Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Announcing a New NineteenTeen Series: the Children of George III

Some years back I did a series of biographical posts on the nine children of Queen Victoria. I enjoyed writing it and NineteenTeen readers seemed to enjoy reading it; I mean, imagine growing up with the most influential woman on earth as your mom. Not all of her children were as influential on world events, of course, but it was interesting to learn about them.

So I thought you might find a series on the children of another British monarch interesting as well—and more of those offspring were important on a world level. I’m talking about the fifteen children of King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte. Unlike Victoria’s brood, not all lived to adulthood (in the 18th century, even the King’s children could escape the era’s higher infant mortality rate.) Not all married and had children (unlike all of Victoria’s children, even the sickly Leopold.) But I find them on the whole a more sympathetic and vital group of individuals, with more interesting lives, and I hope you will too.

Before we dive into the life of George’s second child, Frederick, (the eldest of course being our old friend Prinny, perhaps better know as King George IV, has already been a topic of discussion here and here and here) I thought a little background information might be in order.

George III came to the throne in 1760 at age 22—an earnest, somewhat plodding but basically good-hearted young man—and one of his first concerns was finding a wife in order to beget an heir and secure the succession. He’d been briefly enamored with Lady Sarah Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond (and one of the Lennox sisters in author Stella Tilyard’s excellent book Aristocrats) but both his mother and his mentor Lord Bute, who held a great deal of influence over George, felt that an English bride would not be advisable. And so, not quite a year later, he married a foreign bride, one his mother felt she could comfortably bully—a Princess Sophia Charlotte of the tiny German principality of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Charlotte was just 18, and had never left her country before (nor would she see it again.) Though her education had been mediocre she was a bright young woman, fond of reading and eager to expand her intellectual horizons. She spoke no English on her arrival...and in fact, within six hours of arriving in London (after a difficult and stormy passage across the North Sea), she met her husband-to-be for the first time, was hastily dressed in her wedding finery, and married to him.

George and Charlotte seemed to have become genuinely fond of each other; they shared an interest in learning and music, and while George made it clear that he expected his wife to keep strictly to home and hearth (so to speak--we're talking 18th century court life here!) and not meddle in government, she was a quiet influence on him. She also admirably fulfilled her duty to her husband and presented him with a son just eleven months later...and fourteen more children over the next twenty-one years. 

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