The Daughters of George III: Sisters & Princesses
Pen & Sword History (2020)
Illustrations: 32 black and white
This comprehensive biography of six royal sisters is the latest entry in the author’s list of titles focused on the Georgian royal family and, once again, the result is a study that is anything but dry, as Curzon’s humour, obvious affection for and in-depth knowledge of the subject matter are obvious from the start. The six daughters of King George III and Queen Charlotte were born in two sets of three girls, with seventeen years separating the oldest, Charlotte, Princess Royal and the youngest, Princess Amelia. Nevertheless, the childhood routine for all the sisters remained the same, consisting of wet nurses, governesses, various tutors and the vigilant eye of Queen Charlotte, a helicopter mom if ever there was one.
Raised apart from their brothers, the princess’s saw their mother as a disciplinarian during their childhoods and as a needy parent who demanded their undivided attention in later life, as the strain of the years of her husband’s illness took their toll upon the Queen. As to the King, each of the sisters had a different relationship with their father, dictated by the ever-changing state of his mental health. In the end, worry over the American War of Independence and the French Revolution ground the King down, while the various mistresses and misalliances of the Dukes of Gloucester and Cumberland led him to institute the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. The repercussions of the Act, which dictated that no royal could marry without the King’s permission before the age of twenty-five, combined with their father’s descent into madness and their mother’s need to control every area of their existence, served to impact the lives and marriage prospects of each of the royal sisters.
So circumscribed were their daily lives that Princess Sophia referred to Windsor Castle as the nunnery. In 1811, their brother, the Prince Regent, attempted to loosen the apron strings by granting each of the princesses an allowance and inviting them to attend royal events such as drawing rooms, receptions, and balls, which only served to anger their mother, who was always quick to remind each sister, in writing, that their behaviour should be above reproach and a model for young ladies throughout the land. For good measure, Queen Charlotte often used King George’s fragile mental state as a trump card, warning the girls of the effect their ill-advised actions might have upon their father.
In the end, the sisters entered arranged marriages late in life, if they married at all. Charlotte, the Princess Royal, married King Frederick of Württemberg in 1797, at the age of thirty-one. Princess Elizabeth married Frederick, Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg in 1818, aged forty-eight and Princess Mary married Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh in 1816, aged forty. Princesses Augusta, Sophia and Amelia never married.
And yet despite their cloistered lives, Curzon tells us that the Princesses managed to attract unwanted attention from lovesick correspondents and/or intruders, namely Messrs. Stone, Nicholas and Spang, each of whom were afterwards committed to Bedlam. Scandals surrounding the princesses, including whispers of illegitimate children and clandestine marriages, abounded, as did a host of very real scandals and palace intrigues, including King George IV’s marital woes and the protracted struggle over Queen Charlotte’s diamonds between Prince Ernest, Duke of Cumberland and his niece, Queen Victoria. Curzon agrees that Princess Augusta contrived to conduct a secret, twenty-five-year affair with courtier Brent Spencer that lasted until his death in 1828, but doubts that Princess Elizabeth had a secret love child with a court page named William Ramus, advising the reader that ‘there are holes in this story wide enough to drive a coach and four through’.
In The Daughters of George III, Curzon presents the biographies of each sister in turn, relating not only the facts of their lives, but also the influences royal history had upon each, putting them into context for the reader in a way that brings each of the princesses vividly to life. Curzon’s latest title will make a useful and welcome addition to any Georgian library.
Kristine Hughes Patrone