Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Royal Weddings

Sarah Mallory's blog about the Regency and the move into the Victorian age made me think about what might have been. What if Princess Charlotte hadn't died in childbirth in November 1817? If there had been no Victoria and Albert, what would our royal family be like now?

Sophie Page has produced a modern-set book, To Marry A Prince, which shows us a 21st century royal family descended from Charlotte and Leopold. An alternative reality that is certainly different from what we now have. It's out at the end of March, just in time for the forthcoming real royal wedding. But the story refers back to Princess Charlotte's wedding since she is the direct ancestor of Sophie Page's fictional prince.

Princess Charlotte was loved by the people, but she was rebellious and a bit of a hoyden, reputed to sit in such a way that her lace-edged underwear was visible. Regency readers will sympathise: how could she not be a hoyden, with those parents?

Leopold was a younger son of the ruler of a very minor German state. He was so insignificant that, when he came to London in 1814 in the suite of the Russian Emperor, he ended up lodging above a grocer's shop in Marylebone High Street. Not exactly what one would expect of a future royal consort!

Charlotte ignored him in 1814; she was in love with one of the sons of the King of Prussia. But by 1815, she seems to have decided to have Leopold. She wrote then: "...if I end up by marrying Prince L, I marry the best of all those I have seen, and that is some satisfaction." Doesn't sound like deep and abiding love, does it?

For her wedding, in May 1816, she sparkled. Her wedding gown is in the City of London Museum collection. It's not shown on their website, but you can see an image of it here. She was all silver, all glitter: "silver lama [lamé] on net, over a silver tissue slip, embroidered at the bottom with silver lama in shells and flowers. Body and sleeves to correspond, elegantly trimmed with point Brussels lace. The manteau [train] was of silver tissue lined with white satin with a border of embroidery to answer that on the dress and fastened in front with a splendid diamond ornament".

Yet it seems that it was a happy marriage after all, and that she did fall in love with Leopold in the end. But of course it didn't last. Some 18 months after the wedding, Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son and died shortly afterwards. She was only 21. One correspondent wrote: "The nation would have resigned all the rest of her family to have saved her." But they could not. And the rest of the family, including all those bachelor uncles, were soon scouring Europe to find suitable princesses in order to provide the country with a legitimate heir.

What if Charlotte's son had not been stillborn? What if Charlotte had survived to become queen after the death of George IV? Things would surely have been different without Queen Victoria to produce all those children and marry them into so many European royal houses, like the German and Russian ones.

It's fascinating trying to think about what might have happened. Would there have been a 1914-18 war without Kaiser Wilhelm? Or a Russian Revolution without the problems of haemophilia in the Romanov family? What do you think?



sarah mallory said...

"What if" is a fascinating exercise, Joanna. Knowing the poor princess's background her descendents might have turned out very wild, and it might have resulted in the revolution the upper classes were so frightened of!

Jan Jones said...

Hmmm, intriguing thought. South Kensington would certainly have looked very, very different

Joanna Maitland said...

Very true, both. Must say I find "alternative/what if" history fascinating. For example, if Victoria had been a male, the British crown wouldn't have given up the Kingdom of Hanover and we'd have been involved in the unification of Germany, somehow or other.

Can't imagine what would have happened about the First World War since we'd possibly have been on both sides at once. Though, of course, there would have been a different Kaiser, without Victoria.

Getting much too difficult. I think my head hurts!!!