Queen Charlotte Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 1744 – 1818 Essay

Queen Charlotte Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 1744 – 1818

Charlotte Mecklenburg-Strelitz, (19 May 1744 – 17 November 1818) was the Queen consort of the United Kingdom, wife of King George III. She was the eighth child of the Prince of Mirow, Charles Louis Frederick, and his wife, Elisabeth Albertina of Saxe-Hildburghausen. In contrast to most women in her time who marry the supreme sovereign, the King of England, her lineage were mostly composed of dukes and princes. Only 2 of her great great great great grandfathers were Kings.  Furthermore, in comparison to other queens who stood out for their beauty, she was described as rather plain looking, as mentioned by Charles Dickens in the first chapter of the Tale of Two Cities [1]. Historians have described her as having a wide nose and mouth. There were even claims of her African ancestry due to her dark “mulatto” complexion as depicted by artists in some of her portraits. [2]

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She met King George III on her wedding day, as the union was agreed upon by Charlotte’s brother and the King George’s advisers. Long courtships at that time were not a common practice as most marriages between noble families were arranged. At first sight, the 22 year old King was taken aback by his 17 year old bride’s appearance, as she is not stunningly beautiful as expected, but it is evident from their 21-year union that she eventually won his heart. They had 15 children together, 2 of which died in childhood, moreover there has been no claims of unfaithfulness on the part of the King. He was described as a loving father and took personal care of his children and their education. This is evidenced by a tornado incident wherein the King immediately rushed to his children’s side to ensure their safety. [3] She, on the other hand, was an obedient wife, performing her duties and staying out of politics as agreed prior to their marriage. Theirs was a loving and harmonious married life, a stark contrast to that of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, then rulers of France.

The Queen is noted for her interest in the Arts and Botany. She was one of those who helped establish the Kew Gardens, which is comprised of extensive gardens and botanical glasshouses in Southwest, London England. [4] Her love of music and talent in singing led to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who was then a young 8 year old boy, dedicating his Opus 3 to her. [5] She is known for her charities, a witness to her goodwill is the Queen Charlotte Hospital, one of the longest maternity hospitals in existence. [6]

The second longest serving consort in British History, for 57 years from her time of marriage till death, also had her share of sadness and misgivings. She has experienced losses as friends passed away before her. One of which is Mrs. Delany, who was introduced to the royal family by a mutual friend, the Duchess of Portland. She shared the same interest in plants as the Queen, and at age 74 had invented a way of cutting out paper flowers that looked very realistic. When the Duchess of Portland died, the Queen felt that this would adversely affect Mrs. Delany, so they invited her to stay with them in the Castle. From then on she became a close confidant of the Queen until her death in 1788. Since then, no one has ever filled her place as the Queen’s close friend even during the time of the King’s illness. [7] Another loss was her good friend, the former Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. Although they never met each other, the two royal highnesses wrote each other for a long time, often about their interest in fine arts. Queen Antoinette confided to Queen Charlotte her experiences in the French Revolution. The latter had even arranged apartments for the royal family to take refuge in during the turbulent times in France. She was then devastated upon finding out that Marie Antoinette has been tried for treason, subsequently sentenced to die via guillotine. [8]

But perhaps one of the most devastating if not the saddest moments of her life was during the King’s Illness, an illness which is now believed to be porphyria. This disease is characterized by hallucinations, dementia and paranoia, which explained the King’s erratic behavior at that time. The experience took its toll on the queen. One of her ladies in waiting and also a great author who was once described by Jane Austen as “our first woman novelist”, Fanny Burney gave a recount of that period through her diaries. Quoting from one of her entries she described the Queen: She looked like death–colourless and wan; but nature is infectious; the tears gushed from her own eyes, and a perfect agony of weeping ensued, which, once begun, she could not stop; she did not, indeed, try; for when it subsided, and she wiped her eyes, she said, “I thank you, Miss Burney–you have made me cry–it is a great relief to me–I had not been able to cry before, all this night long.” [9]Through time the King became completely blind, increasingly deaf and insane.

Queen Charlotte died on November 17, 1818 by her side was her eldest son Prince Regent. At that time, Her partner for 21 years King George was completely out of touch with reality and wasn’t aware of her Death, he died 14 months after her. Truly, their reign in Britain is one of those that will always be remembered as they moved on to expand the empire through colonization.

[1] Dickens, Charles A Tale of Two Cities p.1 Chapter 1: The Period
[2] Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Wife of George III, from a painting by Allan Ramsay in the National Portrait Gallery. In: Greenwood, Alice Drayton. Lives of the Hanoverian Queens of England. London, 1911, Frontispiece to v.2.
[3] Court and Private Life in the Time of Queen Charlotte: being the Journals of Mrs Papendiek, Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe and reader to Her Majesty. Edited by Mrs Vernon Delves Broughton. London, 1887. (2 vols.), v.1, p. 103.
[4] World Heritage, UNESCO website, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, 2003
[5] Levey, Michael (1977). A Royal Subject: Portraits of Queen Charlotte. London: National Gallery. P.5
[6] Introduction Queen Charlotte, 1744-1818: An Exhibit. From url: http://people.virginia.edu/~jlc5f/charlotte/charlotte.html, retrieved June 22, 2009
[7] Quotes from Caroline Gearey, Royal Friendships; The Story of Two Royal Friendships as derived from histories, diaries, biographies, letters etc. London, 1898. pp. 268, 275-276, 284-286.

[8] Fraser, Antonia: Marie Antoinette: The Journey, 2001?; page 287
[9] Excerpt from The Diary of Fanny Burney, selected and edited by Christopher Lloyd. London, 1948, p. 156-57, 159, 163-169. Main source url: http://people.virginia.edu/~jlc5f/charlotte/charlotte.html