Princess Charlotte of Wales was born to inherit one of the most powerful nations in the western world. The daughter of King George IV, she was a Regency-era darling famous for her warm manners, outspoken nature, and utterly scandalous personal life. Yet this bright hope of Britain only met immense tragedy, and her sudden end shocked the world.
1. She Had A Fairy Tale Start
On January 7, 1796, Princess Charlotte came into the world at Carlton House in London. From the beginning, it was no ordinary birth: Her mother, Caroline of Brunswick, was the wife of Prince George, the son of King George III and the heir apparent to the British throne. So yeah, Charlotte was very privileged. But just beyond the palace doors, her family was hiding a dark secret.
2. Her Parents Hated Each Other
Charlotte’s parents may have been the next generation of British royals, but they were not picture perfect. George and Caroline utterly despised each other, and Charlotte was the product of one of the very few times they’d ever even touched—she was born exactly nine months after their contractually-obligated wedding night. Now, some families can do “conscious uncoupling” for the kids. As little Charlotte soon found out, her parents were not those people.
3. Her Father Punished Her
Charlotte’s father Prince George was, er, not going to win “Father of the Year” any time soon. A notorious rake, drinker, and gambler, the prince had other priorities than fatherhood, and he dealt his family a truly cruel betrayal. Just three days after Charlotte was born, George changed his will, leaving almost all his money to his mistress and giving only a shilling to Charlotte’s mother. And he didn’t stop there.
4. She Grew Up Without A Real Mother
Prince George was used to getting what he wanted, and he wanted to burn his marriage to the ground. Shortly after her birth, Charlotte’s father forbade her mother from seeing the baby girl without a nurse or another third party present. Yep, really: For the most formative period of her life, Charlotte was only allowed to see her mother once a day. This got complicated quick.
5. She Was In The Middle Of A Family Feud
As Charlotte grew up, her life got even more dysfunctional. Her mother Caroline didn’t take these snubs lying down, and soon her parents were using their daughter as a pawn in their power games. Poor Charlotte had to grin and bear it when her mother stole her away for public carriage rides, trying to drum up support for herself. It’s probably not surprising, then, that Charlotte started to rebel.
6. She Developed Reckless Habits
With all this royal turmoil, Princess Charlotte started developing some very naughty habits, especially in the eyes of the prim and proper court. She had a “happy recklessness,” and was an unrepentant tomboy who loved horse riding and getting into spats and small brawls with her playmates. Hmm, acting out much Charlotte? Well, she had a load of fuel for that fire coming up.
7. She Was In A Court Scandal
When Charlotte was just 10 years old, a scandal rocked her world. In yet another “mommy and daddy hate each other” move, Prince George started the infamous “Delicate Investigation” against her mother Caroline, unsuccessfully accusing mommie dearest of taking up lovers and even having an illegitimate love child. In the wake of the investigation, George completely forbade Charlotte from seeing her mother at all. This had heartbreaking consequences.
8. Her Mother Snubbed Her
In the middle of this tense period, a young Charlotte happened to see her mother while they were both walking through a park one day. But while the girl tried to run to her mother, Mama Caroline, worried about her estranged husband’s wrath, pretended not to see her. Charlotte—who loved her mother dearly and remained loyal to her throughout her life—was heartbroken. From that point on, her rebellion went into overdrive.
9. She Was Shameless
Right on time, Charlotte hit her peak surliness during her teenage years, and her actions left the court aghast. The bold and brash princess reportedly loved to show off her “ankle-length underdrawers” even when her governess was around, leading several courtiers to complain about the impropriety. But Charlotte was just getting started.
10. She Was Famously Beautiful
If Charlotte was humble-looking, maybe her antics would have attracted less attention—but the exact opposite was true. By 15, she was absolutely gorgeous. Or, as one commenter put it more bluntly, she was a “fine piece of flesh and blood.” On top of that, Charlotte’s tomboy ways had morphed into a supreme confidence in herself with a side of winning frankness. So, of course, her father had to try to screw that up too.
11. She Was A Pauper Princess
Although Charlotte could put on a front in the ballroom, her private life was secretly tragic. Behind the scenes, her controlling father had turned his beady eyes on Charlotte, and was starting to hem her in with increasingly alarming methods. First, George strictly controlled her finances and refused her even enough allowance to keep up with court fashions. Then he kicked it up a notch or eight.
12. Her Father Controlled Her
Soon enough, Prince George was demanding that whenever Charlotte attended the opera, she had to sit in the very back of the royal box and always leave early so she wouldn’t get caught in a prying crowd. When Charlotte wasn’t hiding herself away in plain sight, Prince George insisted that she stay at Windsor castle with her spinster aunts. Just what every beautiful 15-year-old girl wants…so you can bet Charlotte got her revenge.
13. She Publicly Humiliated Her Father
With her father giving new, creepy meaning to “over-protective dad,” Princess Charlotte just found ever more inventive ways of throwing it right back in his face. When Prince George turned against his previous political allies the Whigs, Charlotte bee-lined for the ol’ opera, positioned herself at the front of her box, and blew very pointed kisses at the Whig leader in the audience.
Note to self: Do not mess with teenage girls. Only, if you think that was the end of Charlotte’s plot, you don’t know Charlotte.
14. She Loved Her Cousin
As Charlotte whiled away her hours in her palatial prisons, she launched her worst rebellion yet. She fell in schoolgirl love with a man named George FitzClarence, and the romance had a scandalous backstory. As it happened, FitzClarence wasn’t just Charlotte’s first cousin, he was also an illegitimate child of her uncle’s mistress. In other words, the daddy issues were on full display, and they weren’t slowing down.
15. She Rebounded Hard
Shortly after Charlotte developed her little crush on her bastard cousin, he went off to join a regiment. Did Charlotte cry her eyes out at this? Uh, no. Instead, she just developed an even stronger attachment to an equally scandalous man, this time setting her sights on Charles Hesse, another illegitimate son of another one of her uncles. Let me just say, this girl had a type. And this time, she wasn’t letting him slip away.
16. She Took An Illicit Lover
No one goes boy crazy like a sheltered girl, and Princess Charlotte was living proof. She went to desperate measures to see her lover. Although her father would certainly disapprove, Charlotte had her household set up secret meetings between herself and Charles Hesse. In fact, practically the whole royal family except Prince George knew about and approved of the meetings, including her mother. But all good things come to an end…
17. She Was A Very Eligible Bachelorette
In 1813, Princess Charlotte was almost 18 years old, and fast approaching marrying age. Her clandestine lover Charles Hesse had also been shipped off to war at that point, which meant she was now a truly free commodity on the market. So when her father started to seriously consider her future husband, Charlotte probably felt excited. But that excitement quickly turned to dread.
18. Her Father Used Her
19th-century fathers didn’t exactly have their daughter’s emotional interests at heart in the marriage market, but Prince George was worse than all the rest. See, at the time, George was acting as Regent and de-facto ruler of England. Translation: He had all the power; he wanted to make Charlotte an advantageous political match; and he was going to pay negative attention to her inner desires. Heads up, George—big mistake.
19. Her Father Set Her Up On A Blind Date
Prince George’s main pick for a suitor was William, the Hereditary Prince of Orange, whose powerful connections in the Netherlands would be invaluable to the crown. Well, sound business decisions don’t usually make sparks fly, and Charlotte and William were no exception. She met William for the first time at her father’s birthday party in the summer of 1813…and honestly, it couldn’t have gone worse.
20. Her Suitor Made A Horrific Impression
There are bad first impressions, and then there was Charlotte’s introduction to Prince William. Although the party was half-intended as a backdoor meet-cute for the couple, William mega goofed it up, becoming so intoxicated along with the rest of the men at the bash that even the fun-loving Charlotte went, “Ew, gross.” Yeah, not off to a good start.
21. She Defied Her Father
Charlotte wasn’t ever shy about her feelings, and she didn’t hide her disdain for the Dutchman, either. When her father tried to take her temperature on the match, she insisted that she didn’t want to marry a foreign man. Fearing her father’s insistence, she stalled for time, writing that “I could not quit this country” and threatening that if she did marry William, she would never accompany him back home.
Our Princess Charlotte was one tough nut to crack. Unfortunately for her, her dear old dad was freaking adamantium.
22. She Got A Second Impression Of Her Suitor
Like most meddling parents, Prince George just couldn’t quit. On December 12, 1813, he arranged for another meeting between Charlotte and the Prince of Orange at a dinner party, hoping the second time would be the charm. As soon as the soirée wrapped up, George then asked Charlotte if she’d reconsidered her position. This? Was a trap.
23. Her Father Forced Her Into An Engagement
When her father asked her thoughts this time around, Charlotte gave a bland, non-committal response, saying it wasn’t so bad. These vague words had intense consequences. George, obviously not a good listener, took them to mean, “Full speed ahead, dad!” Delighted at Charlotte’s “acceptance,” he called in the Prince of Orange right then and there and told him the good news. I’m placing my bets now—this is going to be a disaster.
24. She Signed A Doomed Marriage Contract
Although she was now trapped in a completely ill-advised engagement, Charlotte went one step further and actually signed a preliminary marriage contract to the Prince of Orange, making it that much more of a reality. For what it’s worth, almost no one in England was excited about this prospect—Prince George excepted, of course. Which is maybe why Charlotte went a bit bonkers.
25. She Had Secret Crushes
Even as the ink was still drying on her contract to the Prince of Orange, Princess Charlotte was hiding a double life. In the intervening months, the flirtatious girl had developed a massive crush on a Prussian prince, either a Prince Augustus or a Prince Frederick. She also happily invited gentlemen up to her room for private discussions—indeed, a one Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld had nearly spent an hour in her apartment after they hit it off at a party.
Then, like clockwork, her future marriage crashed and burned.
26. She Gave A Stunning Ultimatum
With her wedding day fast approaching, Charlotte made a fateful demand to the Prince of Orange. In addition to staying in England, she also insisted that her future husband let her mother Caroline be welcome in their home. Simple enough, right? Wrong. Since Charlotte’s father still absolutely detested her mother, there was no way the throne would allow it, and her suitor was forced to deny her wishes. The hammer came down after that.
27. She Broke Off Her Engagement
No one had ever called Princess Charlotte indecisive. So when the Prince of Orange declined one of her only requests as his future wife, she had no problem kicking him right to the curb and breaking off the marriage contract and the royal engagement. Um, not that she had ever really wanted it anyway. But after this came the storm.
28. Her Father Tried To Imprison Her
When Prince George heard about his daughter’s defiance, his reply was so disturbing, it’s impossible to forget. He all but put her under house arrest, demanding that she keep only to her residence until he could convey her to Windsor Castle and put her under an even more impenetrable lock and key. Except, well, Princess Charlotte made sure this blew up right in daddy’s face.
29. She Was A Runaway Princess
Centuries come and go, but rebellious teenage daughters are eternal. The minute that Charlotte’s advisors told her of her father’s commands, she gave these rules a giant, figurative middle finger and literally ran out into the street to escape her fate. With the help of a bystander, the princess then stuffed herself into a hackney cab and went straight into the arms of her mother Caroline of Brunswick.
Now, if any of us did this as kids, we’d probably be grounded for a week. But when Princess Charlotte did it, she nearly started an international incident.
30. There Was A Warrant For Her Arrest
The scene at Caroline of Brunswick’s house after Princess Charlotte’s escape was like something out of a spy movie. Family members and politicians descended on the young princess, some of them to give her advice on how to proceed, others to help lay down Prince George’s law. One uncle even brought a warrant for her forceful detainment in his pocket. Either way, the jig was up.
31. She Was A Captive Princess
With no real options open to her, Princess Charlotte eventually had to do what her powerful father wished, and she submitted to virtual house arrest. Even so, the damage was more than she could fathom. Not only was the entire country gossiping about the “Runaway Princess,” her father Prince George now went from callously cruel to her…to terrifyingly vindictive.
32. Her Father Isolated Her
Although most of the nation was on Charlotte’s side when it came to her jaunty, defiant adventure, her father only put his foot down harder. He had attendants watch her at every moment of the day, and when one of Charlotte’s uncles tried to plead her case and allow her to move more freely, George cut the man out of their lives entirely. Enter: Princess Charlotte’s cabin fever.
33. She Had Her Eyes On A Suitor
With one marriage pact in smithereens, the bored Charlotte now started absolutely obsessing over her months-long crush, the mysterious Prussian prince. She mentioned him in her letters constantly, and dreamed about marrying him and blasting the stuffy Prince of Orange into ancient history. However, this being Regency England, she knew that the Prussian would have to state his intentions to her father to get the ball rolling, and he hadn’t yet come forward. Tragically, he never would.
34. Her Lover Betrayed Her
Near the Christmas of 1814, Princess Charlotte received mortifying news. She got word that her beloved Prussian prince had taken up with another lover, and all her hopes of marrying him evaporated into thin air. In her own words, the news gave her “a very sudden and great shock,” which is not a Christmas present I’d relish. But hey, this is Charlotte we’re talking about. When it came to boys, this girl had a Plan B.
35. She Had A Second-String Lover
Throughout her entire doomed courtship with the Prussian prince, Charlotte had been keeping a man in her back pocket: The unassuming, sensible Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, AKA the man who had spent those precious, flirty 45 minutes in her private apartments during her engagement to the loathsome Prince of Orange.
Evidently, Leopold had made an impression that fine day, because Charlotte had once written to a friend that if the Prussian royal didn’t end up coming through for Team True Love, she would “take the next best thing, which was a good tempered man with good sence [sic]…that man is the P of S-C”—or the Prince of Saxe-Coburg. Um, thanks Char?
36. She Refused To Budge
Second choice or not, Charlotte was determined to have Prince Leopold for herself by early 1815. Then she hit a frustrating snag. Guess what? Her father still sucked, and he was still somehow holding out hope that Charlotte would marry the Prince of Orange. I know I know, he’s so last year. Prince George got so annoying about the whole thing, Charlotte had to write that “No arguments, no threats, shall ever bend me to marry this detested Dutchman.”
But that didn’t mean her road to Leopold was scandal-free.
37. She Had A Star-Crossed Love
While Charlotte finally convinced her father to give the Prince of Orange up, the patriarch still wasn’t sold on Leopold. For one, Leopold was dirt poor, and for another, the young prince was currently busy fighting Napoleon on the continent. In order to sway daddy dearest, Charlotte pulled the ultimate “Circle Y/N” high schooler move and passed notes to third-party connections to gauge her suitor’s interest.
When she confirmed that Leopold did reciprocate her feelings, she was sure Prince George would happily accept her choice. Uh, wrong. Instead, he gave her a brutal rejection.
38. She Begged For Her Love
After Prince George nixed his daughter’s first romantic pleas, the princess went to desperate measures. In January 1816, after nearly a year of finagling for Leopold, she travelled all the way to Brighton to where her father was staying, prostrated herself at his feet, and begged him to allow her to marry her lover. As she promised, “No one will be more steady or consistent in this their present & last engagement than myself.”
With this assurance that Charlotte had no more broken marriage contracts in her future, Prince George finally crumbled—and made Leopold an offer he literally couldn’t refuse.
39. Her Father Tested Her Suitor
Before consenting to the match, Prince George had one last hoop for the young couple to jump through, and invited Leopold to Brighton to “interview” him. Luckily, the Prince of Saxe-Coburg passed with flying colors, leading even the intractable George to say that he “had every qualification to make a woman happy.” Gee, think you could have come to that conclusion LIKE 12 MONTHS SOONER, George? Not that Charlotte cared…
40. She Had A Fairy Tale Wedding
Blissfully in love and triumphant at long last, Charlotte married her prized prince on May 2, 1816 in the Crimson Drawing Room of Carlton House. While Leopold looked sharp in the uniform of a British General, Charlotte wore a lavish wedding gown worth thousands of British pounds. Yet even on this happy day, the princess still managed to cause a scandal.
41. She Caused A Stir On Her Big Day
When Charlotte got married, the public breathed a sigh of relief that the rambunctious princess’s romantic entanglements were coming to an end at last. Still, once a coquette, always a coquette: During the ceremony, Charlotte caused a stir when she giggled right after the strapped-for-cash Leopold swore to give her all his worldly goods.
For many, the fairy tale of Charlotte’s life had now come to fruition, and she had a long future ahead of her as an English monarch. Sadly, they were so, so wrong.
42. She Snagged A “Perfect Lover”
To be fair, everything started out brilliantly for the couple. They honeymooned at Charlotte’s uncle’s estate at Oatlands Palace and, although the house was reportedly full of dogs and doggy odors, it doesn’t sound like the young royals even really noticed. Saucily enough, Charlotte later reported that Leopold was “the perfection of a lover.” And that wasn’t all.
43. She Gave Her Husband A Pet Name
Many close to the princess saw how Charlotte transformed under Leopold’s love and guidance, going from a rebellious, erratic girl to a warm, kind woman—albeit a vivacious one. Whenever she got over-excited, Leopold would only have to say to her, “Doucement, cherie” or “Gently, my love,” and she would still under his gaze. Charlotte even took to cheekily calling her husband “Doucement.” Yet their paradise was about to be lost.
44. She Became Very Ill
After their honeymoon period, Charlotte and Leopold returned to London for the apex of the social season, attending balls and operas side-by-side. Only, disaster was in the wings. One day while sitting at the opera, Charlotte began to feel violently ill, and everyone threw themselves into a tizzy worrying about their favorite princess. Few guessed the scope of the tragedy.
45. She Lost A Child
After the dust settled, the palace revealed that that night at the opera, Princess Charlotte had suffered an early-term miscarriage. Charlotte was still barely a woman, and had already experienced one of the worst nightmares a mother can have. Healing and mourning, the Coburgs retreated to their estate, not even making it out into public for Charlotte’s 21st birthday. Still, the worst was yet to come.
46. She Got Pregnant Again
In April 1817, Charlotte had done her duty once more and was pregnant again, and this time the whole nation was sure only happy news was on the way. Leopold wrote to his father-in-law, assuring him that Charlotte was likely to carry this child to term, while betting shops quickly started gambling on the sex of the heir. Is it too late to turn back now?
47. Her Doctors Gave Her Dangerous Advice
As Charlotte’s belly grew bigger, strange concerns started to arise. The Regency period still hadn’t got a handle on childbirth, and many medical professionals were at complete odds with Charlotte’s body. While she ate plentifully and stayed mostly sedentary, her medical team insisted she go on a strict diet because they were worried the child would be too big.
For what it’s worth, even other doctors of the time thought this regime was ridiculous—especially after Charlotte grew weak and started experiencing spotting. One of Leopold’s trusted medical advisors, the Baron Stockmar, was so appalled at these tactics that he refused to join the royal medical team for fear that something would go wrong. He didn’t have to wait long to be proven right.
48. She Trusted The Wrong Man
Princess Charlotte’s chief medical point-person was a man named Sir Richard Croft. And if you’re wondering why I don’t call him a doctor, that’s because he wasn’t one, though he did have experience with childbirth. Croft believed that Charlotte would go into labor on October 19, and everyone in the palace fixed their eyes on the date. Except you know what they say about the best laid plans…
49. She Went Into Surprise Labor
October 19th came and went, and then the month itself. On November 3rd, Charlotte started having contractions, throwing the long-tense household into a subtle panic. In yet another sterling of guidance, Croft and his team forced her to exercise during the beginning stages of her labor, all while denying her any food. Certain this would work, the estate then sent for official witnesses to the birth, which was surely imminent. It wasn’t.
50. She Had An Extremely Difficult Birth
In the end, Princess Charlotte was suspended in a state of labor for two gruesome days, all without any child appearing. As the hours wore on, the attendants grew more desperate, and Charlotte more feverish. Even Croft was sweating it, and called in the obstetrician John Sims to advise on the situation…though he didn’t let Sims even see the princess. Okay then.
51. She Had A Stillborn Boy
On the evening of November 5, the labor came to its tragic conclusion. At 9 pm, Princess Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn child. To add insult to injury, it was a coveted boy, who reportedly looked just like the other members of the royal family. Although the blow must have been devastating, Charlotte only serenely replied that it was the will of God that she lost her son. She had so much more to lose.
52. Her Health Plummeted
Immediately following the harrowing birth, Charlotte seemed to be in remarkably good health, especially when Croft finally let her eat something. This did not last long. Just after midnight that night, the princess woke up, vomiting and with horrific pains in her abdomen. When Croft examined her, she was clammy and bleeding. It looked grim, and it took an even darker turn.
53. Her Husband Slept Through The Tragedy
As soon as Croft realized the severity of the situation, he got the Baron Stockmar to rouse Prince Leopold. However, in an agonizing twist of fate, Leopold had taken an opiate to help fall asleep after staying with Charlotte through the difficult birth, and Stockmar couldn’t wake him. When the end came, Charlotte had to go into the dark without her beloved husband beside her.
54. Her Last Words Were Heartbreaking
After failing to stir Prince Leopold, Stockmar went back into Charlotte’s room just in time to hear her last words on Earth. She grabbed his hand and told him, half nonsensically, “They have made me tipsy.” Then, as he left to try to wake Leopold again, she cried out violently, “Stocky! Stocky!” only to pass before he could rush back to her side.
England’s great hope was dead at the age of 21, and the ramifications reverberated.
55. Her Husband Never Recovered
The person most affected by Charlotte’s death was the one who loved her most—her husband Prince Leopold. When he finally did wake up, it was to an utter nightmare that he never quite found his way out of. As Stockmar later put it, it was “the destruction at one blow of every hope and happiness of Prince Leopold.” Much later, he took up with an actress who was said to be Charlotte’s double, didn’t remarry until much later, and named his first daughter “Charlotte” after her. But Leopold wasn’t the only one broken.
56. Her Parents Were Devastated
When Prince George heard of his daughter’s passing, he was so grief-stricken that couldn’t even attend her funeral. Yet her mother’s fate was somehow worse. Caroline was abroad at the time, and with George detesting her and Leopold sunk in mourning, Charlotte’s mother never even got an official word about the tragedy; she had to hear it from a passing courier. Even then, there was one more devastation still to come.
57. Her Doctor Gave Himself A Cruel Punishment
In the wake of this royal decimation, the public started trying to blame someone—anyone—for the senseless events. Well, their gaze landed squarely on Sir Richard Croft. Evidently, Croft blamed himself too: Just three months after Charlotte’s passing, and while he was in the midst of attending another birth, Croft shot himself with deadly aim. This event was the dark crowning of a “triple obstetric tragedy” in the ends of the child, the mother, and the attending medical practitioner.
58. Her Ex Burst Into Tears At The News
Honestly, Charlotte’s fate upset everyone. Even her “detested Dutchman,” the Prince of Orange, reportedly burst into tears when he heard the sad news. He then went one step further and convinced his wife to get her ladies-in-waiting to observe a period of mourning for his almost-wife. Seriously, this girl had some strange magic about her.
59. The Nation Mourned Her
When the public heard of Charlotte’s passing, Henry Brougham wrote that, “It really was as though every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child.” Everyone, even the poorest people in the nation, wore black arm bands in mourning for Charlotte—so many, in fact, that ribbon-makers had to beg the government to shorten the mourning period for fear they would go bankrupt.
60. She Made History
Charlotte was laid to rest on November 19, 1817, with her stillborn son by her feet. Though a personal tragedy, her death also changed the fate of the English crown. With the passing of the heir of England, the throne had to scramble to produce more children. Eventually, Charlotte’s uncle had a child he named Alexandrine Victoria—the future Queen Victoria—and she took up the mantle that Charlotte had lost.