I feel ashamed to say that when a friend asked if I had been to The Forgotten Princess exhibition at the Royal Pavilion, I almost replied that I felt I knew all I needed to know about Princess Diana. My only excuse for my ignorance is that history was not taught in a very imaginative way in the ‘50s at Watford Grammar School for Girls and I really can’t remember doing much after the Greeks and the Romans.
So I did not admit to my friend that I knew next to nothing about Princess Charlotte, who apparently was the only daughter of the Prince Regent, later George IV. So I trotted dutifully along to the exhibition and I was very glad that I did, because I spent a very enjoyable time filling in the many gaps in my knowledge.
Charlotte, born in 1796, was a lonely child, with separated parents. She seems to have been a bit of a chip off the old Royal block, being described as wilful, stubborn and liable to temper tantrums. Yet, unlike her father, she was a great favourite with the people who regarded her as the ‘daughter of England’, their future queen. Her marriage in 1816 to the handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg Gotha was a real love match. There are cartoons on display from this period including a particularly naughty one which made our excellent guide blush a little. When, the following year, Charlotte died in child birth and her little son was stillborn, one can imagine the outpouring of grief which took hold of the nation. People cried openly in the streets, the churches were full of mourners and the feeling of misfortune attached itself to everything. That sounds a bit familiar, I think.
“We could have had a Charlottian age instead of a Victorian one”
Although George III had 15 children, Charlotte had been the only legitimate grandchild. (Plenty of illegitimate ones presumably, but they didn’t count.) So now there was an unseemly race for marriages in order to produce a legitimate heir to the throne. It is amazing to think that had Charlotte lived, Queen Victoria may not have been born and we would have had a Charlottian age instead of a Victorian one. Charlotte may even have chosen the Royal Pavilion as her main palace, making Brighton an even more exciting place to live. Anyway, I recommend seeing this exhibition. The fee is included in the price for entry to the Royal Pavilion, which for residents is £4.90. A bargain!