Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was the only daughter of George IV, then Prince of Wales and his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick . Theirs was an arranged marriage, which George agreed to in order to get parliament to settle his enormous debts which at the time amounted to £630,000 . On first sight of his future wife, George was thoroughly dismayed and in a state of shock, “I am not well”, he announced “pray get me a glass of brandy,” The marriage ceremony proceeded as arranged, attended by his well pleased father, George III, on the evening of 8th April, 1795 at the Chapel Royal at St. James’ Palace. The bride wore a elaborate dress of silver tissue and lace and a velvet robe lined with ermine. The distraught bridegroom spent his wedding night lying on the bedroom floor by the fireplace in a drunken stupor.
Although he was repelled by his wife, he did his duty and brought himself to consummate the marriage and the Princess of Wales gave birth to a daughter and heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, exactly nine months after the marriage, on 7th January, 1796 at Carlton House. After the birth of the child George promptly abandoned Caroline.
George III, who was sympathetic toward the plight of his niece, Princess Caroline and never on the best of terms with his errant son, expressed a desire to have Charlotte live with him so that he could supervise her upbringing and education.
A battle of wills followed over who was going to control the raising and education of Princess Charlotte. The prince was willing to accede to the wishes of his father, but wanted Caroline to have no influence in her daughter’s education, while king wanted her to be party to decisions about her daughter. A reconciliation took place between George and his father and an agreement about Charlotte’s future finally reached. She was to remain under her father’s care. The Princess of Wales was forbidden to see her daughter on a daily basis and in 1799 was banished. She went to live abroad, inviting scandal by taking lovers and running up vast debts. The child’s first governess was Lady Elgin.
Not surprisingly Charlotte grew up to be a stormy and rebellious teenager. After a failed attempt to force his daughter into a marriage with the Prince of Orange, whom she loathed, the Regent married his daughter and the heiress to the throne to Leopold George Christian Frederick of Saxe-Coburg- Saalfield, (pictured right) her own choice as a husband. Leopold was the youngest child of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf. The couple were married on 2 May, 1816, at Carlton House. After spending their honeymoon at Oatlands in Surrey, the country seat of the Duke of York, the couple set up home at Claremont. The cool and collected Leopold was to prove a calming influence on his tempestuous and headstrong wife.
After two miscarriages, Charlotte became pregnant with what was hoped would be a grandson and the heir in the next generation to the British throne. She went into labour on 3rd November, 1817. The Prince Regent was summoned and hurried to be present when the labour proved to be difficult and protracted, Caroline’s ordeal lasted for for fifty hours. Finally the child was born at nine o’clock on 6th November, a boy, born dead. The sad news was related to George on his reaching Carlton House, being told that his daughter herself was doing well, he retired exhausted to bed.
Though the mother seemed at first to be recovering well from her horrendous ordeal, she complained that evening of severe stomach pains and began to vomit. She later developed a pain in her chest, before going into convulsions. It has been suggested that Charlotte may have died as a result of porphyria, inherited from her grandfather, George III.
Soon after the Regent was awoken by his brother, the Duke of York and informed that his only daughter was dead. Highly emotional by nature, George was extremely distraught. The following day he went to visit his bereaved son-in-law at Carlton House. In contrast to the sad but composed Leopold, George was overcome and worked himself into a very distressed condition, which was the cause of further alarm.
Charlotte and her son were buried at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Her elaborate carved memorial is situated in a side chapel toward the back of the nave. George’s recovery from his bereavement was slow, he became somewhat reclusive and dwelled excessively on the shock of the sad event which had overwhelmed him. Charlotte’s obstetrician, Sir Richard Croft was widely blamed for the Princess’ death and was said to have been negligent. Both the Regent and Prince Leopold publicly exonerated him from blame, but the damage to his reputation was done and eighteen months later Croft shot himself.
Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield was later to act as principal adviser to his young niece Victoria. In June 1831, he became king of the Belgians, fifteen years after Charlotte’s death , he married Louise-Marie, daughter of Louis-Philippe of France, and they had four children, one of whom was named Charlotte in her honour. He was to be instrumental in arranging the marriage of Queen Victoria to his nephew, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.