The Prince’s marriage: Queen Charlotte’s fears

Explaining the circumstances of Charlotte’s birth (3)

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”