Friday, November 18, 2011

Princess Mary, 'the family beauty'

Princess Mary, aged 6
Princess Mary, eleventh of the fifteen children of George III and Queen Charlotte, and the fourth daughter, was born in 1776. The children of George III lived restricted lives, and his daughters' lives were particularly proscribed. Marriage was discouraged, and the younger ones had to wait until their elder sisters were wed, which was problematic for Augusta, 1768-1840, never did marry.

Mary, accredited as the family beauty, made her debut in 1792. She fell in love with a Dutch prince, Frederik, sometime around 1796 but was not permitted to marry him, as Augusta and Elizabeth were still spinsters. He died in 1799, and Mary's life took on the bleak aspect that she was to share with sisters Augusta and Elizabeth, until she married in 1816.

Mary was twenty when her niece Charlotte was born to George Prince of Wales and his detested wife Caroline. George III was delighted by the grandchild. Mary commented in a letter "Papa...loves little girls best." Mary's life was of necessity closely entwined with that of her niece. Mary, Augusta, Elizabeth and later Sophia and Amelia lived in their mother's thrall in a household they secretly called the 'Nunnery'. Charlotte spent a great deal of time with them during her childhood.

Princess Mary about 1815
Princess Amelia died in 1810 and George III slipped into insanity, and George Prince of Wales slipped into the Regency. Princess Charlotte, his daughter, feted by the public as heir to the throne, with the fickleness of youth, alternately loved and hated her aunts. In 1813, to Charlotte's great annoyance, Mary opened the dancing at a ball specifically given for Charlotte.

Oddly enough, Princess Mary and her niece (who shared a marked family resemblance) became mild rivals over two of the few eligible gentlemen permitted their acquaintance.

At thirty-seven, Mary was quite enamoured of Leopold of Saxe-Coburg despite that he was thirteen years her junior. At the time, Charlotte was contemplating marriage with the Prince of Orange--Slender Billy--whom she later jilted  In her boredom and resentment, she began to flirt with her second cousin William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester. He was thirty-eight! In the end, Charlotte wed Leopold, and Mary was married to Gloucester.

It was Mary's wedding dress that first piqued my interest in her. A description of the dress appeared in the Repository of Arts in the August 1816 issue:

The dress is composed of silver tissue, superbly trimmed with two flounces of scolloped lama, worked in pineapple pattern, each flounce headed with three weltings of lama-work. The body and sleeves, which are worked to correspond, are trimmed, in a style perfectly novel, with beautiful Brussels point lace. The robe of silver tissue is lined with white satin, and trimmed round with a most superb border of lama-work, which corresponds with the dress; it fastens at the waist by a superb diamond clasp. Her Royal Highness's diamonds were peculiarly fine; her head-dress in particular, which consisted of a superb wreath of diamonds, was much admired; and the general effects of her dress was strikingly beautiful.
The strategies which Mary used to effect her marriage are not now known. Her father was incapable of objection; her mother was within two years of her death. The Prince Regent was inclined to permit his sisters more freedom. All of these things may have combined to allow Mary to escape the stifling world of the 'Nunnery'. She was not marrying for love. Apparently the Duke of Gloucester was without personal charm. He was nicknamed "The Cheese, a stolid, unimaginative soul, but much taken with his Princess. She appeared unenthusiastic on their wedding day, but was prepared to do what she must to gain the freedom of marriage. Later, Charlotte wrote: "I cannot say she looks the picture of happiness or as if she was much delighted with him."

Princess Charlotte of Wales died in November, 1817, a year before her aunt Elizabeth married and her grandmother Queen Charlotte died. The Princess Victoria, Charlotte's cousin was born in 1819 and, with her, a new world quivered into being.

Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester had no children, but became the future queen's favourite aunt. The Duke of Gloucester died in 1834, but Mary lived another twenty-two more years. She died in April 1857, aged 81. She was the only one of George III's fifteen children to have been photographed.
Princess Mary far right 1856 aged 80

Her companions are Queen Victoria, the future Edward VII, and little Princess Alice. I find that link from Regency times to Victorian fascinating.

Next week, Regency author Laurie Alice Eakes will be visiting. More details to come!

'Til next time,



Anonymous said...


Very interesting! Thank you. I've never known much about the daughters of George III. If they had been allowed or encouraged to marry (and have children) there might have been less of a panic over the succession when Charlotte died, and all her uncles rushed to marry and produce legitimate offspring!

Anne Gallagher said...

Another great post Lesley-Anne. Thanks for sharing this unique view into George's daughters lives.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Thanks for visiting and commenting! The children of George III were certainly an interesting group. A psychologist or psychiatrist would have had a field day with the variety of odd behaviours they presented. Their lives certainly make interesting reading.