by Susan Flantzer
Had Princess Charlotte of Wales survived her grandfather King George III and her father King George IV, she would have become Queen of the United Kingdom. During her lifetime, Charlotte was second in the line of succession to the British throne after her father.
Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was born on January 7, 1796 at Carlton House in London, England, the daughter of George, Prince of Wales (the future King George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick. The marriage of Charlotte’s parents was a disaster and they separated soon after her birth. Charlotte’s childhood was disruptive and she spent time with her father, mother, and paternal grandparents. Charlotte grew up to be high-spirited and pleasure-loving. Her father attempted to arrange a marriage between Charlotte and William, Hereditary Prince of Orange (later King Willem II of the Netherlands), but Charlotte was not agreeable to the match.
In 1814, the handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saafeld (after 1826, Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) visited London and met Charlotte. It was love at first sight. Charlotte and Leopold were married on May 2, 1816 in the Crimson Drawing Room at Carlton House, the Prince of Wales’ London home. Oatlands in Surrey, the country home of Charlotte’s uncle Prince Frederick, Duke of York, was the site of the honeymoon. After the honeymoon, the newlywed couple settled at Claremont House near Esher, England which British nation had purchased by an Act of Parliament as a wedding gift for Charlotte and Leopold.
Charlotte suffered two miscarriages in the early months of her first two pregnancies, but the third pregnancy in 1817 gave Charlotte and Leopold hope. Charlotte was second in the line of succession and she would have succeeded her father, the future George IV, as queen but on November 6, 1817, a great tragedy struck the British Royal Family. After a labor of over 50 hours, Charlotte delivered a stillborn son. Several hours later, twenty-one-year-old Princess Charlotte, the only child of George, Prince of Wales and King George III’s only legitimate grandchild, died of postpartum hemorrhage. Charlotte was mourned by the British people in a manner similar to the mourning of Diana, Princess of Wales. She was buried in the Royal Tomb House at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle with her stillborn son at her feet. Charlotte’s pregnancy and delivery had been grossly mismanaged and the doctor in charge later committed suicide. There is a very moving memorial to Charlotte in St. George’s Chapel. Charlotte’s body is draped as she ascends to heaven along with angels, one of which carries her stillborn son.
Unofficial Royalty: Death of Princess Charlotte of Wales in childbirth and its impact on the succession to the British throne
Charlotte’s death sent her unmarried uncles into hasty marriages to provide an heir to the throne in the second generation. By the spring of 1819, King George III had three new grandchildren, and it was the child of his fourth son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, who would eventually come to the throne as Queen Victoria.
Leopold greatly mourned Charlotte, but his connection with the British Royal Family continued. He was the uncle of both Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Leopold went on to become the first King of the Belgians, having been elected King by the Belgian National Congress on June 4, 1831. On August 9, 1832, he married the French princess, Louise-Marie of Orléans. Leopold and Louise-Marie had four children including Leopold’s successor King Leopold II of the Belgians and Princess Charlotte who married Archduke Maximilian of Austria. Charlotte’s marriage was ill-fated. Her husband became Emperor of Mexico and after a three-year reign was executed by a firing squad.
King Leopold I of the Belgians died on December 10, 1865 at the Royal Castle in Laeken, Belgium. Among his last words were “Charlotte…Charlotte.” Was he calling to his daughter or to his beloved first wife Princess Charlotte of Wales? King Leopold was buried in the Royal Crypt in the Church of Our Lady in Laeken, in Brussels, Belgium.