10 January 2015

Today's Princess: Charlotte Fitzroy

By Unknown 17th Century court painter
via Wikimedia Commons
Even a man with more than a dozen illegitimate children by several mothers is bound to have a favorite. Such was the case with England's randy King Charles II. In this week's paramour side of royal families, we take a look at Charles' favorite child, his daughter, Charlotte Fitzroy (1664-1718).

Known for her sweet nature--as opposed to her rather more temperamental mother Barbara Villiers--Charlotte was also the favorite of her uncle, the future King James II.  She was also considered exceptionally beautiful, but she did not follow her mother down a non-virtuous path. Charles' family was rather complex. He had no children by his wife Catherine of Braganza, but many of his mistresses lived openly at court with their numerous children. However, he was careful to try to avoid hurting his Queen's feelings, and was as gallant as he could be under the circumstances. (Read about her and the other British Queens named Catherine in my post Catherine: An Unhappy Queen?)

Each mother vied for the most advantages they could get for their children. Titles? Yes, more please. Good marriages? Absolutely! And, although these children were illegitimate, everyone in the kingdom knew that they were beloved by the king and to have the king as an in-law could be a very good thing. This is how nearly everyone in Britain's upper crust--except, ironically, The Queen herself--came to be descended from King Charles II. (FYI The Queen's grandchildren Princes William and Harry and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie have brought this bloodline back into the family through their mothers, Lady Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson, both of whom hail from the English aristocracy and landed gentry.)

And so it was that little Charlotte Fitzroy (whose surname means 'son of the king') was married off at the age of only 12 to Sir Edward Lee, who had been created Earl of Lichfield upon his engagement to her. Their first daughter, also named Charlotte, was born a little over a year later! Over the course of the next 28 years, they had at least 18 children! Nearly every one of them lived to adulthood! (Pardon me for all of the exclamation marks, but really these are extraordinary things.) Two of their sons inherited the Lichfield title, but the male line died out after that. The current Earls of Lichfield descend from a later creation of the title.)

In addition to their country home at Ditchley, the Earl and Countess of Lichfield lived on a huge property in London, for which her father the King held a 99-year lease. Their home no longer stands there, having been replaced by the famous Horse Guards Parade and the even more famous No. 10 Downing Street, as well as the rest of Downing Street.

Despite her closeness to her uncle King James, Charlotte did not follow him into exile following the Glorious Revolution in 1688. Instead, she remained in England and lived a fairly quiet life as wife and mother for another 30 years.

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