The Prince’s marriage: Queen Charlotte’s fears

Explaining the circumstances of Charlotte’s birth (3)

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Queen Charlotte in happier times (1781), by Thomas Gainsborough. Public  Domain

 

Having made his decision to marry his cousin, the Prince acted quickly. If ‘any damn German frau’ might do, he might as well get the whole marriage business over as quickly as possible. On 24 August 1794 he announced his decision to his parents. His father was delighted, his mother appalled. She kept her feelings to herself but in a letter written a few weeks earlier to her brother, Duke Charles II of Mecklenburg Strelitz she had expressed herself vigorously. The widowed Duke had been looking for a new wife and he had suggested Caroline of Brunswick to his sister. She had replied at some length:

… a relative of that Family, who is indeed very attached to the Duke, has spoken to me of Princess Caroline with very little respect. They say that her passions are so strong that the Duke himself said that she was not to be allowed even to go from one room to another without her Governess, and that when she dances, this Lady is obliged to follow her for the whole of the dance to prevent her from making an exhibition of herself by indecent conversations with men, and that the Duke as well as the Duchess have forbidden her…to speak to anyone at all except her Governess …

She ended decisively,

‘There, my dear brother, is a woman I do not recommend at all’.  Quoted Olwen Hedley, Queen Charlotte, John Murray, 1975, pp. 189-90

As events were to show, Charlotte was to be proved right. So why did she keep her strong misgivings to herself. Would not a quiet word with her husband and son have prevented a great deal of misery and scandal? Her reticence was to prove disastrous, but there were two reasons for her silence.

The first lies in the nature of her married life, which was happy but subjected to severe limitations – even privations. Charlotte had come to England as a in 1762 at the age of eighteen. She was a young girl from a minor German duchy, she did not speak English, and she had no prior knowledge of what it meant to be the Queen of a major power. One courtier was to sum up her position.

‘Coming over with natural good spirits, eagerly expecting to be queen of a gay court, finding herself confined in a convent, and hardly allowed to think without the leave of her husband, checked her spirits, made her fearful and cautious to an extreme’. Mary Harcourt, Court of King George III, 46; Quoted Janice Hadlow, The Strangest Family.

She was later to write to her friend, Lady Harcourt,

‘I have so many things I could say, but prudence imposes silence, and that dear little word has so often stood my friend in necessity that I make it my constant companion.’ (Quoted Hadlow)

This self-discipline had preserved her marriage, but it had come at a great cost. Continue reading “The Prince’s marriage: Queen Charlotte’s fears”

The Prince’s marriage: limited choices

Explaining the circumstances of Charlotte’s birth (2)

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Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester, by Sir Joshua Reynolds. The King disapproved of her parents’ marriage and refused to stand godfather

The Prince had to marry – that was agreed – but it was here that the problems began. His choices were circumscribed by two Acts of Parliament: the Act of Settlement (1701) which stated that he had to marry a Protestant, and the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, which specified that no descendant of George II could marry without the consent of the monarch. There was also the fact, prescribed by practice though not law, that he could not marry a commoner; no monarch had done this since Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine Parr in 1543. As a young man his father, George III, had fallen hopelessly in love with Lady Sarah Lennox, but he had not married her. Instead he had chosen a bride he had never met, Princess Charlotte of Mecklinburg-Strelitz: in other words, a ‘German frau’. His son would have to do the same.

There was the added complication of Maria Fitzherbert. Her relationship with the Prince was widely known, but it was whispered behind closed doors and never made public. As has been seen, Charles James Fox had nearly ruined his political career by speaking about it in Parliament. From the point of view of the marriage negotiations, Mrs Fitzherbert, doubly unsuitable as a Catholic and a commoner,  did not exist. Continue reading “The Prince’s marriage: limited choices”

The Prince and his debts

Explaining the circumstances of Charlotte’s birth (1)

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George, Prince of Wales, miniature by Richard Cosway, 1792, Public domain

Charlotte’s story begins with money – or the lack of it. Her parents would never have married if her father, George, Prince of Wales, had not needed to clear his debts.

In 1783 George had come of age and the then Whig government discussed with the Prince’s father, George III, how much income he should receive. The Whigs were the Prince’s political friends, and inclined to be generous and they suggested an annual income of £100,000 a year. The frugal King was horrified, and the amount was whittled down to £62,000 p.a (£50,000 from the Civil List and £12,000 from the Duchy of Cornwall). Persuaded by his friend, Charles James Fox, George rather sulkily agreed to accept that sum and proceeded to rebuild his residence, Carlton House, on a grand scale: a mini-Versailles that he could not afford without piling up debt upon debt.

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The front of Carlton House in the early nineteenth century. Public Domain

Following his clandestine and illegal marriage to Maria Fitzherbert in 1785, George for a while lived a more domesticated life. But his debts continued to rise, and by 1786 they had reached the dizzy sum of nearly £270,000. For the first time it was suggested to him that if he wanted Parliament to clear his debts, he should marry a foreign princess. The idea horrified him so much that he closed down Carlton House, sold his racing horses and carriages and went to live with Mrs Fitzherbert in Brighton. Continue reading “The Prince and his debts”