Romantic Royal, Doomed Daughter
(Or, the Princess Who Should Have Been Queen)
Imagine if Queen Victoria never came to the throne because her cousin, Princess Charlotte Augusta (1796-1817), beat her to it. Of course this couldn’t have happened: Despite being as wildly popular to the England of her time as Princess Diana was to ours, Princess Charlotte never became the Queen she might have been, and by birth, should have been, for the simple reason that she died before getting the chance. Read on to catch a glimpse of Her Royal Highness, Princess Charlotte of Wales -Daughter of the Regent (later George IV). She was passionate, a sometime pawn of her warring parents, and a great favorite among the English during the Regency until her tragic death in 1817. She was a romantic ideal to her subjects, (even Jane Austen loved her) but a doomed daughter. A future monarch who would never reach the throne.
In 1817 when Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent and his estranged wife Caroline of Brunswick, died at the age of 21 (following childbirth), Britain went into mourning such as was not seen again until the death of Princess Diana. The young princess was a national celebrity of the time, loved for her forthright and passionate nature and because she was seen as the best outcome of an upopular Regent and his even more unpopular and disastrous marriage. If mentioned in the papers, she was most often viewed sympathetically, even reverently. The people loved her. If the Regent was not worthy of the place Providence had seen fit to bestow upon him; if Princess Caroline his wife, was a well-known eccentric, with dubious standards of hygiene and even morals, the young Princess, at least, gave the populace hope. She was perhaps the more loved for her contrast to both parents, the selfish, hedonistic (though intelligent) father, and her less-than well-esteemed mother. In her own words, the Princess once put it this way: ‘My mother was bad, but she would not have become as bad as she was if my father had not been infinitely worse.’
In the painting above she appears, it seems to me, a sturdy picture of strength and health; all the more pity, then, that she fell victim to the medical practices of the day, dying after giving birth to a still-born son– following a horrendous 50 hour labor–from post-partum hemorrhaging. There is a train of thought which says she died of porphyria; the sickness that afflicted her grandfather, George III. This seems unlikely to me, particularly in light of the fact that her doctors had been regularly bleeding her before the birth, and had enforced a strict diet upon her. In other words, she had been weakened considerably before the event.
In any case, her husband, the handsome, formal Prince Leopold, was greatly distraught. (Think of it–In one fell swoop he lost wife, son, and future as Prince Consort.) The nation joined his grief in a huge outpouring of sorrow. Poets immortalized the princess in poetry; the Regent had a large memorial built for her; but he fell under renewed attack by the press and his subjects, not least because it was rumoured he had refused to abandon his hunt, despite the report of his daughter being in labour, until it was too late. In truth, he went to bed the night she delivered fully exhausted himself, hearing that his daughter was doing well, even though his grandchild had not survived the birth. When he woke the next day to find that he had lost his only child as well, he was enormously affected, and took it very hard.
The nation did, too. To the popular imagination, Princess Charlotte represented a new day, a new era, a reversal of the high and irreverent carrying-on of the upper classes during the unsettling years of war, rumoured madness in their king, and even, perhaps, invasion of their own shores. Having lived only to the age of 21, we forget how great a symbol of hope the young Princess was to her contemporaries. She doesn’t get a great deal of press anymore. Most have forgotten her.
Her memoirs (not autobiographical) reveal a generous, loving girl with a great deal of intelligence, a whip of a temper, strong principles, and with a propensity towards kindness that was heartily attractive. Her manner of expression, both written and in speech, was eloquent. I find it little wonder that England of her day loved her so well. I wish we could have seen what “Queen Charlotte” would have been like on the throne, and in later life. (And yet, instead of the Victorian Era, would we have called it a “Charlatan Era? ” [Charlotten Era?] Probably not!)
Linore Rose Burkard writes “Inspirational Romance to Warm the Soul,” as well as articles on Regency Life and people, Homeschooling, and Self-Improvement. She publishes a monthly eZine “Regency Reflections” which you can receive for FREE by signing up at her website quickly and easily. Ms. Burkard graduated from the City University of New York with a magna cum laude degree in English Literature, and now lives in Ohio with her husband and five children. Her novels are, Before the Season Ends, The House in Grosvenor Square, and just-released, The Country House Courtship, all from Harvest House Publishers.
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