The Personality of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales (Guest Post By Susan Abernethy)

As promised here is the guest post about Princess Charlotte by Susan Abernethy. Susan has had a lifelong interest in history since watching “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” on TV as a teenager and earned a degree in history. She has been blogging about her favorite topic for several years now with a specialty in Tudor, women’s, medieval, English, French, Scottish and Anglo-Saxon history. You can read her blog at The Freelance History Writer.

Thank you very much Susan!

The Personality of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales

Today we are celebrating the 220th anniversary of the birth of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales. She was born at Carlton House on January 7, 1796, the only child of the calamitous marriage of King George IV, who was Prince of Wales at the time and Caroline of Brunswick. Her parents’ marriage was irreparably broken by the time she was born and this had a profound effect on her entire life and her personality.

Charlotte grew up to be just above middle height with a finely proportioned and well-developed figure. Her complexion was pale with fair eyebrows and lashes, big blue eyes and a rosebud mouth. Her hair was light brown with golden highlights and full of curls. She was personally attractive and it was said she greatly resembled her father. She was boisterous and full of radiant vitality. As a girl she was described as delightful, bright, intelligent, merry and ‘pepper-hot’.

Early on her mother was allowed access to her as much as she wanted. Caroline would visit often and enjoyed walking with Charlotte in her arms or riding in a carriage with her. When Charlotte was nine years old, a complete separation from her mother occurred when Caroline was accused of having an illegitimate child. Caroline’s behavior, always reckless, indiscreet and undignified became even more so, shaking Charlotte’s confidence in her. She couldn’t help but notice her mother’s conduct. She loved her mother but she didn’t respect her. She felt a lot of pressure to stand up for her mother and defend her with her father. There was a high expectation when Charlotte was born that she would be the means of reconciliation for her parents but alas it was not to be.

George took only an intermittent interest in his daughter. He was fond of her but capable of being unkind. George was reluctant to acknowledge Charlotte as heir presumptive due to his alienation from his wife so she was largely brought up by governesses. Charlotte, on the other hand, respected her father but she didn’t love him. She had to be careful not to cause a breech between her parents. A divorce or annulment of their marriage would bring her legitimacy into question putting her succession to the throne in jeopardy.

Charlotte’s early home was Carlton House, the London home of her father. The first of her governesses was Lady Elgin. Charlotte was very close to Lady Elgin who also acted as a go between for the Princess and her parents. Charlotte’s paternal grandfather, King George III was genuinely attached to her and offered to take custody of her in 1804. The Prince put a pivotal condition on this arrangement. Charlotte was not to have access to her mother. However, the king invited Charlotte and her mother to visit Kew. Charlotte’s father was furious and Lady Elgin felt compelled to resign.

After this incident, Charlotte remained at home. George’s mother Queen Charlotte agreed with him that Charlotte’s high spirits warranted seclusion. Queen Charlotte described her namesake as being well-informed, having uncommon good sense, being affectionate and capable of strong attachment. The Queen urged Charlotte’s father to take more interest in his daughter.

The king remained in Charlotte’s life by taking an active role in the planning of her education. Lady Elgin was replaced by Lady de Clifford. Clifford was very fond of Charlotte but too good natured to discipline her forcefully. Charlotte was becoming an exuberant tomboy with a very candid manner which some found undignified. Maybe she was a little like her mother in this respect. Due to her isolation, Charlotte was lonely but it didn’t affect her native simplicity or personal charm. Lady de Clifford brought in her grandson, George Keppel as a playmate for Charlotte. In his memoirs he tells fond tales of fisticuffs and horses.

In 1811, King George III succumbed to a mysterious mental illness. Charlotte was fond of her grandfather and was very saddened by this. To make matters worse, Parliament confirmed her father as Regent so he could conduct government business in his father’s place. Unfortunately, this created an estrangement between Charlotte and her father. She became even more isolated with visitors curtailed and her correspondence greatly limited. She was only allowed to visit her mother once every fortnight. By 1812, Charlotte was enormously popular with the public. Whenever she made a rare public appearance, the crowds went wild, making her father exceedingly jealous.

In December of 1813, George arranged a marriage for Charlotte and she was engaged to William, Prince of Orange. But when she realized she would have to move to Holland after the marriage, she adamantly refused to marry him, personally calling off the engagement. She wanted to remain in England to stay among and endear herself to her people. Her sense of duty was very strong.

When it became known to her father she had cancelled his plan to marry her to William, he spitefully dismissed all in her household. Lady de Clifford, to whom she was very close, was gone and replaced by a lady of the bedchamber, Miss Cornelia Knight. Angrily, Charlotte left the house and took a hackney cab, fleeing to her mother’s house. But Caroline was in no mood for Charlotte’s drama and all of Charlotte’s supporters, in addition to her mother, convinced her to return home.

Charlotte was moved to Cranbourne Lodge in Windsor Forest where she was now kept under the strictest regimen yet. The only visitor allowed to see her was her grandmother Queen Charlotte and then only once a week. Charlotte’s mother left England shortly after this, relieving some of the pressure on her to defend her. She was never to see her mother again but it made her relationship with her father easier. At Christmas 1814, Charlotte and her father had dinner and reconciled.

In the spring of 1816, a handsome new suitor appeared on the scene, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. Charlotte was considering the match and her father agreed. George invited Leopold to visit Brighton to be interviewed. George was very impressed with Leopold. Charlotte accepted his proposal and on March 14, 1816, the marriage was announced in the House of Commons to great acclaim.

Charlotte and Leopold were married in the Crimson Drawing Room on May 2, 1816. Charlotte was heard giggling when the impoverished Leopold promised to endow her with all his worldly goods. After they were married, they spent time between their country residence at Claremont and a London residence at Marlborough House. The couple were very much in love and lived blissfully. Charlotte began wearing simple and tasteful clothes. She became much calmer and more in control of herself at the urging of Leopold. They preferred to live quietly. Charlotte soon became pregnant and awaited the birth of her child.

In November of 1817, after a long and painful ordeal, Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son and died a few hours later. The public was inconsolable over her death. Despite her difficult childhood, Charlotte had remained high-spirited, impulsive and warm hearted. Everyone looked upon her fondly. She was cheered and welcomed affectionately whenever she made a public appearance. The crowds loved her and considered her their future Queen. When she died, their hopes for the succession were destroyed.

Further reading: “The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline” by Flora Fraser, entry on Charlotte Augusta (1796-1817) in the 1887 edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by Henry Austin Dobson, entry on Charlotte Augusta, Princess in the current edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by Judith Schneid Lewis, article written by Sir Eardley Holland in “The Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology of the British Empire” entitled “The Princess Charlotte of Wales: A Triple Obstetric Tragedy”


Carlton House

10 responses to “The Personality of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales (Guest Post By Susan Abernethy)

  1. Pingback: The Personality of Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales « The Freelance History Writer

  2. Thank you, Susan. This forms another part of my collection of lives of the English Royals.

  3. Interesting article. I had no idea who she was. Thank you. Do you know what happened to Leopoldo?

    • Leopold has become King of the Belgians several years after Charlotte’s death. The current king of Belgium descends from him.

  4. In one of the reception rooms at the Belgian Royal Palace in Brussels there are a pair of life size, full length portraits of Charlotte and Leopold. He is wearing the dashing uniform of an officer in a Russian cavalry regiment (he was something of a war hero in the fight against Napoleon before he married Charlotte – think “War & Peace”) and she is wearing a dark blue dress with a crimson wrap. These two paintings have remained there even though Charlotte was never Queen of Belgium and in fact Leopold married a French princess and together they founded the present Belgian Royal Family. I think the presence of that painting in Brussels, and in a public room too, says a lot about how Leopold felt about his first wife even after he’d married a second.

  5. oconnorlysaght

    Isn’t the Star’s sister supposed to have encouraged Charlotte to jilt William of Orange and to seek a German marriage ?

  6. oconnorlysaght

    Sorry ‘the Tsar’s sister’.

  7. Fascinating! There is a memorial to her in St George;#’s Chapel, Windsor, paid for by the public.

  8. Pingback: The Anniversary of Princess Charlotte’s Death | Princess Charlotte of Wales

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