Monday, 2 May 2016

The first royal Charlotte

Queen Charlotte with two of her fifteen children

To be fair to her, she managed to be the most famous royal with the name for over 250 years but this time last year, Queen Charlotte had to take a back seat on the global celebrity front as her seven times great granddaughter made the name her very own.  Until May 2nd 2015, this German princess turned Queen of England was perhaps the most famous royal Charlotte of all.

Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenberg Strelitz was born on May 19th 1744 and by the age of 18 she was a queen, a role she would hold for 57 years through some very happy and also very turbulent times. Until recently, she was the longest serving consort in British history, being overtaken in April 2009 by the Duke of Edinburgh.  Her long tenure saw her produce fifteen children including eight sons who lived to adulthood but when she died in 1818 the succession was in crisis as at that point she had no legitimate grandchildren eligible to wear the crown.  Just six months after her death, her fourth son became the father of Princess Victoria and Charlotte's family was safe on the throne once more.

Queen Charlotte as a young woman.  She began life as an obscure German princess but through her granddaughter, Victoria, she became an ancestress of many of Europe's modern royal families

And Queen Charlotte was very aware of the problems monarchies at that time faced in ensuring their surivival.  She was a penpal of Marie Antoinette and had rooms prepared for the French Queen and her family to stay in as they prepared to flee the revolution.  She is said to have been shocked by the execution of the French royals in 1793 and by the assassination of the King of Sweden the year before. 

Marie Antoinette's execution in 1793 shocked Queen Charlotte who had been willing to offer refuge to the French royal family

Little baby Sophia Charlotte was born the daughter of Duke Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and his wife, Elizabeth.  Their duchy was small and wielded comparatively little power and the choice of the teenage Charlotte as the wife of Britain's brand new king, George III, in 1761 is said to have been influenced by the fact that she had virtually no experience of court politics and wouldn't get involved in affairs of state.  George III had watched his own mother, Augusta, wrestle with power when he became heir to the throne aged just fourteen.  Her relationship with one of the royal advisers, Lord Bute, was the subject of widespread gossip and led to a massive drop in her popularity.  Charlotte was advised to be a more submissive wife and she seems to have agreed.

George III, King of England from 1760 to 1820, and husband of Queen Consort Charlotte

Charlotte became known as a patron of the arts and music and was known for her love of plants and botany.  She was also a devoted mother and she and George enjoyed a happy marriage.  But his ill health affected her badly.  After his first bout of porphyria - characterized then as madness - she was said to have noticeably aged,  Like many wives and husbands now who find their spouses altered by conditions affecting their brains, emotions and psychology she worried about violent outbursts and the king's behaviour towards her.  But she remained devoted to him and from 1811 she was his legal guardian as his illness became unstoppable.  The kingdom was ruled by their eldest son as Prince Regent but the king himself remained in his queen's care. 

Queen Charlotte in later years in a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Queen Charlotte died in 1818 - perhaps the saddest part of the story is that the husband who had made her queen and remained faithful to her through almost sixty years of marriage didn't know she was dead.  George III was too ill to understand his wife had died. But Charlotte's life and reign as queen as overall a happy one and her legacy as a grandmother of royalty was cemented by Victoria's success in marrying her descendants into many of the European royal families that Charlotte had worried would wobble and fall in her own lifetime.  And now, two and a half centuries after she arrived in London to wed a new king in need of a queen, her name is back in the headlines as another royal baby with great expectations in front of her gets everyone talking about Charlotte.

No comments:

Post a Comment