her to see their daughter except in the presence of a nurse and governess.[12] Caroline was allowed the usual daily visit which upper class parents paid to their young offspring at this time; she was not allowed any say in the decisions made about Charlotte's care.[14] Sympathetic household staff disobeyed the Prince and allowed Caroline to be alone with her daughter. George was unaware of this, having little contact with Charlotte himself. Caroline was even bold enough to ride through the streets of London in a carriage with her daughter, to the applause of the crowds.[12]

Charlotte herself was a healthy child, and according to her biographer, Thea Holme, "The impression one gets from all the early recorded stories of Charlotte is of a happy recklessness, and a warm heart."[15] As Charlotte grew, her parents continued to battle, and to use the young girl as a pawn in their conflict, with both parents appealing to the King and Queen to take their side.[16] In August 1797, Caroline left Carlton House, establishing herself in a rented home near Blackheath and leaving her daughter behind—English law at the time considered the father's rights to minor children paramount. However, the Prince took no action to further restrict Caroline's access to her daughter.[17] In December 1798, the Prince invited his estranged wife to spend the winter at Carlton House, which she refused to do. It was the last serious effort at reconciliation, and its failure meant there was little likelihood that George would have a legitimate son who would come between Charlotte and the British throne.[18] Caroline visited her daughter at Carlton House, and sometimes Charlotte was driven out to Blackheath to visit her mother, but was never allowed to stay in her mother's house.[19] During the summers, the Prince leased Shrewsbury Lodge at Blackheath for his daughter, which made visitation easier, and according to Alison Plowden, who wrote of George's relationship with his wife and daughter, Caroline probably saw as much of her daughter as she wanted to.[20]

Charlotte's Gouvernante, Lady Elgin

When Charlotte was eight, her father, whose affections had returned to Fitzherbert, decided that he wanted Carlton House to himself. He took over his wife's apartments (Caroline received space in Kensington Palace instead), and moved their daughter into Montague House, adjacent to Carlton House. As James Chambers, another Charlotte biographer, put it, the young Princess "lived in a household of her own, in the company of no one who was not paid to be there".[19] The move took place without the presence of Charlotte's governess, Lady Elgin (widow of Charles Bruce, 5th Earl of Elgin), with whom she was very close. Lady Elgin had been forced to retire, ostensibly on account of age, but most likely because George was angry that Lady Elgin had taken Charlotte to see the King without George's permission.[21] George also dismissed the sub-governess, Miss Hayman, for being too friendly with Caroline—and the Princess of Wales promptly hired her. Lady Elgin's replacement, Lady de Clifford (widow of Edward Southwell, 20th Baron de Clifford), was fond of Charlotte, and too good natured to discipline the child, who had grown into an exuberant tomboy. Lady de Clifford brought one of her grandsons, the Honourable George Keppel, three years younger than Charlotte, as a playmate for her. Forty years later, Keppel, by then Earl of Albemarle, would remember Charlotte in his memoirs, the source of many of the anecdotes of Charlotte as a small girl. In addition to tomboy tales of horses and fisticuffs, he remembered them seeing a crowd gathered outside the Keppel house at Earl's Court, who were hoping to see the young Princess. The two children went outside and joined the crowd, unrecognised.[22]

In 1805, the King began making plans for Charlotte's education, and engaged a large staff of instructors for his only legitimate grandchild, with the Bishop of Exeter to instruct her in the faith that King George believed one day Charlotte, as queen, would defend. The King hoped that these teachers would "render her an honour and comfort to her relations, and a blessing to the dominions over which she may hereafter preside".[23] According to Holme, this instruction made little impression on Charlotte, who chose to learn only what she wanted to learn.[23] Her piano teacher was composer Jane Mary Guest,[24] and Charlotte became an accomplished pianist.[25]

Princess Caroline's unconventional behaviour led, in 1807, to accusations that she had had sexual relations with other men since the separation. Caroline was caring for a young child, William Austin, who was alleged to be her child by another man. The Prince of Wales hoped that what was termed "the Delicate Investigation" would turn up evidence of adultery that would permit him to get a divorce, and forbade Charlotte to see her mother.[26] The investigators did not interview Caroline or her purported lovers, but concentrated on Caroline's servants. When the servants were asked if Caroline had appeared pregnant, some said yes, some no, some were uncertain, and others indicated the Princess was so overweight that it was impossible to tell. The servants could confirm no individual as a lover, though Caroline's footman, Joseph Roberts, stated that the Princess "was very fond of fucking".[27] Charlotte was aware of the investigation. The ten-year-old was deeply hurt when mother and daughter caught sight of each other in the park, and Caroline, obedient to the Prince's command to have no contact with Charlotte, pretended not to see her.[28] To George's bitter disappointment, the investigating committee found no evidence Caroline had had a second child, though it noted that the Princess's behaviour was very much open to misconstruction. The King, who was fond of Caroline, had refused to see her during the investigation, but began to receive her again afterwards.[27] After the conclusion of the Delicate Investigation, the Prince reluctantly allowed Charlotte to see her mother again, with the condition that William Austin not be a playmate.[29]


As Charlotte entered her teenage years, members of the Court considered her behaviour undignified.[30] Lady de Clifford complained about Charlotte's allowing her ankle-length underdrawers to show.[31] Lady Charlotte Bury, a lady-in-waiting to Caroline and a diarist whose writings have survived, described the Princess as a "fine piece of flesh and blood" who had a candid manner and rarely chose to "put on dignity".[32] Her father was proud of her horsemanship.[31] She was fond of music by Mozart and Haydn, and she identified with the character of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility.[25] In 1808, Charlotte Jones was appointed as Charlotte's own official miniature portrait painter.

In late 1810, King George III began his final descent into madness. Charlotte and the King were very fond of each other, and the young Princess was greatly saddened by his illness. On 6 February 1811, Charlotte's father was sworn in as Prince Regent before the Privy Council,[33] as Charlotte rode back and forth in the gardens outside Carlton House, trying to catch glimpses of the ceremony through the ground-floor windows.[34] Charlotte was an enthusiastic Whig, as her father had been. However, now that he was exercising the powers of the monarchy, he did not recall the Whigs to office as many had expected him to do. Charlotte was outraged by what she saw as her father's treason, and, at the opera, demonstrated her support by blowing kisses in the direction of the Whig leader, Earl Grey.[35]

George had been raised under strict conditions, which he had rebelled against. Despite this, he attempted to put his daughter, who had the appearance of a grown woman at age 15, under even stricter conditions. He gave her a clothing allowance insufficient for an adult princess, and insisted that if she attended the opera, she was to sit in the rear of the box and leave before the end.[36] With the Prince Regent busy with affairs of state, Charlotte was required to spend most of her time at Windsor with her maiden aunts. Bored, she soon became infatuated with her first cousin, George FitzClarence, illegitimate son of the Duke of Clarence. FitzClarence was, shortly thereafter, called to Brighton to join his regiment, and Charlotte's gaze fell on Lieutenant Charles Hesse of the Light Dragoons, reputedly the illegitimate son of Charlotte's uncle, Frederick, Duke of York.[37] Hesse and Charlotte had a number of clandestine meetings. Lady de Clifford feared the Prince Regent's rage should they be found out, but Princess Caroline was delighted by her daughter's passion. She did everything that she could to encourage the relationship, even allowing them time alone in a room in her apartments.[38] These meetings ended when Hesse left to join the British forces in Spain.[39] Most of the Royal Family, except the Prince Regent, were aware of these meetings, but did nothing to interfere, disapproving of the way George was treating his daughter.[40]

In 1813, with the tide of the Napoleonic Wars having turned firmly in Britain's favour, George began to seriously consider the question of Charlotte's marriage. The Prince Regent and his advisors decided on William, Hereditary Prince of Orange, son and heir-apparent of Prince William VI of Orange. Such a marriage would increase British influence in Northwest Europe. William made a poor impression on Charlotte when she first saw him, at George's birthday party on 12 August, when he became intoxicated, as did the Prince Regent himself and many of the guests. Although no one in authority had spoken to Charlotte about the proposed marriage, she was quite familiar with the plan through palace whispers.[41] Dr. Henry Halford was detailed to sound Charlotte out about the match; he found her reluctant, feeling that a future Queen of Britain should not marry a foreigner.[42] Believing that his daughter intended to marry William, Duke of Gloucester, the Prince Regent saw his daughter and verbally abused both her and Gloucester. According to Charlotte, "He spoke as if he had the most improper ideas of my inclinations. I see that he is compleatly [sic] poisoned against me, and that he will never come round."[43] She wrote to Earl Grey for advice; he suggested she play for time.[44] The matter soon leaked to the papers, which wondered whether Charlotte would marry "the Orange or the Cheese" (a reference to Gloucester cheese), "Slender Billy" [of Orange] or "Silly Billy".[45] The Prince Regent attempted a gentler approach, but failed to convince Charlotte who wrote that "I could not quit this country, as Queen of England still less" and that if they wed, the Prince of Orange would have to "visit his frogs solo".[46] However, on 12 December, the Prince Regent arranged a meeting between Charlotte and the Prince of Orange at a dinner party, and asked Charlotte for her decision. She stated that she liked what she had seen so far, which George took as an acceptance, and quickly called in the Prince of Orange to inform him.[47]

Artist's impression of the first meeting between Princess Charlotte (left) and Prince Leopold (in front of window, with Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna of Russia and the Russian Prince Nikolai Gagarin)

Negotiations over the marriage contract took several months, with Charlotte insisting that she not be required to leave Britain. The diplomats had no desire to see the two thrones united, and so the agreement stated that Britain would go to the couple's oldest son, while the second son would inherit the Netherlands; if there was only one son, the Netherlands would pass to the German branch of the House of Orange.[48] On 10 June 1814, Charlotte signed the marriage contract.[49] Charlotte had become besotted with a Prussian prince whose identity is uncertain; according to Charles Greville, it was Prince Augustus,[50] although historian Arthur Aspinall disagreed, thinking that her love interest was the younger Prince Frederick.[51] At a party at the Pulteney Hotel in London, Charlotte met a Lieutenant-General in the Russian cavalry, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.[52] The Princess invited Leopold to call on her, an invitation he took up, remaining for three quarters of an hour, and writing a letter to the Prince Regent apologising for any indiscretion. This letter impressed George very much, although he did not consider the impoverished Leopold as a possible suitor for his daughter's hand.[53]

The Princess of Wales opposed the match between her daughter and the Prince of Orange, and had great public support: when Charlotte went out in public, crowds would urge her not to abandon her mother by marrying the Prince of Orange. Charlotte informed the Prince of Orange that if they wed, her mother would have to be welcome in their home—a condition sure to be unacceptable to the Prince Regent. When the Prince of Orange would not agree, Charlotte broke off the engagement.[54] Her father's response was to order that Charlotte remain at her residence at Warwick House (adjacent to Carlton House) until she could be conveyed to Cranbourne Lodge at Windsor, where she would be allowed to see no one except the Queen. When told of this, Charlotte raced out into the street. A man, seeing her distress from a window, helped the inexperienced Princess find a hackney cab, in which she was conveyed to her mother's house. Caroline was visiting friends and hastened back to her house, while Charlotte summoned Whig politicians to advise her. A number of family members also gathered, including her uncle, Frederick, Duke of York—with a warrant in his pocket to secure her return by force if need be. After lengthy arguments, the Whigs advised her to return to her father's house, which she did the next day.[55]

Isolation and courtship

The story of Charlotte's flight and return was soon the talk of the town; Henry Brougham, a former MP and future Whig Lord Chancellor, reported "All are against the Prince", and the Opposition press made much of the tale of the runaway Princess.[56] Despite an emotional reconciliation with his daughter, the Prince Regent soon had her conveyed to Cranbourne Lodge, where her attendants were under orders never to let her out of their sight. She was able to smuggle a note out to her favourite uncle, Augustus, Duke of Sussex. The Duke responded by questioning the Tory Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, in the House of Lords. He asked whether Charlotte was free to come and go, whether she was allowed to go to the seaside as doctors had recommended for her in the past, and now that she was eighteen, whether the government planned to give her a separate establishment. Liverpool evaded the questions,[56] and the Duke was summoned to Carlton House and castigated by the Prince Regent, who never spoke with his brother again.[57]

Despite her isolation, Charlotte found life at Cranbourne Lodge surprisingly agreeable, and slowly became reconciled to her situation.[58] At the end of July 1814, the Prince Regent visited Charlotte in her isolation and informed her that her mother was about to leave England for an extended stay on the Continent. This upset Charlotte, but she did not feel that anything she might say could change her mother's mind, and was further aggrieved by her mother's casualness in the leavetaking, "for God knows how long, or what events may occur before we meet again".[59] Charlotte would never see her mother again.[60] In late August, Charlotte was permitted to go to the seaside. She had asked to go to fashionable Brighton, but the Prince Regent refused, sending her instead to Weymouth.[61] As the Princess's coach stopped along the way, large, friendly crowds gathered to see her; according to Holme, "her affectionate welcome shows that already people thought of her as their future Queen".[62] On arrival in Weymouth, there were illuminations with a centrepiece "Hail Princess Charlotte, Europe's Hope and Britain's Glory".[63] Charlotte spent time exploring nearby attractions, shopping for smuggled French silks, and from late September taking a course of heated seawater baths.[63] She was still infatuated with her Prussian, and hoped in vain that he would declare his interest in her to the Prince Regent. If he did not do so, she wrote to a friend, she would "take the next best thing, which was a good tempered man with good sence [sic] ... that man is the P of S-C" [Prince of Saxe-Coburg, i.e. Leopold].[64] In mid-December, shortly before leaving Weymouth, she "had a very sudden and great shock" when she received news that her Prussian had formed another attachment.[65] In a long talk after Christmas dinner, father and daughter made up their differences.[58]

In the early months of 1815, Charlotte fixed on Leopold (or as she termed him, "the Leo") as a spouse.[66] Her father refused to give up hope that Charlotte would agree to marry the Prince of Orange. However, Charlotte wrote, "No arguments, no threats, shall ever bend me to marry this detested Dutchman."[67] Faced with the united opposition of the Royal Family, George finally gave in and dropped the idea of marriage to the Prince of Orange, who became engaged to Grand Duchess Anna Pavlovna of Russia that summer.[68] Charlotte contacted Leopold through intermediaries, and found him receptive, but with Napoleon renewing the conflict on the Continent, Leopold was with his regiment fighting.[69] In July, shortly before returning to Weymouth, Charlotte formally requested her father's permission to marry Leopold. The Prince Regent replied that with the unsettled political situation on the Continent, he could not consider such a request.[70] To Charlotte's frustration, Leopold did not come to Britain after the restoration of peace, even though he was stationed in Paris, which she deemed to be only a short journey from Weymouth or London.[71]

In January 1816, the Prince Regent invited his daughter to the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, and she pleaded with him to allow the marriage. On her return to Windsor, she wrote her father, "I no longer hesitate in declaring my partiality in favour of the Prince of Coburg—assuring you that no one will be more steady or consistent in this their present & last engagement than myself."[72] George gave in and summoned Leopold, who was in Berlin en route to Russia, to Britain.[73] Leopold arrived in Britain in late February 1816, and went to Brighton to be interviewed by the Prince Regent. After Charlotte was invited as well, and had dinner with Leopold and her father, she wrote:

I find him charming, and go to bed happier than I have ever done yet in my life ... I am certainly a very fortunate creature, & have to bless God. A Princess never, I believe, set out in life (or married) with such prospects of happiness, real domestic ones like other people.[74]

1818 engraving of the wedding of Charlotte and Leopold

The Prince Regent was impressed by Leopold, and told his daughter that Leopold "had every qualification to make a woman happy".[75] Charlotte was sent back to Cranbourne on 2 March, leaving Leopold with the Prince Regent. On 14 March, an announcement was made in the House of Commons to great acclaim, with both parties relieved to have the drama of the Princess's romances at an end.[76] Parliament voted Leopold £50,000 per year, purchased Claremont House for the couple, and allowed them a generous single payment to set up house.[77] Fearful of a repetition of the Orange fiasco, George limited Charlotte's contact with Leopold; when Charlotte returned to Brighton, he allowed them to meet only at dinner, and never let them be alone together.[78]

The marriage ceremony was set for 2 May 1816. On the wedding day, huge crowds filled London; the wedding participants had great difficulties in travelling. At nine o'clock in the evening in the Crimson Drawing Room at Carlton House, with Leopold dressing for the first time as a British General (the Prince Regent wore the uniform of a Field Marshal), the couple were married. Charlotte's wedding dress cost over ₤10,000. The only mishap was during the ceremony, when Charlotte was heard to giggle when the impoverished Leopold promised to endow her with all his worldly goods.[79]

Marriage and death

Charlotte Augusta and her husband, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfied, by George Dawe

The couple honeymooned at Oatlands Palace, the Duke of York's residence in Surrey. Neither was well and the house was filled with the Yorks' dogs and the odour of animals. Nevertheless, the Princess wrote that Leopold was "the perfection of a lover".[80] Two days after the marriage, they were visited by the Prince Regent at Oatlands; he spent two hours describing the details of military uniforms to Leopold, which according to Charlotte "is a great mark of the most perfect good humour".[81] Prince Leopold and his wife returned to London for the social season, and when they attended the theatre, they were invariably treated to wild applause from the audience and the singing of "God Save the King" from the company. When she was taken ill at the Opera, there was great public concern about her condition. It was announced that she had suffered a miscarriage.[82] On 24 August 1816, they took up residence for the first time at Claremont.[83]

Leopold's physician-in-ordinary,[84] Christian Stockmar (later, as Baron Stockmar, advisor to both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert),[85] wrote that in the first six months of the marriage, he had never seen Charlotte wear anything that was not simple and in good taste. He also noted that she was much more calm and in control of herself than she used to be, and attributed this to Leopold's influence.[84] Leopold wrote later, "Except when I went out to shoot, we were together always, and we could be together, we did not tire."[86] When Charlotte became too excited, Leopold would say only, "Doucement, chėrie" ("Gently, my love"). Charlotte both accepted the correction and began calling her husband "Doucement".[87]

The Coburgs, as they came to be called, spent the Christmas holidays at the Brighton Pavilion with various other royals. On 7 January, the Prince Regent gave a huge ball there to celebrate Charlotte's 21st birthday, but the Coburgs did not attend, having returned to Claremont and preferring to remain there quietly. At the end of April 1817, Leopold informed the Prince Regent that Charlotte was again pregnant, and that there was every prospect of the Princess carrying the baby to term.[88]

An engraving based on Sir Thomas Lawrence's painting of Charlotte, which she sat for in her final days

Charlotte's pregnancy was the subject of the most intense public interest. Betting shops quickly set up book on what sex the child would be. Economists calculated that the birth of a princess would raise the stock market by 2.5%; the birth of a prince would raise it 6%. Charlotte spent her time quietly, spending much time sitting for a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence.[89] She ate heavily and got little exercise; when her medical team began prenatal care in August 1817, they put her on a strict diet, hoping to reduce the size of the child at birth. The diet, and occasional bleeding, seemed to weaken Charlotte. Stockmar was amazed at a treatment he saw as outdated, and declined to join the medical team, believing that, as a foreigner, he would be blamed if anything went wrong.[90]

Much of Charlotte's day to day care was undertaken by Sir Richard Croft. Croft was not a physician, but an accoucheur, or male midwife, much in fashion among the well-to-do.[91] Charlotte was believed to be due to deliver on 19 October, but as October ended, she had shown no signs of giving birth, and drove out as usual with Leopold on Sunday 2 November.[92] On the evening of 3 November, her contractions began. Sir Richard encouraged her to exercise, but would not let her eat: late that evening, he sent for the officials who were to witness and attest to the royal birth. As the fourth of November became the fifth, it became clear that Charlotte might be unable to expel the child, and Croft and Charlotte's personal physician, Matthew Baillie, decided to send for obstetrician John Sims.[93] However, Croft did not allow Sims to see the patient, and forceps were not used. According to Plowden in her book, they might have saved her and the child, though there was a very high mortality rate when instruments were used in the era before antiseptics.[94]

At nine o'clock in the evening of 5 November, Charlotte finally gave birth to a large stillborn boy. Efforts to resuscitate him were in vain, and the noble observers confirmed that it was a handsome boy, resembling the Royal Family. They were assured that the mother was doing well, and took their leave. An exhausted Charlotte heard the news calmly, stating it was the will of God. She took some nourishment after her lengthy fast and seemed to be recovering.[95] Leopold, who had remained with his wife throughout, apparently took an opiate and collapsed into bed.[96]

Soon after midnight, Charlotte began vomiting violently and complaining of pains in her stomach. Sir Richard was called, and was alarmed to find his patient cold to the touch, breathing with difficulty, and bleeding. He placed hot compresses on her, the accepted treatment at the time for postpartum bleeding, but the blood did not stop. He called in Stockmar and urged him to bring Leopold. Stockmar found Leopold difficult to rouse, and went to see the Princess, who grabbed his hand and told him, "They have made me tipsy." Stockmar left the room, planning to try again to rouse the Prince, but was called back by Charlotte's voice, "Stocky! Stocky!" He entered the room to find her dead.[97]


Princess Charlotte's funeral

Henry Brougham wrote of the public reaction to Charlotte's death, "It really was as though every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child."[98] The whole kingdom went into deep mourning; linen-drapers ran out of black cloth. Even the poor and homeless tied armbands of black on their clothes. The shops closed for two weeks, as did the Royal Exchange, the Law Courts, and the docks. Even gambling dens shut down on the day of her funeral, as a mark of respect.[99] Wrote The Times, "It certainly does not belong to us to repine at the visitations of Providence ... there is nothing impious in grieving for that as a calamity."[100] Mourning was so complete that the makers of ribbons and other fancy goods (which could not be worn during the period of mourning) petitioned the government to shorten the period, fearing they would otherwise go bankrupt.[98] A dissenting note was struck by poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who in his An Address to the People on the Death of the Princess Charlotte, indicated that the execution of three men the day after the Princess's death for plotting to overthrow the government was a greater tragedy.[101]

The Prince Regent was prostrated with grief, and was unable to attend his child's funeral. Princess Caroline heard the news from a passing courier, and fainted in shock. On recovering, she stated, "England, that great country, has lost everything in losing my ever beloved daughter."[102] Even the Prince of Orange burst into tears at hearing the news, and his wife ordered the ladies of her court into mourning.[102] The greatest effect fell on Prince Leopold. Stockmar wrote years later, "November saw the ruin of this happy home, and the destruction at one blow of every hope and happiness of Prince Leopold. He has never recovered the feeling of happiness which had blessed his short married life."[103] According to Holme, "without Charlotte he was incomplete. It was as if he had lost his heart."[103]

Prince Leopold wrote to Sir Thomas Lawrence:

Two generations gone. Gone in a moment! I have felt for myself, but I have also felt for the Prince Regent. My Charlotte is gone from the country—it has lost her. She was a good, she was an admirable woman. None could know my Charlotte as I did know her! It was my study, my duty, to know her character, but it was my delight![104]

Leopold did not remarry until 1832, when, as King of the Belgians, he married Louise-Marie of Orleans, daughter of Louis Philippe I, King of the French. They had four children.

The Princess was buried, her son at her feet, in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 19 November 1817. A monument was erected, by public subscription, at her tomb.[105] It was not long before the public began to pin blame for the tragedy. The Queen and the Prince Regent were blamed for not being present at the birth, though Charlotte had specifically requested that they stay away.[105] Although the postmortem was inconclusive, many blamed Croft for his care of the Princess. The Prince Regent refused to blame Croft; nevertheless, three months after Charlotte's death and while attending another young woman, Croft snatched up a gun and fatally shot himself.[101] The "triple obstetric tragedy"—death of child, mother, and practitioner—led to significant changes in obstetric practice, with obstetricians who favoured intervention in protracted labour, including in particular more liberal use of forceps, gaining ground over those who did not.[106]

Charlotte's death left the King without any legitimate grandchildren; his youngest surviving child was over forty. The newspapers urged the King's unmarried sons towards matrimony. One such leading article reached the King's fourth son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, at his home in Brussels, where he was living with his mistress, Julie de St Laurent. Edward quickly dismissed his mistress and proposed to Leopold's sister Victoria, Dowager Princess of Leiningen.[107] Their daughter, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent, would eventually (in 1837) become Queen of the United Kingdom. Leopold, by then King of the Belgians, served as long-distance advisor to his niece, and was able to secure her marriage to his nephew, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.[103]



  1. Chambers, p. 6.
  2. Chambers, p. 7.
  3. Chambers, pp. 8–9.
  4. Chambers, pp. 10–12.
  5. Chambers, p. 13.
  6. Chambers, pp. 13–14.
  7. Chambers, p. 14.
  8. Williams, p. 24.
  9. Chambers, pp. 15–16.
  10. Williams, p. 26.
  11. Williams, p. 27.
  12. 1 2 3 Williams, p. 28.
  13. London Gazette 16 February 1796.
  14. Plowden, pp. 32–33.
  15. Holme, p. 45.
  16. Williams, pp. 28–29.
  17. Plowden, pp. 43–44.
  18. Holme, pp. 46–47.
  19. 1 2 Chambers, p. 16.
  20. Plowden, p. 47.
  21. Chambers, p. 17.
  22. Chambers, pp. 18–19.
  23. 1 2 Holme, p. 53.
  24. Raessler, p. 133.
  25. 1 2 Holme, p. 69.
  26. Holme, pp. 62–63.
  27. 1 2 Chambers, pp. 26–29.
  28. Williams, p. 42.
  29. Plowden, p. 86.
  30. Williams, p. 50.
  31. 1 2 Holme, p. 68.
  32. Plowden, p. 88.
  33. Holme, p. 72.
  34. Plowden, pp. 94–95.
  35. Chambers, pp. 43–45.
  36. Williams, p. 51.
  37. Plowden, p. 102.
  38. Williams, pp. 60–63.
  39. Chambers, p. 47.
  40. Chambers, pp. 39–40.
  41. Chambers, pp. 68–69.
  42. Plowden, pp. 130–131.
  43. Plowden, p. 132.
  44. Holme, pp. 122–123.
  45. Chambers, p. 73.
  46. Chambers, pp. 81–82.
  47. Plowden, pp. 134–135.
  48. Chambers, pp. 82–83.
  49. Chambers, p. 91.
  50. Greville's Diary, 18 September 1832, quoted in Aspinall, p. xvii.
  51. Aspinall, p. xvii.
  52. Williams, pp. 88–89.
  53. Holme, pp. 196–197.
  54. Plowden, pp. 149–150.
  55. Plowden, pp. 156–160.
  56. 1 2 Plowden, pp. 161–163.
  57. Chambers, p. 120.
  58. 1 2 Smith, p. 163.
  59. Plowden, pp. 164–165.
  60. Holme, p. 177.
  61. Williams, p. 102.
  62. Holme, p. 183.
  63. 1 2 Holme, p. 186.
  64. Aspinall, p. 165; Williams, p. 107.
  65. Aspinall, p. 169; Williams, p. 107.
  66. Chambers, p. 138.
  67. Williams, p. 111.
  68. Plowden, p. 176.
  69. Plowden, p. 178.
  70. Plowden, p. 181.
  71. Holme, pp. 206–207.
  72. Holme, p. 210.
  73. Holme, p. 211.
  74. Holme, p. 213.
  75. Plowden, p. 187, "and the P.R. should have been an authority on the subject".
  76. Plowden, pp. 188–189.
  77. Chambers, p. 164.
  78. Holme, p. 215.
  79. Chambers, pp. 164–167.
  80. Holme, p. 223.
  81. Smith, p. 164.
  82. Holme, pp. 224–225.
  83. Chambers, p. 174.
  84. 1 2 Holme, p. 227.
  85. Pakula, p. 33.
  86. Chambers, p. 177.
  87. Holme, p. 228.
  88. Plowden, p. 201.
  89. Williams, p. 133.
  90. Chambers, pp. 188–189.
  91. Chambers, p. 1.
  92. Holme, pp. 237–238.
  93. Williams, pp. 134–135.
  94. Plowden, p. 206.
  95. Plowden, pp. 206–207.
  96. Williams, p. 136.
  97. Chambers, pp. 193–194.
  98. 1 2 Williams, p. 137.
  99. Holme, pp. 240–241.
  100. Plowden, pp. 208–209.
  101. 1 2 Williams, p. 240.
  102. 1 2 Williams, pp. 138–139.
  103. 1 2 3 Holme, p. 241.
  104. Chambers, p. 201, some references omit the word "also".
  105. 1 2 Chambers, p. 201.
  106. Gibbs et al. 2008, p. 471.
  107. Chambers, pp. 202–204.


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