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The Death of Princess Charlotte and Britain’s Succession Crisis


The year 1817 was significant in the history of the House of Hanover for it could have led to the demise of the British Royal Family. On November 6,1817, Princess Charlotte, the only legitimate child of George, Prince Regent, passed away. While his younger brothers were not without offspring, the problem is that all of them lacked legitimate heirs.

On May 2, 1816, Princess Charlotte married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, much to the excitement of the British public. After a miscarriage shortly after their wedding, Princess Charlotte’s pregnancy was announced in April 1817, rousing the interest of the Britons that even betting shops set up books on what would be her child’s sex. Such was the impact of Charlotte’s pregnancy that even economists predicted that giving birth to a daughter would raise the stock market’s value by 2.5 percent while a son would raise it to 6 percent.

She started labor on November 5, 1817. Baron Stockman, Prince Leopold’s physician, noted how outdated the British medical team who attended Charlotte. The boy born of Charlotte was stillborn. No sooner the princess suffered from stomach pain and she started vomiting. She died soon after midnight. While the postmortem was inconclusive as to what caused the princess’ death, many blamed her male midwife, Sir Richard Croft. The princess’ father, the Prince Regent, nevertheless, did not blame him, although Croft committee suicide three months after while attending a childbirth.
The nation mourned the princess’ passing for it had “lost  a favorite child.” But the effect of her death did not just took a heavy blow emotionally but triggered a succession crisis to the House of Hanover.

Since 1810, King George III has been suffering from porphyria. Charlotte's parents were already estranged from each other so there was no chance for the Prince Regent to father another heir. George III’s younger sons had illegitimate children but they were barred from inheriting the throne, so Parliament forced the brothers to look for a suitable wife. Between 1817 and 1818, they willingly obliged. The Duke of Clarence married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen but they failed to produce an heir; Adelaide suffered several miscarriages later on and their two surviving daughters died while they were young. The next son, the Duke of York also married but did not have a child. Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, meanwhile, left his mistress, Madame de Saint Laurent, and sought the hands of Leopold’s younger sister, Victoria Maria Louisa, the widow of the impoverished Prince Emich Carl of Leiningen. They were married in Coburg in 1818. They hurried back to London in 1819 shortly before the duchess was due for labor to make sure their baby would be born in the British soil. They named her Alexandrina Victoria. Alas, Edward died shortly afterwards. In 1820, King George III died and was succeeded by King George IV who ruled until 1830. He was followed by the Duke of Clarence who was crowned as William IV. Victoria reigned from 1837 until 1901, an era that saw British at the zenith of its economic, political and military might. 

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