Whose Child is Willikin?

‘The child which she claimed to be her own eventually made its appearance – a puny little creature named William Austin, who was said to be the son of a Deptford dock labourer and his wife. This may have been true; but years later Caroline swore that this baby was the bastard son of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who was smuggled into England and exchanged for the docker’s son. Prince Louis Ferdinand had been her lover, she said, when she was a girl, and she brought up the boy for his sake. Certainly Willikin, as she called him, was her favourite child, invariably given pride of place, pampered and spoiled, though by all accounts he displayed neither charm nor intelligence. “A sickly looking child with fair hair and blue eyes,” was Charlotte’s description of him.

There was also a girl, whom the Princess named Edwardina Kent: there was no question of the Duke of Kent having fathered her; she was probably the illegitimate child of Admiral Sir Sidney Smith,* who was one of Caroline’s courtiers at Blackheath, and who was an intimate friend of the Douglases.

* But the Princess had another story: Edwardina, she said, was the child of Irish parents “of the upper class” who, being forced to flee from their home, had left the infant with “a poor old peasant woman who lives at Blackheath.’

NPG D38618; William Austin by W. Nicholls, published by  Hassell & Co, after  John Raphael Smith

[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]

Picture: William Austin

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