Thursday, October 29, 2009
A Very Important Death
Do you recognize the young lady in the portrait above? Of course you don't. Perhaps you'll recognize her name, Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales. Does that help? Of course it doesn't. What American knows who Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was? In fact, I'm wondering, what average Briton knows who she was?
It's not surprising that she's virtually unknown today. The poor girl died at the age of 21, back in 1817, before she was able to achieve anything. She could have achieved a lot, had she lived. After all, she was meant to be the queen regnant of England. Had she lived, she would have assumed the throne in 1830, when her father, King George IV died.
Had Princess Charlotte lived, Queen Victoria would never have been born, and therefore, Queen Elizabeth II would never have been born. For that matter, the English kings Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI would never have been born. Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry would also, never have been born.
A lot of the royalty of other European countries would never have been born had Princess Charlotte lived... Kaiser Wilhem II of Germany, the czarina Alexandra of Russia, King George II of Greece, King Alexander I of Greece, King Paul I of Greece, King Constantine II of Greece, King Olav V of Norway, King Carol II of Romania, King Michael of Romania, King Harald V of Norway,
King Peter II of Yugoslavia, King Carl XVI of Sweden, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and King Juan Carlos of Spain.
All of these crowned heads are descendents of Queen Victoria. I looked on a royal website and saw that Queen Victoria, at present, has 1,056 descendents. None of them would have been born had Princess Charlotte lived, because again, Queen Victoria would never have been born had Princess Charlotte lived. There never would have been a Victorian Age.
The story behind the birth of Victoria, the world's longest reigning female monarch, is very interesting to me. But to even approach her birth, we must start with the death of her cousin, Princess Charlotte, because although Charlotte was her first-cousin, she was old enough to have been her mother.
Here's the story. Princess Charlotte's grandfather was King George III. He was the English king who lost the American colonies, the king whom our founding fathers rebelled against. It's kind of great that he was such lousy king to the colonists, because had he not been, the USA may never had been born.
But I digress. Back to George III.
George III had 15 children.With 15 children, one would assume that the succession to the throne would be secure. Surely 15 children would eventually produce 30, 45, even 60 grandchildren. Well, 57 grandchildren were produced, but all of them were illegitimate, except one: Princess Charlotte Augusta. So for royal purposes, George III's 15 children only produced one grandchild.
Princess Charlotte was produced by George III's oldest son, the Prince of Wales, also named George. As the heir to the throne, he did his duty and produced an heir, or rather, an heiress. The Prince of Wales had a hideous marriage with his wife, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. No male children (who would knock Charlotte out of the line of succession) would be produced by the couple, because after Charlotte was born, they promptly stopped having sex with each other, due to an intense, mutual loathing which lasted decades.
So Charlotte was it. The only legitimate heir of her generation of the family, a princess with no brothers or sisters, but with 56 illegitimate first-cousins.
From girlhood, the common people knew that one day she would be their queen, and she was adored, the darling of the nation. The young, virtuous princess offered a sharp contrast to her royal uncles, who were known for their financial debts, public scandals, bastard offspring and disreputable private lives.
She married a dashing and handsome prince, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and the lovely couple were the pride of the kingdom. Then came the joyous news that the princess was pregnant; the next generation's monarch could be produced in a matter of months. True, she had suffered two previous miscarriages, but this time it should go smoothly. Her doctors closely monitored the new pregnancy, putting her on a severe diet, and performing on her the questionable practice of bloodletting.
Well, the due date came, and Princess Charlotte went into labor. She labored. And labored. And labored and labored and labored. She labored for 50 hours. Two full days of labor. Finally, her laborious labor produced a 9-pound baby boy. The boy would have been king one day, had he not been born dead. The plump, stillborn baby was taken away, and the exhausted Charlotte lived for another six hours, and died.
Princess Charlotte, dead!
The nation descended into a maelstrom of mourning. Do you think the Brits were overwrought by Princess Diana's death in 1997? You should have seen them when Princess Charlotte died in 1817. After all, Diana's death did not affect the succession to the throne. There was Prince William, Prince Harry, and the two daughters of Prince Andrew. But when Charlotte died, that was it. Her father and mother were still married, but estranged, and they were old. They would produce no more children. Charlotte's uncles were all that was left. The throne was destined to be inhereted by dissolute uncle after dissolute uncle.
UNLESS... one of those dissolute uncles could produce a legitimate heir!
There were six of them, and three of them were married. Of the three married uncles, two were married to women who were too old to have secure pregnancies, and the third was in a morganatic marriage, meaning their offspring could hold no royal title.
Of the three unmarried uncles, two were involved in long-term relationships with their mistress, and the third seemed to have little interest in women.
So it was up to the two uncles with mistresses to dump their mistress, marry a princess, and produce an heir that would save the crown from oblivion.
The elder of the two mistress-involved brothers was William, Duke of Clarence. The younger was Edward, Duke of Kent.
William had been in a 20-year relationship with a well-known actress of the day, and together, they had 10 bastard children and happy family. After Princess Charlotte's death, he left his happy bastard family and married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen.
Edward on the other hand, had been in a 27-year relationship with French Madame. After Charlotte's death, he bid her adieu and married the sister of his dead niece's widower, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.
Within two years of Charlotte's death, both brothers had pregnant wives. In March of 1819, William's wife gave birth to a baby girl, whom they called Charlotte, in honor of her dead cousin. In March of that same year, Edward's wife also gave birth to a baby girl, Alexandrina Victoria (or as she was simply called, Victoria).
William was the elder brother, so it was his daughter, Charlotte, who would one day become queen, except for one problem: Charlotte died on the day of her birth, so Victoria, the daughter of the younger brother, was heiress presumptive-- for the time being. William and his wife would not let one dead infant stop them from having others, and William's wife was soon pregnant again. In December of 1820, little Victoria was knocked out of the line of succession by the birth of her younger cousin, Princess Elizabeth.
Little Elizabeth would have grown up to become Queen Elizabeth II, had she not died three months after her birth. As a result, the world would have to wait another 132 years for a Queen Elizabeth II.
What the world got in her place was Queen Victoria.
I imagine that Edward would have been awed by the fact that he, the fourth-youngest son of George III, would one day become king, and that his daughter, Victoria, would succeed him. It would become inevitable, as time passed without his older brother producing any living children. But the inevitable didn't happen to him. Edward would not see time pass, because he died 8 months after Victoria was born. He would never become king.
Upon the death of George III, his eldest son, George the Prince of Wales, became King George IV. He reigned for ten years and died. The next in line for the throne would have been his daughter Charlotte, but she was dead. Next in line. His brother Frederick, but he was dead. Next in line. Frederick's children, but he had none. Next in line. His brother William. He was alive, and he became King William IV. He reigned for seven years and died. The next in line for the throne would have been his daughter Charlotte, but she was dead. Next in line. His daughter Elizabeth, but she was dead. Next in line. His brother Edward, but he was dead. Next in line. Edward's daughter Victoria, and she was alive.
Victoria, the 18-year-old girl at the end of the line, was alive and well, and she reigned as queen for 63 years. She resided over an empire that spread so far across the globe, that the sun never set on it. Her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren have become kings and queens that have greatly influenced modern history.
Yet none of these monarchs would have been born, had Victoria not been born. Kaiser Wilhelm II and King George V would never had led Germany and the UK through World War I, had Victoria not been born, and been their grandmother. There would never have been a Victorian era, had there been no Victoria. We wouldn't even have the tradition of Christmas trees outside of Germany, had Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert not introduced them to the Anglo world in the 19th century. These, and so many other historical and cultural effects would never have happened, IF....
...Victoria's older cousin Charlotte had not died in childbirth, changing world history irrevocably.
I believe that the death of the forgotten Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales is one of the most important deaths in world history.
Food for thought as you decorate your Christmas tree this holiday season.