Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Death of Princess Charlotte

It looked like happily ever after for Princess Charlotte: married to her beloved handsome Prince, adored by the public, her future role as Queen of England, and now, a baby on the way! A true fairy-tale. Alas! It was to end in tragedy. 

Charlotte went into labor on the 3rd of November, 1817, and it was a slow and difficult labor. Her husband insisted on remaining by her side through most of it. After 50 hours, Charlotte delivered a 9 lb. son, stillborn. Leopold was advised to get some rest, and took a sleeping medication. While he was asleep and unable to be roused, Charlotte began to hemorrhage and died 5 hours later. Leopold was devastated, both personally, and for all the implications of the deaths of his wife and child.

Two generations gone—gone in a moment! I have felt for myself, but I have also felt for the prince regent. My Charlotte is gone from the country—it has lost her. She was a good, she was an admirable woman. None could know my Charlotte as I did know her. It was my study, my duty, to know her character, but it was also my delight. –Prince Leopold to Sir Thomas Lawrence after the death of his wife.

The deaths of these two meant that the heirs to the throne of Great Britain were gone. Although King George III had fathered 15 children, Charlotte had been the only legitimate direct heir. Now the family must search for the nearest relation in line.  George's third son William took the throne after George IV's death in 1830 and ruled until 1837, when he died without an heir. Again, the family was searched for the next in line. This proved to be the young Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent, daughter of George III's fourth son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn and Princess Victoria Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Prince Leopold was her brother.

The tragedy of Charlotte was compounded by the suicide of her attending doctor, Sir Richard Croft. Overcome by a sense of his own failure in this event, he took his own life three months later. 

Leopold went on to become King Leopold I of Belgium, and apparently did a good job of it, becoming a fair and progressive leader in a difficult period of history.

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