Why did the nation mourn Princess Charlotte's death in 1817?
Princess Charlotte Augusta was born on the 7th January 1796 to George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) and his wife, Caroline of Brunswick. Charlotte’s life came to an abrupt end on the 6th November, 1817, after she endured an excruciating fifty-hour labour resulting in a stillborn child.
‘The triple tragedy’
Soon after the death of Princess Charlotte and her son, her accoucheur (male midwife) Sir Richard Croft, committed suicide. This tragic sequence of events became known as ‘the triple tragedy’.
Grief rippled through the country much like that which followed the death of Princess Diana. Word soon spread throughout Europe too; while in Venice, Lord Byron wrote, ‘The death of the Princess Charlotte has been a shock even here, and must have been an earthquake at home’.
She was buried at St George's Chapel, Windsor to great ceremony and throughout the country sermons were preached in her honour.
‘Hope and pride of the people of England’
The princess was a popular figure, unlike her extravagant father, and was seen as the ‘Hope and pride of the people of England’. Her death thwarted hopes of a new kind of monarchy and left the royal family in an uncertain position, as there was now no heir to the throne.
The day after the princess’s death The Times newspaper reported that they could ‘hardly even fix our historic recollections upon any antecedent period, wherein the nation would seem at the time to have greater cause to grieve’.
Commemorating a princess
This widespread grief resulted in the production of vast quantities of commemorative works of art, which were eagerly purchased by a devastated public. A monument by M. C. Wyatt was erected in St George’s Chapel and artists such as Henry Howard RA painted posthumous portraits. Other artists produced commemorative prints, ceramics and medals, often depicting the princess on her ascent to heaven, or Britannia, the personification of Britain, bent over double in grief.