Princess Charlotte in the media

Eleanor Nicklin, Research Intern Eleanor Nicklin Research Intern
A caricature by S.W. Fores of Princess Charlotte

Princess Charlotte’s lifetime coincided with Britain's "golden age" of satire and caricatures. Although the young princess was treasured by the British public throughout her short life, she did not escape the satire comics' attention, as they were keen to exploit anything newsworthy.

A golden age of caricature

Caricatures were invented in Italy during the seventeenth century. Due in large part to the satirical imaginations of cartoonists such as James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank, from 1780 to 1830 Britain enjoyed a ‘Golden Age’ of political prints.

Increasing industrialisation, commercialism and a growing middle class facilitated the growth and popularity of cartoons. Particularly in London, print shops became extremely popular, with people visiting every day to see the latest cartoon. 

Morning after Marriage-or- A scene on the Continent.’ By James Gillray
A caricature of Princess Charlotte's parents from 1792
Morning after Marriage-or- A scene on the Continent.’ By James Gillray

The growth of caricatures during the turn of the century was aided by the contemporary British monarchy, whose actions were ripe for satirical comedy.

During George III’s reign there was a shift in the locus of political power. With an increasing middle class, monarchs became accountable public figures. The monarch’s virtue was seen as an indication of the nation’s integrity.

Unfortunately, many of George III’s family members fell short of the public’s expectations. Famously, the actions of the future King George IV (known as ‘Prinny’) did not meet the public’s expectations of a respectable monarch.

Perhaps due to the uncivilised behaviour of Prinny and his brothers, the royal family was openly mocked in caricatures published daily to a wide audience.

The princess in print

After a secluded childhood, Charlotte's romantic relationships attracted great attention from the media.

The press were engrossed in the future Queen of England’s hunt for a suitor. Once Charlotte had found a suitable partner in Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, the newlyweds were not omitted from political discussions.

A caricature of Charlotte and her family published in 1816 by S. W Fores, titled ‘Leap Year, or John Bull's peace establishment’ is an interesting example of the Princess as seen through the eyes of a Regency satirist.

1816 from English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century, by William Rodgers Richardson (writing as Graham Everitt) , published by S.W. Fores
A caricature of Princess Charlotte
1816 from English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century, by William Rodgers Richardson (writing as Graham Everitt) , published by S.W. Fores

Charlotte can be easily identified by her signature hairstyle, while Leopold’s continental uniform, and his sword labelled ‘German Steel’, clearly confirm his identity. The sash, uniform and distinctive hairstyle distinguish the figure on crutches as Charlotte’s father George IV. If the viewer was left in doubt as to the identity of the figures, the fingerpost confirms the presence of the royal newlyweds as Camelford House was Charlotte and Leopold’s new town house. 

Charlotte takes the reins

Unusually for a woman, Charlotte dominates the caricature. Apart from the fictional character of John Bull, the Princess is the largest figure in the piece. Significantly, she physically dominates her father and husband, to whom, according to Georgian patriarchal society, she should be submitting.

Charlotte’s control over the scene is further emphasised by her whip, curling across half the cartoon. While her husband and father look to her for guidance, Charlotte looks back at the viewer, a complete refusal of a woman’s expected subdued and demure behaviour. 

Charlotte’s status as a female heir to the throne was an incongruity for the population of Georgian Britain. A woman as the head of a family was perceived as a subversion of the natural hierarchy of patriarchal Georgian society. Charlotte’s status as heir to the British Empire dwarfed her husband Leopold’s status as a German prince. Many people (including Charlotte’s grandmother Queen Charlotte) were concerned Charlotte would "wrongfully" become head of the family.

" tho the prince becomes an object of consequence by marrying her, he must be the head of the family and she submit to him as a wife"
- A letter from Queen Charlotte to the Prince Regent, 7 February 1816, Windsor

It's hard to know whether Charlotte’s status as a prominent political woman was celebrated or disliked by the public. In earlier cartoons that comment on the princess’ prior engagement to the Prince of Orange, Charlotte’s strong-willed character and loyalty to Britain was commended.

Charlotte’s speech bubble “Never fear. I’ll teach you an English Waltz” can be interpreted as a positive sign of the princess’ strong character. However, there are other signs that suggest Charlotte is too forceful for her own good. Leopold’s speech bubble “oh mine dear! You drive so fast I shall be out!!!” confirms his submissive nature compared to his confident wife - a feature not to be expected of a husband in the Regency period.

Money troubles

In this cartoon there are also signs of the British public’s concern about the whole royal family's spending habits, such as the wicker baskets overflowing with money bags and economic legislation. One even appears to be a bill for "pulling down and rebuilding London".

Citizens were frustrated with the royal family’s profligacy during a time of economic distress, in part due to the restrictive Corn Laws exacerbated by the recent wars with France and America. The public’s concern was heightened by royal marriages such as Charlotte and Leopold because the couple's lifestyle was partially funded by the state.

'A Voluptuary under the horrors of digestion' - King George IV (1762-1830) by James Gillray 1792
A caricature of King George IV from 1792
'A Voluptuary under the horrors of digestion' - King George IV (1762-1830) by James Gillray 1792

A media darling?

Throughout her life, Charlotte had been well received by all forms of media. This caricature is unusual as a critique of Charlotte and her husband. It could be the artist decided to take a critical approach as, after Charlotte's marriage to Leopold, the relationship between the royal couple and the nation was uncertain.

However, very quickly after their wedding, the public’s anxieties were put to rest. The clear devotion between Charlotte and her husband quashed any notion of Leopold as a fortune hunter (this is hinted at within the caricature as the artist has neatly tucked two bags of "pocket money" into the back of Leopold’s sash).

Furthermore, the couple's comparatively frugal lifestyle at Claremont showed Charlotte did not intend to mimic her father’s licentious lifestyle as the cartoon George IV suggests. In fact, by the end of 1816, Charlotte was never included in another satirical cartoon - suggesting she had won the nation’s approval.