8:30am Monday 6th February 2012
By Adam Trimingham
Britain went into mourning with the untimely, unexpected death of the much-loved Princess of Wales.
But I’m not talking about Princess Diana; I’m talking about Princess Charlotte, who died almost 200 years ago. And no one was more upset than her father, the Prince Regent, soon to be King George IV.
Princess Charlotte, the only legitimate grandchild of old, mad King George III, was designed for the throne herself.
There was much rejoicing in 1816 when the 21-year-old Princess became pregnant. She captured the nation’s heart so much she was often known as the Daughter of England.
But her labour, which occurred after two previous miscarriages, lasted 50 hours and was too much for a woman who had been both starved and bled by her wrong-headed physicians.
The Princess gave birth to a stillborn son and, worn out by her exertions, died herself a few hours later. She was buried at Windsor with the baby at her feet.
Charlotte had many connections with Brighton, which is why an exhibition about her is being staged next month at the Royal Pavilion.
She was the daughter of the ill-starred marriage between George and Princess Caroline – for both of them it was hate at first sight.
An elegant nursery was built for her at the Pavilion following her birth in 1795, but the baby was too poorly to be there.
She was 11 when she came to Brighton for the first time and by then she was being cared for by the Royal Family rather than her mother.
The crowds gathered to see her were delighted with her lively manner, such a contrast with that of her dissolute father.
She was shown round the Pavilion in all its splendour by her father and her five uncles. She was entranced. Later she enjoyed the festivities, including dancing, which marked the Prince’s birthday.
The following year the birthday celebrations at the Pavilion were even grander and among the guests was the young Lord Byron.
The Prince was fond of his daughter but his patience was tested when she became a wilful teenager. She broke off her engagement to William of Orange, not fancying a home in Holland.
He opposed her liaison with Prince Frederick of Prussia and she was sent away from London to Windsor in disgrace.
But conflict ended when she agreed to marry Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who tamed her and turned her into a proper young princess.
They made several visits to Brighton and their marriage in 1816 was greeted with great joy both there and nationally. Her 21st birthday was celebrated with a sumptuous dinner at the Pavilion and a great ball.
The royal couple began moves to buy Marlborough House in Old Steine so the Princess could recuperate by the sea following the birth of her child. She said, “I am certainly a fortunate creature and have to bless God.”
But her happiness disappeared within a few months and the nation was dismayed by her death. The Prince Regent was devastated and sought seclusion.
Her death had one momentous result. It led to a swift marriage by her uncle, the Duke of Kent.
This was followed in 1819 by the birth of Princess Victoria, later to become Queen. Leopold, by then King of Belgium, conveniently provided his nephew Albert for a husband.
* Charlotte: The Forgotten Princess will open on March 10 for a year. It will feature the Pavilion’s collection of paintings, ceramics and costumes relating to her, including a recently-donated rare royal vase
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