Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796 - 1817) does not get much spotlight in popular history. She is usually mentioned alongside her infamous father, the Prince Regent, and her death is a common preface to the story of Queen Victoria. But albeit Charlotte's time on Earth was brief - she died two months short of her 22nd birthday, her life is very much worth celebrating. In this book, her tragic death in childbirth is only at the very end, a very unforeseeable death at that, as it was in real life. This book tells the reader about everything that came before that. Her intense friendships, her fighting parents, her relationships with the politicians of the time, and of course, the search for Prince Charming - all of those make her life fascinating and incredibly modern, too.
Before The War of the Waleses of the 90's with Prince Charles and Princess Diana taking swings at each other with the help of mass media, there was another couple - the future George IV and his wife, Caroline: also the Prince and the Princess of Wales: Charlotte's parents #WalesVsWales. Reading about the slings and arrows these two were throwing at each other made the 90's Waleses seem tame. Unlike Charles and Diana, George and Caroline didn't really care that much for their child's emotional needs, but were quick to use Charlotte as a weapon in their ongoing war, which lasted for a better part of two decades. The child was not a priority for either of them, and both found other 'child figures' in their lives with other partners that they could care for. This is where Charlotte's story reminds me of Victoria: the loneliness and isolation from the world and your future nation does seep through the pages.
Charlotte's personality, her antics and her unique relationships and break-ups with people around her (the ones the Regent approved of and particularly, those he did not) make her story worthy of any adventure or romance novel. Truly, change the name, add a few minor fictional details and you have a best-seller on your hands. Except this was real. In many ways, Charlotte's tale sounds as a story very modern woman: despite all the limitations put upon her by her father, her government and society in general, her spirit and her determination came through. The book shows this vividly. N.B. 1. Speaking of Regency Romance, the end of her teenage years happened at the same time as Bridgerton (2020) .
The other important aspect of her story and I'm so delighted it made its way into this volume - the connections between the various royal families of Europe. The Brunswick relations were particularly mind-blowing: Caroline's sister's husband was serving at the court of Catherine the Great, and then sometime later, he married Princess Royal - sister of George IV.
The biggest surprise of this story for me was the character of Leopold of Saxe-Coburg Saalfeld, the Prince Charming of this story. Until now, I only knew of him as Charlotte's grief-stricken husband-widower and as the uncle who was pushing Victoria and Albert together twenty years later. This tome dedicates enough space to paint his picture as a man with a great deal of common sense, whom Kings and Tsars wanted to be friends with. So much so, that years later, he was invited to be the first King of the Belgians - siring the royal line that is still going strong today. From what is told about him in this book alone - I can conclude that Leopold must have had unreal leadership skills, and I really want to find and study his biography.
All in all, it seems like he was the true Prince Charming to his Princess, who, in a very modern twist to the fairy tale, was going to inherit the throne in her own right. And it's because everything was going so well, and they finally found the happiness neither of them could have dreamt about, that her death in 1817 seems like an stowaway ending from a different story. It's tragic and stupid and it comes out of nowhere, like a ton of tragic bricks. This is where Charlotte's story borrows an element from Diana's narrative again: the nation's darling and the future of the monarchy has her life cut short, with the whole country sunk into deep mourning.
Personally, I find it comforting to think that through Victoria (Charlotte's niece and first cousin) and Albert - the love story of Charlotte and Leopold somehow continued and we can see what it could have been, had she lived. We see the issues they could have - or would have faced - be it politics, the job of Prince Consort or the Industrial Revolution.
It is evident that a lot of research went into this book. I would only note that on occasion, I found the narrative jump backwards and forwards somewhat, almost unnecessarily; and at times I had trouble keeping track of the many pronouns in the paragraph, but I assume it's only because there are so many characters to keep track of, and a lot of them have the same name: more than one George, and always at least two Charlottes (the Princess and her grandmother, the Queen) etc. Thank God there was only one Leopold! These trifling matters aside, I am very much fond of this volume. Also, it's one of the very few biographies out there, dedicated to this rare royal woman.
N.B. The names Caroline and Charlotte are both feminine derivative of the same name - Carolus or Carl in Latin a.k.a. Charles in English and French. So Princess Charlotte of Wales and her mother, Caroline Princess of Wales.....sort of had the same name...