The Children of George III

© Cheryl Bolen

Unlike his hedonistic eldest son, England’s King George III (1738-1820) did not philander. He settled down with his German-born wife, Charlotte (1744-1818), at age 23, and she proceeded to bear him 15 children over the next 20 years. He did not take mistresses. He lived frugally. And he derived great pleasure from his large brood–until the boys became men, that is.

Eleven of the children would reach old age. Two boys would die before the age of 5, and his youngest daughter died while in her twenties. Of the 15, eight were boys and seven were girls. Two of the sons would rule England and another would rule Hanover.

The younger brothers are less famous and tend to blur, even though they each led distinctly different lives. The girls, too, all seem to run together. Perhaps that is because their lives were all rather the same–as bland as their parents.

The living conditions of King George’s daughters came to be known as The Nunnery. That is because none of them was allowed to marry at the age when most young ladies take husbands. Three of the daughters would eventually marry–but not until they were past the age of child bearing.

Starved for the male companionship that was so lacking in their lives, one of the sisters, Sophia (1777-1848), got pregnant by her father’s 56-year-old equerry and secretly gave birth without any member of her household being any the wiser. (The little boy was placed in a foster home.)

Augusta (1768-1840) married the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, and Elizabeth married the Prince of Hesse-Homburg when she was 48 years of age. The only other sister to marry was Mary, who married the Duke of Gloucester, whose father was her father’s brother. 

The boys were raised in pairs, sharing domiciles and tutors. For example, the Prince of Wales and his brother Freddie (later Duke of York) were exactly a year apart, and they were never separated from one another. Freddie was the king’s favorite son, and when it became clear his elder brother was a bad influence on him, the king sent Freddie to Germany.

The third son, William, later the Duke of Clarence and later still, King William IV, was sent to sea at an early age and, unlike his regent brother, was somewhat coarse. He lived as man and wife for more than 20 years with the actress Mrs. Jordan, who bore him 10 children. Their children took the FitzClarence surname.

The next son, Edward (1767-1820), later known as the Duke of Kent, lived for many years with a French widow. He was a stern military man. After the regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte, died in childbirth in 1817, he would be one of the brothers scurrying to take a legitimate wife in order to father a child who would inherit the English throne. He married a young Saxe-Coburg widow who had already borne two children. She bore a daughter, Victoria, who would succeed her Uncle William as ruler of England in 1837.

Ernest (1771-1851), the fifth son, became King of Hanover. He was the only brother to never have a weight problem.

Another of the brothers to undergo an illegal marriage (as the Prince of Wales had done with Mrs. Fitzherbert in 1785) was Augustus (1773-1843). When he was 20 he secretly married Lady Augusta, who bore him two children, but the marriage was invalidated in 1801 because it violated the Royal Marriage Act.

The last brother to live past childhood, Adolphus (1774-1850) was known as the Duke of Cambridge.

Son Alfred, who was born in 1780, died at age 2. At his death, the king said, “I am very sorry for Alfred, but if it had been Octavius, I should have died too.” Months later, Octavius, who was born in 1779, became ill after being vaccinated for smallpox, and he never recovered. His father was almost inconsolable over the loss of his next-to-youngest son.

How curious that a monarch who fathered eight legitimate sons had not a single grandson to serve as king. More odd still was that when George III’s only legitimate grandchild, Princess Charlotte, died when he was 78, there was not a single legitimate grandchild of George III.— Cheryl Bolen’s 37th book, Ex-Spinster by Christmas, is her latest release. Watch for Miss Hasting’s Excellent London Adventure in May. 

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