To Marry a Prince

A personal note on Princess Charlotte

I first heard about the unfortunate Princess from my mother. Unlike Charlotte, who was only 21 when she died, my mother married late and was nearer 50 than 40 when I was born. At a very early stage in the pregnancy she visited Windsor with some friends, whom she had not told about her condition. In St George’s Chapel, she came face to face with the marble memorial to Princess Charlotte, right arm raised as she ascends to Heaven, accompanied by two angels, one of whom carries her dead baby son. At Charlotte’s feet, shrouded figures weep. There is more than a touch of the Gothic about it. It was, said my mother, a sobering moment. She never forgot it.

So from very early on I was very tender of Princess Charlotte. She had a tough life, as the only child of warring parents, both of whom were cold-hearted, self-obsessed drama queens. She wasn’t very studious; she went through a tomboyish stage which appalled everyone. She was wilful which, given her genes, wasn’t surprising. She had a tendency to put on weight, also inherited and stammered, like her father the Prince Regent, when nervous. She seems also to have been genuinely affectionate, unlike either of her parents, generous, a loyal friend and, eventually and rather sadly, a good judge of character. She loved horses and dogs, music and reading, particularly Jane Austen. ‘You feel quite one of the company’ she wrote after reading Sense and Sensibility. ‘I feel Maryanne & me are very alike in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c., however remain very like.’

She fought her corner, too, standing out with some dignity (and a few stratagems of her own) against her father the Prince Regent’s campaign to bully, wheedle, blackmail or quite simply bounce her into marriage with the Prince of Orange. She ended by marrying Leopold of Saxe Coburg, whom she liked but was a little shy of—but at least, as a second son, he would not expect to take her out of England, which seems to be what she feared most in a husband. In their short marriage they seem to have become quite devoted. When she lost her temper (like her parents, again) Leopold would murmur, ‘Doucement, chérie.’ Doucement became her nickname for him. If she had lived, they seem likely to have become gentle, kindly monarchs, more liberal than either her father or her grandfather, tolerant, fun and happy. When she died, Henry Brougham, her deplorable mother’s advocate, wrote, ‘It really was as if every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child.’

By 1937, she had been so completely forgotten, poor lass, that in the genealogical table in the Official Souvenir Programme of the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, they didn’t even get her name right, calling her Caroline, like her mother.