Following the death of Princess Charlotte-Augusta of Wales, only child of the Prince Regent and his wife, Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in November 1817, the royal succession began to look uncertain. Princess Charlotte-Augusta had been the only legitimate grandchild of George III at the time. The Prince Regent was estranged from his wife and had no other legitimate children.
Princess Charlotte-Augusta of Wales
Next in line after the Prince Regent was Prince Frederick the Duke of York and Albany. Prince Frederick had married his cousin, Princess Frederica-Charlotte of Prussia, the daughter of King Friedrich-Wilhelm II of Prussia and Elisabeth-Christine of Brunswick-Lüneburg at Charlottenburg, Berlin on September 29, 1791 and again on November 23, 1791 at Buckingham Palace. The marriage was not a happy one and the couple soon separated. Frederica retired to Oatlands, where she lived until her death in 1820.
Prince Frederick the Duke of York and Albany
King George III’s surviving daughters were all likely past childbearing age. The unmarried sons of King George III, the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV), the Duke of Kent, and the Duke of Cambridge, all rushed to contract lawful marriages and provide an heir to the throne. The fifth son of King George III, the Duke of Cumberland, was already married but had no living children at that time, whilst the marriage of the sixth son, the Duke of Sussex, was void because he had married in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act 1772.
However, it was not that simple. For the HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, providing for the succession was not his sole motivator in finding a wife. Even before he disposed of his mistress, the amiable Madame de Saint Laurent, the Duke of Kent had been secretly looking for a legitimate wife for financial reasons rather than dynastic reasons. The Duke of Kent knew that once he contracted a legitimate marriage he would be granted a steady income by Parliament. Princess Charlotte-Augusta was still alive at this time and he promised her, along with her consort, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, to furnish continuity for the throne of Hanover.
Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn
The Duke of Kent also realized that in Hanover, where the Salic Law applied to the German kingdom, only male heirs could reign in Hanover, therefore, if Princess Charlotte-Augusta became Queen of the United Kingdom this would separate the personal union of the two countries and a secession of her oldest surviving childless uncles would, one after another, become the King of Hanover. The Duke of Kent envisioned that he would one day be the King of Hanover. For that he would need a Queen and an heir.
The Duke of Kent’s idea of a suitable bride was a wealthy woman with proper Royal Ancestry for an approved royal marriage. Because the Duke of Kent had been helpful to his niece, Princess Charlotte-Augusta of Wales, and her husband Prince Leopold, they were eager to match the Duke with Leopold’s younger sister the Dowager Princess of Leiningen.
Princess Victoria, Duchess of Kent and Strathearn
The Duke agreed to visit the widowed Princess Victoria in Darmstadt, one of the larger cities close to the borders of Amorbach, after which he dispatched a lengthy letter expressing his affection and proposing marriage, believing she would make an appropriate Queen of Hanover. With the death of Princess Charlotte-Augusta of Wales, who died giving birth to a stillborn son in November 1817, the Duke of Kent realized that the succession to the British throne was now in jeopardy and this expediated his marriage to the Dowager Princess of Leiningen.
In Coburg Germany, on May 29, 1818 at 9:30 in the evening the Dowager Princess of Leiningen (aged 32) was married in the Lutheran right to the Duke of Kent (aged 52) a man she had only met once before. The Duke was arrayed in his English field marshal’s uniform, while the Princess was resplendent in pale silk lace. Afterwards, the new Duchess of Kent wrote in her diary that she had hoped that in her second marriage she would find the happiness that she never found in the first.
Within four days after the wedding the Duke and Duchess of Kent left for England, and at Kew Palace on July 13, 1818 at four in the afternoon, they were married again this time in accordance to the Church of England. However, the ceremony was doubled for there was also two brides for the Prince Regent to give away. Not only was the Duke of Kent marrying Princess Victoria, Prince William, Duke of Clarence and the 25 year old Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen (August 13, 1792 – December 2, 1849) [the daughter of Georg I, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen and Luise-Eleonore of Hohenlohe-Langenburg] were united as well.
The Duchess of Kent and Strathearn and Princess Alexandrina-Victoria of Kent
Charles Manners-Sutton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, officiated the ceremony, assisted by William Howley, Bishop of London, himself Archbishop of Canterbury from 1828 to 1848. Since King George III was blind and incapacitated, fragile old Queen Charlotte, mother of both of the Dukes, was the chief celebrant at the wedding banquet.
Because of the Duke of Kent’s financial situation the newlyweds moved back to Germany. By November 18, 1818 the Duke of Kent sent a letter to the Prince Regent’s private secretary, Sir Benjamin Bloomfield, indicating that the Duchess of Kent was pregnant and that the child was due in May the following year. The Duke of Kent believed it would be his duty to bring the Duchess back to England early in April so that the Royal birth could take place in England. The Duke also petitioned his brother the Prince Regent to allocate funds sufficient for the move and the care of his growing family.
The Duke and Duchess of Kent’s only child was born at 4.15 a.m. on May 24, 1819 at Kensington Palace in London. The new Princess of Kent was christened privately by the Archbishop of Canterbury, on June 24, 1819 in the Cupola Room at Kensington Palace. She was baptised Alexandrina after one of her godparents, Emperor Alexander I of Russia, and Victoria, after her mother. Additional names proposed by her parents—Georgina (or Georgiana), Charlotte, and Augusta—were dropped on the instructions of Kent’s eldest brother, George, the Prince Regent.
Alexandrina-Victoria of Kent aged 16.
At birth, Princess Alexandrina-Victoria of Kent, was fifth in the line of succession after the four eldest sons of George III: George, the Prince Regent (later George IV); Frederick, the Duke of York; William, the Duke of Clarence (later William IV); and Victoria’s father, Edward, the Duke of Kent. The Prince Regent had no surviving children, and the Duke of York had no children; further, both were estranged from their wives, who were both past child-bearing age, so the two eldest brothers were unlikely to have any further legitimate children.
With Princess Alexandrina-Victoria of Kent being fifth in line to the succession to the throne, her ascending the British throne was not assured. She could have been supplanted by a brother born to the Duke and Duchess of Kent, or any children from the union of the Duke and Duchess of Clarence. However, the Duke of Clarence’s legitimate daughters died as infants. The first of these was Princess Charlotte of Clarence, who was born and died on March 27, 1819, two months before Victoria was born.
Coronation portrait of Queen Victoria
Following the birth of Princess Alexandrina-Victoria in May 1819, the Duke and Duchess, concerned to manage the Duke’s great debts, sought to find a place where they could live inexpensively. After the coast of Devon was recommended to them they leased from a General Baynes, intending to remain incognito, Woolbrook Cottage on the seaside by Sidmouth.
Death of the Duke of Kent
The Duke of Kent died of pneumonia on January 23, 1820 at Woolbrook Cottage, Sidmouth, and was interred in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. He died six days before his father, George III, and was succeeded by his eldest son as George IV. Alexandrina-Victoria was then third in line to the throne after her uncles the Dukes of York and Clarence.
The Duke Clarence’s second daughter was Princess Elizabeth of Clarence who lived for twelve weeks from December 10, 1820 to 4 March 1821 and, while Elizabeth lived, Alexandrina-Victoria was fourth in line. The Childless Duke of York died in 1827 which paved the way for Alexandrina-Victoria’s own succession after the reigns of her uncles, George IV (1820-1830) and William IV (1830-1837).
Official documents prepared on the first day of her reign described her as Alexandrina-Victoria, but the first name was withdrawn at her own wish and not used again, hence she became Queen Victoria for the entirety of her reign.