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Almost Queens: Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales

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Caroline of Ansbach and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Streilitz are the best known of the Hanoverian Queens. As the wives of, respectively, King George II and King George III, they wore the consorts crown. George I's wife Sophia had been imprisoned for years when he came to the throne, and George IV's wife Caroline of Brunswick was never crowned or recognised by her husband as Queen. William IV's wife Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen is generally forgotten about, possibly because attention tends to focus more on her husband's battles over their niece, the future Queen Victoria.

But between Caroline and Charlotte should have been another Queen. The untimely death of George III's father, Frederick Prince of Wales, meant that his wife Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha suddenly went from Queen-in-Waiting to Dowager Princess of Wales, and would instead have to watch her daughter-in-law get the coronation she might otherwise have expected for herself.

Born in November 1719, Augusta was the youngest daughter in a very large family. Her mother Magdalena had nineteen pregnancies, of which nine children survived past the age of six. Not much is known about her childhood or education. Her father Frederick II was a noted soldier who managed to expand his Duchy's borders. His death when Augusta was thirteen meant that her marriage was mostly up to the discretion of her mother and her eldest brother.

Even by the relatively rushed standards of some royal marriages, Augusta's appears to be callously speedy. Most of the rush was on the side of the groom's family. Frederick was keen to marry (if only to increase his allowance from the Civil List, the money granted to the royal family by the government). For years his grandfather King George I had been planning for him to marry a Prussian princess. Grandfather's death had ended this plan, as Frederick's father George II had a general dislike of the Prussian royal family (despite his own sister being Queen of Prussia) and ultimately decided not to go ahead with the plans.

Instead George's trip to Hanover in 1736 led to an opportunity to view some of the local German princesses. Augusta, the only remaining unmarried Saxe-Gotha daughter, was now seventeen years old. An unworldly young woman, and she had few financial or land-claim benefits that would go with her. But all this may have helped persuade George that she was the ideal candidate for Frederick. For years George and his wife Caroline had hated their eldest son and heir. They didn't want him to have a clever, influential wife with a powerful and well-connected family to back her up.

A portrait of Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Dowager Princess of Wales, with her blonder hair scraped back from her face. She is wearing blue and gold robes trimmed with white fur and lace, but isn't wearing any jewellery.Having spent years complaining that he was still unmarried Frederick could hardly complain about the choice his father made for him. Likewise Augusta had no chance to object. Her education was so poor that she wasn't fluent in either English or French (the latter being a fashionable choice of a second language), and the suggestion that she be taught one of them before her marriage was dismissed by her mother – who reportedly stated that everyone in England must have embraced the German language now they had a German royal family. The fact that she was going to be a future Queen of England, and so should speak English, was not considered important.

Augusta was sent off with a small entourage, including her governess, and her favourite doll. Frederick was waiting to greet her when she landed at Greenwich in the royal yacht in April 1736. Perhaps the only thing that had been drummed in to her head was that she should do everything to please her new family. Ten days later, when she met her soon-to-be parents-in-law for the first time, she reportedly threw herself at their feet, in a traditional gesture of submission. They quickly helped her back up, no doubt very pleased at this self-abasement, and proceeded to greet her properly. She and Frederick were married shortly after in the Royal Chapel at St James' Palace, and she became Princess of Wales.

Married Life

Augusta was eager to please and quickly fell in with Frederick's plans to irritate his parents. Although at the time of their wedding Frederick already had a mistress, Lady Archibald Hamilton, and would continue to have mistresses throughout his marriage, he and Augusta appear to have settled down in to a relatively happy relationship. Augusta was happy to accompany her husband on his many excursions, such as trips to the theatre or to masquerades. Frederick was a great fan of practical jokes, and Augusta was happy to laugh along when his tricks succeeded. Together they set up Kew as a Royal home and continued the work to the gardens that Frederick's mother had begun.

Despite their growing closeness the Prince was not afraid to put his wife's health at risk in order to infuriate his parents further. He consistently refused to confirm reports that his wife was pregnant with their first child, and when he did confirm it he deliberately gave his parents the wrong due date. Queen Caroline was convinced that her son couldn't get his wife pregnant, and insisted that she would attend the birth to confirm that Augusta was actually bringing a child in to the world.

When Augusta did go in to labour at Hampton Court Palace, where they were staying with the King and Queen, Frederick hastily carried her in to a carriage and had her transported, with a doctor and a midwife, to St James' Palace. The process of being jolted down England's appalling roads in a carriage with no suspension must have made the pain considerably worse for the poor Princess. On top of that, St James' Palace had been closed down while the Royal family were away. There was a skeleton staff, no bedding, and no rooms made suitable for them to stay in. Augusta had to give birth on a tablecloth, and people were shocked that she managed to survive the whole ordeal.

The baby princess born on a tablecloth was named Augusta after her mother (another deliberate snub to Queen Caroline, who as grandmother should have had the child named after her). The baby was small and weak and not expected to survive, something which allayed Caroline's fears that the baby wasn't her sons.

Over the following fourteen years baby Augusta was followed by George, Edward, Elizabeth, William, Henry, Louisa, Frederick, and Caroline Matilda. None of them followed the tradition of being born on a tablecloth after racing across the English countryside on a summer's night.

Frederick's behaviour disgusted the King and Queen and led to a serious rift in the family. For several years Augusta and Frederick lived relatively quietly, albeit with Frederick causing political problems for his father. By the time a reconciliation was made in 1745 Queen Caroline was dead, and Augusta had five children and was pregnant with her sixth. The reconciliation meant that the Prince and Princess of Wales could now host their own court events.

Princess Augusta seems to have grown in to herself more over the years. No longer the uneducated girl who played with dolls, she was now considered to be graceful, pretty, and a noted hostess. She and Frederick were determined to give their children a proper home life, and set up Kew as their main family residence. Frederick was a great believer in modern theories of education, including giving the children plenty of time outdoors. They were each granted a small plot in the garden where they were expected to plant and grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, suitable for the family table.

The Dowager Princess

In March 1751 Prince Frederick fell ill, when Augusta was around 5 months pregnant. Although he appeared to make some improvement during the day, ultimately Frederick took a turn for the worst and died suddenly. Despite her grief Augusta moved fast to protect her husband and her family. She personally destroyed Frederick's papers, and then ensured that her father-in-law found the family in deepest mourning when he paid them a visit. Rather than demand that her eldest son be taken in to his care, King George allowed the family to stay together and let Augusta keep custody of Prince George.

Ultimately this may not have been the best thing for the young Prince. Augusta was disgusted by the loose morals of the court, where the King had openly kept a mistress since Queen Caroline's death, and wider society. Similarly she was convinced that Frederick's younger brother Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, had designs on the throne for himself. She even appears to have convinced Prince George that his uncle would harm him if he thought it would help him become King, and William complained vocally that his nephew appeared terrified of him and physically trembled in his presence.

Instead Augusta kept her children close to her and secluded them from the outside world. She rarely appeared in public, and like Queen Victoria several generations later, this led to rumours about her personal life and the destruction of her reputation. In particular she was accused of taking a lover, Lord Bute, who was actually Prince George's tutor. She rarely came in to conflict with her father-in-law, primarily by avoiding him completely, but when she did it was often over Prince George himself.

As George approached his eighteenth birthday the King began to look for a wife for his grandson. He was keen for the Prince to marry either a Prussian princess, or someone from the Brunswick-Wolffenbuttel family. Augusta opposed both suggestions, and instead tried to champion a princess from her own Saxe-Gotha family, which the King himself dismissed. The impasse meant that when King George died in October 1760, Prince George was still unwed. The search for a wife began at once, and while Augusta had previously helped direct her son's thoughts (George had reportedly sat with her, in the days before he came to the thone, while they looked through the Almack that detailed all the suitable German families), ultimately he felt himself capable of making a choice without his mother's approval. As a result the bride, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Streilitz, was not Augusta's choice.

In the years following the old King's death and Prince George's accession Augusta's family was repeatedly reduced (and added to) by death and marriage. Eighteen year old Princess Elizabeth had died a year before her grandfather in September 1759, possibly after years of illness as at the age of eight Walpole wrote that she had been unable to stand unaided. Prince Frederick died in 1765 at the age of fifteen, Prince Edward died in Monaco in 1767 aged twenty eight, and was followed by tuberculosis claiming nineteen year old Princess Louisa in 1768. Princess Augusta, the sickly baby born on a tablecloth, was married off to Charles, Duke of Brunswick-Wolffenbuttel, in 1674. Princess Caroline Matilda, the baby that Augusta had been pregnant with at Frederick's death, married the King of Denmark in 1766 and left for his country (where she would end up creating a serious scandal).

George, Augusta and Caroline Matilda weren't the only ones to contract marriages in this period. In 1766 Augusta's son Prince William secretly married Maria Walpole, Dowager Countess of Waldegrave. At first the pair lived discreetly, although gossip still swirled around them. Maria wasn't a princess and therefore would have been considered wholly unsuitable for the Royal family. But in 1771 George and William's brother Henry also had a secret marriage to Anne Horton. He soon confessed the issue to the King, who was furious at what he saw as a serious mismatch. He was even more horrified when, having complained about Henry's behaviour to William over the course of several months, William finally confessed that he was in the same situation in 1772.

As George and Charlotte settled down and started their own family, Augusta found her own influence diminishing. Her popularity with the public had never really recovered, and she lived a quiet retirement away from the main court. One of her biggest passions was the gardens at Kew, which she had extended over the years and various buildings installed such as the Chinese pagoda.

Augusta began to show signs of what would ultimately prove to be throat cancer. Still deeply secretive she refused to acknowledge her illness to her children, but eventually it took it's toll on her. George and Charlotte had taken to visiting her once a week, and when they realised she was reaching the end of her life they stayed with her. She died on 8 February 1772, aged fifty two. George had her buried in Westminster Abbey, next to his father. But even in death Augusta couldn't get much peace – Walpole reported that members of the public cheered her death at her funeral procession, and tore down the black silk drapes raised in her honour.


 

The previous "Almost Queen" was Margaret Stuart - Dauphine of France.


ut between Caroline and Charlotte should have been another Queen. The untimely death of George III's father, Frederick Prince of Wales, meant that his wife Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha suddenly went from Queen-in-Waiting to Dowager Princess of Wales, and would instead have to watch her daughter-in-law get the coronation she might otherwise have expected for herself.
Born in November 1719, Augusta was the youngest daughter in a very large family. Her mother Magdalena had nineteen pregnancies, of which nine children survived past the age of six. Not much is known about her childhood or education. Her father Frederick II was a noted soldier who managed to expand his Duchy's borders. His death when Augusta was thirteen meant that her marriage was mostly up to the discretion of her mother and her eldest brother.
Even by the relatively rushed standards of some royal marriages, Augusta's appears to be callously speedy. Most of the rush was on the side of the groom's family. Frederick was keen to marry (if only to increase his allowance from the Civil List, the money granted to the royal family by the government). For years his grandfather King George I had been planning for him to marry a Prussian princess. Grandfather's death had ended this plan, as Frederick's father George II had a general dislike of the Prussian royal family (despite his own sister being Queen of Prussia) and ultimately decided not to go ahead with the plans.
Instead George's trip to Hanover in 1736 led to an opportunity to view some of the local German princesses. Augusta, the only remaining unmarried Saxe-Gotha daughter, was now seventeen years old. An unworldly young woman, and she had few financial or land-claim benefits that would go with her. But all this may have helped persuade George that she was the ideal candidate for Frederick. For years George and his wife Caroline had hated their eldest son and heir. They didn't want him to have a clever, influential wife with a powerful and well-connected family to back her up.
Having spent years complaining that he was still unmarried Frederick could hardly complain about the choice his father made for him. Likewise Augusta had no chance to object. Her education was so poor that she wasn't fluent in either English or French (the latter being a fashionable choice of a second language), and the suggestion that she be taught one of them before her marriage was dismissed by her mother – who reportedly stated that everyone in England must have embraced the German language now they had a German royal family. The fact that she was going to be a future Queen of England, and so should speak English, was not considered important.
Augusta was sent off with a small entourage, including her governess, and her favourite doll. Frederick was waiting to greet her when she landed at Greenwich in the royal yacht in April 1736. Perhaps the only thing that had been drummed in to her head was that she should do everything to please her new family. Ten days later, when she met her soon-to-be parents-in-law for the first time, she reportedly threw herself at their feet, in a traditional gesture of submission. They quickly helped her back up, no doubt very pleased at this self-abasement, and proceeded to greet her properly. She and Frederick were married shortly after in the Royal Chapel at St James' Palace, and she became Princess of Wales.
Married Life
Augusta was eager to please and quickly fell in with Frederick's plans to irritate his parents. Although at the time of their wedding Frederick already had a mistress, Lady Archibald Hamilton, and would continue to have mistresses throughout his marriage, he and Augusta appear to have settled down in to a relatively happy relationship. Augusta was happy to accompany her husband on his many excursions, such as trips to the theatre or to masquerades. Frederick was a great fan of practical jokes, and Augusta was happy to laugh along when his tricks succeeded. Together they set up Kew as a Royal home and continued the work to the gardens that Frederick's mother had begun.
Despite their growing closeness the Prince was not afraid to put his wife's health at risk in order to infuriate his parents further. He consistently refused to confirm reports that his wife was pregnant with their first child, and when he did confirm it he deliberately gave his parents the wrong due date. Queen Caroline was convinced that her son couldn't get his wife pregnant, and insisted that she would attend the birth to confirm that Augusta was actually bringing a child in to the world.
When Augusta did go in to labour at Hampton Court Palace, where they were staying with the King and Queen, Frederick hastily carried her in to a carriage and had her transported, with a doctor and a midwife, to St James' Palace. The process of being jolted down England's appalling roads in a carriage with no suspension must have made the pain considerably worse for the poor Princess. On top of that, St James' Palace had been closed down while the Royal family were away. There was a skeleton staff, no bedding, and no rooms made suitable for them to stay in. Augusta had to give birth on a tablecloth, and people were shocked that she managed to survive the whole ordeal.
The baby princess born on a tablecloth was named Augusta after her mother (another deliberate snub to Queen Caroline, who as grandmother should have had the child named after her). The baby was small and weak and not expected to survive, something which allayed Caroline's fears that the baby wasn't her sons.
Over the following fourteen years baby Augusta was followed by George, Edward, Elizabeth, William, Henry, Louisa, Frederick, and Caroline Matilda. None of them followed the tradition of being born on a tablecloth after racing across the English countryside on a summer's night.
Frederick's behaviour disgusted the King and Queen and led to a serious rift in the family. For several years Augusta and Frederick lived relatively quietly, albeit with Frederick causing political problems for his father. By the time a reconciliation was made in 1745 Queen Caroline was dead, and Augusta had five children and was pregnant with her sixth. The reconciliation meant that the Prince and Princess of Wales could now host their own court events.
Princess Augusta seems to have grown in to herself more over the years. No longer the uneducated girl who played with dolls, she was now considered to be graceful, pretty, and a noted hostess. She and Frederick were determined to give their children a proper home life, and set up Kew as their main family residence. Frederick was a great believer in modern theories of education, including giving the children plenty of time outdoors. They were each granted a small plot in the garden where they were expected to plant and grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, suitable for the family table.
The Dowager Princess
In March 1751 Prince Frederick fell ill, when Augusta was around 5 months pregnant. Although he appeared to make some improvement during the day, ultimately Frederick took a turn for the worst and died suddenly. Despite her grief Augusta moved fast to protect her husband and her family. She personally destroyed Frederick's papers, and then ensured that her father-in-law found the family in deepest mourning when he paid them a visit. Rather than demand that her eldest son be taken in to his care, King George allowed the family to stay together and let Augusta keep custody of Prince George.
Ultimately this may not have been the best thing for the young Prince. Augusta was disgusted by the loose morals of the court, where the King had openly kept a mistress since Queen Caroline's death, and wider society. Similarly she was convinced that Frederick's younger brother Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, had designs on the throne for himself. She even appears to have convinced Prince George that his uncle would harm him if he thought it would help him become King, and William complained vocally that his nephew appeared terrified of him and physically trembled in his presence.
Instead Augusta kept her children close to her and secluded them from the outside world. She rarely appeared in public, and like Queen Victoria several generations later, this led to rumours about her personal life and the destruction of her reputation. In particular she was accused of taking a lover, Lord Bute, who was actually Prince George's tutor. She rarely came in to conflict with her father-in-law, primarily by avoiding him completely, but when she did it was often over Prince George himself.
As George approached his eighteenth birthday the King began to look for a wife for his grandson. He was keen for the Prince to marry either a Prussian princess, or someone from the Brunswick-Wolffenbuttel family. Augusta opposed both suggestions, and instead tried to champion a princess from her own Saxe-Gotha family, which the King himself dismissed. The impasse meant that when King George died in October 1760, Prince George was still unwed. The search for a wife began at once, and while Augusta had previously helped direct her son's thoughts (George had reportedly sat with her, in the days before he came to the thone, while they looked through the Almack that detailed all the suitable German families), ultimately he felt himself capable of making a choice without his mother's approval. As a result the bride, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Streilitz, was not Augusta's choice.
In the years following the old King's death and Prince George's accession Augusta's family was repeatedly reduced (and added to) by death and marriage. Eighteen year old Princess Elizabeth had died a year before her grandfather in September 1759, possibly after years of illness as at the age of eight Walpole wrote that she had been unable to stand unaided. Prince Frederick died in 1765 at the age of fifteen, Prince Edward died in Monaco in 1767 aged twenty eight, and was followed by tuberculosis claiming nineteen year old Princess Louisa in 1768. Princess Augusta, the sickly baby born on a tablecloth, was married off to Charles, Duke of Brunswick-Wolffenbuttel, in 1674. Princess Caroline Matilda, the baby that Augusta had been pregnant with at Frederick's death, married the King of Denmark in 1766 and left for his country (where she would end up creating a serious scandal).
George, Augusta and Caroline Matilda weren't the only ones to contract marriages in this period. In 1766 Augusta's son Prince William secretly married Maria Walpole, Dowager Countess of Waldegrave. At first the pair lived discreetly, although gossip still swirled around them. Maria wasn't a princess and therefore would have been considered wholly unsuitable for the Royal family. But in 1771 George and William's brother Henry also had a secret marriage to Anne Horton. He soon confessed the issue to the King, who was furious at what he saw as a serious mismatch. He was even more horrified when, having complained about Henry's behaviour to William over the course of several months, William finally confessed that he was in the same situation in 1772.
As George and Charlotte settled down and started their own family, Augusta found her own influence diminishing. Her popularity with the public had never really recovered, and she lived a quiet retirement away from the main court. One of her biggest passions was the gardens at Kew, which she had extended over the years and various buildings installed such as the Chinese pagoda.
Augusta began to show signs of what would ultimately prove to be throat cancer. Still deeply secretive she refused to acknowledge her illness to her children, but eventually it took it's toll on her. George and Charlotte had taken to visiting her once a week, and when they realised she was reaching the end of her life they stayed with her. She died on 8 February 1772, aged fifty two. George had her buried in Westminster Abbey, next to his father. But even in death Augusta couldn't get much peace – Walpole reported that members of the public cheered her death at her funeral procession, and tore down the black silk drapes raised in her honour. 

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