Who was Princess Charlotte?

An engraving of Princess Charlotte at her wedding at Carlton House

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was the original "people’s princess". As heir to the throne of George III and the only well-regarded member of the wayward royal family, Charlotte was seen as the hope of the nation. Her premature death at the age of 21 caused an unprecedented torrent of national grief, and forever altered the course of British history and culture.

A royal birth

Princess Charlotte was the only daughter of the Prince Regent, George IV, and Caroline of Brunswick. Shortly after Charlotte was born in 1796, George and his wife separated, and the young princess grew up in the care of governesses, with very little attention from either of her parents.

The young Princess Charlotte with her mother
A stipple engraving of Princess Charlotte as a baby, posing with her mother mother
The young Princess Charlotte with her mother

The lonely princess

Charlotte’s childhood was lonely and isolated, much like that of her famous niece Victoria. Yet there was a chance of freedom for the secluded princess: marriage. For Charlotte, marriage meant escape from the controlling grip of her father; it would allow her a chance to determine her own social and political life.

A chance for freedom

After much gossip and dubious links to multiple suitors, a match with William of Orange was proposed in 1813. However, after learning that marrying the future King of the Netherlands would mean leaving her beloved country of Britain for long periods, Charlotte refused to agree to the engagement.

Happiness at last

Fortunately, soon afterwards, the young princess was introduced to the eligible and handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. The couple took to each other very quickly, and were married to much celebration on 2 May 1816. The hope of a secure future for the monarchy appeared certain.

Charlotte and Leopold fell deeply in love
A painting of Charlotte and Leopold in an opera box
Charlotte and Leopold fell deeply in love

Life at Claremont

Soon after the marriage ceremony, the newlyweds moved to Claremont. Charlotte and Leopold spent the best times of their lives here in their Surrey home. The prince and princess led a quiet, happy and comfortable life, distancing themselves from the politics and strife of court.

Hope destroyed

This serene household was devastated with Charlotte’s decreasing health as her pregnancy progressed. On 6 November 1817, having endured over 40 hours of labour, Princess Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son, and several hours later she too passed away. Within 24 hours, two generations of the British monarchy had been wiped out, and the whole nation was consumed with grief none more than the devastated Leopold.

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.