How Heir to Hanover Line Ascended

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

How Heir to Hanover Line Ascended


Byline: Priscilla S. Taylor, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Fifty-six grandchildren, and not one of them legitimate - that was mad King George III's situation after the death of Princess Charlotte, the daughter of the debauched Prince of Wales, in 1817. This double biography of Princess Charlotte and of Victoria, the heir who was rushed into production to save the Hanover line, is delightfully gossipy, fast-paced, readable history.

Kate Williams, a writer steeped in the intricacies of the British royal family, devotes the first section of the book to the ill-fated marriage of the future George IV to Caroline, the odious Princess of Brunswick, and the battles over their only child, Charlotte. King George III and his wife had 13 children but, according to Ms. Williams, the king's tyrannical behavior toward them caused his daughters to become bitter spinsters and his sons hopeless rakes, detested by the country for their irresponsible behavior and shocking debts.

The Prince of Wales' marriage to Caroline disintegrated almost immediately, but the prince could not obtain a divorce. (Caroline was far from faithful, but the Prince of Wales was so despised that public opinion was on her side.) The people eagerly pinned their hopes on little Charlotte. As Ms. Williams writes, The public took to idealizing her as the perfect princess: sweet, reserved, possessed of a kind heart, and entirely unlike her self-centered father.

Charlotte, in turn, managed to avoid a number of pitfalls on the way toward assuming her inheritance as queen, successfully resisting her father's attempts to marry her off to the detested Prince of Orange. She broke the engagement once it had become clear that such a marriage would require her to live primarily in the Netherlands. Instead, she eventually was able to persuade her father to let her marry the impecunious but handsome (and highly resourceful) Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, who made a loving husband. She soon became pregnant.

Charlotte's luck, however, ran out at the hands of doctors who bled and starved her relentlessly during her pregnancy and did not intervene in her extended labor. Writes the author, She had been without sleep for thirty-six hours. She had had no food for twenty-four and she was weakened from months of bleeding and a starvation diet. She had not the energy to give birth. She died soon after the stillbirth of her son. (A few months later, while attending another difficult birth, one of her doctors grabbed a gun off the wall and took his own life.)

The second section of the book, titled Drunken Dukes, is a romp through the unseemly scramble by the late Princess Charlotte's dissolute uncles to quickly shed their mistresses (and numerous illegitimate children, in most cases), marry an acceptably royal wife, and produce a legitimate successor to the throne. Many achieved marriage and childbirth, but the only child to survive infancy was bouncy Victoria. Her story, divided into Little Victoria and The Young Queen, constitutes the latter half of the book.

Is there anything new to be said about Victoria? Perhaps not much, but with lively writing Ms. Williams manages to make the story fresh and appealing. (One can detect her background in hosting television historical documentaries. …

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