Queen Charlotte and the Princesses Charlotte

Princess Charlotte of CambridgeLittle sweet Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge is just a few weeks old and after the global media frenzy around her birth, sadly for us we probably won’t see her again until her christening.  Mum, Dad, and princess are tucked away in Norfolk in their Anmer Hall residence.  Lots of speculation has been made about her name, some saying that Charlotte is an unusual choice. It could be a tribute to her aunt Pippa, who has it as a middle name.  Also baby princess Charlotte has a cousin once removed – Lady Charlotte Diana Spencer who is William’s uncle Earl Spencer’s youngest child.  But Princess Charlotte isn’t totally original.  There are actually a couple of notable royal Charlotte’s in British history.

Queen Charlotte in her coronation robes 1761

Queen Charlotte in her coronation robes 1761

The name Charlotte has french origins and is the female version of the name Charles, which is a nice connection for baby Princess Charlotte to have with her grandpa.  It was introduced as a royal name in Britain by the Hanoverians (the German royal dynasty who ruled in Britain from 1714 with the ascension of King George I and ended in 1901 with the death of Queen Victoria.)

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was just 17 when it was decided by her parents and future husband, King George III of Great Britain and Ireland that she would become the King’s bride.  Without knowing a word of English, she made the journey to England, met George and his family on 7th September 1761, and they were married the following morning.  So much for courtship.  Less than a year later, the couple’s first child, the future Prince Regent and King George IV was born.

Charlotte and George had 13 surviving children which is tremendous feat in itself in an age when child mortality was high.  George’s severe mental illness later in his life was a deep cause of anguish for Charlotte.  In the last few decades of her life she became withdrawn and depressed and no longer enjoyed public engagements as she had earlier in her life.  Her son, the Princes of Wales was appointed as Prince Regent when her husband was no longer capable of ruling.  Charlotte died at Kew Palace, a place that she loved for its gardens, in November 1818.  She was the longest serving consort in British history after the current Duke of Edinburgh.

Charlotte, Princess Royal of Britain and Queen of Wurttemburg

Charlotte, Princess Royal of Britain and Queen of Wurttemburg

Queen Charlotte named her eldest daughter after her and was known as Charlotte, Princess Royal until her marriage to the Prince of Württemberg which later made her Queen of Württemberg.  Growing up in the British Royal family wasn’t easy for Charlotte.  She was sometimes put on display by her parents, like when she danced with her older brother, the Prince of Wales, in front of the court.  Charlotte was not naturally musically gifted and felt uncomfortable.  She was also frequently compared to her younger, more beautiful, sister Augusta Sophia.  Charlotte devoted herself to her studies and received a top princess’ education.  She moved to Württemberg following her marriage to Duke Frederick.  The couple had no surviving children and times got dicey when in 1800 French troops occupied Württemberg.  The couple fled to Vienna and found themselves on the wrong side of politics with Charlotte’s father.  In 1819, Charlotte was godmother (by proxy) to her niece, the future Queen Victoria.  Charlotte returned to her birth country a year before her death in 1828 for a surgery.  It was the first time that she’d returned since her marriage in 1797 and it would be the last time she would see it.


Princess Charlotte of Wales, engraving based on Sir Thomas Lawrence’s painting of Charlotte, which she sat for in her final days

Queen Charlotte’s granddaughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales, was the only legitimate child of King George IV and Caroline of Brunswick.  To say that her parents’ marriage was an unhappy one is a gross understatement.  The King never wanted to marry his cousin Caroline in the first place. Days after the wedding, he spent the rest of his life trying to divorce her.  Despite their obvious aversion to each other, George and Caroline “did their duty” enough during their nuptials, that exactly 9 months after their wedding, Princess Charlotte was born.  Future King, Parliament, and country were delighted to have a legitimate heir, even if it was only a girl.

Charlotte’s upbringing was lonely.  She was only allowed occasional access to her mother who eventually left England, pushed out by her father.  Charlotte was brought up mostly by governesses and servants and clearly had a mind of her own.  When she was pressured by her father to marry William, the future King of the Netherlands, she tentatively accepted.  However she shortly broke off the engagement because she had a strong preference for the future King of the Belgians, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.  The two were married in May 1816.  The marriage was a happy one, but tragedy was just around the corner.  Princess Charlotte passed away giving birth to a stillborn son on 6th November 1817 at the young age of 21.  The entire nation went into mourning.  Charlotte had been the people’s hope for a better future.  Both her grandfather George III and her father George IV were extremely unpopular.

And now the British people have a new Princess Charlotte who can be the hope for the future British monarchy.  Even if she doesn’t become Queen of England, she will still be a great support to her brother the future King George VII.  What I love from a newly historic perspective, is that with the changes to the law of succession which came into effect this year, Princess Charlotte is firmly 4th in line to the throne.  For the first time in British history, a princess can’t be displaced by a younger brother.  (Not that I would expect Duchess Catherine to have another baby after having gone through hell twice with hyperemesis gravidarum.  But even if Catherine and William did go for another royal baby, Charlotte is secure in her place in the succession).   As traditional as the British monarchy has been over the centuries, it is still capable of evolving and this is perhaps the biggest change yet.  In a country where amazing women have ruled – Elizabeth I, Victoria, and now Elizabeth II, now there is gender equality in the royal hereditary laws.

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