Wednesday, 14 May 2014

George III's Marriage

George III came to the throne in 1760 at the age of 22; a well- intentioned but naïve and lonely young man, severely lacking in self-confidence. His dependence on the guidance of his tutor, Lord Bute, was such that he even allowed Bute to choose him a wife.
   George confessed to Bute that he was passionately in love with Lady Sarah Lennox, the teenage daughter of the Duke of Richmond, and sought advice. Bute told him that it was wholly improper for a King of England to marry one of his own subjects (see footnote). It would also have had the unfortunate consequence of making the King the brother-in-law of Henry Fox, the most widely disliked figure on the political scene. So George instructed Bute to find him a wife, and Bute’s agents were sent to scour Europe for a suitable princess.
   This was not an easy task. Any future Queen of England had to be a Protestant, and her country must not be allied with France, with whom England was currently fighting a war. Furthermore, there must be no hint of hereditary madness or any other complaint in her family. From the restricted field which resulted, the chosen candidate was the 16-year-old Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; an obscure little principality in north-eastern Germany. Letters were duly exchanged, and Charlotte arrived in England to be married and crowned in September 1761.
  It was only when she stepped off the boat that it was realized that there was a slight hitch. The poor girl was extremely plain. Legend has it that George winced when he first saw her. But he was a decent man, and so the marriage went ahead anyway. 


Not even the genius of Thomas Gainsborough could make Queen Charlotte look pretty, and thirty years later the cartoonist James Gillray depicted her as a grotesquely ugly old hag:- 

(Here King George and Queen Charlotte are shown joining the boycott of slave-grown sugar by drinking their tea without sugar. Charlotte stresses to her daughters that the most important aspect is how much money they will save by doing this! The princesses do not look convinced. George and Charlotte had a reputation for stinginess)

A few writers, attempting to be amateur psychiatrists, have attributed George’s “madness” to a mental breakdown, caused by a conflict between his passionate nature and his strong moral principles as he endeavoured to be remain faithful to an ugly wife. This is surely nonsense. The usual explanation for George’s illness is porphyria, an hereditary deficiency condition. He did not have his first serious attack till 1788, and he was only permanently incapacitated for the last ten years of his life.

George and Charlotte had 15 children, so they must have got on reasonably well. He is the only King of the Hanoverian dynasty to whom no sexual scandal is attached. All his sons, by contrast, turned out to be absolute rotters!   

Bute had a point: no King of England or Prince of Wales had married one of his own subjects since Henry VIII in the early 16th century, and not many had done so before then. Prince Charles has been the first to do so since. It didn't do him much good!    

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