Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (19 May 1744 – 17 November 1818) was the Queen consort of the United Kingdom as the wife of King George III. She was also the electress consort of Hanover in the Holy Roman Empire until the promotion of her husband to King of Hanover on 12 October 1814, which made her Queen consort of Hanover.
Queen Charlotte was a patroness of the arts, known to Johann Christian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, among others. She was also an amateur botanist who helped expand Kew Gardens. George III and Charlotte had 15 children, 13 of whom survived to adulthood.
Early life[edit | edit source]
Sophia Charlotte was born on 19 May 1744. She was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Prince of Mirow and his wife, Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Mecklenburg-Strelitz was a small north German duchy in the Holy Roman Empire.
She was a granddaughter of Adolphus Frederick II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, by his third wife, Christiane Emilie Antonie, Princess of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen. Her father's elder half brother reigned from 1708 to 1753 as Adolf Friedrich III.
Education[edit | edit source]
The children of Duke Charles were all born at Schloss Mirow, a modest palace, or rather country house. The daily life at Mirow was nearly identical to that of the family of a simple English country gentleman. The morning was devoted to study and instruction in needlework, embroidery, and lace-making, in which the daughters were very skillful. They were brought up in the most careful way, receiving an admirable education, and were grounded in religious principles under the direction of their mother. They were further directed by M. Gentzner, a Lutheran minister of many accomplishments, who had a particular knowledge of botany, mineralogy, and science.
Personal life[edit | edit source]
Marriage[edit | edit source]
When King George III succeeded to the throne of Great Britain upon the death of his grandfather, George II, it was considered high time for him to seek a bride who could fulfill all the duties of her exalted position in a manner that would satisfy the feelings of the country at large. George was originally smitten with Lady Sarah Lennox, sister of the Duke of Richmond, but his mother Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, the Dowager Princess of Wales, and his political advisor Lord Bute advised against the match, and George abandoned the idea.
Colonel Graeme, who had been sent to the various courts of Germany on a mission of investigation, reported the charms of character and the excellent qualities of mind possessed by the seventeen-year-old Princess Charlotte. While she certainly was not a beauty, her countenance was very expressive and showed extreme intelligence; she was not tall, but had a slight, rather pretty figure; her bright eyes sparkled with good humour and vivacity; her mouth was large, but filled with white and even teeth; and her hair was a beautiful light brown colour.
The King announced to his Council in July 1761, according to the usual form, his intention to wed the Princess, and Lord Hardwicke was despatched to Mecklenburg to solicit her hand in the King's name. Charlotte's brother Adolphus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and widowed mother, who actively sought a prominent marriage for the young princess, received him with every honour that the little court was capable of showing him, and he returned within a month of his departure after completing all the necessary preliminaries, well pleased with his mission.
By the end of August 1761, a party of escorts departed for Germany to conduct Princess Charlotte to England: the Duchess of Ancaster, the Duchess of Hamilton, both Ladies of the Bedchamber; Mrs. Tracey, Bedchamber Woman; Earl Harcourt, Proxy for the King; and General Graeme. A bad thunderstorm overtook them on the way, and lightning set fire to several trees along a road through which they had to pass.
They arrived nevertheless in safety at Cuxhaven and embarked on a squadron of British yachts and warships under Admiral Anson (including the specially renamed HMY Royal Charlotte). They were nine days at sea due to a storm, the voyage being usually accomplished in about three days. Instead of going on to land at Greenwich, where everything was prepared for the reception of the Princess, Admiral Anson thought it better to make for the nearest port and docked at Harwich, where they remained at anchor for the night. This was on Sunday, the 6th of September. Landing the next morning, they travelled to Essex, where they rested, and then continued their journey towards London. Arriving at St. James's Palace on 7 September, the Princess met the King and the royal family. The following day at nine o'clock, the wedding ceremony took place in the Chapel Royal and was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Secker.
Relations with Marie Antoinette[edit | edit source]
The French Revolution of 1789 probably added to the strain that Charlotte felt. Queen Charlotte and Queen Marie Antoinette of France kept a close relationship. Charlotte was eleven years older than Marie Antoinette, yet they shared many interests, such as their love of music and the arts in which they both enthusiastically took an interest. Never meeting face to face, they kept their friendship to pen and paper. Marie Antoinette confided in Charlotte upon the outbreak of the French Revolution. Charlotte had even organized apartments to be prepared and ready for the refugee royal family of France to stay in. After the execution of Marie Antoinette and the bloody events that followed, Charlotte was said to be shocked and overwhelmed that such a thing could happen to a kingdom, and right on Britain's doorstep.
Interests and patronage[edit | edit source]
George III and Queen Charlotte were music connoisseurs and passionate admirers of George Frideric Handel; both had German taste, and gave special honour to German artists and composers.
In 1764 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then aged eight, arrived in Britain with his family as part of their grand tour of Europe and remained from April 1764 until July 1765. The Mozarts were summoned to court on 19 May and played before a limited circle from six to ten o'clock. Johann Christian Bach, eleventh son of the great Johann Sebastian Bach, was then music-master to the Queen, and put difficult works of Handel, Bach, and Abel before the boy. He played them all at sight, and those present were quite amazed. Afterwards he accompanied the Queen in an aria which she sang, and played a solo work on the flute. On 29 October, they were in town again, and were invited to court to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the King's accession. As a memento of the royal favour, his father Leopold Mozart published six sonatas composed by Wolfgang, known as Mozart's Opus 3, and were dedicated to the Queen on 18 January 1765, a dedication she rewarded with a present of fifty guineas.
Queen Charlotte was an amateur botanist who took a great interest in Kew Gardens, and, in an age of discovery, when travellers and explorers such as Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks were constantly bringing home new species and varieties of plants, saw that the collections were greatly enriched and expanded. Her interest in botany led to the magnificent South African flower, the Bird of Paradise, being named Strelitzia reginae in her honour.
Among the royal couple's favored craftsmen and artists were the cabinetmaker William Vile, silversmith Thomas Heming, the landscape designer Capability Brown, and the German painter Johann Zoffany, who frequently painted the king and queen and their children in charmingly informal scenes, such as a portrait of Queen Charlotte and her children as she sat at her dressing table.
The queen also founded orphanages and a hospital for expectant mothers. The education of women was of great importance to her, and she saw to it that her daughters were better educated than was usual for young women of the day. However, she insisted that her daughters live restricted lives close to their mother, and refused to allow them to marry until they were well-advanced in years, with the result that none of her daughters had legitimate issue (one, Princess Sophia, may have had an illegitimate son).
In 2004, the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace staged an exhibition illustrating George and Charlotte's enthusiastic arts patronage, which was particularly enlightened in contrast to that of earlier Hanoverian monarchs; it compared favorably to the adventuresome tastes of the king's father, Frederick, Prince of Wales.
Up until 1788, portraits of Charlotte often depict her in maternal poses with her children, and she looks young and contented. However, in that year her husband fell seriously ill and became temporarily insane. It is now thought that the King was suffering from a genetic metabolic disorder, porphyria, but at the time the cause of the King's illness was unknown. Sir Thomas Lawrence's portrait of her at this time marks a transition point after which she looks much older in her portraits. Indeed, the Assistant Keeper of Charlotte's Wardrobe, Mrs. Papendiek, wrote that the Queen was "much changed, her hair quite grey".
Life as Queen[edit | edit source]
Unfortunately, there can be little doubt that the early married life of the young Queen was scarcely a happy one. The King was burdened with ministerial troubles, and his mother, secure in the support of his favorite Lord Bute, was able to exert all the influence and authority which age and knowledge of the world and the position of a parent could give her over a young and inexperienced couple. The young queen was unable to resist, and a sort of palace despotism developed where her mother-in-law controlled all her actions. The King himself, strongly under his mother's influence, was not inclined to interfere and assumed that all was done rightly. Already she was not allowed to be too intimate with the English ladies of her household. It was laid down as being formal etiquette of the court that they should not approach her save under the direction of her German attendants. Card-playing, which she loved, was presently interdicted.
Naturally, too, there were the German and the English factions of dependents, each jealously contending for their royal mistress's favour, dictating the terms and conditions of their service, and threatening to go back to Germany unless particular privileges were given them. The poor queen had about as much anxiety and trouble with her dependents as her husband had with his insubordinate ministers or servants.
Despite this the marriage was a success, and on 12 August 1762, the Queen gave birth to her first child, the Prince of Wales, who would later become King George IV. On 13 September, the Queen attended the Chapel Royal to offer the usual thanksgiving that took place after childbirth. The ceremony of christening the Prince of Wales, which took place at St. James's Palace, was attended with every circumstance of splendour. The cradle upon which the infant lay was covered with a magnificent drapery of Brussels lace. In the course of their marriage, they had 15 children, all but two of whom (Octavius and Alfred) survived into adulthood.
Around this time the King and Queen moved to Buckingham House, at the western end of St. James's Park, which would later be known as Buckingham Palace. The house which forms the architectural core of the present palace was built for the first Duke of Buckingham and Normanby in 1703 to the design of William Winde. Buckingham House was eventually sold by Buckingham's descendant, Sir Charles Sheffield, in 1761 to George III for £21,000 (£3,000,000 as of 2011).
The house was originally intended as a private retreat, in particular for Charlotte, and was known as The Queen's House — 14 of their 15 children were born there. St. James's Palace remained the official and ceremonial royal residence.
Husband's illness[edit | edit source]
After the onset of his madness, George III was placed in the care of his wife, who could not bring herself to visit him very often, due to his erratic behavior and occasional violent reactions. It is believed she did not visit him again after June 1812. However, Charlotte remained supportive of her husband as his illness, now believed to be porphyria, worsened in old age. While her son, the Prince Regent, wielded the royal power, she was her husband's legal guardian from 1811 until her death in 1818.
Death[edit | edit source]
The queen died in the presence of her eldest son, the Prince Regent, who was holding her hand as she sat in an armchair at the family's country retreat, Dutch House in Surrey (now known as Kew Palace). She was buried at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Her husband died just over a year later. She is the second longest-serving consort in British history (after the present Duke of Edinburgh), having served as such from her marriage (on 8 September 1761) to her death (17 November 1818), a total of 57 years and 70 days.
Her eldest son, the Prince Regent, claimed Charlotte's jewels at her death, but the rest of her property was sold at auction from May to August 1819. Her clothes, furniture, and even her snuff were sold by Christie's. It is highly unlikely that her husband ever knew of her death, and he died blind, deaf, lame and insane fourteen months later.
Legacy[edit | edit source]
The Queen Charlotte Islands are named after her. The cities of Charlottesville, Virginia, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and Charlotte, North Carolina, are also named in her honor; the latter is in Mecklenburg County, also named after her, as is Fort Charlotte near Kingstown, capital of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The proposed North American colonies of Vandalia (because of her supposed Vandal ancestry; see above) and Charlotina were also named for her.
Queen Charlotte was played by actress Frances White in the 1979 BBC series Prince Regent and later by Helen Mirren in the film The Madness of King George (1994).
Titles, style and honors[edit | edit source]
Titles and styles[edit | edit source]
- 19 May 1744 – 8 September 1761: Her Serene Highness Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg or Her Serene Highness Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg, Princess of Wenden, Schwerin and Ratzeburg, Countess of Schwerin, Lady of the Lands of Rostock and Stargard
- 8 September 1761 – 17 November 1818: Her Majesty The Queen