Charles Greville, Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg- Strelitz, Duke of Cumberland, Illegitimate Child, King George III of the United Kingdom, King George IV of the United Kingdom, Queen Charlotte of Great Britain, Sophia of Great Britain, The Prince Regent, Thomas Garth
The Princess Royal was the only daughter who was able to marry while relatively young. The rest of the princesses were not without suitors, but most of the various men’s efforts were stopped by Queen Charlotte. Most of the girls longed for families and children of their own, and often asked the Prince of Wales, to whom they remained close, for help, either in finding spouses, allowing them to marry their loves, or allowing them to live outside of Queen Charlotte’s household.
A grateful Sophia once jokingly wrote to her brother, saying “I wonder you do not vote for putting us in a sack and drowning us in the Thames.” Before George became regent, he had little power to oblige his sisters. His ascension to the regency in 1811 led to Sophia and the other remaining unmarried princesses to receive increases in their allowances, from £10,000 to £13,000. He also supported their desire to venture out into society. Queen Charlotte was outraged at these attempts, and the Prince-Regent had to reconcile the two parties carefully so that his sisters could still enjoy some independence.
During Sophia’s lifetime, there were various rumours about her alleged incestuous relationship with her brother, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, who later became the King of Hanover. The Prince Regent supposedly warned his sisters not to be alone in the same room with the Duke, and Cumberland was deeply unpopular with the British people.
It is unclear whether there was truth to these rumours or whether they were circulated by the Duke’s numerous political enemies.
Limited in exposure to eligible men, Sophia and several of her sisters became involved with courtiers and equerries. Sophia entered into a relationship with her father’s chief equerry, Major-General Thomas Garth, a man thirty-three years her senior. He had a large purple birthmark on his face, causing Sophia’s sister Mary to refer to him as “the purple light of love” and courtier and diarist Charles Greville to call him a “hideous old devil”.
Despite this, one lady-in-waiting noted “the princess was so violently in love with him that everyone saw it. She could not contain herself in his presence.” Greville wrote about Sophia and her sisters’ affairs in a diary entry, “women fall in love with anything – and opportunity and the accidents of the passions are of more importance than any positive merits of mind or of body… [The princesses] were secluded from the world, mixing with few people – their passions boiling over and ready to fall into the hands of the first man whom circumstances enabled to get at them.”
Gossip soon spread of the existence of an illegitimate child. Some historians contend that, sometime before August 1800 in Weymouth, Sophia gave birth to a child fathered by Garth. Flora Fraser believes the rumours that Sophia had a child, but has questioned whether the child was fathered by Garth, or Sophia’s brother the Duke of Cumberland. Historians further write that the child, baptised Thomas Garth like his father, was raised by his father in Weymouth, where his mother would visit him occasionally. In 1828 he apparently tried to blackmail the royal family with certain incriminating documents from his father about his supposed parents’ relationship, though this ended in failure.
Conversely, Anthony Camp challenges the belief that Sophia had a child and provides a detailed summary of the available evidence. In his book Royal Babylon: the Alarming History of European Royalty, author Karl Shaw writes of the possibility that the Duke raped his sister, citing evidence from Charles Greville’s diaries, as well as other factors. Historian Gillian Gill believes that Sophia secretly gave birth to the child and that this is the reason Sophia never married. Alison Weir and others, however, write of a possible marriage between Sophia and Garth the same year as the child’s birth, but there is no evidence to back this assertion other than the presence of a wedding ring in a portrait of an aged Sophia.