04 January 2011

A Tragic Royal Birth

As we celebrate the birth of little girls to Princess Sarah of Brunei and Autumn Phillips and eagerly await the birth of Crown Princess Mary of Denmark's twins, I am reminded of a royal birth that was not nearly as happy. In fact, it came to be known as a "triple obstetric tragedy."

In 1817, King George III's only legitimate grandchild, Princess Charlotte, went into labor with her first child on Nov. 3. On the evening of the 5th, a large baby boy was finally delivered, but he had died hours before, unable to pass safely through the birth canal. In the early hours of the 6th, Charlotte awoke in intense pain and violently vomiting. Minutes later, she had died from internal hemorrhaging. Although the male midwife, Sir Richard Croft, had decided not to use forceps to progress the delivery, the royal family absolved him of any guilt in the deaths.

Sir Richard, however, could not forgive himself. Months later, as he oversaw another difficult delivery, he adjourned to another room in the lady's house and committed suicide.

The deaths of Charlotte and her son marked a true crisis for the royal family. They were the only heirs to the throne and Charlotte had been the only publicly loved figure in a royal family marred by scandal and "madness." As the florists sold out of flowers with the death of Princess Diana in 1997, the shops sold out of black mourning cloth in 1817. Her first biographer even announced that historians of the future would focus on Charlotte's tragic death more than any other events of the day--which included, by the way, the recently concluded Napoleanic wars!

Within two years, George III had several new grandchildren thanks to a rush to the altar by Charlotte's uncles and her public memory was rather quickly forgotten as the nation focused its hopes on a little princess named Victoria, whose memory would be preserved in hundreds of place names and even the naming of an era of history.

This week, the Cross of Laeken blog celebrates its second anniversary by publishing a guest post from me about the life of Princess Charlotte. The connection between a blog about the Belgian royal family and a British princess may not be immediately clear. Charlotte's husband, who would have been Albert to her Victoria, remained a widower in England for more than decade. Then, he was offered the newly create Belgian throne as King Leopold I. He remarried and named his only daughter for his beloved Charlotte. But, even this remembrance is laced with darkness for she grew up to be the mad Empress Carlota of Mexico.

Click here to read the Cross of Laeken post. Congratulations on your second anniversary! Thank you for inviting me to be a part of your excellent blog!

1 comment:

  1. Thank YOU for the wonderful article! A triple tragedy indeed!

    I've read that when Leopold I was dying, he kept repeating: "Charlotte...Charlotte.." Nobody was sure whether he were calling for his daughter or for his first wife, but I rather suspect the latter. I've also read that when Leopold's first son by his second wife, Queen Louise-Marie, also died, the King took it very hard, all the sad memories of losing Charlotte and their son were revived.

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