As the youngest—and favorite—child of the reigning King George III of England, Princess Amelia was the bright shining hope of Britain when she was born. As she grew up, this promise only grew too, and her radiant beauty and vivacious personality was the talk of every drawing room in London. But for all that hope, Amelia’s life only ended in bitter tragedy.
Princess Amelia was born on August 7, 1783 to King George III of England and his wife Queen Charlotte, but her life wasn’t that of an ordinary princess. For one, Amelia was, incredibly, the 15th child her mother had given birth to, and would be the last in the family. Besides that, while the country cooed over the new princess, the royal family was hiding a deep tragedy.
Many people saw Amelia as a bright new hope for a young generation of Britons, but in her own family, she was a balm on a visceral wound. Less than a year before her birth, her two closest older brothers, Octavius and Alfred, perished in infancy within just months of each other, both succumbing to the smallpox epidemic that was sweeping the nation.
Being born into these messed-up family dynamics had other consequences, too.
Coming as she did so soon after her brothers’ tragic deaths, Amelia was under immense pressure to be perfect. Her brother Octavius had been her father King George’s favorite child among the whole massive brood, and the king now transferred his affections—and his heavy expectations—toward the little babe. In a short time, this began to warp her.
There was a six-year age gap between Amelia’s next-oldest sibling, while her eldest brother, George, was a full 21 years older than her. This, plus her father’s doting attention made the little girl grow up much too fast. The writer Fanny Burney, who knew the royal family, once called the three-year-old Amelia "decorous and dignified".
It’s an eerie enough image for a toddler, but it got weirder.
One interaction with Princess Amelia goes down in the "creepy child" history books. The playwright Sarah Siddons recalled how when she first met Amelia as a baby, she wanted to kiss the cherubic little girl. In response, Amelia, "instantly held her little hand out to be kissed, so early had she learnt the lessons of Royalty".
It was obviously an abnormal life for a small girl—and there were other abnormal things going on, too.
Amelia’s father King George had always been a deeply sensitive man, but ever since the successive deaths of her older brothers, his mental health had grown increasingly unstable. When she was five years old, the situation unraveled. Her father had a total mental break, complete with mania and deranged ranting that went on so long, he would foam at the mouth.
For a little girl who loved her father and was his favorite, it must have been a terrifying turn of events. It was not going to get better.
Although King George eventually recovered from this break enough to run the country again, the toll it took on Amelia and the rest of her family was immeasurable. With these worries hanging over them, the king and queen were often away from home, and Amelia and her two next-oldest sisters were almost completely cut off from the rest of the family in their nursery.
When they did communicate with their parents, it was usually via letter. It wasn’t long before the cracks started to show.
As Amelia grew up in near isolation, courtiers began to notice disturbing behaviors. Namely, the three youngest girls were becoming the wild ones of the family. When they sat for an official royal portrait in 1785, the hired painter had so much difficulty wrangling the princesses that he never painted another royal portrait again.
Unfortunately, as Amelia became a young woman, the problems only grew deeper.
Amelia had sass to spare as she matured. Of all her sisters, she was perhaps closest to her sister Mary, who was just three years older than her and trapped in the same isolation. Nonetheless, this didn’t stop Amelia from teasing her older and slightly more obedient sister as "mama’s tool".
And well, people began to notice their princess wasn’t so prim.
Although as a little girl Amelia seemed to possess a preternaturally dignified bearing, by the time she was an adolescent all this had dissipated. One on-looker called her "the most turbulent and tempestuous of all the Princesses", and her nearly feral upbringing—at least by royal standards of the day—did nothing to help matters.
Oh, and there was one other thing.
Princess Amelia had been the golden child of the family, but she quickly earned a much more salacious reputation. She was drop-dead gorgeous, with come-hither looks—she had full, red lips and glossy auburn hair—that were borderline indecent when the royal brood was supposed to present a stiff upper lip. But then again, trouble ran in the family…
It wasn’t just the younger siblings in the royal family that were getting in trouble—Amelia’s oldest brother George had tons of drama, and he dragged his sister in with him. While George just so happened to be Amelia’s favorite brother, and she was likewise one of his favorite siblings, he was also a ne’er-do-well who took scores of mistresses and paraded them around town.
Soon enough, he nearly caused an international incident.
As the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne, everyone expected George to marry. When he did, it was a total disaster. He and his bride Caroline of Brunswick hated each other deeply, and only had one daughter together before living in separate residences for the rest of their lives.
The strife sent the already fractured kingdom into another tailspin…and Amelia found a way to be right in the middle.
Amelia’s sister-in-law Caroline of Brunswick was famous for not only hating her husband George, but pretty much everyone else in the royal family. Except, that is, Amelia herself. Amelia seemed to have that magic, golden girl touch, because even the snippy Caroline once huffed that Amelia was "the most amiable of the bunch".
Still, this disastrous royal wedding situation affected Amelia in other ways.
King George and Queen Charlotte, despite their absentee status, were extremely attached to all of their children…but this wasn’t always a good thing. As their younger girls became young adults, the royal couple swore that they would find happy marriages for their daughters.
After all, having seen the havoc unhappy marriage wreaked on George and Caroline, as well as other relatives, they didn’t want to put them through that. Except, well, this backfired.
As Amelia neared 18 years old, many in the kingdom thought it was high time for her to find a suitable husband—indeed, many thought her parents should have already found one for her and her other unmarried sisters. But the king and queen kept procrastinating, hoping better options would come along for their beloved girls.
Little did they know, there was no fairy tale in store. It was about to turn into a nightmare.
When King George first had his attack of madness and then recovered, everyone hoped it would be a one-and-done anomaly—and for over a decade, that’s exactly what it seemed to be. But then in 1801, disaster struck again. The King descended once more into his mysterious insanity, and suddenly getting Amelia married was the last thing on everybody’s minds.
But that’s not the only reason Amelia couldn’t walk down the aisle.
Although the kingdom was too much in shambles for a royal wedding, there was a heartbreaking side to this story. Queen Charlotte also believed King George’s madness came directly from his worry over his favorite daughter’s matrimonial happiness, and she feared ever bringing marriage up again, lest he have another fit out of stress.
But another problem was emerging: Amelia’s own health was in danger, too.
Amelia had never been a particularly healthy child—and when she was just 15 years old, she started showing symptoms of tuberculosis. Although the royal family kept this under vigilant control while they could, the princess frequently suffered joint pain that sent her to seaside towns like Worthing to recover. As we’ll see, though, this was all a very bad omen.
In 1801, the same year that Amelia’s father suffered his second terrifying bout of insanity, something in the princess seemed to break, too. Her health faltered again almost in sympathy with her father, and the palace rushed her off to the sea, this time to Weymouth, and hoped she would recover her strength in good time. She eventually did, but it ended up being a scandalous date with destiny.
By this time, Amelia was 18, barely socialized into the outside world, and full of adolescent desires. So when she met the dashing equerry Charles FitzRoy that year at Weymouth while taking the cure, is it any wonder she fell head over heels for him with a school girl crush?
Maybe not, but there was a surprising—even shocking—aspect to their relationship.
Lovesick teenagers tend to make some errors in judgment, and Princess Amelia was no different. Her love for FitzRoy had a very creepy side. Namely, the equerry was 21 years her senior. It also didn’t help that as a princess, Amelia completely outranked him—but none of this stopped FitzRoy from returning Amelia’s affections. Uh, and then some.
It took no time at all for the naïve Amelia to fall completely in love with FitzRoy, and soon the pair were talking marriage to anyone who would listen. There was just one cruel twist: Thanks to a bill her own father’s parliament passed, any marriage between the princess and the more common FitzRoy would be invalid in the eyes of the state.
Still, that somehow wasn’t even the most scandalous part.
Again, thanks to her isolated upbringing, Princess Amelia was basically a babe in the woods when it came to the rough-and-tumble world outside the palace walls. So much so that she did almost nothing to hide her relationship with FitzRoy. Inevitably, then her mother Queen Charlotte found out—but the queen’s response was eye-opening.
By this point, the royal family’s control of the United Kingdom was hanging by a thread, and King George’s control of his sanity was shaky at best and sometimes non-existent. As a result, Amelia’s mother, still terrified to give her husband any stress at all, ignored her daughter’s dalliance so she wouldn’t have to report it to the king.
Was this a good idea? Absolutely not.
With no one to stop her, Amelia went deeper and deeper into her fantasy with Charles FitzRoy. It reached disturbing proportions. Although Amelia knew she and FitzRoy could never truly marry, her response was a form of delusion: She once told her brother Frederick that she considered FitzRoy her husband anyway, ceremony or no. And she didn’t stop there.
Amelia was so thoroughly in love, she reportedly began taking the initials AFR, as in "Amelia FitzRoy", all but making their so-called "union" official, at least in her mind. As we’ll see, that wasn’t even the least of what she was doing behind the scenes, and she never stopped hoping that one day, they could get married. In fact, she had something of a plan.
Although the Royal Marriages Act—the one that kept Amelia from legally marrying a lower-born man like Charles FitzRoy—forbid Amelia’s love for her older man, there was a bit of a loophole. If she waited until she turned 25, she could seek special permission from the Privy Council to marry a man of her choice.
Even so, it was a long shot…but Amelia had an ace in the hole.
Amelia was used to getting her own way, and there is some evidence that she convinced her favorite brother, the heir Prince George, to support her pipe dream of marrying FitzRoy. It’s possible George promised her that when he was king, he would let them marry.
Once more, Amelia was just that charming. But then again, she was also about to hit a streak of horrible luck.
Around this time, even Amelia’s mother Queen Charlotte couldn’t continue to bury her head in the sand when it came to the FitzRoy situation. The queen finally began to plan to marry one of her daughters—quite possibly the errant Amelia—off to one of their cousins. It would have been a nail in the coffin to her affair…if fate hadn’t intervened first.
In 1804, the royal family got another brutal shock. That year, the patriarch King George III fell ill again, just three years after his last attack. Besides the fact that these periods of insanity were now coming closer together, no one in the kingdom understood what was happening, nor how to treat it.
Heartbreakingly, Amelia’s father often had to be restrained while doctors applied caustic (and useless) remedies. More than that, her father’s misery had more dark effects on Amelia herself.
With the king’s latest attack, the atmosphere in the royal palaces sunk to an all-time low. Amelia’s mother Queen Charlotte was especially depressed about the state of affairs, and since Amelia was often staying with the queen at the gloomy and forbidding Windsor Castle, the princess couldn’t help but feel low herself. It didn’t take long for this to domino.
In 1808, it was Amelia’s turn for a huge health scare. Sad, lonely, and still pining for FitzRoy, the princess ended up catching a vicious strain of the measles. Having never been in good health, the illness laid her flat on her back, enough that her addled father King George demanded she take another trip to the seaside city of Weymouth to get her spirits up.
No one wanted to admit it then, but it was the beginning of the end.
It took a full year for Princess Amelia to improve her health in any sort of way, and even then, by 1809 she could usually only spend her time reading or going for brief walks in the garden before she exhausted herself completely. At that point, it became clear what was on the horizon.
The tuberculosis that Amelia had suffered from since she was 15 was coming to claim her. Everyone braced themselves, while praying it would miraculously get better. And there was another tragic aspect to the story.
Amelia had never had the best of luck, but the timing of her illness was heartbreaking. Namely, in 1808 when her tuberculosis flared up in an especially damaging way, she would have just turned 25, the age where she could finally possibly convince parliament to let her marry her love Charles FitzRoy at last.
Sadly, she was now too ill to even attempt it. In fact, she was about to experience an extremely gruesome symptom.
In 1810, Amelia had been well and truly ill for two years, and people within the royal family were starting to realize her days were numbered. That October, this truth was undeniable: She contracted the bacterial infection erysipelas, more commonly known as "St Anthony’s Fire" for the way it inflames the face and other body parts with a raised, red rash.
From there, her decline was quick, but no less brutal.
Amelia’s declining condition tore apart everyone in her family, but her father King George III was most affected. While Amelia was on her deathbed, the king demanded her physicians visit him every day at 7:00 in the morning to update him on her condition, and then continue to keep him apprised throughout the day. And Amelia wasn’t ignorant to his worry.
Amelia may have been young—she had just turned 27 that summer—but she wasn’t stupid, and she knew better than anyone that the end was near. So she made a heartbreaking request. Knowing that her father was beside himself at the thought of losing her, she made a "mourning ring" for him, inset with a lock of her hair.
When the king saw it, his reaction was even more devastating.
Reportedly, when attendants brought the king his daughter’s mourning ring, the monarch burst into tears. After all, it was the next clear sign that Princess Amelia was losing her fight with tuberculosis—that she knew this, too—and that everyone should say their goodbyes. As October turned into November, she grew ever weaker…until the day the other shoe fell.
On November 2, 1810, Amelia finally succumbed, passing at 12:00 pm. But even then, there was something eerie about her demise. She actually perished on her brother Edward’s birthday, throwing even more of a damper on what meager family celebrations there would have been.
As it happened, though, that was the least of the royal family’s worries.
Because Amelia left destruction in her wake.
One of the first people in Amelia’s large family to feel the deep effects of her passing was her eldest brother, George IV. Amelia had remained one of his favorite sisters, so much so that the prince even reportedly made the macabre (but not uncommon at the time) request to get a death mask made, AKA taking an impression of her lifeless face.
Still, George’s bizarre form of grieving continued.
Going through the motions of grieving his sister, Prince George dutifully attended her funeral—but the princess still haunted him in an acute way. At least according to royal legend, George was never able to sleep in a dark room unlit by candles ever again, and would start sobbing at the mere mention of her name even three years afterward.
Even so, Amelia’s biggest post-mortem blow was yet to come.
While Amelia’s demise hit her brother hard, it was nothing compared to the grief her father King George III suffered. While the king cried merely at the gift of her mourning ring, he now had "scenes of distress and crying every day" and was "melancholy beyond description" according to Amelia’s nurse.
Little did the country know, it was standing on the brink.
In one way, Amelia brought about her father’s ignominious downfall. Directly following her passing, King George III’s grief fractured his fragile sanity permanently. He became so incapacitated, in fact, that Amelia’s brother George became Prince Regent…and when attendants tried to talk to the King, he uttered a chilling reply.
King George III didn’t just lose his mind and his power after Amelia passed, he also began hallucinating specifically about her. His doctor once described how when he tried to attend to the king, George would call out to his "Emily" (his pet name for Amelia) and ask "in a wild, monotonous, delirious way…why won't you save your father"?
And as the months passed, Amelia’s grip on him only seemed to tighten.
In the end, King George couldn’t take the tragic truth of his youngest daughter’s end, and his hallucinations about her grew more elaborate and even less tied to reality. By the time he had stepped down from the throne, he had convinced himself that Amelia was actually alive and married to some noble in Hanover with her own family.
Despite her years of sickness and decline, everyone knew Amelia had been a strong and free-spirited princess—but the contents of her will still shocked those closest to her. Stubborn and steadfast to the bitter end, Amelia never forgot about her love Charles FitzRoy, and bequeathed all her possessions to him. But this is where the story gets truly dark.
The royal family was aghast that Amelia could have made so obvious and public a declaration of her relationship with FitzRoy, and they acted fast to quash it. Her older brothers contacted FitzRoy and asked him to cede his claim on Amelia’s possessions in the eyes of law, but promised they would honor them unofficially nonetheless.
FitzRoy agreed. And then came the betrayal.
If there’s no honor among thieves, there was definitely no honor among Amelia’s family either. No sooner had her brothers received FitzRoy’s ceding of his rights than they turned around and double-crossed him. He never saw a cent or a trinket from Amelia’s vast estate, despite her very clear instructions. And the injustice didn’t end there.
Although there is no paper trail or direct evidence, some suggest that Amelia was more than just married to Charles FitzRoy in her heart, but that the pair of them ran off to participate in a clandestine wedding ceremony, however invalid it was in the eyes of the law.
This, too, might explain Amelia’s taking of FitzRoy’s initials. Regardless, FitzRoy was true to her in his way: He didn’t actually marry until six years after Amelia’s passing.
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