The Princess Elizabeth was born at Buckingham Palace on 22 May 1770. Her parents were the reigning British monarchs, George III and Queen Charlotte. Frederick Cornwallis, the Archbishop of Canterbury christened her in the Great Council Chamber at St. James Palace on 17 June 1770. Her godparents were The Hereditary Prince of Hesse-Cassel, The Princess of Nassau-Weilburg and The Crown Princess of Sweden (paternal first cousins once-removed).
Elizabeth was a plump girl with artistic tendencies. However, she was often ill. She was often bled for “a scrofulous abscess on her left side.” Because of her frequent illnesses, rumors of concealed pregnancies plagued her. Later, it was disclosed that Elizabeth likely suffered from a mild case of porphyria. The Princess’ upbringing was very sheltered and she spent most of her time with her parents and sisters. King George and Queen Charlotte were keen to shelter their children, particularly the girls. However, in 1812, Princess Elizabeth purchased The Priory at Old Windsor in Berkshire as her private residence.
In 1797, Elizabeth had to appeal to her eldest brother for a loan. She was six hundred pounds in debt. One of the first things that George IV did when he became Prince Regent was to provide larger allowances for his sisters, who had previously received only 1000 pounds per year. Elizabeth was one of George’s two sisters who defied their mother and attended George IV’s first state opening of Parliament after assuming the Regency. His sisters’ moral support was important to allay the propaganda spread against him by his estranged wife Princess Caroline.
The stout Princess Elizabeth (known to her sisters as Fatima), whose great love of children made it all the more sad that she did not marry until she was forty-eight, sought the support of George, Prince of Wales, in her desire to marry and escape her family. In 1808 she desperately wanted to accept the offer of marriage made by the Duke of Orleans (later King Louis Philippe of France), but his Catholicism and the queen’s opposition confounded her hopes.
When the Duke of Kent had been in Canada (1794), he met the sons of Philippe Égalité, the Duke of Orleans. Philippe had signed his brother’s death warrant. His brother was the King of France, but in the end, he, too, died on the guillotine. The eldest of his sons, Louis Philippe, came to England in 1807, where he renewed his friendship with the Duke of Kent. Soon, he and Elizabeth had agreed to marry, but Queen Charlotte lividly refused. Elizabeth applied to her brother for assistance, but George IV was not Regent and his father was still in command of his senses.
Louis Philippe, eventually, traveled to Naples and Sicily, where he married a granddaughter of Empress Maria Theresa. He succeeded to France’s throne in 1830. Elizabeth was eight and thirty when he withdrew to the Continent. Louis married Marie-Amélie, who bore him eight children.
After this incident, Elizabeth accepted her likely spinsterhood. She lived at her cottage on Kew Green. Yet, in 1818, Elizabeth received a proposal from the Hereditary Prince of Hesse-Homburg. She wrote to the Prince Regent regarding the matter. “In our situation, there is nothing but character to look to. I wish to accept his offer. I am no longer young, and fairly feel that having my own home will be a comfort in time.”
The Hereditary Prince was reportedly less than clean with his bodily ablutions. He also stank of tobacco and garlic. Literally, men had to be hired to clean the Prince for his wedding, but Elizabeth wrote, “I am so contented with my lot that I can never be too thankful. Single I should have been wretched.” She was eight and forty at the time.
Elizabeth’s early married life consisted of her thoroughly cleaning her husband’s home, as well as training Frederick VI to better care of his appearance. When her father-in-land passed and Frederick succeeded his father as Landgraf of Hesse-Homburge, Elizabeth shocked many by permitting her mother-in-law to preceed her in ceremonies. Her husband Landgravine inherited many debts, and Elizabeth assumed the fund-raising responsibilities. Remarkably, she did so without hurting her husband’s pride. She outlived both her eldest brother and husband. She died on 10 January 1840 at age 69.
Part IV of the Princess Diaries continues next week.