As you could probably guess from the title, poor Princess Charlotte’s story does not have a happily-ever-after ending. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Despite her suitor William’s less-than-suave behavior at her father’s party, Charlotte was tentatively willing to consider marrying him. Anything that would allow her to escape from being caught between her parents and their eternal battles —even marriage with the aptly nick-named Slender Billy—had to be a good thing, right?
But Charlotte was very aware of her position as future Queen of England…and when she learned that William would expect her to spend at least a few months of the year with him in Holland, she balked. Leave England for Holland? Never! Furthermore, William’s family and her mother’s did not get along, and William would not allow Charlotte’s mother to visit them in Holland.
So with her resolve stiffened by the sympathetic visiting Tsar of Russia and his sister, Charlotte decisively broke her tentative engagement with William, thereby enraging her father. She herself had since fallen in love with a charming but highly unsuitable prince of Prussia named August…and at about this time, she just happened to meet a dazzlingly handsome young protegee of the Tsar, a product of one of the many little German duchies and principalities named Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield.
Over the next weeks Charlotte and Leopold got to know each other during “accidental” meetings while riding in Hyde Park…but Charlotte’s father had not given up his goal of marrying Charlotte to Slender Billy. He attempted to imprison Charlotte in a small house at Windsor until she gave in, but Charlotte managed to give him the slip and ran out into Pall Mall, caught a hackney cab with the help of a sympathetic passer-by, and escaped to her mother’s house. After a long night of negotiations among the Prince, his estranged wife, a couple of royal dukes, several prominent politicians and lawyers, and a Bishop or two for good measure, Charlotte capitulated and agreed to return to her father…but she still wouldn’t marry William.
More than a year passed, and Charlotte remained more or less a prisoner of her father. But Leopold continued to write to her faithfully (via a friend of Charlotte’s who smuggled in his letters) long after her other suitor, Prince August, had given up. Gradually enough excellent reports of Leopold’s intelligence, bravery and skill as a soldier, and high principles reached the Prince Regent that he slowly softened his attitude…and at last, after Napoleon was safely exiled to St. Helena and Europe was once more at peace, Charlotte and Leopold were allowed to marry.
What started out as something of a marriage of convenience for both—Charlotte escaping from her family and Leopold escaping penury as a younger son of minor royalty—quickly turned into an honest-to-goodness love match. The pair had a golden year and a half together, and in November 1817 were expecting their first child…a pregnancy that tragically ended in the birth of a still-born son and, a few hours later, the death of Charlotte herself.
Poor Leopold—and all England with him (this mourning dress appeared in Ackermann’s Repository in January 1818)—was devastated. And even though he went on some years later to be made King of Belgium and marry another princess with whom he would raise a healthy family, Leopold never fell out of love with Charlotte, as he told Charlotte’s young cousin (and his niece)—Queen Victoria.