Princess: The Six Daughters of George III by Flora Fraser tells the little-known lives and trials of Princesses Royal (Charlotte,) Augusta, Elizabeth, Sophia, Amelia, and Mary. The daughters of George III came of age during great changes in the British Empire, and experienced great changes themselves–outside of the norm for 18th/19th century princesses.
What is striking about the six daughters of King George III and Queen Charlotte is that their lives did not necessarily follow the typical script of a Princess, mostly due to George III’s “madness” (likely Porphyria) and the subsequent fall out and impact of his illness on his family and those around him. Although George and Charlotte were mostly happy and close in the early years of their marriage (resulting in fifteen children,) George’s first bout of “madness” caused Queen Charlotte to descend into a deep depression that both impacted her health and lasted the rest of her life. The reason the six princesses either married very late in life, or did not marry at all, was two fold. First, George III was not in the right mind to make the necessary arrangements with other royal courts and countries for his daughters. Furthermore, he was very attached to his daughters. Second, no longer having the man she married by her side, Queen Charlotte insisted her daughters stay with her at all times as companions to soothe her depression and grief of losing the marriage she once had. George would never be fully healed of his illness, and although there were periodic relapses, the damage had been done.
Marrying late in life (i.e. mostly past child-bearing age) or not marrying at all meant the princesses were often lonely and/or had time to take up other pursuits. Princess Elizabeth was the most artistic of her siblings and excelled in the decorative arts. Princess Sophia quite scandalously allegedly had a relationship with a military man 30 years her senior and gave birth to an illegitimate son who later went on to be raised by his biological father. I can’t help but think how Sophia viewed the son she would never raise, and in the last years of her life–did she think of him?
The unconventional life course of the princesses truly did set the stage for lack of royal heirs which resulted in the Crown ultimately falling to the unlikely Princess Victoria–daughter of George and Charlotte’s fifth child Edward, Duke of Kent.
Although meticulously researched and packed with information, at times Princesses was not as engaging as I would have liked. At no fault to the author, I often had to refer to back to the family tree to figure out who was who due to the habitual re-use of names and all the first cousin marriages. Overall, it was interesting to learn about the six princesses and how their lives and the impact of George III’s illness led to young Victoria having the Crown.