Like all the daughters of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Mary’s life was a little bit tragic and a little bit mundane. Born in April 1776, Mary was the first of her parents’ children to arrive in the middle of the American Revolution. Ten other children preceded her in the royal nursery, but few of them would be able to match Mary in confidence or spirit, both of which may very well have stemmed from the fact she was early on considered the most attractive of her siblings.
Today is the 200th anniversary of the day Princess Charlotte of Wales died, changing the trajectory of British history and ushering Queen Victoria not only to the throne, but into existence. When I was younger and first becoming interested in the history of the British Royal Family, Princess Charlotte was one of my favorite figures. There’s something rather stunning about her story – from her likability in the face of her family’s unpopularity to her parents’ disastrous marriage to her own seemingly happy ending that was tragically cut short. Charlotte was born to become yet another one of the UK’s queen regnant and her death led to another. There are interesting parallels between Charlotte and Queen Victoria: both were headstrong women in leadership, both married men from Coburg and both were only children who grew up unnaturally alone. It seems fitting somehow that if history intended for Charlotte to be replaced then it was by another Hanoverian woman.
On August 8, 1814, the Princess of Wales left England and didn’t return until June 5, 1820 as the queen of the United Kingdom and Hanover. It was an extraordinary set of circumstances that made it both tenable and palatable for the heir to the throne’s wife to live abroad. Indeed, it was a set up so appealing to her husband that he took measures to block her from ever returning.
As laid out in more detail here, the marriage of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick was a disaster through and through. Sometimes comical, other times tragic, it remains a particularly damning example of arranged marriages gone wrong and an indictment of the bumper lanes put on royal unions per the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. Today, however, we’re going to zoom in on this nearly six-year period of Caroline’s exile the best we can because it was an unprecedented set of circumstances and one that has never been repeated.
One theory abounds that the Royal Family is at its most effective when it’s considered dull. If that’s the case then George IV was pretty much a disaster from start to finish, a fact that was solidified by his marriage to his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick at the end of the 18th century. Their union was so scandalous, petty and embarrassing that, honestly, they make the domestic wars of the 1990s seems downright quaint.
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.
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.
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.