Charlotte Augusta (1796-1817) (DNB00)
|←Charlewood, John||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 10
Charlotte Augusta (1796-1817)
|Charlotte Augusta Matilda→|
CHARLOTTE AUGUSTA, Princess (1796-1817), was born at Carlton House, London, on 7 Jan. 1796. She was the only daughter of George, prince of Wales, afterwards George IV, and Caroline of Brunswick. Before her birth differences between her parents had widened to an irreparable breach, and a formal separation was agreed upon when she was but a few months old. The effect of this was to consign her in childhood to the care of governesses, the chief superintendent being Lady Elgin, who, until 1804, watched over her, and acted as the medium of communication between her and her parents. According to the report of those who knew her as a girl, she was bright and intelligent, very merry, but 'pepper-hot, too.' 'Princess Charlotte,' says Miss Hayman, her sub-governess, 'is very delightful, and tears her caps with showing me how Mr. Canning takes off his hat as he rides in the park.' Her home at this time was Carlton House, the then town residence of the Prince of Wales. Letters from the Duchess of Würtemberg, formerly princess royal, not only bear witness to her own high principle, but also disclose the plan of education adopted for her niece. Among other things, Lady Elgin was to show her bible pictures, and hopes are expressed that her English master has, 'by dint of pains and patience, got the better of the hesitation in her speech, which is unfortunately very common on all sides in the Brunswick family.' The child, the duchess trusted, might ultimately be the means of a reconciliation between her father and mother. But, as time wore on, things grew worse instead of better. In 1805 she was removed to the Lower Lodge, Windsor. For reasons probably connected with his alienation from his wife, the Prince of Wales avoided acknowledging his daughter as heir presumptive; and Queen Charlotte sided with him in concluding that the best training for a girl of the princess's high spirit was seclusion. Her mother she met for two hours a week at the house of the Duchess of Brunswick, mother of the Princess of Wales. The establishment of the regency in 1811 confirmed the regent's estrangement from his daughter, and offered further opportunity for ignoring her. On the resignation of her governess, Lady de Clifford, when the princess was nearly seventeen, a petition that a lady of the bedchamber should take her place resulted in her being transferred to the care of Miss Cornelia Knight, and her position at this juncture may be said to have been that of a naughty child in disgrace. But neither her loneliness nor the constraints of ceremony seem to have effaced her native simplicity or her personal charm, and some of her letters to her few friends are delightfully fresh and genuine. In December 1813 Princess Charlotte became engaged to William, hereditary prince of Orange. Having served under Wellington, and been educated in England, he was ostensibly a not ineligible husband. But his residence in Holland, owing to his father's return from exile to the throne, became a necessity; and this fact, though it attracted the prince regent to the match, was not equally welcome to the princess herself. Her sympathy for her mother was distasteful to her father, and he was anxious to get rid of her; she, on the other hand, desired to live among, and endear herself to, the people she might be called upon to govern. She did not hesitate to express her desire that the marriage treaty should contain a clause to the effect that she should never he obliged to leave England against her will. 'My reasons,' she wrote to the Duke of York, 'arise not less from personal feelings than from a sense of personal duty. Both impose on me the obligation to form my first connexions and habits in the country at the head of which I may one day be placed.' To Prince William she stated even yet more plainly that the sense of duty which attached her to England was 'such as to make even a short absence inconvenient and painful,' and finding that she could not carry her point, she broke off her engagement. It was renewed under fresh conditions, but a want of real sympathy between the pair ultimately put an end to it in 1814. When the princess, to whose act this result was due, announced it to her father, she was met by an abrupt order for the dismissal of every member of her household. Thereupon she rushed from the house, threw herself into a hackney coach, and sought refuge with her mother in Connaught Place. But the Princess of Wales, long goaded by indignities, had by this time grown callous, and when Charlotte's friend Miss Mercer, Miss Knight, Lord Liverpool, the Bishop of Salisbury, Lord Eldon, and the Duke of York, all in turn arrived and tried to persuade her to return, her mother also joined her voice to theirs. She consequently returned to Carlton House, whence, in a few days, she was transferred to Cranbourn Lodge at Windsor. Here, surrounded by a new set of attendants, she was kept in the strictest retirement, allowed to receive visits from none of her friends, forced to send her letters under cover to her new lady in waiting, Lady Ilchester, and, as a passage in one of her letters seems to imply, even deprived of pocket-money. That her health suffered is scarcely to be wondered at, or that she herself should consider 'six months got over of the dreadful life she led, six months gained.'
The spring of 1816 brought another suitor, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who proposed and was accepted. He had many good qualities in addition to good looks, and the wedding, which took place on 2 May 1816, at Carlton House, seemed to promise a future of unmixed happiness. Claremont was bought for a country residence, and Marlborough House was prepared as their home in town. At the former the princess spent most of her brief but cloudless wedded life. On 5 Nov. 1817 she gave birth to a stillborn son, dying herself a few hours later. Some strictures were made upon the management of the case by the accoucheur, Sir Richard Croft [q. v.] The nation received the intelligence of her death with an outburst of grief which is well expressed in the school-book jingle—
Never was sorrow more sincere
Than that which flowed round Charlotte's bier.
She was buried in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, on 19 Nov. 1817.
The Princess Charlotte was rather above middle height, and, although slightly pitted with small-pox, possessed considerable personal attractions. Her pale complexion fair eyebrows and lashes, however, gave a want of colour to her face. In her later portraits the likeness the likeness to George IV is plainly discoverable. She had many fine and noble to which her warmth ot heart and enthusiastic temperament lent an additional charm.[The chief authority for the life of the Princess Charlotte is the excellent Brief Memoir published in 1874 by Lady Rose Weigall, which was reprinted from the Quarterly Review by the queens desire, and extended by material supplied by her majesty herself. In 1885 an illustated monograph supplementing this was published bv Mrs. Herbert Jones. It contains, interalia. reproductions of a series of miniatures of the princess by Miss Charlotte Jones, a pupil of Cosway.]