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George III's Children
By John Van der Kiste
The History PressCopyright © 2013 John Van der Kiste
All rights reserved.
'I never saw more lovely children'
On 12 August 1762 Queen Charlotte gave birth to her first child. Twenty-one years later, to the week, the fifteenth and youngest was born. By any standards the family of King George III and Queen Charlotte was a large one, and it was unequalled in the annals of British royalty. Queen Anne had endured eighteen pregnancies, but only five babies were born alive, and of these only one lived long enough to celebrate an eleventh birthday. The unhappy overtaxed mother herself died at forty-nine, having been a virtual invalid for several years.
That Queen Charlotte lived into her seventies and her husband, a sickly seven-months infant, attained the age of eighty-one, is evidence that the line was comparatively healthy. Even more remarkably, most of their sons and daughters were physically robust, with boisterous spirits to match. The stamina of the elder ones did not extend to the younger, however. Of the first twelve, all but the Duke of Kent (who died of pneumonia at fifty-two) reached their sixties or seventies, and two (the Duke of Cumberland and the Duchess of Gloucester), like their father, lived into their ninth decade, but the last two sons died in infancy and the youngest daughter only lived into her twenties.
Some of the children, namely George, Frederick, Augustus, probably Edward and perhaps Sophia, suffered from the royal malady of porphyria. It was a complaint, not a fatal disease, but it does perhaps account for the chronic or regular bouts of ill-health from which they suffered, albeit far less severely than their father.
When dignitaries gathered on the afternoon of 12 August while Queen Charlotte was in labour for the first time, no heir had been born to a reigning monarch for nearly three quarters of a century. The last occasion had been the arrival of King James II's son in 1688, when absence of credible eye-witnesses had led to suggestions that an infant had been brought into the royal chamber in a warming-pan. So that there should be no dispute in future, a custom was adopted whereby a group of eminent persons would be summoned to St James's Palace to testify that the newly-born heir to the throne was indisputably royal. They included the Archbishop of Canterbury, the First Lord of the Treasury, two Secretaries of State, and officers of the Privy Council and the Royal Household. The father-to-be remained within his own apartments at the palace, but despite his reputation for being careful with money, he had promised £500 to the bearer of news of a daughter, double that sum if it was a son.
At twenty-four minutes past seven, the child was born. The Earl of Huntingdon hurried to the King's rooms and informed him that he was the father of a baby girl. Whether he received his recompense or not was not recorded, but the King assured him with delight that he cared little for the child's sex as long as the Queen's health was not in jeopardy. Going straight to her, he discovered that the Earl had been incorrect; the child was 'a strong, large, pretty boy'.
Five days later, the royal infant was created Prince of Wales. A week later, members of the nobility were admitted, for two hours on six successive afternoons, filing into the room in groups of up to forty at a time, to see the heir. They gazed at him as he slept in a cot behind a latticework partition, or rested on a velvet cushion on the lap of his wet nurse, Mrs Margaret Scott. While doing so they were served with royal cake and caudle, a mixture of warm eggs and wine. On one day alone five hundred pounds of cake and eight gallons of caudle were consumed.
On 16 September the baby was baptized George Augustus Frederick, in an unpretentious domestic ceremony in the Queen's drawing-room at St James's.
Shortly after his marriage, King George III purchased Buckingham House, a few hundred yards from St James's, from Sir Charles Sheffield, a natural son of the Duke of Buckingham, for £28,000. Within two years he had spent considerably more on structural alteration, extensions and redecoration. The Queen's House, as it was known until further enlargement and partial rebuilding some sixty years later, and then renamed Buckingham Palace, thus made an ideal royal residence within easy reach of the capital with its view down The Mall towards the cities of Westminster and London, and St Paul's Cathedral in the distance.
Here the royal couple and their children lived in relative privacy and simplicity, and used the Palace at St James's for more formal functions, such as drawing-rooms and levees.
On 16 August 1763, during a summer of intense heat and thunderstorms which caused some discomfort to the mother in labour, Prince Frederick was born at Buckingham House. At the age of seven months, he was created Bishop of Osnabruck in Hanover. There were considerable emoluments attached to the Bishopric, which was, alternately with the Holy Roman Emperor, in the gift of the Elector of Hanover, and King George III was anxious to keep it in the family when the right of appointment fell to him. Until created Duke of York, this second son was always known by his ecclesiastical title, and his first set of china, made specially for him by Josiah Wedgwood, was stamped with his mitre.
In 1764 the Queen had a miscarriage, but on 21 August 1765 she produced a third son, William. The first daughter, Charlotte, arrived on 29 September 1766, and on 2 November 1767 another son, Edward. He was born the day before his dissipated bachelor uncle Edward, Duke of York, was buried, and thus given the name in his memory. In later life, he would remark theatrically that the circumstances of his birth 'were ominous to the life of gloom and struggle which awaited me.'
Next came two daughters, Augusta, born on 8 November 1768, and Elizabeth, on 22 May 1770. On the morning of 5 June the following year, the experienced mother attended a reception, and gave birth in the afternoon after only fifteen minutes' labour to another son, Ernest. He was followed by two more boys, Augustus (27 January 1773) and Adolphus (24 February 1774). As if the royal nurseries were not full enough by this time, along came Mary (25 April 1776) and Sophia (3 November 1777), followed by the less healthy, short-lived Octavius (23 February 1779), Alfred (22 September 1780), and Amelia (7 August 1783).
The parents' efforts to show their children to some of their subjects were not well-received. In October 1769 some of the nobility were invited to an infants' drawing-room. At one end of the room was a dais on which stood the Prince of Wales, aged seven, in scarlet and gold, wearing the Order of the Garter, and the Bishop of Osnabruck, in blue and gold, attired in the Order of the Bath. The Princess Royal was seated on a sofa between William and two-year-old Edward, 'elegantly dressed in togas according to the Roman custom'. While the Princes may have received the fawning courtiers with 'the utmost grace and affability', and while such traditions were commonplace in the courts of Germany, in England the event was greet with hilarity. In the press, caricatures were printed of outraged noblemen humbling themselves before a kite-flying Prince of Wales, a Bishop on his hobby-horse, William spinning a top, and a baby Princess receiving sustenance from a wet nurse behind a screen. The King and Queen were wise enough not to repeat the idea.
The Prince of Wales had been created a Knight of the Garter at the age of three and a half, and soon afterwards he would be invited to the Queen's 'drawing-rooms'. It was considered important to introduce the future King into such ceremonial functions at an early age. Extrovert by nature, he revelled in this, and when he was five, Lady Sarah Lennox commented with disdain that his father had 'made his brat the proudest little imp you ever saw.' Such an upbringing was not calculated to make him anything other than conceited, but endearing qualities were also evident. He had a great sense of humour and a pronounced gift of mimicry. As there was little for him to do in the often artificial life at court but to observe those around him, he soon sharpened his talent for imitating those around him to perfection.
George and Frederick were always close during childhood, and at Kew they were encouraged to cultivate a strip of land, although they did so without any of their father's enthusiasm. Despite the age difference, they attended the same classes for eight hours each day, and learned to ride and fence together.
The educational regime, supervised by their father, was strict. Lord Holderness was appointed the Prince of Wales's governor, and Dr Markham, the Bishop of Chester, their chief preceptor. The former resigned in 1776, and the latter was promoted to the Archbishopric of York, his place being taken by Dr Hurd, Bishop of Worcester. The boys rose at six o'clock and began lessons at seven, studying Latin, French, German, Italian; mathematics; religion and morals; history, government, and laws; natural philosophy or the 'liberal sciences'; and 'polite literature' (mainly Greek and Latin; the only English writers considered worthy of study were Shakespeare, Milton and Pope). Additional accomplishments, such as fencing, music and landscape drawing, were also taught. To Dr Hurd, the King remarked that they all lived 'in unprincipled days, and no change can be expected but by an early attention to the rising generation.' Yet the rising generation, at least as far as royalty was concerned, consisted of high-spirited boys who were difficult to control. One tutor, Mr Fairley, recalled in later life that there was 'something in the violence of their animal spirits that would make him accept no post to live with them.'
From an early age, the Prince of Wales irritated his father, thus giving some portents of the traditionally stormy relationship between King and heir. When shut out of his father's dressing-room one day, as a boy of ten, the Prince of Wales retaliated by shouting 'Wilkes and Liberty!' through the keyhole. To His Majesty, the radical journalist John Wilkes was the devil incarnate; but whether the King was infuriated by his son's impudence, or laughed it off 'with his accustomed good-humour', depends on whose version one reads. The boy particularly resented being made to wear a baby's cambric frock with lace cuffs, long after seeing other children of his age wearing more suitable clothes. To servants, he would complain in exasperation how his father treated him, seizing his lace collar and complaining bitterly that he was to be kept looking like a baby.
This mischievous child grew up to be a mischievous adult. When he was twelve, the King complained to Holderness that the Prince did not apply himself to his work; he showed 'duplicity' and had a 'bad habit ... of not speaking the truth.' Naturally intelligent, he was inclined to be lazy, unlike the more honest, lively and industrious Frederick, whose conduct and progress pleased his father and tutors far more.
King George loved his children when they were small, but as they grew up he became less fond of them. As a parent, he was over-protective, attempting to teach his sons the virtues of rigorous simplicity, hard work and punctuality. The boys must be beaten at the first signs of laziness, and it distressed their sisters to see their two eldest brothers being held by their tutors and thrashed with a long whip.
The Princesses fared better under the eye of their mother and their much-loved governess Lady Charlotte Finch, who was appointed to the household in 1762 and stayed for thirty years. The King's drawing master, Joshua Kirby, was responsible for introducing Thomas Gainsborough, a close friend, to the royal family, and the latter taught the princesses the rudiments of painting and drawing. With his tutelage, and the art collection being formed by their parents, they had no shortage of inspiration or of fine pictures to copy. Charlotte and Elizabeth were the most active artists in the family, and several copies made by them survive in the Royal Collection. From copying drawings, perhaps tracing, Elizabeth progressed to become the most prolific of the sisters. Later she published lithographs, etchings and mezzotints, mainly of interior decoration at the Queen's House and later Frogmore, where she helped design garden buildings, and painted flower murals in the upper room of the Queen's Cottage at Kew. Sophia, an excellent horsewoman, preferred embroidery, and Amelia inherited her parents' love of music.
They were all strictly brought up, and the Queen insisted that the governesses must never 'pass any incivilities or lightness in their behaviour.' She lacked spontaneity with her children and was perhaps too stern with her daughters, for in later years they would complain about their mother, while always retaining great affection for their father. Mrs Harcourt thought that she kept them at 'too great a distance', and another lady at court doubted whether she had ever possessed any maternal feeling at all.
It was no wonder that they enjoyed breaks from family routine, when they were allowed to visit the houses of more indulgent hosts. Their indulgent great-aunt Amelia often invited them to her home at nearby Gunnersbury, where they played riotous games of skittles for hours on end.
There were also duty visits to various acquaintances of the elder generation, such as when the whole family were taken to Farnham to see Dr Thomas, Bishop of Winchester, on his eighty-second birthday. The Bishop's niece, Mrs Chapone, was particularly impressed with Prince William, then aged twelve. He was 'so sensible and engaging that he won the Bishop's heart,' staying to talk to the elderly gentleman while his brothers and sisters ran playing around the house.
Buckingham House was the family's main London residence, but the elder children were brought up mainly in the country, at first at Richmond Lodge. The Dowager Princess of Wales lived at the nearby White House, Kew. Soon after her death in February 1772, the growing family moved in, and Richmond Lodge was demolished.
As the family grew, it became necessary to set up additional establishments for the elder children. By 1773 the Prince of Wales and Prince Frederick had their own apartments in the Dutch House at Kew (sometimes also known as the Prince of Wales's House), as well as at Buckingham House, and Princes William and Edward were 'boarded-out' in the house on the south side of the Green now known as Kew Palace. Their education was entrusted to two governors, General Bude, and Dr Majendie, a classical scholar who had taught Queen Charlotte English. Princes Ernest and Augustus, by then aged five and three respectively, were similarly settled in the smaller house next door accompanied by a staff of servants, including their own page, dresser, and governor.
All the children were expected to join their parents for breakfast at the Queen's House, taken punctually at nine o'clock, the youngest being brought in by the wet nurse. They were given milk, or sometimes tea, and dry toast. The boys had already risen at six and spent two hours at their lessons, and after this refreshment, they would return to their houses for at least two hours of lessons, generally more, followed by a walk in the gardens, whatever the weather. Dinner was taken at about three o'clock, with 'soup if they choose it, when not very strong or heavy, and plain meat without fat, clear gravy and greens'. Fish was available, 'but without butter, using shrimps strained from the sauce or oil and vinegar', usually followed by 'the fruit of a tart without the crust'. As a treat, on Thursdays and Saturdays they were allowed an ice of whatever flavour they wanted. Coffee was likewise available only twice a week, but they were normally permitted a glass of wine to finish the meal.
After dinner, all the children joined together in the garden for games. Cricket, hockey and football were the favourites, and Charlotte was particularly proud of her cricketing skills. They also had a model farm in which they were expected to work; one small field was set aside for them to sow and reap wheat, which they subsequently ground and used for making bread.
At five o'clock the children gathered again at their parents' apartments to read, write or 'make improving conversation'. The governesses were expected at six-thirty to take them off to bed, and a light supper was served except on Mondays.
As for clothes, each Prince had six suits of full-dress clothes a year and 'various common suits', new boots every spring and autumn, and new shoes once a fortnight.
The King and Queen set great store by their children's health. Two doctors were always kept in attendance. Bleeding and blistering were frequent remedies for childhood complaints, and all the youngsters suffered this with great regularity. They were vaccinated at an early age, a hazardous procedure in the days before Dr Jenner had substituted cowpox for inoculation with smallpox itself. When the Prince of Wales was four, and had to stay in bed with the curtains drawn after his vaccination, his mother's Keeper of the Robes, Mrs Schwellenberg, asked him if he did not find it dull having to rest. 'Not at all,' he replied rather precociously. 'I lie and make reflections.'
The court at Kew enjoyed pleasantly rural surroundings, by no means cut off from their subjects. Many of the houses around the Green were residences for other members of the royal family, yet no attempt was made to keep the public out. The Botanical Gardens at Kew were open to the public on Thursdays, and Richmond Gardens on Sundays. Londoners would regularly come on Sunday afternoons in the hope of seeing a crocodile of neatly-paired royal infants taking a well-ordered walk across the lawns. The King himself would usually be seen setting a brisk pace at the head of this procession or, watering can in hand, directing operations among the flower beds.
Some fifty years later Charlotte Papendiek, daughter of one of the royal pages, recalled the summer of 1776 when she had been a girl of eleven, and Kew Green was covered with carriages on both days. Parties would travel up the river, with bands of music; 'The whole was a scene of enchantment and delight; Royalty living among their subjects to give pleasure and to do good.'
Excerpted from George III's Children by John Van der Kiste. Copyright © 2013 John Van der Kiste. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Prologue: King George III and Queen Charlotte,
1 'I never saw more lovely children',
2 'Fatherly admonitions',
3 'Sincerely do I love this good and worthy man',
4 'If you fall all must fall',
5 'More wretched than I can express',
6 'Do not grieve for me',
7 'Noble and generous intentions',
8 'John Bull is a very odd animal',
9 'Like some gorgeous bird of paradise',
10 'In short a medley of opposite qualities',
11 'An immense improvement on the last unforgiving animal',
12 Hanoverian Sunset,
King George III's Children and Grandchildren,
Also by John Van der Kiste,