Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), the only child of George, Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent and, later still, George IV) and his wife, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, had a short but tempestuous life. She was the only child of her parents’ unhappy and short-lived marriage, and heir presumptive to the throne. Sadly, she was destined to become a pawn in the breakdown of her parents’ disastrous marriage.

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales (1796-1817) by George Dawe, Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Her father wrote to his anxiously waiting mother, Queen Charlotte: ‘The Princess (of Wales), after a terrible hard labour for above twelve hours, is this instant bought to bed of an immense girl, and I assure you notwithstanding we might have wish’d for a boy, I receive her with all the affection possible…’ 

His concern for his wife was short-lived; the day after Princess Charlotte was born, he removed his new daughter to an establishment of her own, supervised by the Dowager Countess of Elgin. Charlotte saw her parents – separately – once a week and occasionally visited her grandparents, King George III and Queen Charlotte, at Windsor Castle or at Weymouth. It was not a happy situation for a child.

It is good to report that her grand-mother, Queen Charlotte, thought her ‘a dear little girl’, and her grandfather, King George III, enjoyed playing with his grand-daughter on the carpet.

Charlotte became the centre of a tug of love as each parent tried to influence her. She loved her wildly indiscreet mother but could not respect her; and respected her father but could not love him. She seems to have been remarkably clear-sighted about them both: ‘My mother was wicked but she would not have turned so wicked had not my father been much more wicked still,’ she wrote.

The Marriage of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg at Carlton House, May, 1816, courtesy of the National Trust.

Knowing that her wayward mother needed protection from her father’s malice must have placed a heavy emotional burden on her when she reluctantly agreed to marry William, Prince of Orange in 1813. She was deeply concerned about what would happen to her mother if she, Charlotte, had to live in Holland. When she learnt that that was what her father, now Prince Regent, intended, she broke off the engagement. He was furious and put her under what was, more or less, house arrest.

Claremont House, home of Prince Leopold and Princess Charlotte. Photo 1869. Courtesy of National Trust

Fortunately for Charlotte, her mother fled to Italy with her lover. Charlotte was deeply upset by her mother’s elopement but it also set her free to have a life of her own. In May 1816, she married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, a popular match in Britain. The nation, increasingly fed up with the Prince Regent’s extravagances, now had a focus for their hopes for the future. It was also a happy marriage for Charlotte and Leopold personally. They set up home at Claremont House, near Esher.

The amphitheatre today

The house, originally built as a country retreat by Sir John Vanburgh, had had a number of notable owners, including Clive of India. The first formal garden there was designed by Charles Bridgeman, who built the three acre amphitheatre.

The serpentine lake

When informality became the rage, William Kent redesigned the gardens around a serpentine lake. Lastly, Capability Brown rebuilt the house and re-located the main road to Portsmouth to give the estate more privacy.

The Belvedere Tower

Charlotte and Leopold both loved the gardens. They built a camellia greenhouse and planned a tea house with views over the lake. There is a belvedere tower from which they could see London and Windsor Castle on a clear day; a grotto; a small pavilion on the island in the lake; a bowling green; a skittle alley; and lots of winding walks leading to unexpected vistas. A quote engraved on the back of one of the benches says it all: ‘A constant and never-failing source of amusement. Princess Charlotte & Prince Leopold, 1817.’

The lake and entrance to the grotto

Alas, Charlotte had tragically little time to enjoy it. On 5th November, 1817, after a fifty hour labour, she gave birth to a stillborn son and died the following day. The tea-house was never built.

 

Princess Charlotte’s mausoleum. She and her stillborn son were buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Courtesy of the National Trust.

Her sorrowing husband built a Gothic mausoleum on the spot. Sadly, it was demolished in the 1920s and all that remains now to mark the place is a slab of concrete on which is engraved, My Charlotte is gone. Prince Leopold.

Elizabeth Hawksley

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/claremont

 

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14 Responses to Princess Charlotte and Claremont

  • Poor lass. I have had a great affection for Princess Charlotte all my life. She really did draw the short straw when it comes to parents. To have one neglectful retarded adolescent progenitor may be counted a misfortune. To have two…

    I love the fact that her husband used to say “Doucement, doucement” to her whenever she flew into a passion. So that’s what she called him. She identified with Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, too.

    When she was pregnant my mother ( well over 40 at the time) was taken by friends to Windsor Castle, including St George’s Chapel. As you say, Charlotte is buried there and has a terrifying sculpture to prove it, with Charlotte and her dead baby ascending to Heaven. The friends had no idea that my mother was expecting and were a bit startled when she turned green and had to sit down outside. She still shuddered a bit when she told me about it, a dozen years later.

    • I agree with you, Sophie, about Princess Charlotte’s appeal. And I really feel for your mother having that unnerving experience in St George’s chapel. It’s a place I’d very much like to see for myself.I was delighted to find a print of poor Charlotte’s mausoleum which I hadn’t seen before.

  • It is indeed a tragic history, but those gardens look lovely. Here’s a subject for an alternative history. Charlotte does not die and in due course becomes Queen. No William IV then. No Victoria. Queen Charlotte I and Leopold become the figureheads of the nation instead. She reigns for years and years and that baby, who lived, becomes the next King. Such is the turn of royal history through the ages, pretty much anything is possible. A whole different scenario, with a whole different set of royals. Of course to make a good story, you’d have to invent a lot of dramatic and political conflict! I guess it would be the Carolinian age? As opposed to the previous Carolinian who gave rise of course to the period of Restoration.

    • Um – I sort of did that in To Marry a Prince. It was a major element in my accepting the commission, actually. I always want to give people I like a happy ending – Charlotte among them.
      And no V&A It was the Charlotte and Frederick instead.

    • Thank you for your comment, Elizabeth – I’ve often wondered about those ‘What if?’ lost futures myself. And my friend Sophie Weston actually wrote a novel, ‘To Marry A Prince’, which followed the fortunes of an ordinary girl falling in love with Prince Richard, one of Charlotte’s descendants! She wove the real history in very convincingly.

    • Oh, that would also mean that we Belgians would have a different royal family as Leopold later became king of my country. Would be fun to work out who that would have been ! And that could be (part of) the conflicts …

      • Welcome to my blog, Karliijn! There’s no reason why Leopold couldn’t have been King of Belgium as well as Prince Consort of Great Britain. After our Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart line, died in 1714, we had to find a new Protestant King from the royal family tree. So George, Elector of Hanover, became King George I – and he remained Elector of Hanover, as were all subsequent British monarchs until Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837. She couldn’t be Electress of Hanover because of the Salic Law which said that no woman could inherit the Hanoverian title. So her uncle Ernest became the Hanoverian Elector and his descendants are still part of the Royal line of Hanover and the Royal line of Greece.

  • Poor lass indeed. Such a shame she never got to enjoy a longer period of happiness after her difficult childhood. I always get a lump in the throat reading about her mismanaged pregnancy and think how different it might have been if she had had the benefit of modern medicine. If she had survived though and produced children then the race to find an heir wouldn’t have happened – one of those interesting what-if situations like what if William of Normandy had lost at Hastings.

    • Thank you for your comment, Gail. I do agree with you about poor Charlotte’s mismanaged pregnancy. Though it has been suggested that Charlotte may have inherited porphyria from her grandfather, George III, which can also affect pregnant women.

  • What a tragic story.
    One forgets sometimes that even the royals are subject to drama and sorrow.
    I am glad you mentioned Lancelot Capability Brown, though it is difficult to avoid mentioning him when it comes to Claremont.
    I wonder what the gothic mausoleum looked like.

    • My post included a black and white print of Charlotte’s very Gothic-looking mausoleum, Huon. It’s the last photo of the blog.

  • Such a sad story! I hope I can sub to yr blog.

    • Of course you can, Deirdre. Either click on the box which will pop up after you’ve left a comment which asks if you would like to follow me and, every Sunday, my new blog will drop into your inbox, or follow me on Twitter: @Hawksley_E I alert people about my current blog every Sunday and tweet occasionally about it during the week.

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