The Tragic Life of The Other Princess Charlotte of Wales


The Royal Collection Trust announced that the wedding dress of Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796-1817) is currently on display for public exhibition at The Queen's Gallery in London until October 8, 2023. Princess Charlotte's wedding dress is one of the earliest surviving wedding dress of a member of the British Royal Family.

This exhibition made us to remember the short life and tragic death of the other Princess Charlotte of Wales who would have been the British regnant Queen had not for a difficult child birth.

Princess Charlotte of Wales

Today, her name lives on as there is another Princess Charlotte of Wales. The only daughter of the current Prince and Princess of Wales. However, the circumstances of life and faith of the past Princess Charlotte of Wales were so different than today's Princess Charlotte.

She was not raised in a loving home with both parents present. Before she reached 10 years old, she was given a home of her own with her own staff. Her warring parents were separated and her mother was prohibited by her father to see her. 

Princess Charlotte of Wales

Princess Charlotte grew up quite a headstrong girl who was determined to get what she wanted. For that period, she was groomed to be the next Queen of the United Kingdom. But fate decreed otherwise. And her death gave way to the birth of her cousin who would become the legendary British Queen. Victoria.

The Other Princess Charlotte of Wales

During the reign of King George III (1760-1820), British ministers were anxious to entrust the Kingdom to the king's heirs. Although the king, who experienced bout of madness, had several sons, none of them seemed morally upright to serve as a role model to the British people.

Most of them were carrying affairs with commoners, married women, and buried in debts. And except for Prince Frederick, Duke of York (the second son) who married a German princess, the rest of King George III sons were entangled in adulterous affairs including his heir, George, the Prince of Wales.

At that time, royals were not allowed to marry non-aristocratic commoners. And subjects to The Royal Marriages Act of 1772, King George III would never give his approval to his children who would take a commoner spouse.

To the King's disappointment, his beloved first-born son, the Prince of Wales (Prince George) became infatuated with Maria Fitzherbert who was everything a British royal bride during that period should not be: a commoner, twice divorce, and a Roman Catholic.

However, Prince George was so besotted he was determined to marry her (just like Edward VIII in later century). Reportedly, they got married in December 1785 without the consent of his father. The marriage was void as it did not have an approval of the monarch.

Prince George was buried in debt due to his extravagant lifestyle. The king offered to clear his debt provided he will abandon Maria and marry his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. In which the Prince of Wales obliged.

However, the marriage was a disaster and the royal couple separated after the birth of their only child, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, in 1796.

Despite the acrimonious marriage of her parents, Princess Charlotte's birth brought delight to the United Kingdom. Many were hopefuls of a bright and peaceful nation once Princess Charlotte ascends the throne.

At the time of her birth, she was the only legitimate grandchild of King George III, therefore the only heir after her father, Prince George.

Several royal suitors moved forward to ask her hand for marriage. But Princess Charlotte's eyes were fixed on the handsome prince from Germany, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, son of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Saalfeld (in later years the Saalfeld was exchanged to Gotha).

wedding of Prince Leopold and Princess Charlotte

Despite Prince George's initial opposition, the wedding was pushed through on May 2, 1816, at the Crimson drawing room of Carlton House at her father's residence

Princess Charlotte wore a magnificent wedding dress in a white and silver slip, covered with transparent silk net embroidered in silver lamé with shells and flowers. 

The sleeves were trimmed with Brussels lace, and the six-foot train was made with the same material as the slip and was fastened like a cloak with a diamond clasp. The cost was reportedly £10,000 (equivalent to approximately £814,352 today), and was designed by the London dressmaker, "Mrs. Triaud". Princess Charlotte paired the dress with earrings, pearls, and an armlet, a wedding gift from Prince Leopold.

wedding dress of Princess Charlotte of Wales
Wedding dress of Princess Charlotte of Wales on display credit: Royal Collection Trust

In contrast with the practice of arranged marriages during their time, Prince Leopold and Princess Charlotte were reportedly in love and planned a large family. They took up residence at Claremont House where the princess grew up.

In January 1817, the Prince of Wales organized a large birthday party for his only child's 21st birthday, and weeks later it was announced that the princess was pregnant.

Her pregnancy was celebrated in Britain as a light of hope with so much anticipation from the public. People took interest to her unborn child. But there was a problem that her doctors noticed. Princess Charlotte took interest in food with little exercise.

They put her on a strict diet hoping to reduce the size of the baby in time of the birth. But Princess Charlotte experienced occasional bleeding.

She was expected to give birth in October 1817, however, at the end of October there was no sign that she would give birth anytime soon.

Finally on November 3, 1817, the contraction began, but Princess Charlotte seemed could not expel the baby. She continued to bleed which finally weakened her. Her attending physicians frantically made effort to assist her to no avail. Forceps were still not practice during that period.

Finally, on the evening of November 5, Princess Charlotte was able to give birth to a large stillborn baby boy. Princess Charlotte, though saddened on the death of her first child, recovered from exhaustion.

But after midnight she began to bleed and vomit profusely and was complaining of abdominal pain. Her doctors applied a hot compress but the blood did not stop. Princess Charlotte later died. It was declared she died from postpartum bleeding.

It was a tragic and horrible death of the only heiress to the British throne. And her doctors and staff had a hard time informing the nation and the Prince of Wales.

Her husband, Prince Leopold, who was the first one to know, sank into unimaginable grief over the death of his beloved wife and child. The Prince of Wales was so depressed on the death of his legitimate child and heir that he did not attend the funeral of the princess.

The whole kingdom went into deep mourning; linen-drapers ran out of black cloth. Even the poor and homeless tied armbands of black on their clothes. The shops closed for two weeks, as did the Royal Exchange, the Law Courts, and the docks. 

Following Princess Charlotte's untimely death, all sons of her grandfather began to look for a royal princess to provide the British throne with a legitimate heir.

The fourth son of the King, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, was introduced to the recently widowed Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, the older sister of Princess Charlotte's widower, Prince Leopold. They eventually got married and had an only child together, Princess Victoria. It was Victoria who became Queen of the United Kingdom. She was Princess Charlotte's cousin she did not meet.

In 1830, Prince Leopold was elected to become the King of the newly established Kingdom of Belgium. He gladly accepted and became King Leopold I of Belgium. He later married to a French Princess, Maria Louise of Orleans.

When his wife gave birth to their first daughter, King Leopold I honored his first wife by giving the child with the name Charlotte. She became Empress Carlota of Mexico as the wife of Emperor Maximilian. 

Sometimes fate and destiny moved in a way we never expected and strange, paving its own path to bring us to where we should thrive. Had Charlotte live and survive, Victoria would never become Queen.

And British history might have been very different.

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