Long before the current Princess Charlotte of Wales walked the Earth, there was another Princess Charlotte of Wales who lived from 1796 to 1817. It is this Princess Charlotte who is pictured above this, walking arm in arm with Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. (If the country sounds familiar, I’ll circle back to that.)
Born in 1796, Princess Charlotte was the beloved only child of King George IV of Great Britain. Her grandfather, King George III wrote that he “always wished the heir apparent should be of that sex.” (Yes, this is the same King George III who lost the war with the American colonies. This loss launched the United States of America!)
In 1811, Charlotte’s father became prince regent, ruling while his father was ill. As heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte was given the title of Princess of Wales, the traditional title of the heir apparent.
Since it was clear that Princess Charlotte would one day be ruling Great Britain as a regent queen (like Queen Vistoria and Queen Elizabeth II), there was now a race on to find her a husband.
Although she took a liking to Captain Charles Hesse of the 18th. Light Dragoons (not Dragons), the relationship ended when he was assigned to duty on the continent.
Yes, she was engaged to William, Hereditary Prince of Orange (now in The Netherlands).
According to certain historical sources, Princess Charlotte broke off the engagement in disgust because he showed up drunk to a meeting. Another source states her father pressured her to break the engagement. Either way, adios William.
The princess found a prince who charmed her. In the spring of 1820, Princess Charlotte became engaged to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, a German principality.
On May 2, 1816, Princess Charlotte married Prince Leopold in a glittering ceremony that was considered one of the most significant royal marriages of the Georgian Era.
Princess Charlotte was a bit of a headstrong fashionista: Even though white wedding dresses were in vogue by the end of the 1700’s, she decided to embrace the European tradition of royal brides wearing silver.
She was right to do so: Princess Charlotte was absolutely stunning in this silver-embroidered silk wedding dress.
Like many dresses of the Jane Austen era, the dress had an empire waist. (See the photos of the dress above here to see these details.)
The beautiful dress feastured a high-waisted silk satin bodice, a dipping neckline, and short, puffed sleeves. This sparking dress is decorated with the intricate detailing of silver, metallic embroidery throughout.
The underskirt, overskirt, train, and apron complete this enchanting wedding gown. The detailing is exquisite!
“It was made by Mrs Triaud of Bolton Street, from ‘cloth-of-silver’, silk bobbinet embroidered with heavy silver lamé, embellished with Brussels lace, and with embroidered flowers and shells festooning the hem.” –Telegraph.co.uk
From the historical accounts, it appears that the princess and the prince were quite happy together.
Sadly, the joy of the wedding day was overshadowed by tragedy a mere 18 months later when Princess Charlotte died a few hours after giving birth to a stillborn son.
She was only 21.
In Georgian tradition, her wedding dress was passed on to other royal Georgian brides to repurpose and recycle the dress to suit their whims. For that reason, the dress survives and is the oldest wedding dress in Great Britain.
History update: What happened to Leopold? When the Belgians decided they needed a king, they asked Leopold to rule this kingdom. The current royal Belgian family are his descendants.
It was the death of Princess Charlotte that was the catalyst for Queen Victoria’s birth. Since King George IV and his wife, Caroline, were no longer on speaking terms, George’s younger brothers raced to get married and father the next heir to the throne.
The winner was Prince Edward, the father of the woman we know as Queen Victoria. She grew up to become the beloved wife of Leopold’s younger brother, Prince Albert.
Princess Charlotte’s wedding dress is on exhibit at Buckingham Palace as of April 2023.
Images courtesy of the website, Jane Austen’s World https://janeaustensworld.com/2011/04/25/in-honor-of-the-royal-wedding-princess-charlottes-wedding-dress-1816/
while the Prince Leopold painting is courtesy of Wikipedia.
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