Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Children of George III: Augusta

A sister (finally!) for the Princess Royal joined the royal nurseries at Buckingham House on November 8, 1768 in the form of Princess Augusta Sophia, much to the King and Queen’s pleasure.

By all accounts Augusta was a shy child; all the royal children lived sequestered lives, interacting only with members of the royal household. She (and in time her younger sister Elizabeth, to whom she would be close) shared their elder sister’s education at their mother’s knee, studying both academic and more “womanly” accomplishments—lessons which Augusta sometimes shirked in order to keep up a lively correspondence with her elder brothers, whom she dearly loved.  Like the Princess Royal, as she came to adulthood Augusta was a victim both of the political circumstances of the time and of her father’s unwillingness to lose any of his daughters to a foreign marriage. Augusta, who was reckoned quite good-looking by all accounts (her portraits are all charming) received proposals from both the King of Denmark and the Prince of Sweden—both of whom were rejected.

In 1799, when Augusta was 31, the King appointed a new aide-de-camp, an Anglo-Irish general who had served under Augusta’s brother the Duke of York. General Sir Brent Spencer made a strong impression not only on the king, but on his daughter. They seem to have fallen thoroughly in love; in fact, Spencer broke off his engagement to another young woman that summer. Over the next several years they maintained their affection, a period in which Spencer served under fire with high distinction in several military campaigns (and drove poor Augusta mad with worry.) When the king made his final descent into incapacity, Augusta evidently had very serious discussions with her big brother, the Prince Regent, as to whether she and Spencer might be able to contract a “private marriage.”

Unfortunately, the years of dealing with the King’s controlling behavior and his erratic health had soured the temper of the Queen, who continued to cling to her unmarried daughters even while behaving with capricious coldness to them; though legally Augusta could have received her brother's permission to marry, her filial feelings toward the Queen probably made her decide against such a course. Nevertheless, rumors abounded that they had indeed married, and on his death in 1828 Spencer was holding a miniature of Augusta.

And so Augusta lived her quiet life—she was a noted gardener in particular—much loved by all her siblings. She kept up that correspondence with them that she'd begun in childhood as well as with other friends (many former members of the royal household) that show her to have had a lively intelligence and a clear-eyed but kindly appreciation of their faults and foibles. She remained on good terms with Prinny when he became king, and was a favorite of William and his queen Adelaide.  She died in 1840 at the age of 71, a few months after attending the wedding of her beloved niece, Victoria, who seems to also have regarded her aunt with great affection.

No comments: