The Death of Princess Charlotte, a guest post by Jo Beverley
The death of Princess Charlotte in childbirth in November 1817 was a huge event
in Regency times and it’s key to for my April book, The Viscount Needs a Wife, and for the one I’m writing now for 2017, Merely a Marriage.
I write my Company of Rogues books along a time line that started in 1814, and though I’ve gone slowly I’ve always wondered how to handle Charlotte’s death.
It could hardly be background wallpaper, especially as the effects lingered well into 1818.
People sometimes think that death in childbirth was common in the past. It was more common than now, but not so much so that the death of a young, healthy woman and her baby was taken in stride. The nation was plunged into a genuine and almost manic mourning that bears some resemblance to the reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Cruel nature was clearly the prime villain, but Queen Charlotte was blamed as well, for not supervising the birth. The poor woman was in her seventies and not well, but she was castigated for not rushing from Bath to the birth. Remember, however, that no one expected anything other than a normal, healthy birth. Why the grandmother, not the mother? Charlotte’s mother, Caroline of Brunswick, estranged wife of the Regent, was living in Italy. And in any case, if she’d travelled to England she probably wouldn’t have been allowed near her daughter, as that had been the Regent’s policy from the first.
Th Regent was given some unspecified blame, but he was a man and childbirth wasn’t men’s business. Except for doctors, and man-midwives.
Charlotte was attended in the later months by two prominent and fashionable “man-midwives” and they were generally blamed, though it seems that the baby was in a bad position for birth, which is no one’s fault. Today, Charlotte would have had a C-section and all would have been well. As it was, she laboured for days and did eventually deliver a dead son. At that point Charlotte was not expected to die, but perhaps exhaustion played a part, or there might have been a lot of blood loss. Of course, there were no blood transfusions then, and if there had been, without blood type matching, it would have been perilous.
The men — the husband Prince Leopold, and the father, the Regent — benefitted from an outpouring of sympathy, which the Regent certainly needed, as he’d become increasingly unpopular during the post-war depression.
The general and republican-minded unrest, subsided under the pressure of mourning. Court mourning plunged the aristocracy into black, and nearly everyone in the nation wore sober colors, black arm bands and similar signs of grief. Not to do so was to declare oneself a Republican, but also a heartless person, because this was a tragedy, royal or not.
Despite the tone of Regency fiction, men in the Regency were allowed and expected to give in to their emotions. Leopold stayed with the coffin between Charlotte’s death on November 6th and her state funeral on the 19th. The Regent fled to Brighton, supposedly in an emotional collapse. This annoyed his ministers, as all government staggered to a halt without him. As he lingered there, worry increased that he might follow his father into insanity.
Difficult times, and against this backdrop, widowed Mrs. Kitty Cateril realizes that life is chancy and she shouldn’t waste it.When she’s offered a chance at a peculiar marriage of convenience, she takes it.
The Viscount Needs a Wife is a Romantic Times Top Pick and has a starred review
from the Library Journal. “…combining graceful writing, and impeccably researched historical setting, and intelligent, well-matched protagonists into a superbly satisfying love story.” It will be on sale in print and e-book on April 5th.
Jo is offering the prize of a copy of her book Too Dangerous For a Lady to a commenter. Leave a comment, and I’ll enter you into the raffle! Thanks, Jo.
Read more about Jo’s April book, The Viscount Needs a Wife.