Charlotte of Wales, a Regency Princess – and Jane Austen Fan, by Eliza Shearer

Charlotte of Wales, a Regency Princess – and Jane Austen Fan, by Eliza Shearer

I am lucky enough to live a short drive from Holyrood Palace, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

The palace includes the Queen’s Gallery, which features an ever-changing array of exhibitions from the Royal Collection that never fail to inspire me (an exhibition of Maria Merian’s drawings inspired a key scenes with Mr Darcy in Miss Price’s Decision). 

Last year I went to see an exhibition titled Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs, which explored the links between the Imperial Russian and the British Royal families. It included an exhibit that led me to discover a fascinating link between a British Royal and Jane Austen. 

A Russian-inspired Little Blue Dress

The item that drew my attention was a blue silk dress with golden trimmings. It had the empire silhouette so popular during the Regency, and it was in surprisingly good condition, bearing in mind that it dated from 1817. 

Russian-style dress belonging to Princess Charlotte, c.1817

The dress was cut in a Russian-inspired style – a trend that emerged following a visit of Emperor Alexander I to London in 1814. An impressive portrait next to it depicted its illustrious owner: Princess Charlotte of Wales.

The Regency Princess

Princess Charlotte was born in 1796, when Jane Austen was around 21 years old. The only daughter of George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV), she was the granddaughter of King George III and second-in-line to the throne after her father.

Charlotte was a happy little girl, despite the very tense relationship between her parents, who separated when she was very little. Vivacious, energetic and mischievous, like most accomplished young ladies of her time she had a good command of foreign languages, was a competent artist and played the harp, the piano and the guitar. 

After George Dawe, Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796-1817), c.1817-22

A Royal Marianne?

Princess Charlotte was also a voracious reader, and it is said that Sense and Sensibility was one of her favourite novels. The novel, published when she was 15, made quite an impression on the young princess – although she would never know the name of the authoress (“A Lady”), as Austen’s name didn’t appear on her novels during her lifetime. 

Perhaps given her romantic temperament, the princess compared herself to Marianne Dashwood. Little did Charlotte know that, just like her favourite heroine, her fate was to also suffer from a broken heart brought about by an infatuation with an unsuitable man.

In 1814, Charlotte became engaged to William, the Hereditary Prince of Orange. However, she was already in love with her Willoughby: Frederick of Prussia, a dashing prince with a dark reputation. Unable to marry without being in love, she broke up the engagement with William and waited for Frederick to propose. 

Like Marianne’s, her wait was in vain. Frederick of Prussia never showed up with a marriage proposal, a refusal that broke her heart. She then accepted prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield as husband, and the young couple married in 1816. 

A Happy Marriage Marred by Tragedy

Despite the devastating rejection of the first man she ever loved, Charlotte found contentment and happiness with the man she married – just like Marianne with Colonel Brandon. 

Charlotte and Leopold were a golden couple, often seen around London, and very popular amongst the public. When Princess Charlotte fell pregnant after two miscarriages, the whole of Britain was expectant and full of hope for the future. However, things took a tragic turn. 

Charlotte Augusta and her husband, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, by George Dawe

After a long and difficult labour, the princess gave birth to a stillborn baby boy. The princess died the day after, aged only 21 years old. It was November 5, 1817  – less than four months after the death of the anonymous author of Sense and Sensibility, the novel she so admired.

According to contemporary sources, Princess Charlotte loved her people and was particularly interested in social reform. Had she lived, she might have become a queen as influential as her cousin, Queen Victoria.

But, to me, Princess Charlotte will always be Queen Marianne. 


Were you familiar with Queen Charlotte’s story? What do you think of the blue dress?

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December 18, 2020 4:15 PM

Thanks for sharing. I have always been interested in the lives of the Royals and Charlotte is one of my favorites.

Linny B
Linny B
December 12, 2020 1:50 AM

Thank you for taking the time to share such an interesting post. The dress and portrait particularly lovely. Hope you are staying safe and well.

Robin G.
Robin G.
December 8, 2020 5:02 PM

The dress is stunning. Just to reinforce the intermarriage of royalty, Leopold was the uncle of Prince Albert, Victoria’s husband. Therefore, the house of Saxe-Coburg contributed to the English royal bloodline despite Charlotte’s tragedy.

Teresa Broderick
Teresa Broderick
December 8, 2020 3:32 PM

I love the dress, It’s beautiful. I’ve also thought her story was so sad. I believe the Regent was beside himself when she died.

Jeanne, I read that the invitation to dedicate the book to him was more of an order, framed nicely 🙂

Elaine Jeremiah
December 8, 2020 11:26 AM

Great post, thank you for sharing. Charlotte’s story is so very sad. She seems to be mostly forgotten nowadays and yet there was a huge outpouring of grief in Britain when she died, not unlike when Princess Diana died. I do find this era in history endlessly fascinating.

Riana Everly
December 8, 2020 11:23 AM

Isn’t her story sad? And it threw the country into a tizzy as the other heirs in line for the throne rushed to produce their own heirs.
I didn’t know she identified so much with Marianne. What a pity she didn’t have the same happy ending.
That dress is terrific – and how cool that it’s the same dress as in the portrait! That is very cool.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
December 8, 2020 10:26 AM

Bless her heart. I have read that she was beloved by the people. I think I also read that the doctor who attended her could not reconcile his part in not being able to save her and committed suicide. I believe that is what I read. I like your reference to her being Queen Marianne. I didn’t realize she also liked S&S. That is amazing, considering how the Regent liked Austen’s writing as well. Austen toured Carlton House at the invitation of his Librarian Rev. James Stanier and was advised that she had the permission of HRH to dedicate any future book[s] to him. Thus, Emma [1815] bore that dedication. I wonder if Charlotte read that one as well. Since there were copies of Austen’s books in each of the Regent’s houses… perhaps. This was a fascinating post. Thanks for sharing. Blessings, stay safe, and healthy.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
December 8, 2020 9:30 AM

I didn’t know Princess Charlotte’s story! It is romantic and tragic as well. Her husband must have been devastated to lose them both! The blue dress is very pretty!

Mirta Ines Trupp
December 8, 2020 8:59 AM

A bittersweet post, isn’t ir? I read a little about the mishandling of Charlotte’s labor. What a sorrowful episode in history. Much like a Russian novel, stunning and tragic.

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