King George III of Great Britain was just 22 years old when he succeeded his grandfather as King – his father had predeceased King George II in 1751. He had been quite taken with noblewoman Lady Sarah Lennox, who was a great-granddaughter of King Charles II through his illegitimate son Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond, 1st Duke of Lennox, but this came to nothing. After he became King the search for a suitable bride intensified. The choice fell upon Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Colonel David Graeme was dispatched with an offer of marriage.
Charlotte was later described as “small and ‘very lean’, not well made; her face, pale and homely, her nose somewhat flat, and mouth very large. Her hair, however, was of a fine brown, and her countenance pleasing. She had an unfailing good humour and animation, which supplied these defects.”1
On 8 July 1761, the privy councillors were summoned and the wedding of the King was announced. “Having nothing so much at heart as to procure the welfare and happiness of my people, and to render the same stable and permanent to posterity, I have, ever since my accession to the throne, turned my thoughts towards the choice of a princess for my consort; and I now, with great satisfaction, acquaint you, that after the fullest information and mature deliberation, I am come to a resolution to demand in marriage the Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a princess distinguished by every eminent virtue and amiable endowment, whose illustrious line has constantly shown the firmest zeal for the Protestant religion, and a particular attachment to my family.”2
After a proxy ceremony, Charlotte set off for England on 17 August. The weather was stormy but as the day for the coronation was also approaching, Charlotte could not delay her departure. On 7 September, Charlotte set foot on English soil at Harwich, where she was received by the mayor. The party rushed towards London, as the wedding was due to take place the following day.
When Charlotte arrived at St. James’s Palace at 3.30 PM on the 8th, she was greeted by the Duke of York before being introduced to the King and the rest of the family. It was her first meeting with her future husband and they would be married just a few hours later. She was then led into the great wardrobe room where dressmakers anxiously awaited her to make alterations to the wedding dress if necessary. This was followed by a state dinner and then the wedding itself.
At 9 P.M that very same day, the wedding ceremony took place in the Chapel Royal. It was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and one of the bridesmaids was Lady Sarah Lennox, the King’s previous crush. Charlotte wore “an endless mantle” of rich violet and purple velvet, lined with ermine, over a white satin and silver dress. She also wore a tiara of diamonds, a necklet and a stomacher said to be worth £90,000. However skilled the dressmakers were, the elaborate dress remained too big for Charlotte and seemed to drag her down. She was led into the chapel by the Duke of York, who told her, “Courage, Princess, courage” as he felt her tremble.3 The service was entirely in English and the only words Charlotte spoke were “Ich will” (I do) when prompted.
After the ceremony, the new Queen and the rest of the party returned to the drawing-room where she surprised the guests on the harpsichord. The following banquet lasted until well into the night until the Duke of Cumberland hinted that he was quite tired. For Charlotte too, it must have seemed like a day that would never end. Luckily, she was spared the humiliation of a public bedding ceremony. Her new mother-in-law reportedly asked the Duke of Cumberland to sit with her for a while after she returned from the couple’s bedchamber but the grumpy Duke replied, “What should I stay for? If she cries out, I cannot help her.”4
Now that Charlotte and George were married, they could be crowned together and the coronation took place just two weeks later on 22 September.