Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz., Hanover, Kew Gardens, King George III of the United Kingdom, Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Prince Regent, Queen of Württemberg
Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (May 19, 1744 – November 17, 1818) was Queen of Great Britain and of Ireland as the wife of King George III from their marriage on September 8, 1761 until her death in 1818. Both kingdoms were in a personal union under King George III until the Acts of Union 1800 merged them on January 1, 1801. Charlotte then became Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. As George’s wife, she was also Electress of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) until becoming Queen of Hanover on October 12, 1814. Charlotte was Britain’s longest-serving queen consort, serving for 57 years and 70 days.
Sophia Charlotte was born on May 19, 1744. She was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Ludwig Friedrich of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Prince of Mirow (1708–1752), and his wife Princess Elisabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen (1713–1761). Mecklenburg-Strelitz was a small north-German duchy in the Holy Roman Empire.
The children of Duke Charles were all born at the Untere Schloss (Lower Castle) in Mirow. According to diplomatic reports at the time of her engagement to George III in 1761, Charlotte had received “a very mediocre education”. Her upbringing was similar to that of a daughter of an English country gentleman. She received some rudimentary instruction in botany, natural history, and language from tutors, but her education focused on household management and religion – the latter taught by a priest. Only after her brother Adolphus Frederick succeeded to the ducal throne, in 1752, did she gain any experience of princely duties and of court life.
When George III succeeded to the throne of Great Britain upon the death of his grandfather George II, he was 22 years old and unmarried. His mother and advisors were eager to have him settled in marriage. The 17-year-old Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz appealed to him as a prospective consort partly because she had been brought up in an insignificant north German duchy, and therefore would probably have had no experience or interest in power politics or party intrigues. That proved to be the case; to make sure, he instructed her shortly after their wedding “not to meddle”, a precept she was glad to follow.
The King announced to his Council in July 1761, according to the usual form, his intention to wed the Princess, after which a party of escorts, led by the Earl Harcourt, departed for the Holy Roman Empire to conduct Princess Charlotte to England. They reached Strelitz on August 14, 1761, and were received the next day by Duke Adolph Friedrich IV, Charlotte’s brother, at which time the marriage contract was signed by him on the one hand and Lord Harcourt on the other.
Three days of public celebrations followed, and on August 17, 1761, Charlotte set out for Britain, accompanied by Adolph Friedrich IV and the British escort party. On August 22, they reached Cuxhaven, where a small fleet awaited to convey them to England. The voyage was extremely difficult; the party encountered three storms at sea, and landed at Harwich only on September 7. They set out at once for London, spent that night in Witham, at the residence of Lord Abercorn, and arrived at 3:30 pm the next day at St. James’s Palace in London. They were received by the King and his family at the garden gate, which marked the first meeting of the bride and groom.
At 9:00 pm that same evening (September 8, 1761), within six hours of her arrival, Charlotte was united in marriage with King George III. The ceremony was performed at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Secker. Only the royal family, the party who had travelled from Germany, and a handful of guests were present.
The marriage lasted 57 years and produced 15 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood. They included two future British monarchs, George IV and William IV; as well as Charlotte, Princess Royal, who became Queen of Württemberg; and Prince Ernest Augustus, who became King of Hanover.
Charlotte was a patron of the arts and an amateur botanist who helped expand Kew Gardens. She introduced the Christmas tree to Britain, after decorating one for a Christmas party for children from Windsor in 1800. She was distressed by her husband’s bouts of physical and mental illness, which became permanent in later life.
She maintained a close relationship with Queen Marie Antoinette of France, and the French Revolution likely enhanced the emotional strain felt by Charlotte. Her eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, was appointed as Prince Regent in 1811 due to the increasing severity of the King’s illness. Charlotte died in November 1818 with her son George at her side. George III died a little over a year later, likely unaware of his wife’s death.