Tuesday, March 7, 2017

1810, What a Year It Was, Part 4: Poor Princess Amelia

1810 was not a good year for Britain’s royal family. As we saw in this post last year, the Duke of Cumberland came close to losing his life in May; in November his youngest sister Princess Amelia would lose hers...with far-reaching effects.

Amelia was the fifteenth and last child of George III and Queen Charlotte, born August 7, 1783, just as the American Revolution was coming to a close and just a few months after the death of her brother Octavius, who had been the apple of his father’s eye. Amelia (named after the king’s aunt) came to somewhat take Octavius’s place; she was by all accounts a charming, beautiful child, adored by all her older siblings.

Amelia grew up mostly in the company of her elder sisters Mary and Sophia, grouped in a triad as were her eldest three sisters, Charlotte, Augusta, and Elizabeth. They received the what seems to have been a watered-down, less intellectual version of the education their elder sisters had received, and were much less directly supervised by the Queen than their elders had been.

By her mid-teens, Amelia was a tall, buxom, handsome young woman...but her handsome, sturdy appearance was misleading. In the summer of her fifteenth year, she was stricken with an inflamed knee that kept her partially bed-ridden through Christmas. Although she apparently healed, the likelihood is that this illness was the first manifestation of tuberculosis.

Amelia’s life continued its sheltered path, like that of all her sisters...until she fell in love, at eighteen, with one of her father’s equerries, the Honourable Charles Fitzroy. He was more than twenty years her senior, but her affections seem to have been returned. Amelia dreamed of marrying her Charles, but of course this was quite impossible...but that didn’t stop her from carrying on a passionate correspondence with him, holding hands with him under the card table and sneaking whatever private moments they could, or ordering silver engraved with their initials for the home she hoped to have with him someday. She kept her hopes up by planning for her 25th birthday, for according to the Royal Marriages Act, members of the royal family could marry at that age without the king’s permission, so long as they gave Parliament a year’s notice of their intentions. But by that time, the King’s health, both mental and physical, had become sufficiently precarious that she knew she could never go through with it lest the shock destroy him.

Moreover, Amelia’s health remained difficult, necessitating frequent visits to the seaside to recover. By her mid-twenties, royal physicians realized that the princess was indeed consumptive...and by 1809, she was almost incapacitated by a terrible pain in her side, which her doctors tried to cure by inserting a drainage tube.  At the beginning of the new year she was afflicted with a painful skin infection, erysipelas, which just made matters worse. It was clear that Amelia was not long for the world; she made a will, leaving all her worldly goods to her beloved Charles Fitzroy. In September 1810 she begged her physician, Sir Henry Halford, to ask the king if she could be allowed to marry Fitzroy. Halford refused to intercede...and the poor princess continued to decline, ravaged by a further outbreak of erysipelas. Her elder sister (and devoted nurse) Augusta did manage to sneak Fitzroy in for a visit sometime in October, when it was clear that the end was coming.

But Amelia wasn’t the only member of the royal family whose health was of concern. The king, now nearly blind, had been giving his ministers and courtiers great cause for worry, for symptoms of the fits of madness he’d suffered in previous years seemed to be returning. When poor Amelia breathed her last on November 2, the loss of this beloved daughter seemed to provide the final push...and by January, the king would be declared incompetent and a regency declared.

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