Horace Walpole on Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

When King George III succeeded to the throne, he decided it to take a wife. The wife he chose was 17-year-old Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz because he, his mother, and his advisors liked her as she had no experience with politics or party intrigues. In fact, when she arrived in England, George III instructed her to avoid meddling in such things. Although Princess Charlotte spoke little English, she was happy to comply.

Queen Charlotte - her husband George III

George III. Author’s collection.

Charlotte set out for England on 17 August 1761, when the Princesse de Lamballe was 11 and the future Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, was 5. Charlotte was accompanied by her brother, Duke Adolphus Frederick, and by the British escort party. On 22 August, they reached Cuxhaven, where a small fleet awaited to convey them to England. The voyage was extremely difficult; the party encountered three storms at sea and landed at Harwich on 7 September. They then set out at once for London, spent that night in Witham, at the residence of Lord Abercorn, and arrived in on 8 September in the afternoon at St. James’s Palace.

Queen Charlotte - Her brother.

Duke Adolphus Frederick. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Princess Charlotte was received by the King and his family at the garden gate, which marked the first meeting of the bride and groom. At 9:00 pm that same evening, within hours of her arrival in London, she was united in marriage with King George III and became Queen Charlotte. The ceremony was performed at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Secker. Only the royal family, the party who had traveled with the Princess from Germany, and a handful of guests were present at the ceremony.

Queen Charlotte

Queen Charlotte in 1761. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After the wedding everyone was curious about their new Queen Charlotte, and the famous art historian, man of letters, antiquarian, and Whig politician, Horace Walpole, wrote a letter to General Thomas Conway to satisfy his curiosity. At the time, Conway was visiting in Ireland and wanted to know everything about her. In the letter to Conway, Walpole provided some interesting tidbits on the their new queen. Here is his letter almost verbatim:

“The date of my promise is now arrived, and I fulfil it — fulfil it with great satisfaction, for the Queen is come. I have seen her, have been presented to her, and may go back to Strawberry. For this fortnight I have lived upon the road between Twickenham and London. I came, grew impatient, returned; came again, still to no purpose. The yacht made the coast of Suffolk last Saturday, on Sunday entered the road of Harwich and on Monday morning, the king’s chief eunuch, as the Tripoline embassador calls Lord Anson, landed the princess. She lay that night at Lord Abercorn’s at Witham, the palace of Silence; and yesterday, at a quarter after three, arrived at St. James’s.

In half an hour, one heard of nothing but proclamations of her beauty: everybody was content, every body pleased. At seven one went to court. The night was sultry. About ten, the procession began to move towards the chapel, and at eleven they all came up into the drawing-room. She looks very sensible, cheerful, and is remarkably genteel. Her tiara of diamonds was very pretty; her stomacher sumptuous; her violet-velvet mantle and ermine so heavy, that the spectators knew as much of her upper half as the king himself. You will have no doubt of her sense by what I shall tell you. On the road they wanted to curl her toupet: she said she thought it looked as well as that of any of the ladies sent to fetch her; if the King bid her, she would wear a periwig, otherwise she would remain as she was.

When she caught the first glimpse of the palace, she grew frightened and turned pale. The Duchess of Hamilton smiled — the princess said, “My dear duchess, you may laugh: you have been married twice, but it is no joke to me.” Her lips trembled as the coach stopped, but she jumped out with spirit, and has done nothing but with good humour and cheerfulness. She talks a great deal, is easy, civil, and not disconcerted.

At first, when the bridemaids and the court were introduced to her, she said “Mon Dieu, il y en a tant, il y en a tant!” [My God, there are so many, there are so many!] — She was pleased when she was to kiss the peeresses: but Lady Augusta was forced to take her hand and give it to those that were to kiss it, which was prettily humbled and good-natured. While they waited for supper, she sat down, sung, and played. Her French is tolerable: she exchanged much both of that and German with the King, the duke, and the Duke of York. They did not get to bed till two.

To-day was a drawing room: every body was presented to [Queen Charlotte]: but she spoke to nobody, as she could not know a soul. The crowd was much less than at a birth-day; the magnificence very little more. The King looked very handsome, and talked to her continually, and with great good humour. It does not promise as if they two would be the two most unhappy persons in England, from this event.”1]

Horace Walpole by John Giles Eccardt in 1755. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Horace was right. Less than a year after the marriage, on 12 August 1762, Queen Charlotte gave birth to her first child, George, Prince of Wales. In the course of their marriage, the couple became the parents to 15 children, of which all but two (Octavius and Alfred) survived into adulthood. She also endeared herself by her kind treatment to her ladies and the attendants caring for her children. This was demonstrated by one note that she wrote to an assistant governess of her daughters:

“My dear Miss Hamilton, What can I have to say? Not much indeed! But to wish you a good morning, in the pretty blue and white room where I had the pleasure to sit and read with you The Hermit, a poem which is such a favourite with me that I have read it twice this summer. Oh! What a blessing to keep good company! Very likely I should not have been acquainted with either poet or poem was it not for you.”[2]

Queen Charlotte and two of her children.

Queen Charlotte with George (left) and younger brother Frederick (right). Portrait by Allan Ramsay, 1764. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Interesting too is that Queen Charlotte did have some political influence with her husband. It was discreet and indirect, but she used her closeness with him to keep herself informed and to make recommendations for various offices. She also took an interest in the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778–1779), and it is possible that it was due to her efforts that George IIII supported British intervention in the continuing conflict between Joseph II and the Charles Theodore of Bavaria in 1785.

References:

  • [1] Watkins, John, Memoirs of Her Most Excellent Majesty Sophia-Charlotte, 1819, p. 88-90.
  • [2] Fraser, Flora, Princesses, 2012, kindle.

Google+ Comments

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Comment