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Who was Queen Victoria’s cousin Princess Charlotte and how did she die?

The tragic tale of a princess whose death sparked the succession crisis that gave birth to one of Britain's longest-serving monarchs

Published: Friday, 24th August 2018 at 12:47 pm

Poor Charlotte. My dear Charlotte. Cousin Charlotte. It’s a name we’ve heard time and time again throughout the course of ITV’s Victoria, but who is this mysterious young woman and what terrible tragedy befell her?


Who was Princess Charlotte?

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was the only child of King George IV and Caroline of Brunswick. The Princess was very popular among the people and was second in line to throne, destined to become Queen of the United Kingdom once her grandfather (George III) and father died.

How did she end up married to Albert’s uncle, King Leopold?

Charlotte’s father was pretty determined to marry her off to The Netherlands’ Prince William of Orange (who would later reign in The Netherlands as William II) but the Princess wasn’t so keen.

Firstly, she didn’t want to leave the United Kingdom, and was determined her new husband (the soon-to-be King of his own territory) would have to accept that.

Diplomats weren’t exactly eager to unite the two thrones either, so they reached an agreement whereby the couple’s first son would inherit the throne of the United Kingdom, while a second would inherit the throne of The Netherlands. And if they only had one son, the Netherlands would pass to the German branch of the House of Orange.

And finally, Charlotte didn’t want to have to give up her mother, Caroline, who had long been estranged from her father all her life. The couple are said to have separated a matter of weeks after their wedding, though Caroline had access to her daughter.

The problem was, William of Orange didn’t agree with his future wife on the matter. He allegedly wasn’t so keen on welcoming Caroline, so Charlotte broke off the marriage contract (which she had already signed) and fled to her mother.

Yes, that’s all well and good, but how did she end up with Leopold?

Well, while all of this was going on Charlotte met a young Lieutenant-General in the Russian cavalry whose name was Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

George IV was quite impressed with young Leopold’s disposition (he wrote a letter apologizing for spending too much time with the princess) but didn’t see the impoverished young prince as a suitable match for his daughter.

So determined was he to see Charlotte married to William of Orange that he sent her into isolation at various residences. The pair eventually reconciled, though, and with the extended Royal Family also opposed to the union, George eventually relented.

Charlotte had been rather taken with a mysterious Prussian prince, but when she discovered he’d taken a wife she knew whom the only person she might marry would be.

By February 1816 Charlotte had convinced her father that Leopold was the man for her and George IV called him back from the continent (where he’d been fighting Napoleon’s forces) to pay a visit to Brighton.

On the 14th of March an announcement was made in the House of Commons and by May the pair were married, with Leopold receiving an allowance of £50,000 per year.

The couple were said to be blissfully happy but sadly their marriage was to be a rather short one.

How did Princess Charlotte die?

The Princess suffered a miscarriage during the summer of 1816 but by April 1817, not long after her 21st birthday, Albert informed the Prince Regent that she was pregnant once again.

The British public became rather invested in her pregnancy, with betting shops taking wagers on the sex of the child. By August 1817 Charlotte - who had spent much of the pregnancy sitting for a portrait and therefore gained a lot of weight - was put on a strict diet by her medical team, much to the horror of Leopold’s personal physician, Christian Stockmar.

Accoucheur (male midwife) Sir Richard Croft oversaw much of Charlotte’s day-to-day care, and believed the diet would reduce the size of her baby.

Charlotte’s due date was believed to be on or around October 19th 1817, but when she still hadn’t gone into labour by November 2nd, she headed out with Leopold as usual.

Her contractions began on the evening of Monday November 3rd and Croft advised the Princess to exercise but did not allow her to eat. Two days later it was clear that Charlotte was having considerable trouble delivering the child and her personal physician, Matthew Baillie, sent for an obstetrician, John Sims.

Croft would not allow Sims to see the Princess, though, and Charlotte finally gave birth to a large stillborn baby boy on November 5th.

The Princess appeared to be doing well despite the circumstances, but shortly after midnight she took a turn for the worse. Charlotte was vomiting, bleeding and felt cold to the couch. She also had difficulty breathing.

Croft called in Stockmar, who attempted to rouse Prince Leopold, before Charlotte died in her bed.

How did the country react to the news of Princess Charlotte’s death?

The Princess’s tragic demise was greatly mourned by the British public. Even the poor and homeless wore black armbands, lamenting the loss of a future monarch who was seen as a beacon of hope.

What about Leopold?

Leopold was said to be inconsolable after the deaths of his wife and child. Indeed, he did not remarry until 1832, at which point he had become King of the Belgians and turned down the Greek throne.

And what about the rest of the Royal Family?

Well, Charlotte’s death, and the resulting succession crisis, inspired her uncles to find wives and father legitimate children who might one day inherit the throne.

18 months after Charlotte’s death, her uncle Edward, Duke of Kent, became father to a baby girl called Alexandrina Victoria, who would go on to reign for the majority of the century.

What happened to Sir Richard Croft?

Croft was absolved of all wrong-doing in Charlotte’s death following several investigations, but it was said that he never recovered from the incident.


Three months after the Princess and her son died, Croft shot himself and died in what became known as the “triple obstetric tragedy”.


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