On November 6th 1817, Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent, died aged 21 after giving birth to a stillborn son. The public response, nationwide, to the loss of the heir presumptive to the throne, the only surviving legitimate grandchild of George III, was overwhelming. Charlotte’s popularity and esteem had soared during the tumultuous years of The Regency, in inverse proportion to the decline of that of her father. An increasing number of journals and news sheets were being published in this era, also the great output of satirical cartoonists, all reaching a large and eager market.
An example of public adoration of Charlotte can be seen three years before her death, when she visited Weymouth, where she was welcomed by great crowds and where the centrepiece of an illuminated welcome read: “Hail, Princess Charlotte, Europe’s Hope and Britain’s Glory”. Charlotte, on boarding from her yacht, the huge gunship ‘RN Leviathan’, compared herself with Elizabeth I, “who took great delight in the Navy”.
There had been great rejoicing at Charlotte’s marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg in May 1816 and excitement at the news, early in the following year, of her pregnancy. On the news of her death the mourning of the nation was on a scale never before seen.
The Windsor and Eton Express reported that: “The death of the Princess Charlotte has fallen upon the people like a sudden and universal darkness. It has everywhere produced the same expression of deep regret for the public loss, the same remembrance of her promising virtues… Admiration of her character and grief for her loss have penetrated every portion of…these kingdoms”
On the announcement of Charlotte’s death most people went into mourning, and black “mourning cloth” quickly sold out. Shops, inns, markets and law courts closed, often until after the funeral, and church bells tolled and memorial services were held across the kingdom.
Royal courts in France, Belgium, Holland and Berlin also went into mourning. Although the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars against France had ended only a few years earlier, a French newspaper, the Journal des Debat could report that: “The mourning of one nation becomes that of all… and then, more than ever, they remember that they are brethren… Though in the days of prosperity, power sometimes experiences in England contradictions and resistance, in those of misfortune it only meets with consolation, with homage and devoted loyalty”.
A Dublin newspaper, announcing the “melancholy event” of the death of Charlotte, recorded that: “Every [Irish] countenance expressed astonishment and anguish – every individual felt overwhelmed by… misfortune. Every family seemed as if it had lost one of its dearest members”.
From Edinburgh it was reported that: “There is a loyal people who feel it deeply. Many people who had crowded to the post office burst into tears when the death of the Princess was announced… This expression of public sympathy, unlike the normal mourning for a Princess is genuine and general”.
Jill Hume (Archives volunteer)