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The Life of Augusta Princess of Wales, King George III's Mother

A portrait of Augusta, Princess of Wales dated 1742 by J.B. Van Loo

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha almost never became Princess of Wales had Frederick Prince of Wales married Princess Louisa Ulrika of Prussia. However, King George II and Frederick William I of Prussia had disagreements and the plan never materialized.

The Prince of Wales, anyway, freed himself from the burden of choosing his own bride. Whoever his parents chose for him was good enough for him. He just wanted to get married as soon as he can so he could ask for additional income from Parliament and break free from financial dependence from the father with whom he was never in good terms for the rest of his life.

Thus, when King George II decided that he should marry Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, there was  no protestation from his part.

Born in Gotha in 1719, the German princess' father was Frederick II, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. Her mother was  Magdalena Augusta of Anhalt-Zerbst (1676–1740). She barely spoke English, her mother did not hesitate to give her any English lessons. The Hanovers themselves spoke the language badly.

The wedding ceremony was held hastily after she arrived in London. On May 8, 1736, vows were exchanged at the Chapel Royal in London.

Van Loo's portrait of Augusta and her family.

Augusta was barely a lady when she became the princess of Wales, frolicking and playing with her doll at home. It was only when her sister-in-law, Princess Caroline, reprimanded her that she stopped. Her childishness delighted the Prince of Wales. He saw her inexperience as an opportunity to take on a lover, Lady Archibald Hamilton, his wife's own lady of the bedchamber.

But the marriage was consummated. Augusta gave her husband nine children, including the future King George III. The Prince of Wales, though, never had the chance to become King himself. He died on March 2, 1751.

Dr. Doran described her at the death of her spouse: "She had, throughout her married life exhibited much mental superiority, with great kindness of disposition, and that under circumstances of great difficulty, and sometimes of a character to inflict vexation on the calmest nature. [...] She was then the mother of eight children, expecting shortly to be the mother of a ninth, and she was brought reluctantly to knowledge that their father was no more. It was six in the morning before her attendants could persuade her to retire to bed; but she arose again at eight, and then, with less thought for her grief than her anxiety for the honor of him whose death was the cause of it, she proceeded to the Prince's room, and burned the whole of his private papers. By this the world lost some rare supplementary chapters to the Cronique Scandaleuse!"

The Family of Frederick, Prince of Wales. The Princess of Wales was still mourning when she commissioned George Knapton for this family portrait. 

Augusta had become more reclusive, isolating herself and her children from the public, which made her even more unpopular among the public. She would, nevertheless, appear in state occasions and formal gathering every now and then and King George II accorded her the honors which were previously due to Queen Caroline.

It was by this time that she fell over the influence of John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, her son's tutor. Rumors have spread that they were having an affair and they were badly criticized by the press.
Her son succeeded as King George III on October 25, 1760 after the death of King George II. George leaned on her mother for advice, who "strove to follow the counsels she gave.” Augusta, meanwhile, was heavily influenced by Lord Bute and his appointment as Prime Minister in 1762 was partly because the Princess of Wales supported him.

A portrait of the Dowager Princess of Wales, 1754.

Bute’s appointment triggered a crisis. The public utterly disliked him! Thackeray notes: "Bute was hated with a rage there have been few examples in English history. He was the butt for everybody's abuse; for Wilkes, for Churchill's slashing satire, for the hooting of the mob who roasted his booth, his emblem, in a thousand bonfires; that hated him because he was a favourite and a Scotsman, calling him Mortimer, Lothario, and I known not what names, and accusing his royal mistress of all kinds of names - the grave, lean, demure, elderly woman, who, I dare say, was quite as good as her neighbours. Chatham lent the aide of his great malice to influence the popular sentiment against her. He assailed, in the House of Lords, 'The secret influence, more mighty than the throne itself, which betrayed and dogged every administration'. The most furious pamphlets echoed the cry 'Impeach the King's mother', was scribbled over every wall at the Court end of the town". He resigned the post in 1763.

A portrait of the Dowager Princess of Wales by Ramsey, 1759.

Augusta detested his sons’ marital choices since they took on their respective brides without their consent. Augusta was particularly repulsive of Queen Charlotte. Augusta appointed most of Charlotte’s courtiers so she could keep her eyes on  the Queen’s behavior, criticizing her for keeping her German friends, especially Juliane von Schwellenberg.

Augusta died of throat cancer on February 8, 1772. Still hated by the public, troublemakers followed her during the funeral procession, shouting and throwing grave insults on her.

 Of her nine children, the youngest, Caroline Matilda, suffered the worst fate. Married to the mentally unstable Christian VII of Denmark who treated her coldly and harshly, she was involved in a scandal with the royal physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee. Struensee was executed and Caroline Matilda was banished to Celle in Hanover where she died of scarlet fever at the age of 23.  A few years before Augusta's death, she visited the Continent to see her daughter. Their meeting in Lüneburg was the last time that the mother and daughter would see each other.


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