So you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a just a little obsessed with Queen Victoria (and no, I’m not done with her yet—another installment of her story awaits.) Do you remember the peculiar story of her birth, with her father and all the other middle-aged male members of the royal family haring off to find brides so that they could have legitimate offspring capable of inheriting the throne? All that happened because her cousin, the ONE legitimate grandchild of King George III, died in childbirth at age 22. I thought it might be interesting to go back and have a look at that poor girl, Princess Charlotte of Wales, whose bizarre family circumstances and brief life story rivals that of any Britney or Paris today.
Charlotte’s papa was, as you might recall, the Prince of Wales, eldest son of King George III. Prinny led a pretty wild life: he was handsome and charming, but had zero impulse control and spent money like it grew on trees. When he was 23 he fell in love with a lady named Maria Fitzherbert and tried to make her his mistress…but the devoutly Catholic widow, several years older than he, refused.
So desperate Prinny took the astounding step of offering marriage (how he did that is a story unto itself!), and was accepted. This was blatantly illegal, as Prinny’s dad had enacted something called the Royal Marriages Act, which forbade members of the royal family from marrying without the King’s assent before the age of 25…and it was also in defiance of two earlier anti-Catholic acts. But Prinny and Mrs. Fitzherbert lived together for several years as husband and wife.
By 1794 he’d lost interest in the lovely Maria and had embarked on a series of mistresses. His family was pressuring him to produce an heir, which meant finding a Protestant princess that he could legally marry. Prinny ignored them. The clincher that finally brought him to bay was money; by this time he was outrageously in debt, to the tune of millions of today’s dollars. His creditors petitioned the Prime Minister for repayment, but the government had bailed him out once already and refused to again. However, marrying would bring him a much larger allowance from the royal Privy Purse…so Prinny consented to wed.
Two of his cousins were proposed…and Prinny chose Caroline of Brunswick based on the recommendations of his mistress Lady Jersey, who had ulterior motives…Caroline was rumored to coarse and ill-mannered, and Lady Jersey did not want a rival for Prinny’s affections in the form of a wife.
Caroline was not only coarse and ill-mannered. She was not fond of bathing and was rumored to have already engaged in several affairs, but seemed willing enough to try to fit into her new family. Prinny, however, loathed her on sight and went to their wedding three days after her arrival so drunk that he had to be supported by two dukes. Three weeks after their marriage, the Prince and his new Princess were living on separate floors of Carlton House, the Prince’s London home.
However, it seemed Prinny had managed to endure his wife long enough in that time to perform his royal duty, for it soon became known that the Princess was pregnant. One day short of nine months after their wedding day, she gave birth to a princess, who was christened Charlotte after the Queen.
Many upper class children in those days were pretty much raised by servants, with brief daily visits by their parents. But when baby Charlotte was a year old her mother moved to her own house five miles away and thereafter only visited her occasionally. Prinny himself saw her a little more frequently, but when she was five he moved her to a neighboring house and moved Mrs. Fitzherbert back into Carlton House. And, to quote the fascinating and recently published Charlotte and Leopold, by James Chambers (Old Street Publishing, 2007), “…for the rest of her childhood, Princess Charlotte Augusta, who was fully expected to succeed her father one day as Queen of England, lived in a household of her own, in the company of no one who was not paid to be there.”
Stay tuned for Princess Charlotte, Part II: The Tarnished Tiara. And stay tuned also for a fun announcement from Regina on Friday. Want a hint? Think cake…