Magazine article The Spectator

Birds in a Gilded Cage

Magazine article The Spectator

Birds in a Gilded Cage

Article excerpt

Birds in a gilded cage PRINCESSES: THE SIX DAUGHTERS OF GEORGE III by Flora Fraser John Murray, £25, pp. 476, ISBN 0719561086 £23 (plus £2.25 p&p) 0870 800 4848

George III freely acknowledged he was in no hurry to see his daughters married: 'I am happy in their company, and do not in the least want a separation.' As a consequence, three of them (Augusta, Sophia and Amelia) never married; the others did so late: Charlotte at 31, Mary at 40 and Elizabeth at 48. Meticulously detailed and deeply researched. Princesses chronicles their bids to achieve a balance between personal fulfilment and filial duty.

The princesses' early lives were employed almost exclusively in lessons and 'work' - an endless round of drawing and sewing imposed upon them by their mother which, then and later, often filled the space where their lives should have been. Their insular existence made for intense relationships within the domestic circle, while the stress of living with a father subject to episodes of severe psychological disturbance often produced an uncertain and highly charged atmosphere. So alarming was the King's illness in 1788 that following his recovery his daughters were discouraged from raising the upsetting subject of their futures with him.

Nevertheless, in early 1804 the dreaded symptoms returned. The Queen would now not ride with him as he had shown himself 'lost to all propriety of conduct in their coach' and she surrounded herself with the princesses as a buffer, keeping them in her apartment at night until the King had left. The Princess of Wales had to leap over sofas to escape her father-in-law's amorous advances, while he succeeded in cornering a less athletic housemaid in a stable. Nor were his daughters safe. 'He is all affection and kindness to me,' wrote Princess Sophia, 'but sometimes an over kindness, if you can understand that, which greatly alarms me.' The King's illness was observed to cause rifts and schisms within the family. Princess Sophia's disapproval of her mother's reaction to her father's suffering grew into a passionate hatred of the Queen 'She makes my blood boil in some things.' While Sophia was appalled that her mother now locked her bedroom door against the King, she wished she herself were a little dog: 'What a little Fidel I would be and lay all day at his feet. …

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