Friday, January 07, 2011

In Memoriam: Princess Charlotte

Amongst counterfactual historians (within whose number I would include myself) one of the greatest of all 'what-ifs' involves Princess Charlotte, the only daughter of the Prince Regent (later George IV) and his despised (by him, at least) wife, Caroline of Brunswick.

PhotobucketDespite the fecundity of George III and his wife Queen Charlotte - they had twelve children survive to adulthood - when Princess Charlotte was born on this day in 1796 the succession was in deep trouble; while his sons had no trouble begetting bastards, finding and impregnating suitable wives was seemingly anathema to them. In order to remedy this dire situation, the King and Parliament offered to underwrite the debts of any Royal Duke willing to do his duty - a considerable expenditure given the profligate ways of 19th Century royalty.

All told, three of them arose to the task: George (then the Prince of Wales) and his younger brothers William, Duke of Clarence, and Edward, Duke of Kent. Clarence's two daughters - Charlotte and Elizabeth - died as infants, while Kent's daughter we will meet later...

Despite the animosity that spawned her - her parents hated each other on sight, and her father had to get so drunk in order to do his constitutional duty it's a wonder he could perform it at all - Princess Charlotte was high-spirited and vivacious, much beloved by the English public at a time when republican sympathies were engulfing Europe (especially France); as a young girl she more or less chose the man she wanted to marry, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and then insisted that he be allowed to court her, despite the fact that he was essentially landless and thus of no strategic or diplomatic value to the Crown. Even if they hadn't been royal, though, Charlotte's father would have still undoubtedly called her princess, so beloved was she by him; a grateful Nation and loving father granted the couple permission to marry, bestowing upon the newlyweds Claremont House as a wedding present.

In an all-too-common tragedy of the times, both Princess Charlotte and her son died in childbirth in November 1817; she was only 21. To put her death into modern context, the death of Diana was a sob compared to the paroxysm of grief that seized Britain as the late Heiress Presumptive's body was conveyed to St. George's Chapel, Windsor, where she would lie with so many of her colourful ancestors past and future.

Her husband would later remarry, to Louise-Marie of Orléans, and in 1831 became the first King of the Belgians; among his illustrious offspring was Empress Carlota of Mexico, named for his first wife. Following the death of George IV in 1830, his brother the Duke of Clarence became William IV, and following his death in 1837 he would be succeeded by their niece, daughter of the late Duke of Kent, a serious young woman whose long reign would impose itself in every corner of the globe and who would give her name to the age - Victoria.

But what if all those Victorians had been Charlottians instead? 'What if' indeed...
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