Signaling the End of the Hanoverian Line: The Death of Princess Charlotte
[Image: Engraving of Princess Caroline
from La Belle Assemblée (1806)] Much to the surprise and relief of George III’s England, his son George, Prince of Wales, fulfilled his duty by marrying Princess Caroline of Brunswick on 8 April 1795. Although they were first cousins (Caroline’s mother was George III’s sister), George and Caroline had never met before their marriage arrangement. Prince George was in his thirties when he took Caroline to wife.
Earlier, George had married the widowed Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert, but their marriage could not be recognized for the lady was a practicing Roman Catholic. The marriage was a poorly kept secret and many consider Mrs. Fitzherbert as Prince George’s “mistress.” The law at the time said that a marriage between any heir to the British throne to a Catholic removed said heir from the line of succession.
“In the context of royalty, a morganatic marriage is a marriage between people of unequal social rank, which prevents the passage of the husband’s titles and privileges to the wife and any children born of the marriage. Now rare, it is also known as a left-handed marriage because in the wedding ceremony the groom held his bride’s hand with his left hand instead of his right.
“Generally, this is a marriage between a man of high birth (such as from a reigning, deposed or mediatised dynasty) and a woman of lesser status (such as a daughter of a low-ranked noble family or a commoner). Usually, neither the bride nor any children of the marriage have a claim on the bridegroom’s succession rights, titles, precedence, or entailed property. The children are considered legitimate for all other purposes and the prohibition against bigamy applies. In some countries, a woman could marry a man of lower rank morganatically.” (Morgantic Marriage)
Desperate for money to allay his debts, Prince George began to search for a bride that would secure his purse and his right to the throne upon his father’s death. He supposedly took the recommendation of one of his mistresses, Lady Jersey, and overtures were sent to Brunswick. When Caroline arrived in England in 1795, Prince George’s worst nightmare came true. Caroline’s non-regal appearance and her lack of hygiene when against everything Prince George considered essential in life.
Despite his distaste for his new bride, Prince George (with a lot of alcohol in his system) managed to perform his conjugal duties, the result begin a daughter, named Princess Charlotte (after his mother). Princess Charlotte was George IV’s only heir for he avoided his wife as if Princess Caroline had the plague. He abandoned Caroline after she conceived Charlotte, and Prince George’s wife never spent another night with her husband.
When Princess Charlotte came of age, she chose Leopold of Coburg as her husband. Leopold, the younger son of the reigning duke of a German duchy, had served in the Russian army during the Napoleonic War. Leopold and Charlotte were a picture in contrast. Princess Charlotte was known to be outspoken and a bit of a romantic, while Leopold was consider precise and somber. Nevertheless, they married in May 1816. Charlotte readily became pregnant only to miscarry their first child. She conceived a second time, and on 3 November 1817, Charlotte went into labor.
Charlotte’s delivery, literally, changed the world. Sir Richard Croft, her physician examined Charlotte and terming her in labor dutifully summoned the customary officers of state to observe the birth – a long-standing tradition to prevent the substitution of a baby into the royal line by those who wished to usurp the throne.
Unfortunately, Charlotte’s delivery was a difficult one. First, she was three weeks past her due date. She spent a whole day in labor, but still she was unable to deliver the child. For one thing, her physician had bled her several times leading up to the delivery. This would seem bizarre by today’s standards, but an accepted treatment during this time. Being medically induced anemic, Princess Charlotte was too weak to push the baby out.
Another four and twenty hours passed with the same results. Croft refused to apply forceps for there’s the line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth that says, “Despair thy charm, / And let the angel whom thou still hast served / Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped” (Act V, scene 8).
After fifty hours of labor, Princess Charlotte delivered a stillborn son. Charlotte’s excessive loss of blood left her weak. Princess Charlotte died from anemia and a likely pulmonary embolism. There are some also who think she suffered from a porphyria episode, like the madness that consumed her grandfather King George III. She passed in the night’s middle on 6 November 1817 and so ended the Hanoverian line of British succession.