Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was born on 19 May 1744 as the daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and his wife Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen. She came from a poor and tiny German duchy, which was ruled by her uncle at the time of her birth and later by her brother. Due to her low prospects, she was enrolled in a Protestant convent with the idea of spending the rest of her life there.1
She was on the shortlist of appropriate princesses for King George III, and some considered it likely that she was chosen because of a letter she had written to King Frederick II of Prussia.
I am at a loss whether I shall congratulate or condole with you on your late victory; since the same success that crowns you with laurels has overspread the country of Mecklenburgh with desolation. I know Sire, that it seems unbecoming in my sex, in this age of viscous refinement, to feel for one’s country, to lament the horrors of war, or to wish for the return of peace. I know you may think it more properly my province to study the arts of pleasing, or to turn my thoughts to subjects of a more domestic nature; but however unbecoming it may be in me, I cannot resist the desire of interceding for this unhappy people. It was but a few years ago that this territory wore the more pleasing appearance; the country was cultivated, the peasants looked cheerful, and the towns abounded with riches and festivity. What an alteration at present from such a charming scene! I am not expert at description, nor can my fancy add any horrors to the picture; but sure even conquerors themselves would weep at the hideous prospect now before me. The whole country, my dear country, lies one frightful waste, presenting only objects to excite pity, terror, and despair. The business of the husbandman and the shepherd is quite discontinued; the husbandman and shepherd are become soldiers themselves, and help to ravage the soil they formerly occupied. The towns are inhabited only by old men, women, and children: perhaps here or there a warrior, by wounds or loss of limbs, rendered unfit for service, left at his door: his little children hang round him, ask a history of every wound, and grow themselves soldiers before they find strength for the field. But this were nothing, did we not feel the alternate insolence of each army, as it happens to advance or retreat. It is impossible to express the confusion which even those who call themselves our friends, excite. Even those from whom we might expect redress, oppress us with new calamities. From your justice, therefore, it is that we hope for relief; to you even children and women may complain, whose humanity stoops to the meanest petition, and whose power is capable of repressing the greatest injustice.
When King George III supposedly saw the letter, he declared, “this is the lady whom I shall secure for my consort. Here are lasting beauties. The man who has any mind may feast and not be satiated. If the disposition of the Princess but equals her refined sense, I shall be the happiest man, as I hope, with my people’s concurrence to be the happiest monarch in Europe.” 2 The letter was probably forged and cannot be attributed to her.3 Either way, Charlotte was chosen to become the future Queen.
On 17 August 1761, Charlotte left Mecklenburg-Strelitz and arrived at Harwich on 6 September. Upon her first meeting with George, she sank to her knees, and he raised her up. They were married on 8 September 1761 in the Chapel Royal of St James’s Palace. They were crowned together on 22 September.4 The first few months were difficult for Charlotte, but she remained out of politics, and she won her husband’s devotion by always appearing obedient. In the 22 years following their wedding, Charlotte gave birth to 15 children, of which 13 lived to adulthood. Her eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, the future George IV, was born on 12 August 1762.5 As a young family, they lived quite harmoniously and spent plenty of time with their children. Charlotte was left in control of the education of her six daughters.
As the children grew up, tensions grew in the family, especially between George and his eldest son. Both Prince George and his younger brother Augustus made unsuitable marriages though Prince George was eventually persuaded to abandon his first wife. King George was very fond of his daughters and did not wish for them to leave the family, and so he did not arrange marriages for them, cruelly leaving them in some sort of social limbo.6 Their first family tragedy came in August 1782 when their youngest son, Alfred, died before his second birthday. This was followed by the death of their son Octavius the following year.7
In 1788, the first signs of the King’s illness began to appear. Charlotte was so stressed out by it that her hair turned grey.8 George’s illness was most likely the blood disease porphyria, but at the time, rumours quickly began to spread that the King was mad. Charlotte was dismayed when she found that her eldest son had taken steps to have himself appointed as regent. George suffered intermittent setbacks and recoveries. On 2 November 1810, their daughter Amelia died after a long illness. She was the King’s favourite child, and he was devastated at her death. Any sanity he had left was completely gone after Amelia’s death. Charlotte consented to her son being appointed as regent and remained with George at Windsor, issuing bulletins about his health. By the end of his life, he was almost completely deaf and blind.9
Charlotte had a poor relationship with her granddaughter and namesake Charlotte of Wales but was devastated by her death in childbirth in 1817. It affected her already fragile health. In the summer of 1818, she suffered a number of fits, and she was no longer able to walk. She moved to Kew Palace to be with her daughters Augusta and Mary. By November, she was drifting in and out of consciousness. She died on 17 November 1818.10
- Elizabeth Norton – England’s Queens p. 184
- Elizabeth Norton – England’s Queens p. 185-186
- Olwen Hedley – Queen Charlotte p.316
- Elizabeth Norton – England’s Queens p. 188
- Elizabeth Norton – England’s Queens p. 189
- Elizabeth Norton – England’s Queens p. 191
- Elizabeth Norton – England’s Queens p. 192
- Elizabeth Norton – England’s Queens p. 193
- Elizabeth Norton – England’s Queens p. 194
- Elizabeth Norton – England’s Queens p. 196