Against All Odds: Elizabeth, Landgravine of Hesse-Homburg

Elizabeth_Landgravine

As of today, we have officially covered all six of George III’s daughters! Our current subject, Elizabeth, fell right in the middle of the Georgian princesses and made up the youngest of the elder trio.

She was born on May 22, 1770, the seventh of an eventual 15 children. Her upbringing was carefully supervised by her mother, Queen Charlotte, while her sole society came from her siblings, particularly the two sisters closest in age to her, Charlotte and Augusta. Her education, while not as robust as that of her brothers, was sufficient and it cultivated her natural talent in art. Of all of her siblings, she was the most prolific artist, creating dozens of paintings, drawings and sketches, as well as helping to design the interior and landscaping on a number of royal residences.

George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz had a unique formula for the monarchy that they implemented via their home life. But what had sustained them in the 1760s and 1770s came crashing down by the end of 1780s when the first signs of George’s mental health issues became apparent. The episode and the fear it wrought, particularly in the Queen, wrought permanent trauma to the family unit. His first break, however, grew for months over the course of 1788 and in one moment featured Elizabeth prominently. The family spent a weekend at Windsor that October and in the middle of church, George grew agitated, stood up and burst into tears while embracing his wife and daughters. He turned to Elizabeth and said, “You know what it is to be nervous, but was you ever so bad as this?”

“Yes,” she answered, to put an end to the scene.

The eldest of the brothers had by now left home, but they were informed of what was happening and began returning to stake stock of the situation. About a month after the church incident, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York (or Princes George and Frederick) visited to see their father for themselves. Over supper he insisted that he loved them both very much, gave confusing orders to the servants and then promptly grew delirious. Queen Charlotte became hysterical and the girls began weeping, save Elizabeth. Instead, when the Prince of Wales himself grew upset, she calmly dabbed Hungarian water on his temples until he calmed down.

Indeed, Elizabeth was particularly close to her eldest brother and she acted as a sort of mediator when he married their cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, in 1795. The marriage was a disaster and the couple separated soon after the birth of their one and only child, Princess Charlotte, but so long as the Prince was making a go of it, Elizabeth showed kindness to her sister-in-law and she corresponded with her regularly as a way of welcoming her to England in the early months.

By now, Elizabeth was in her mid-20s and none of the royal sisters were married. The King had always been loathe to marry off his daughters after the horrible experience of his younger sister, Caroline Matilda, and after his first mental health episode (which resolved itself in 1789), the Queen couldn’t bear to discuss the idea of any of her daughters leaving home. Some of the young women chafed at this more than others, but Elizabeth was certainly one of the ones who did, expressing a desire for marriage and children from a young age.

Certainly life as a royal spinster wasn’t particularly glamorous. The Royal Family already had a tense relationship with Parliament over finances and the situation wasn’t helped by the sheer volume of princes and princesses, many of whom spent lavishly. This was particularly true of the Prince of Wales, however if he was financially reckless, he was also generous. When Elizabeth found it difficult to spend within her means (which were tight, to be fair, considering her allowance up against the standard of living with which she was meant to comply), it was her brother who discreetly provided loans.

Elizabeth continued to prepare herself for marriage despite her parents’ continued unwillingness. She struggled with her weight in adulthood and so she religiously took long walks every morning in the hopes of balancing out her large appetite. Unfortunately, this wasn’t helped by her habit of drinking melted sugar water in the evenings, which she believed would help keep her temper sweet (and thus wife-like…). In the absence of children of her own, she devoted herself to volunteering at local orphanages, doted on her niece, Princess Charlotte, and helped her mother in her correspondence. For fun, she continued with her artwork and kept pet pigs at Frogmore House.

In the autumn of 1808, when she was 38, Elizabeth learned that an offer of marriage had been made by the French Duke of Orleans. She was overjoyed at the prospect, but his Roman Catholicism doomed it from the start. Even so, she appealed to her brothers to help make her case, writing to the Prince of Wales at one point not to “dash the Cup of Happiness from my lips.” The Prince was somewhat successful, keeping the negotiations open for several weeks. Elizabeth then wrote to him in thanks: “No words can ever express what I feel toward you for your unbounded goodness to me – you have eased my mind beyond belief.”

But though the back-and-forth continued until March 1809, Napoleon’s hold on the French government seemed absolute and there were too many roadblocks to make it palatable to the British. It was unfortunate, to say the least, for Orleans ended up ascending the French throne in 1830 as King Louis Philippe I and Elizabeth would have been queen of France.

Finally, in the spring of 1812, Elizabeth and the rest of her unmarried sisters (all save Charlotte, who had married in 1797) were given separate establishments. The Queen was livid, but it was mostly thanks to the lobbying of the Prince of Wales – now Prince Regent – who saw how ridiculous it was that his increasingly middle-aged sisters remained under their mother’s roof like teenagers.

When Elizabeth’s time came it came quickly. In January 1818 she was informed that Frederick of Hesse-Homburg was on his way to England to ask for her hand. Elizabeth was 48, past childbearing years, but still the daughter of the British king and thus offered a middling German prince ties to Europe’s most powerful monarchy. She wrote to the Prince Regent

“I am no longer young and fairly feel that having my own home will be a comfort in time, tho’ it causes me a degree of pang which I feel *deeply* – more than I have words to express – but God knows our lives have been times of trial and will ever be so.”

When she informed the Queen of her impending nuptials, her mother responded, “Do as you please. You are of age.” But it took several visits from the Prince Regent and the cajoling of the more patient of her sisters to bring the Queen around to the idea of Elizabeth leaving home.

The wedding took place at the Queen’s House on April 7, 1818 and Elizabeth wore a gown of silver tissue with embellishments of Belgian lace and a headdress with ostrich feathers. Though the Prince Regent was unable to attend, Queen Charlotte was there and behaved appropriately to the great relief of her daughter.

Frederick, one year older than Elizabeth, was the eldest son of the Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg, and though he reached the age of 49 without ever marrying, the possibility of Elizabeth’s dowry was enough to move him towards the altar. As for Elizabeth, she was after freedom not love, which is just as well, for one wedding guest described the groom as “an uglier hound, with a snout buried in hair, I never saw.” He was, however, a war hero, affable and patient enough to take on the annoyances of becoming an in-law to the British Royal Family.

The couple spent their honeymoon at the Royal Lodge on the Windsor estate, however Frederick, unused to closed carriages, had to stop the procession in order to be sick on the way there. He reportedly spent much of the respite holed up in the smoking room in a dressing gown and slippers.

But what their arrangement lacked in romance, Elizabeth made up for it with her own personal happiness at embarking on the freedoms married life afforded her. On January 20, 1820, Frederick succeeded his father as Landgrave and the couple prepared to begin their time in control of Homburg. Elizabeth’s dowry was crucial to Frederick’s success – and indeed, to Homburg’s future – as such, she was given the freedom to remodel Bad Homburg Castle as she saw fit. She traveled as she wanted, making two trips to see her sister, Charlotte, in Wurttemberg in 1819 and 1820, and otherwise reveled in having control of her own household with a sizeable fortune (her own).

It came a halt in 1829 when Frederick passed away on April 2, but Elizabeth wrote, “No woman was ever more happy than I was for eleven years, and they will often be lived over again in the memory of my heart.”

From England, her beloved brother, now George IV, gave her a generous donation to ensure she was provided for, and Elizabeth spent the remainder of her life dedicated to her art. She lived another 11 years, passing away in Frankfurt at the age of 69. She is interred in Homburg, one of the few of George III’s childrne to be buried outside of England.

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