The Georgian Princess Royal: Anne, Princess of Orange

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Like two Stuart princesses before her, George II’s eldest daughter, Anne, married into the Dutch Royal Family, taking her place as the Princess of Orange. The marriage wasn’t her first choice, but it was her best shot at not ending up a spinster at her detested brother’s court. Unfortunately, though blessed with her mother’s intellect, she inherited her father’s social charm.

Anne was born on November 2, 1709, the second child and first daughter of her parents, Prince George Augustus of Hanover and Princess Caroline of Ansbach. At the time of her birth, her grandfather, George Ludwig, served as the Elector of Hanover, but a more glorious future lay ahead for the family thanks to Anne’s great-grandmother, Sophia of the Palatinate, having been named the British Queen’s heir following the death of her only child.

Sophia and Queen Anne died in rapid succession in 1714, and thus it became that George Ludwig became King George I and made his way to London, accompanied by George Augustus. The rest of the family departed Hanover piecemeal: Anne and her younger sister, Amelia, were sent from Hanover to The Hague in the care of their nanny, while their mother joined them there a few weeks later to escort them into England. Their youngest sister, Caroline, still an infant, was left behind in Hanover until she recovered with a cold, while their brother, Frederick, was to be left behind completely so as to maintain the family’s presence in the country.

Relations between the children’s grandfather and parents deteriorated rapidly once in England, with the new Prince and Princess of Wales quickly becoming the darlings of the opposition. In November 1717, Caroline gave birth to a second son, but a disagreement broke out during his christening that resulted in a confrontation between King and heir. George Augustus and Caroline were shunted to the outskirts of London, while their children were removed from their custody. Parents and children both felt the separation keenly, though visits were occasionally allowed if the King’s permission was sought ahead of time.

Anne noted that while she and her siblings had the benefit of good parents, they lived like orphans and were neglected. George I certainly didn’t step into fill the void and rarely visited – “He does not love enough for that,” according to Anne. The eight-year-old apparently took on responsibility for her younger siblings herself, seeking to act as comfort to Princesses Amelia and Caroline, as well as her parents. Baskets of cherries from Kensington Palace were shipped to her father, while she helped reassure her mother through notes ferried between ladies-in-waiting.

The situation was relatively short-lived: By January 1718, Caroline was allowed open access to the children, but by then the infant George William was ill. He passed away on February 17, devastating the family.

The next crisis came in 1720 when Anne herself fell ill with smallpox, the case growing severe enough that the doctors feared for her life. Terrified by of the optics of a second grandchild dying in his care, the King granted Caroline access to her and a public reconciliation was staged shortly after Anne’s recovery.

For the next seven years, the family continued on in much the same way, though under a veneer of civility when in public. George Augustus and Caroline circled in and out of the King’s favor, but though they were allowed to visit their three eldest daughters, they could never hold them until their roof. Instead, they went to have three more children who were then raised separately: William in 1721, Mary in 1723 and Louisa in 1724. And while Anne, Amelia and Caroline were to always remain close to their mother, they also developed enough of a relationship with their grandfather to absorb some of his contempt for their father.

Access to George I seems to have had the most impact on Anne, which is perhaps not surprising given the lack of feminine influence on his household. Without a wife – and without the Princess of Wales taking over the role of first lady of the land – Anne’s position as the eldest granddaughter likely took on greater weight. She seems to have liked what she saw of a sovereign’s life, for she told her mother that she wished that she didn’t have any brothers and could succeed her father on the throne. When chastised, she responded, “I would die tomorrow to be Queen today.”

It wasn’t just ambition – Anne became too conscious of her rank and took pleasure in holding it over others. At night, she demanded that a lady-in-waiting stand next to her bed and read aloud until she fell asleep. One night, she took so long to drift off that the lady herself fell asleep mid-chapter. The Princess of Wales was hardly encouraging of this development in her daughter – when she learned what had transpired with the lady, she responded by asking Anne to read to her while she attempted to sleep. When Anne moved to sit, Caroline stopped her and said she would be able to hear better if she stood. Anne complied, but repeatedly stopped to complain her legs were tired and her throat was dry, but Caroline wouldn’t let her rest. It wasn’t until Anne began to cry and said she felt faint that the matter was dropped.

Whatever deficiencies developed in her character, everyone was at least in agreement that Anne was naturally intelligent. As a child, she could read and write in German and French, was fluent in Italian, conversational in English and advanced in her study of geography and art. She sang, composed music, played the harpsichord, embroidered and painted. Musically, that’s perhaps not surprising: Handel was her music master and he was fond of calling her the “flower of princesses.”

Anne was 17 when her grandfather died and her father ascended the throne. Within two months, she was created the Princess Royal, a title reserved for the sovereign’s eldest daughter since the reign of Charles I. The tradition stemmed from the French Royal family, of which Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria, was a member – ironically, the first woman to hold the title, Princess Mary, would have more than a few things in common with the second, Anne.

The change in position brought about a turning point in Anne’s life. She and her sisters were not only back under their parents’ care, but they were also much more visible members of his household and court. Not known as the family’s beauty, she comforted herself with being its brain. She rose early each morning to paint or sew, was devoted to her mother and complained loudly about what she viewed as her father’s shortcomings. Early in her father’s reign, the French approached the British about arranging a marriage between Anne and King Louis XV, but it would have required that she convert to Catholicism, which was too fraught with remaining Stuarts living abroad. The matter was dropped.

Instead, the next few years were full of intrigue for the Royal Family once the long-lost brother, Frederick, joined them in London from Hanover. Problems with the relationship were discussed in more detail here, but suffice to say that Frederick was quickly alienated from his parents and sisters, with no one more vehemently against him than Anne. According to some theories, much of her animosity may well have stemmed from the fact that it was Frederick who would inherit the throne instead of her, while she was unused to her place as the eldest and most important child being usurped by an elder brother.

Whatever the cause, by the early 1730s, Anne had decided she needed to marry. It was a decision she was helped to by her father, who gently pointed out that her choices were to either marry and move away or remain home and know that she would eventually become a bit player at Frederick’s court. Thus, marriage it was. Unfortunately, despite her status, Anne wasn’t a personal catch. She was scarred from smallpox, plain and moving in the direction of overweight. She was also high-handed, domineering and known to have sown dischord with her brother. As such, the bridegroom at the end of a proposal was William IV, Prince of Orange, a man of debatable limitations.

Sometimes described as attractive, other reports also note that William was physically handicapped and described by the courtier Lord Hervey as “almost a dwarf.” Nevertheless, the engagement was solidified in 1733 and William arrived that November. Anne appeared to all, including him, as completely emotionally detatched from the proceedings, showing her future husband little interest and spending her time in her own apartments playing music. The wedding was eventually postponed when William fell ill with pneumonia, though members of the King’s court noted that not a single member of the Royal Family took the time to visit. When he recovered, the wedding went forth at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace on March 14, 1434.

The couple took a brief honeymoon at Kew Palace, before returning to London where Anne was to take leave of her family. She and her mother had a tear-filled goodbye, and Caroline wrote, “My sadness is indescribable. I never had any sorrows over you, Anne, this is the first, a cruel one.”

William and Anne settled at Leeuwarden Palace in Holland, while the bride quickly became a hated figure thanks to her arrogance and mistreatment of staff. As for William, he pretty much left his wife on her own, believing he had done enough by marrying her, and when he left to go on a military campaign, Anne took it as an opportunity to return home. Believing herself pregnant, Anne protested that her child was in the British line of succession and, as such, most be born on British soil, to which her husband reasonably responded that such a move would alienate the Dutch. She went anyway, returning to her apartments at Kensington Palace and resuming her place in her family.

But while Caroline was thrilled by Anne’s presence, George knew well that it was inappropriate and William was growing irritated. She was forced back to Holland by the end of the year, while in the spring of 1735, her doctors were forced to make clear that she had never been pregnant after all. When she spoke of wanting to return again to England that summer, even Caroline sided against her – “God has given you skill and judgment, you are no longer a child.”

By the spring of 1736, she became pregnant for real, but it ended in the birth of a stillborn daughter that December. The tragedy would be followed again three years later. In fact, it wasn’t until February 1743, nearly a decade after marrying, that William and Anne produced a living child: Princess Carolina. She was named in Queen Caroline’s honor, though sadly Anne’s mother had passed away in 1737 and never knew her Dutch grandchildren. Another daughter, Ana, would follow three years later, but she would only live a few weeks. Finally, in March 1748, Anne gave birth to a son, William.

Her husband succeeded as Stadtholder of the Seven United Provinces in 1747 and the couple took their place in The Hague, building a court that reflected Anne’s personal taste and intellect. Handel accepted her invitation to reside at the Dutch court, while the composer Josina van Aerssen was a lady-in-waiting.

William died at just 40 in October 1751, thrusting Anne forward as regent until her three-year-old son could assume his rightful place. It was a position the Princess was well-equipped to take on thanks to her education and preferences, though her insistence that the Dutch were inferior to the British won her few friends. That said, Anne’s indifferent marriage had grown into a friendly one over the years and she understood well that her first loyalty was to her husband and son. When politics dictated it, Anne could show coldness to the British at her court, even the ambassadors, which was noted shortly after husband’s death. Even so, she mostly tried to favor Britain in foreign policy, despite relations between the countries growing strained. Given that most of the Dutch favored an alliance with France instead, she was hardly a beloved leader.

Anne passed away from dropsy in January 1759, aged just 49. She is buried in Delft.

The following year, her daughter, Carolina, married Karl Christian, Prince of Nassau-Weilburg. The couple would go on to have 15 children, seven of whom lived until adulthood. Carolina lived until 1787.

When Anne died, Prince William was still too young to rule, so the honor went to his paternal grandmother, Marie Louise of Hesse-Kassel. When she passed away in 1765, Carolina took over for one year, allowing William to reach the age of 18. William would live until 1806, but his rule ended abruptly in 1795 after the Batavian Revolution. He ended his days in exile in Britain, ironically making his home at Kew, where his parents had once spent their honeymoon. His son, also named William, would eventually return to the Netherlands as its first monarch from the House of Orange.

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