Princess Augusta could have been Queen of England in her own right, but instead, she had to give up her seat for her younger brother King George III—a man who went down in infamy for his madness. Still, Augusta’s own royal closet somehow had more disturbing skeletons. From a family curse to blood feuds, this princess’s life was no Bridgerton ball.
Augusta’s life would eventually turn into a historical disaster, but it even started as a nightmare. Her father, Frederick the Prince of Wales, was in a bitter feud with Augusta’s royal grandparents, King George II and Queen Caroline of Ansbach—so much so that papa Frederick used Augusta’s very existence as a brutal revenge plot. And it all started the night she was born.
When Augusta’s mother went into labor in the summer of 1737, Frederick put his plan into motion. He quite literally forced the poor pregnant woman to run away from their royal lodgings, sit in a juddering carriage for over an hour, and finally give birth at the more remote St James’s Palace. Why?
Because then his loathsome parents couldn’t possibly be present for the birth of their grandchild. The results were chilling. With St James ill-prepared to welcome a royal heir, Princess Augusta came into the world on a humble tablecloth. And this petty beginning proved to be a dark omen.
There are two things you need to know about Augusta and her family: They belonged to the House of Hanover, and the House of Hanover held grudges. So when the King and Queen got word of how their granddaughter made her debut, they were horrified, yes—but they also made sure they got their own revenge.
First, Augusta’s grandmother smirked that the babe was a “poor, ugly little she-mouse”. Then, the monarchs went further and banished Augusta’s parents from court. Augusta was a few days old and already an outcast princess. It did not get better from there.
Augusta couldn’t catch a win. Although she started out life as second in line for the British throne, even this mildly favorable situation didn’t last long. Within a year of her ignominious birth, Augusta’s younger brother George came along and supplanted her, then quickly became the Prince of Wales when their father passed unexpectedly in 1751.
Instead of a coronation, then, Augusta had to settle for being eye candy. Except even that didn’t work out quite perfectly.
Augusta was no great beauty; she reportedly had a “loose mouth and a long face” and someone once remarked she looked like “a vicar’s wife”. That said, there were consolations. She was George’s favorite sister, and after he officially became King George III in 1760, her impeccable pedigree and close relationship to the monarch made her a hot commodity on the marriage market.
In other words, she should have had her pick of suitors. But as usual, her family had to go and mess things up.
Around 1761, some members of Augusta’s family got it in their heads that she should marry her second cousin, Charles, the future Duke of Brunswick. Only, this was no fairy tale. It was a purely political match, not a personal choice—and not everyone was even in agreement about it.
In fact, Augusta’s mother despised the House of Brunswick, and continually delayed wedding negotiations as much as she could. Somehow, though, the situation was about to get even more complicated.
Shortly after he became king, Augusta’s brother George did his royal duty and married Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, a princess from a tiny German principality who wasn’t likely to make many waves at court. In other words, the Hanoverians thought she’d make the perfect consort—but this put extra pressure on Augusta to put a ring on it, and she didn’t react well.
According to courtier Horace Walpole, Augusta had always been a very “lively” girl, but the arrival of her new sister-in-law gave her a particularly naughty idea. Whether because she was annoyed at her mother or simply bored, Augusta began visiting Charlotte as often as she could and trying to turn the new queen against the matriarch.
It got so bad, Augusta’s mother—wise to her daughter’s gossip—started chaperoning her visits to prevent yet another family feud. Unfortunately, Augusta paid a high price for her little games.
Augusta clearly had no problem using her own relatives as playthings, but it backfired on her big time. In the face of her daughter’s major meddling, Augusta’s mother suddenly realized that carting the girl off to marry her second cousin Charles wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all, hated House of Brunswick or not.
So, in 1764, the royal family invited the future Duke over to London for a visit and a wedding to Augusta. I’d love to say it went smoothly, but when did this family ever do “smooth”?
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When Charles came over for his matrimonial visit, it took no time at all for Augusta’s awful family dynamics to rear up again. Apparently, this time it was her brother King George III’s turn to stir the pot, and he quickly decided he hated Charles, too—though perhaps he was annoyed that someone was taking his favorite sister away.
Whatever the reason, George was good at this game. To prove his displeasure, he spent the visit snubbing the dukeling in various ways, forcing him to stay at run-down accommodations and refusing him a military guard. Yet he saved his best insult for Augusta’s wedding day.
On January 16, 1764, Charles and Augusta married in the Chapel Royal of St James’s Palace. But there was a fly in the ointment. Still hanging onto his grudge, King George III ordered all the servants on the couple’s wedding day to wear old clothes, just to passive-aggressively rub in his displeasure one last time.
All in all, Charles had gotten a very crude introduction to his in-laws. There would be many more unpleasant surprises.
Thanks to this disturbing welcome, Augusta’s new husband insisted they set themselves up in Brunswick, Germany just 10 days after the wedding. It was an enormous and immediate change—and the princess didn’t adapt well. Decades later, people still described Augusta as “wholly English in her tastes,” and she took an instant dislike to her new realm, which she found dull. But there was one silver lining.
Surprisingly, Augusta found comfort in her arranged marriage. Before long, she was deeply in love with Charles, once writing, “No two people live better together than we do, and I would go through fire and water for him". The next events seemed to prove it.
Less than a year after her nuptials, she gave birth to a daughter, with the couple eventually having six children who made it to adulthood, two girls and four boys. On the outside at least, it looked like Princess Augusta was calmly settling into her role as wife and mother. But drama wasn’t done with her yet.
In 1766, Augusta gave birth to her eldest son Karl, traveling back to England for the labor so that everyone could see how triumphant she was. The crowds obliged, and every time Augusta and her husband went out in public, the roars of the British people followed them. This was far from a good thing. In fact, it turned one of Augusta’s old friends into an enemy.
According to the gossip at the time, Augusta’s sister-in-law Queen Charlotte was incensed at the attention Augusta was getting from her people—and the queen couldn’t help but get a familiar revenge.
Taking a page from King George’s actions during Augusta’s wedding, Charlotte refused to give the newlyweds certain military honors as well as other court comforts throughout their trip. But the British consort was just warming up.
Augusta was very aware of Charlotte’s dislike for her by the end of this visit, but nothing quite prepared her for how long Charlotte would play her petty games. When Augusta visited years later in 1771, Charlotte continued to pull tricks like forcing her to stay in more run-down palaces, even when nicer residences were available. And still, Charlotte had more insults in store.
For the remainder of this 1771 visit, Charlotte quibbled with Augusta over anything and everything, even zeroing in on Augusta’s ideas of etiquette. But there was a cruel twist. As it happened, Augusta was actually in town to say goodbye to her dying mother, not that Charlotte seemed to care. And when the matriarch passed in 1772, it all took a bigger nosedive.
By 1772, things were so bad between the sisters-in-law, Queen Charlotte lay down a spiteful order. She refused to let Augusta visit with her own brother, King George III, in private. Even according to other courtiers, competitiveness and jealousy alone drove Charlotte’s actions—but if she knew the truth, she would hardly have been envious.
By now, Augusta had given birth to her full brood of children—but all was not right in the house of Brunswick. Augusta’s eldest, Karl, had been born blind, but as he grew up his other issues and disabilities became clear. After visiting with the family, one royal noted that Karl was “strange and odd—if not to say an imbecile”.
Reportedly, the supposed heir to the duchy of Brunswick couldn’t stop chattering on, imitating his father, and being “in all aspects unbearable”. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning.
Genetics being what they are, one son like Karl wasn’t too much to worry about. Yet as it turned out, a full three of Augusta’s male children had disabilities. Her second son, Georg, had an even more severe disability than his older brother, while the third, August, was also born blind and exhibited learning issues.
In a world where you were only as good as your heirs, this put stress on Augusta and her husband. It also moved them to cruel acts.
The 18th century wasn’t famous for its tolerance of difference, and Charles often complained about his sons’ issues, once saying to a friend that they were “mostly cripples in mind and body”. Indeed, he and Augusta declared Georg and August invalid, then barred them from succession.
When her fourth son, Frederick, was born without any disabilities, Augusta likely breathed a sigh of relief. But her family tree was still hiding a twisted truth.
To this day, historians wonder about what was going on with Augusta’s male line, and their answers are disturbing. One of the most likely possibilities was inbreeding. The royal family liked to keep it very tight-knit when it came to marriages—again, Augusta and Charles themselves were second cousins—and there’s a good chance that Augusta was merely paying the genetic piper.
As we’ll see, though, it wasn’t Augusta’s sons that had the worst of it; it was her daughters. And in fact, another woman in the family was about to drop a drama bomb.
1772 wasn’t just the year that Augusta spatted with her sister-in-law Queen Charlotte, or the one where she grappled with her male heirs’ mental issues. It was also when her family’s reputation went to wrack and ruin. That very same year, her baby sister Caroline Matilda, who’d become Queen over in Denmark, got exiled and forcibly divorced after having an affair with a court physician.
I mean seriously, you could not beat the Hanoverians in the scandal department. And Augusta’s reaction to her sister’s fall from grace sent tongues wagging.
In the wake of the Danish scandal, everyone expected Augusta to completely wash her hands of her kid sister. Except, well, Augusta didn’t want to play those games. Caroline Matilda ended up quite near to Brunswick, and the princess made sure to visit her sibling frequently—much to the horror of her husband and her in-laws.
Sadly, however, Caroline Matilda would perish from scarlet fever just a handful of years later—and before Augusta could get over her death, she was dealing with a tragedy in her own house.
For a long time, Augusta thought she had the perfect husband. Only, the truth about her relationship was downright chilling. Augusta may have pledged to walk through “fire and water” for Charles…but that feeling wasn’t mutual. In reality, Charles found her boring and had happily carried on numerous flirtations since the very beginning of their marriage.
In fact, just two years into their union, he was already hiding an enormous secret.
In 1766, Charles was in London scanning about for pretty women who weren’t his wife, and landed on Maria Antonia Branconi, a German-Italian beauty who was also married herself. Even so, this didn’t stop the two of them from carrying on an affair so torrid, Maria actually followed Charles back to Brunswick.
She soon become his favorite, and the couple even had an illegitimate child together. It’s unclear just how much Augusta was privy to here, but she had to have known something. And if it had just stopped there, perhaps she would have kept looking the other way. But...it didn’t.
Whatever Maria Antonia was, she obviously wasn’t a fool, because she managed to keep the Brunswick court even-keeled during her time there. Then everything changed. In 1777, Charles got a new, presumably even younger mistress in Luise von Hertefeld, who he not only installed as his official mistress, but also appointed to a high position in his court. This was the final straw for Augusta.
Augusta had learned to sport a stiff upper lip—with a family like hers, she’d needed to—but this new rival pushed her over the edge. She was the sister to the King of England, after all, and yet here her husband was, happily disrespecting her again. So, she got her revenge.
At the still-spry age of 40, Augusta suddenly announced that she was retiring from court life to better look after her children. It was as clear a “you’re sleeping on the couch, buddy” moment as Augusta could manage while still maintaining her dignity. It was also a full-blown disaster.
Augusta may have been trying to take the high road, but it didn’t last. Her resentment for the husband she once loved only grew, and Charles in turn was the opposite of empathetic to her woes. Before long, they were at each other’s throats constantly.
In fact, as their youngest daughter Caroline grew up, they increasingly treated her like a “shuttlecock,” with one of them getting angry if the girl was ever nice to the other parent. But when Augusta tried to get a hobby that wasn’t “pit mommy against daddy,” it got even worse.
Part of Augusta’s job as a mother was to see her two daughters married off—and she wasted no time at all doing just that. By 1780, just three years after her “retirement” from court life, Augusta had rushed her 15-year-old eldest daughter and namesake, Augusta, into a union with Frederick of Württemberg.
In just six short years, she would watch as her daughter’s marriage first turned sour, then bloody.
No one in the 18th century cared much about finding a perfect love match, but Augusta had still made an enormous mistake. Her new son-in-law was an absolute brute who reportedly got physical with her daughter almost immediately. Indeed, the marriage was in such shambles that within a year, the younger Augusta was begging her parents to give her permission to divorce. Their reply was heartless.
By this point, Charles had officially become the Duke of Brunswick, and our Augusta was now the Duchess. With this new name to uphold, they insisted that their daughter not sully it. The Duke, seemingly with Augusta’s compliance, threatened to ostracize his daughter in every royal court unless she stayed in her miserable marriage.
When the truth all came out, it was a decision Augusta couldn’t help but regret.
By 1786, Augusta’s foray into royal matchmaking had turned into an international incident. Her son-in-law Frederick continued to physically attack her daughter, and at one point even planned to pay men to “sully” his wife’s reputation. It got so bad, no less than Catherine the Great of Russia intervened on the girl’s behalf, writing to Brunswick and begging the Duke and Duchess to do something.
They refused once more, and they wouldn’t get another chance to make things right.
In the end, Augusta’s daughter did manage to escape her horrific marriage, though with no real thanks to her parents. Still, it was too little, too late. In September of 1788, Augusta and her husband received a letter containing blood-curdling news. Their 23-year-old daughter was gone, and the reason why was utterly senseless.
Under the circumstances, many close to the girl wanted to blame her savage husband for her premature demise. However, that wasn’t the case at all. Augusta’s daughter actually died from complications of persistent amenorrhea, though none of that excuses Augusta’s lack of action when her little girl needed her most.
And lest you think this was all just bad luck for Augusta, you might want to hear what happened with her other daughter, Caroline. Because that story is an utter train wreck.
With one daughter dead, Augusta turned her attention to her remaining girl, Caroline. By this time, Caroline desperately needed it. Augusta and Charles had been too busy sniping at each other to give Caroline a proper education when she was a child, and now as a young adult, she was woefully ignorant about the world.
Unfortunately, Augusta’s version of “attention,” when it finally did come, was utterly deranged.
As it turned out, Caroline was a devastatingly attractive girl, and men had started asking for her hand in marriage very early on. Augusta, who had designs on marrying Caroline off to a British prince, turned away most of them—but she didn’t stop there.
She was brutally strict about keeping Caroline’s “virtue” intact and didn’t allow her to see any men unsupervised. For God’s sake, Caroline wasn’t even allowed to dine alone with her own brother. It gets weirder.
To say Augusta kept her last surviving daughter on a tight leash is the understatement of the century. Whenever Augusta entertained guests, she made sure Caroline stayed in an entire other room away from the festivities—and even then, the poor girl had to keep away from the windows, lest someone from outside snatch a glance at her.
You think that’s strict? Well, we’re still on the warm-up.
Perhaps she was simply nursing deep guilt over her eldest daughter’s demise, but Augusta obviously went right off the deep end while raising Caroline. When the girl came of age, it just got worse. She wasn’t even allowed to attend balls, and on the rare occasion that she did, Augusta commanded her never to dance.
The icing on this cake, though? That’s up next.
With all of this helicopter parenting, Augusta couldn’t possibly have a close, intimate relationship with her daughter. But one day, their tensions reached ridiculous proportions. After Augusta banned her from yet another ball, a rebellious Caroline came up with a deranged plot. The young princess actually faked going into labor and started screaming for a midwife.
Then, once the woman arrived, Caroline abruptly stopped and asked her mother, “Now, Madam, will you keep me another time from a ball?” Yet when Augusta did finally let go of Caroline, it was just as disastrous.
In 1794, Augusta got what she had been angling for all along: She brokered a union between Caroline and Prince George of Wales, her brother’s son and the future King of England. To be fair, George only agreed to it because he was heavily in debt and needed a dowry, but a win was a win in Augusta’s books.
Unfortunately, when George’s emissary came to pick Caroline up to move to England, all of Augusta’s secrets spilled out.
The day that George’s man came for Caroline was a calamity. First, Caroline’s total lack of tact and social understanding shocked the emissary. But more disgustingly, he also explicitly remarked on Caroline’s incredibly bad hygiene—she reportedly never washed or changed her clothes—and blamed Augusta for being “inattentive” to this aspect of her daughter’s education.
That’s right, Augusta’s practical parenting was so awful, even some 18th-century dude who didn’t know what germs were was calling her daughter dirty. It was a bad beginning for Caroline, and it would have a bad end.
Caroline and Prince George’s marriage was one of the worst in British royal history, which is saying something if you know about Henry VIII. Augusta had to watch on as the couple fought, despised each other, had one child together, and then pretty much never spoke again. It was another match in the “L” column for our princess. But by then she had a much more terrifying prospect on her hands.
Augusta had always been close with her brother King George III, which made the next piece of news devastating. In the late 1780s, George began noticeably suffering from mental health illness, displaying either porphyria or possibly even bipolar disorder. Augusta’s twisted family genetics was rearing its ugly head again, and the consequences were alarming.
For days at a time, Augusta’s brother would become manic, talk so much he foamed at the mouth, and turn incomprehensible. Though he recovered, it would only be temporary. And the bad news kept coming.
The Autumn of 1806 was one of the most tragic periods of Augusta’s life. To start, that September her eldest son Karl passed at the age of 40. Then, that October, her 71-year-old husband Charles was out fighting in the Napoleonic Wars when he came under a brutal attack, taking musket fire to his face. His men managed to carry him back to safety, but when they surveyed the damage, they must have known all was lost.
For a long time, Augusta’s marriage to the Duke of Brunswick hadn’t been what anyone would call happy, but even her most bitter self wouldn’t have wished for his gruesome injuries. The musket ball had destroyed both his eyes, and the Duke spent weeks in agony with Augusta by his side, praying for his recovery. The fates were not kind.
In the end, the Duke perished from his severe wounds—but Augusta couldn’t even be there for the final goodbye. As Charles lay dying, Napoleon’s forces were advancing steadily through the territory toward him. They eventually got so close that the British Ambassador convinced Augusta she had to flee, and Charles passed soon after.
Augusta’s brood was falling like flies, and she herself lived just long enough to witness one final family catastrophe.
Following the passing of her husband, Augusta wanted nothing more than return home to Britain at last and spend her remaining years with her brother the king. Instead, she got an insult. Whether because of her old rivalry with his wife Queen Charlotte or for some other reason, George delayed giving his permission for her journey over until a year later, in 1807.
Once there, Augusta had precious little time to enjoy her brother as she knew him.
In 1810, the 73-year-old Augusta got the news that King George III had fallen into what would be his final fit of mental illness. His favorite daughter, Princess Amelia, had just passed, and it sent him into a spiral of melancholy neither Augusta nor Queen Charlotte could pull him out of. He became so inept, the British parliament had to trigger a regency.
It was a sad state of affairs, and there was one more debacle to come.
Augusta managed to squeeze in one more feud into her last days. When she first arrived in England, she started living with her daughter Caroline, who was by now completely on the outs with her royal husband. It was a chance for them to grow close at last…but they failed miserably. Mother and daughter butted heads so much that Augusta quickly moved out to live on her own in the house next door.
You know, just far away enough so Caroline understood her displeasure, but near enough that she could always keep a watchful eye on her. Once a helicopter mom, always a helicopter mom.
In the end, Augusta’s legacy is one of constant family tragedy, and this didn’t change even after her dying breath. In 1813, the 75-year-old princess passed on her home soil. Her brother King George III, still insane, would follow her seven years later in 1820, while her daughter Caroline, still estranged from her husband, passed a year after that.
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