As we watched Kate Middleton marry into the Royal Family, people kept saying things that made the life of a princess seem “ideal,” but we who have studied the Regency Period can name six princesses who knew nothing of the glam and glamour of being named “princess.” The Princess Royal, Charlotte Augusta Matilda, was the oldest of those.
The infant Charlotte in the arms of her mother, Queen Charlotte
George III and Queen Charlotte beget a total of 15 children: nine sons and six daughters. Life in the royal household was anything but ideal. Reportedly, the boys were often beaten for the least infraction, but they also had their “freedom.” So, despite George III’s “whip hand,” the king’s sons were given money and their own residences, some receiving these liberties as early as age eleven. The King’s daughters, however, were kept at home under the watchful eye of both parents. The diarist, Fanny Burney, wrote, “Never in tale or fable were there six sister Princesses more lovely.” However, late marriages and spinsterhood plagued all six.
One of the issues that kept the daughters out of the marriage ring was their parents’ insistence that the girls marry men whose politics aligned with the King and Queen’s. Therefore, the princesses were rarely out in Society. Obviously, the girls could not be seen dancing with someone of the Whigs party. Only the daughters of loyal Tories were ever invited to Windsor. Queen Charlotte remained quite adamant in that matter.
Princess Charlotte in 1769
Most experts agree that Queen Charlotte’s allegiance to her husband doomed the girls. Although King George III loved his daughters, he did not want them to marry. Repots say that before he went mad in 1788 that the King apologized to his daughters for not finding them appropriate husbands. The King’s madness and the French Revolution kept the girls at home until their mother’s watchful eye. Queen Charlotte feared her husband’s illness may have passed to her children, and she watched them carefully for early signs of the disease.
Several hopefuls applied for the girls, but each was turned away. Charlotte Augusta Matilda, the oldest of the daughters and known as the Princess Royal to distinguish her from her mother, was two and twenty when her father displayed signs of his madness in 1788. No talk of marriage was possible during these trying times. However, when the King took a turn for the better in 1789, the royal court received new offers of marriage. Denmark, Brunswick, Wurttemberg, and Orange sent inquiries, but the King continued to turn down all offers.
The Prince of Wales attempted to arrange a marriage for the Princess Royal to the heir to the Duke of Oldenburg, but those plans were thwarted. Finally, when Charlotte was nine and twenty, the Hereditary Prince of Wurttemberg approached her father about a possible match. Immensely fat, the Prince was no great prize. He was forty when they married. He had been married previously, and after bearing an illegitimate child in Russia, his wife had died under “suspicious” circumstances. The former Princess of Wurttemberg had been George III’s niece, daughter to his sister Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick. Therefore, King George insisted on clearing the Prince’s name before he would allow his daughter to marry the man.
Frederick I of Wurttemberg
On 18 May 1797 (after the Prince had been cleared), the Princess Royal, age 30, and her groom, Prince Frederick, who had turned forty, were finally permitted to marry. Princess Charlotte left England, never to see her dear father again. Charlotte was happy in her new home, and although her only child was stillborn, she gladly became stepmother to her husband’s four children. Prince Frederick succeeded his father as the reigning Duke of Wurttemberg on 22 December 1797. Charlotte courageously faced the ravages of the European continent during the Napoleonic era. Having previously fled the French several times, Charlotte received the conquering Napoleon with dignity when he marched into Wurttemberg in 1805. Duke Frederick ceded Montbeliard to France before assuming the titled of Elector of Wurttemberg, but Napoleon named Frederick King of Wurttemberg on 26 December 1805. Electress Charlotte became Queen on 1 January 1806. The action further alienated the former Princess Royal from her English family. Wurttemberg had joined Napoleon’s short-lived Confederation of the Rhine, which made the country an enemy of England and George III.
Queen Charlotte of Wurttemberg
To reciprocate, the new Queen arranged a match between her stepdaughter Catherine and Napoleon’s brother Jerome, which made Catherine queen of the new Kingdom of Westphalia. Toward the end of 1813, with Napoleon’s losses, Wurttemberg changed sides in the continuing conflict. In 1814, George IV invited his sister Charlotte to England for the victory celebrations, but Frederick refused to permit his wife to go. Frederick remained affronted by his wife’s family abandonment. Charlotte pretended an illness rather than to embarrass all involved with her refusal to attend.
When Frederick died in 1816, Charlotte maintained that she had been happy with the man. To honor her marriage vows, she wore black for the rest of her days. The Dowager Queen of Wurttemberg lived out her days in Stuttgart. Occasionally, she hosted visits from her brothers, the Duke of Kent, the Duke of Sussex, and the Duke of Cambridge, as well as Princess Augusta Sophia. By proxy, she was godmother to her niece, Princess Victoria of Kent, the future Queen Victoria. The year before she died in 1828, she returned to England for surgery for dropsy. Unfortunately, for her sisters, Charlotte’s successful marriage did nothing for their own prospects. The King and Queen used the dangers in which Charlotte found herself during the Napoleonic era as reason not to permit her sisters of making an appropriate match.