On This Day: Death of Charlotte of Wales, Heir To The British Throne
Today marks the 200th anniversary of a death that changed the course of the British Royal Family: on this day, in 1817, Princess Charlotte of Wales – second in line to the throne – died after protracted childbirth that resulted in a stillborn son.
The 21-year-old Princess was the only child of the Prince Regent, later George IV, and his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick; and, at the time of her death, the only legitimate grandchild that King George III had – the only heir of her generation – despite his numerous children.
Princess Charlotte was held in high esteem by the British public, who rejoiced at her May 1816 marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and waited fervently for news of a royal baby. One year after their marriage, Charlotte was pregnant for a second time (she had suffered a miscarriage in mid-1816) and safely made it to term, in October 1817, under the care of Sir Richard Croft, a physician to the King (though some of his choices – putting the Princess on a strict diet and routine bleeding – were thought to be outdated by Christian Stockmar, Prince Leopold’s personal physician).
But October came and went, and the Princess had yet to deliver her infant. She finally went into labour on November 3 at Claremont House, her home with Leopold. Her labour went on for two days, during which Charlotte became weaker and weaker from both the effects of labour and her doctor not allowing her to eat, and the medical team became concerned she would not be able to naturally deliver the child. An obstetrician was called in, but was not allowed to actually see the labouring Princess.
A stillborn son, weighing close to nine pounds, was eventually born on evening of November 5. Princess Charlotte was declared to be well, though she was positively exhausted, and left to eat and then sleep. A short time later, just after midnight on November 6, Sir Richard was hastily called back to Charlotte’s bedchamber – the Princess was vomiting, bleeding and complaining of stomach pains. Sir Richard’s attempts to help Charlotte were in vain – she died not long after (Sir Richard, unable to take the guilt any longer, committed suicide in February 1818 – marking the events as a ‘triple obstetric tragedy’).
Princess Charlotte’s death devastated her family and the British people. It also created an immediate problem for the Hanovers – they had no heir in the second generation. The unmarried sons of George III, all in their forties, hastened to find brides and produce a royal heir. Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent and Strathearn, was the one who ‘succeeded’ – his daughter, Victoria, became Queen in 1837.Historical Royals, The United Kingdom
Tagged Anniversary, Charlotte of Wales, Death.