King George III of the United Kingdom, King George IV of the United Kingdom, Napoleonic Wars, Prince Leopard of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Prince Willem of Orange, Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Princess Charlotte of Wales, The Prince of Orange, The Prince Regent, Willem VI of Orange
Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales (January 7, 1796 – November 6, 1817) was the only child of George, Prince of Wales (later George IV), and his wife, Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Had she outlived both her grandfather George III and her father, she would have become Queen of the United Kingdom, but she died at the age of 21, predeceasing them both.
Charlotte’s parents disliked each other from before their arranged marriage and soon separated. The Prince of Wales left most of Charlotte’s care to governesses and servants, only allowing her limited contact with Caroline, who eventually left the country.
Her father George, Prince of Wales and later The Prince Regent, had been raised under strict conditions, which he had rebelled against. Despite this, he attempted to put his daughter, who had the appearance of a grown woman at age 15, under even stricter conditions. He gave her a clothing allowance insufficient for an adult princess, and insisted that if she attended the opera, she was to sit in the rear of the box and leave before the end.
With the Prince Regent busy with affairs of state, Charlotte was required to spend most of her time at Windsor with her maiden aunts. Bored, she soon became infatuated with her cousin George FitzClarence, illegitimate son of Prince William, Duke of Clarence.
FitzClarence was, shortly thereafter, called to Brighton to join his regiment, and Charlotte’s gaze fell on Lieutenant Charles Hesse of the Light Dragoons, reputedly the illegitimate son of Charlotte’s uncle, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany.
Hesse and Charlotte had a number of clandestine meetings. Lady de Clifford feared the Prince Regent’s rage should they be found out, but Princess Caroline was delighted by her daughter’s passion. She did everything that she could to encourage the relationship, even allowing them time alone in a room in her apartments.
These meetings ended when Hesse left to join the British forces in Spain. Most of the Royal Family, except the Prince Regent, were aware of these meetings, but did nothing to interfere, disapproving of the way George was treating his daughter.
In 1813, with the tide of the Napoleonic Wars having turned firmly in Britain’s favour, George began to seriously consider the question of Charlotte’s marriage.
The Prince Regent and his advisers decided on Willem, Hereditary Prince of Orange, son and heir-apparent of Prince Willem VI of Orange. Such a marriage would increase British influence in Northwest Europe. Willem made a poor impression on Charlotte when she first saw him, at George’s birthday party on August 12, when he became intoxicated, as did the Prince Regent himself and many of the guests.
Although no one in authority had spoken to Charlotte about the proposed marriage, she was quite familiar with the plan through palace whispers. Dr. Henry Halford was detailed to sound out Charlotte about the match; he found her reluctant, feeling that a future British queen should not marry a foreigner.
Believing that his daughter intended to marry Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, the Prince Regent saw his daughter and verbally abused both her and Gloucester. According to Charlotte, “He spoke as if he had the most improper ideas of my inclinations. I see that he is compleatly [sic] poisoned against me, and that he will never come round.”
She wrote to Earl Grey for advice; he suggested she play for time. The matter soon leaked to the papers, which wondered whether Charlotte would marry “the Orange or the Cheese” (a reference to Gloucester cheese), “Slender Billy” [of Orange] or “Silly Billy”.
The Prince Regent attempted a gentler approach, but failed to convince Charlotte who wrote that “I could not quit this country, as Queen of England still less” and that if they wed, the Prince of Orange would have to “visit his frogs solo”.
However, on December 12, the Prince Regent arranged a meeting between Charlotte and the Prince of Orange at a dinner party, and asked Charlotte for her decision. She stated that she liked what she had seen so far, which George took as an acceptance, and quickly called in the Prince of Orange to inform him.