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. 

The Six Daughters of George III

© Cheryl Bolen

In the century and half since the last princess died, no one has ever before had the fortitude to chronicle the lives of the six daughters of George III (1738-1820) and his wife Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). Until Flora Fraser.

In 2006, she published Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III. One of England’s premier biographers of the late Georgian era, Fraser (Beloved Emma) first became acquainted with the princesses when doing archival research for her biography (Unruly Queen) of their sister-in-law, the Prince Regent’s wife.princesses

“Given other circumstances, the letters of these six royal sisters might have been filled only with Court gossip, pomp and fashion,” Fraser writes. “Instead their correspondence makes harrowing reading, revealing the humility with which they met pain and horror, the tenacity with which they pursued their individual dreams, and the stratagems they devised to endure years of submission and indignity.”

The circumstances which catapulted their lives onto a sorrowful trajectory, of course, were the intermittent bouts of the king’s insanity which terminated in a nine-year regency after he was declared incompetent to rule.

His first occurrence of the illness was in 1788; it was another 23 years before the regency became official. Sadly, it was during those years the princesses came of age, only to be denied the opportunities for gaiety and marriage. The king’s illness turned a concerned mother into a domineering tyrant who deprived the princesses of any hopes for happiness.

During those years, the princesses were forced to forgo personal pleasures or aspirations for matrimony for fear it would incite another relapse in the father who was so excessively fond of his daughters.

To a one, all the princesses wished to marry, to have their own homes, to have children. Most of them would be denied these simple pleasures.

The king himself said in 1805 — when the Princess Royal was 39 and the youngest princess, Amelia, 22 — “I cannot deny that I have never wished to see any of them marry: I am happy in their company, and do not in the least want a separation.”

When he spoke those words, “Royal,” as the eldest sister was always called, was the only sister to have married. Her father had refused many offers for her hand, a fact that embittered her. She finally succeeded in marrying a widow, the Hereditary Prince of Wuttemberg, when she was thirty.

She was thrilled to escape “The Nunnery,” a title the princesses themselves dubbed their residences at Kew Palace and Windsor Castle. She never regretted the decision to marry. While she never bore a live child, she was an indulgent mother and grandmother to her step-children and may have been the happiest of the sisters.

None of the sisters would ever become a mother, though the fourth princess, Sophia (1777-1848), gave birth secretly to an illegitimate child sired by her father’s equerry, who was more than thirty years older than she. She never married.

Amelia died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-seven, which many think contributed to her father’s final fall into hopeless insanity. Even on her deathbed, her family would not allow Amelia to marry the young officer she had been in love with for eight years.

Her sister, Princess Augusta (1768-1840), also fell in love with a military man, Gen. Sir Brent Spencer. When she was 43 she wrote a letter to the regent that begged to be allowed to marry the man who had shared her “mutual affection” for twelve years. Request refused, she died a spinster.

Princess Mary had more luck. She demanded the regent allow her to wed her cousin, the Duke of Gloucester, whose father was her father’s brother. The regent reluctantly agreed. At age forty, she finally married. While it is doubtful she was in love with her husband, she relished the first liberty she had ever tasted.

The sister who had most wanted to marry and had dreamed of bearing a child, Princess Elizabeth, finally was granted one of her wishes. At age forty-eight and well past child-bearing years, she married the Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg and had a happy marriage for eleven years.

Fraser’s research is meticulous, right down to the names of the royal wet nurses and the salary paid to them. Almost all of the research is original, delving into letters in collections, archives, and libraries across the globe, a feat that had to have taken several years.

For the casual reader, there are a few problems. First, it is difficult to chronicle six lives at once chronologically. We get a snippet of one sister, but the narrative thread drops while there is an awkward transition to another sister because of chronological constraints. Therefore, the book makes for dry reading and lacks dramatic structure.

For the historian, this work is a gem.

ex-spinster-by-christmasCheryl’s newest release is Ex-Spinster by Christmas (House of Haverstock #4).

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