Jo here, returning to a subject I wrote about in May 2015 — the death of Princess Charlotte in childbirth in November 1817. Why? Because it's a lynch pin for my April book, The Viscount Needs a Wife, and for the one I'm writing now for 2017, Merely a Marriage.
I write my Company of Rogues books (follow that link for more) along a time line that started in 1814, and though I've gone slowly I've arrived at the great tragedy of the death of Princess Charlotte. I had wondered how I would deal with it, as it cannot be ignored, but it fell into place.
People sometimes think that death in childbirth was common in the past. I may write a blog post on that subject, but though it was more common than now, it wasn't so common that the death of a young, healthy woman and her baby was taken in stride.
The nation was plunged into a genuine and almost manic mourning that continued well into 1818. Court mourning plunged the aristocracy into black, and nearly everyone in the nation wore sober colors, black arm bands and similar signs of grief. Not to do so was to declare oneself a Republican, but also a heartless person, because this was a tragedy, royal or not.
The Royal Succession
In addition to a human tragedy, Charlotte's death created a succession crisis.
George III and Queen Charlotte had fifteen children, and in 1817 twelve were still alive.
The picture shows Queen Charlotte with her first two sons. How rosy the future must have looked then!
However, for a variety of reasons, Princess Charlotte was the only legitimate grandchild. The king's offspring were not young. He'd been on the throne for nearly fifty years, and the youngest surviving child was Sophia, born in 1777. At forty, she wasn't a great hope for the next generation, and in any case she wasn't married.
There were seven sons, however. That should solve it. people hoped. There were many articles in the papers on the subject. Let's consider them.
1. George, the Prince Regent. He had been separated from his wife Caroline, Charlotte's mother, from not long after the wedding. They were unlikely to produce another child and he was not free to marry someone else. His increasingly desperate search for a divorce should be seen in this light.
2. Frederick, Duke of York had a career in the army. He had dutifully married in 1791, to Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia, but there were no children. This union was also unhappy and they lived apart. Therefore, there was little hope of a child, and he was not free to marry anyone else.
(Part of the reason for these failed marriages and the succession crisis in general was the Royal Marriage Act of 1772 which controlled who a royal person could marry. (Full details here.) George III insisted on this to prevent his sons from making unsuitable marriages, but the result was that they mostly chose not to marry at all, because only Protestant princesses were likely to meet with the king's approval.)
3.William, Duke of Clarence served in the navy in his younger years. He fell in love with an actress, Mrs. Jordan, and lived with her for twenty years, having ten children — the Fitzclarences. They were all illegitimate, however, so not in the line of succession. However, in late 1817 they have separated and he is free to marry in all ways.
4. Edward, Duke of Kent was also in the army. He, too had a long-term mistress, Madame de St. Laurent. They had no children together, but he is free to marry.
5. Ernest, Duke of Cumberland. Army. He actually fell in love and married in 1815, though it was a messy affair as Duchess Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was married when they fell in love. Her husband's death seemed somewhat convenient and in addition Queen Charlotte didn't like Frederica. All the same they did marry, but reproduction didn't go well, and by November 1817 they had no living children.
6 Augustus, Duke of Sussex. He was the family rebel, later supporting what we might call socialist causes. His rebellious streak led to a marriage in 1793 that contravened the Royal Marriage Act. They had children, but the marriage was annulled because of the Act, so the children were not in line to the throne. He separated from his unauthorized wife in 1801, but didn't marry until 1831, after his first wife died. So presumably he considered himself married and was not willing to marry suitably in 1817, even if his nature would allow it.
7.Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge. Army. He had no particular relationships.
I've colored red the three princes who were able and willing to marry, and they did set to it, trawling German princesses for likely candidates. The Duke of Cambridge was married in June, to Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel. Kent and Clarence had a double wedding ceremony on the 11th of July 1818. Kent married Victoria, the Dowager Princess of Leiningen, and Clarence married Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen.
The Duke of Cambridge had three children.
Clarence's marriage was happy, but his wife had a number of miscarriages and no surviving children.
Kent sired only one legitimate child before dying in 1820, but as he was the oldest of the three, his daughter eventually became Queen Victoria.
But for a while after the death of Charlotte into late 1817 the uncertaintly over the succession shook the country. The king was a mad old man expected to die at any moment. The Regent was not a well man and could also die. In addition, his extreme grief over his daughter made people begin to wonder if he might go mad, too. There were brothers to succeed him, but all middle aged men. What if none of them managed to sire a child who survived?
What if they died before marrying? That question underlies the external plot of The Viscount Needs a Wife. There were a number of foreign Protestants with a claim, but it was messy, and the British people wouldn't welcome a foreigner again.
The Hanoverians who'd arrived with George I hadn't been a completely happy experience. In addition, the country was already in turmoil because of the post-war depressed economy and social unrest which at times approached rebellion and revolution.(That formed part of my April book, Too Dangerous for a Lady.) Many feared that a series of royal deaths could tear Britain apart.
To add to those problems, there were still Stuart claimants – Roman Catholic Jacobites. Might they leap into uncertainty to create a civil war? The old enemy France would be happy to exploit that. It was a stressful time, but that makes it an interesting background for a book, though it is just that. Background. The Viscount Needs a Wife is a marriage-of-convenience story.
This whole situation is additionally interesting to me because my Malloren series begins shortly after George III was crowned, and includes mentions of the births of his older children. It feels as if I've been following the family. No one in the 1760s had any premonition of the troubles to come. In fact, George III, a young king, born in Britain and speaking English as his native tongue seemed a bright hope for the future.
No wonder Kitty Cateril sees the death of Princess Charlotte as a reminder of how chancy life can be, and decides to grasp the opportunity that presents!
You can read some excerpts, starting here.
The Viscount Needs a Wife is a Romantic Times Top Pick and has a starred review from the Library Journal. "…combining graceful writing, and impeccably researched historical setting, and intelligent, well-matched protagonists into a superbly satisfying love story."
Three Heroes is a particularly tasty special as the e-book is only $1.99 for two full novels and a novella! You can't beat that. It's at that price for most e-book sellers in North America, but sorry, not elsewhere. I have no say in that.
There are links for Forbidden, here.