The Royal Marriage Race of 1818

The series of royal weddings that took place in 1818 illustrates one of the more undignified showings of family duty the House of Hanover ever put forth – which is really saying something. The year was precipitated by the death of Princess Charlotte of Wales in childbirth on November 6, 1817. She left behind a widower, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, no children, and a plethora of middle-aged uncles.

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Princess Charlotte of Wales

Charlotte was the only offspring to result from the disastrous union of her parents, George, Prince of Wales and his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. The couple famously despised each other, living together only long enough to secure the succession through the birth of one child and separating when Charlotte was an infant. Her father, the eldest son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, had been first in line for the throne since birth and by 1817 was ruling as Prince Regent due the King’s mental health issues.

The tomb of Princess Charlotte at Windsor Castle

However, with the Prince Regent at 55 and his only child dead, the 11 other children of George III and Queen Charlotte still living found themselves of renewed dynastic importance. The royal couple’s attitudes towards the personal lives of their children was abnormal at best. Their sons were largely left to their own devices once they reached maturity, which saw most of them join the military, take up mistresses and embroil themselves in society scandals. With the exception of the Prince of Wales who, for obvious reasons, was expected to marry and beget legitimate heirs, the other royal Hanoverian brothers showed little interest in marrying until their pocket books dictated a need for a dowry or an increased Parliamentary allowance.

The daughters, on the other hand, were a bit trickier in that both parents, but particularly Queen Charlotte, made it clear they had little interest in marrying them off. Instead Queen Charlotte preferred to keep them close to her, objecting to marriages that would take her daughter abroad or even to the homes of members of the English aristocracy. While a few of the daughters did end up married, they did so at significantly older ages than most other European princesses.

George III, Queen Charlotte and their six eldest children

There are multiple theories as to why this was the case – one is that George III was so horrified by the unhappy and scandalous marriage of his younger sister, Caroline Matilda, to the King of Denmark, that he was loath to hoist the same fate on his daughters. The other is that Queen Charlotte was so traumatized by the growing insanity of her husband that she clung to whatever relics of their old life she could keep.

Whatever the case was, four of their children were moved to matrimony in 1818, three of which were certainly in the hopes that they, or their offspring, would ascend the throne.

After the Prince Regent, next in line  was his younger brother, Frederick, Duke of York and Albany. He had married in 1791 a Prussian princess named Frederica and with the marriage still childless in 1817, there was little doubt it would remain that way.

After Frederick came William, Duke of Clarence. In the 1790s William took up with an actress of Irish descent named Dorothea Bland, but known publicly by her stage name: “Mrs. Jordan.” Over the course of their relationship the couple had 10 children, kept up a lively household and were said to enjoy entertaining with lavish supper parties. A few years before Charlotte’s death they parted ways, reportedly over money issues, at which point William unsuccessfully attempted to marry more appropriate heiresses. Eventually, Adelaide, the daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, was secured and the couple married in July 1818.

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Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen

William and Adelaide conceived four children in 20 years of marriage, none of whom lived past infancy.

Further down the line was Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge. Upon the death of his niece he was sent abroad in the hopes of tracking down a suitable Protestant princess for William. Once his elder brother wed Adelaide, he married Augusta of Hesse whose father had rejected a similar suit from William. Adolphus and Augusta went on to have three children: George, Augusta and Mary. Mary would go on to marry Francis, Duke of Teck and their daughter, also named Mary, married the future George V in 1893.

A third royal wedding that year was between one of George III’s daughters, Princess Elizabeth, and the German Prince Frederick of Hesse-Homburg. This union likely had less to do with Princess Charlotte’s death and more to do with Elizabeth’s desire to escape the constrictive atmosphere of her mother’s household. She moved to Germany with her husband after her marriage where she lived until her death in 1840.

The last, and most significant, match was that of George III’s fourth son, Edward, Duke of Kent. Before her death, Princess Charlotte is said to have encouraged a match between her uncle and her sister-in-law, Leopold’s elder sister, Victoria. By 1818, Victoria was a widow with two young children. The couple married in May 1818 in Coburg, Germany and then again in July in England.

Victoria of Saxe-Coburg as Duchess of Kent

Within a few months of the Clarence and Kent weddings, both brides were with child. Adelaide gave birth to a daughter, another Princess Charlotte, in Hanover, who died a few hours later. Edward, insistent that his child, a potential monarch,  should be born in England and not abroad, raced back home with his heavily pregnant wife. The infant, Princess Victoria, was born healthy at Kensington Palace in May 1819.

As for Edward, he took ill and died in January 1820 when his daughter was eight months old. His widow raised their daughter by herself until May 1837, at which point Princess Victoria succeeded her uncle of Clarence, later William IV, as Queen Victoria at the age of 18.

Kensington Palace in the 19th century

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