Charlotte's tumultuous teens

A portrait of Princess Charlotte as a young lady with flowers in her hair

Though she was the Heiress Presumptive to the throne of Britain, the headstrong Princess Charlotte was in many ways a typical teenager - indecorous, stubborn, and yearning to escape the control of her parents. But her defiance may well have been justified.

A protracted childhood

Princess Charlotte came of age on her 16th birthday in 1811, yet her father the Prince Regent continued to treat her as a child. She was forbidden from appearing at court, employing ladies in waiting and attending society parties, severely limiting her exposure to the world and keeping her firmly in her father's control. Charlotte yearned to be treated as befit her true age; as an adult, a royal princess should rightly be able to participate in court society and oversee her own establishment.

Plans to escape

Charlotte was permitted to attend one or two parties hosted by family members, but this was not enough for the lonely teenage princess. Her continued isolation took a toll on her health, and she began to suffer from insomnia and anxiety. It became clear that the only way to escape the surveillance of her father was to marry.

By the age of 18, rumours had already linked Charlotte with numerous suitors. It was a poorly kept secret that the Princess had numerous meetings with the dashing Lieutenant Charles Hesse, a charming illegitimate son of the Duke of York. Alongside Hesse and others, Charlotte had also been linked to the Duke of Gloucester her great uncle, nicknamed ‘Silly Billy’ and ‘The Cheese’. However, none of these suitors had been suitable, as they would have been unable to satisfy the Prince Regent's political ambitions.

The Orange match

For many months, rumours circulated that Charlotte’s father the Prince of Wales intended his daughter to marry William of Orange, the future King of the Netherlands. This would have been a good match politically, as Britain and the Netherlands were then in alliance against Napoleonic France. At first, Charlotte was welcoming of the idea, simply as a way to escape the control of her father; as a bonus, the Prince of Orange was reported to be "informed & pleasant" and "the best waltzer that ever was."

When the prince and princess finally met on 12 December 1813, each found they had a great deal in common. Although Charlotte described him as shy, by the end of the evening she reported, "It is really singular how very much we agreed together in almost everything." The princess signed a betrothal agreement on 10 June 1814 - but when she discovered the proposed conditions of the marriage, everyone’s high hopes were dashed.

Irreconcilable differences

Charlotte came to realise that if she were to marry William, she would be required to spend a great deal of time away from her beloved England. She was pained by this prospect as it would significantly weaken her position as a monarch. On top of this, the Prince of Orange knew that Charlotte's mother Princess Caroline had an unsavoury reputation, and refused to allow her into his home.

These conditions were simply too disagreeable. Charlotte broke off the engagement, and thus began a long and bitter stand-off between the wilful princess and her hard-hearted father.

" ...grant me patience!"
- Princess Charlotte Augusta

By the summer of 1814, Charlotte had become riddled with anxiety and illness over the issue. When the Prince Regent visited on 12 July to press her once again on accepting the marriage, Charlotte reached breaking point and ran away.

"I have just run off"

On the evening of 12 July 1814, Charlotte jumped into a cab and fled through Pall Mall and Hyde Park to the protection of her mother. Amidst the ensuing media storm, the runaway princess stubbornly refused to leave, but by the next day she was reluctantly convinced by Whig politician Henry Brougham to return to her father's house. The Prince Regent retaliated by effectively locking up his daughter as a state prisoner.

Charlotte’s success

In spite of this punishment, Charlotte's resolve never wavered. After eighteen long months, the Prince Regent finally conceded to his daughter's wishes, and allowed Charlotte to suggest her own husband. Consequently, at the beginning of 1816 Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was summoned to England.

Next: When Charlotte met Leopold 

Read the next article in our web series on the life of Princess Charlotte Augusta.

Marking 200 years

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Princess Charlotte. Delve into the story of the forgotten daughter of England with our series of web articles and events.