Jillian Robertson (published under maiden name prior to 1980)
In 1817, Princess Charlotte – George III’s only grandchild – died mysteriously in childbirth. The obstetrician, Sir Richard Croft, shot himself with a revolver three months later. Apart from five childless princesses and seven prematurely senile royal dukes – all over forty and childless – this left the British throne without a direct heir at a time when the Royal Family, owing to their enormous debts and debauchery, occupied a deplorably low place in public esteem.
One newspaper predicted: “In the next twenty-two years, there will be nine reigns, two of them female; and that after the first, there will be no reign longer than twenty-one months, and two as short as five months”
A matrimonial race started. The dukes who had previously only produced one single legitimate child between them, rushed to marry Protestant German princesses, believing that the first to provide an heir to the throne would have his gambling and other debts paid off by Parliament. And indeed, Parliament even offered them increased allowances on a dynastic marriage.
First off the mark was the forty-seven year-old spinster, the stout Princess Elizabeth, to the “monster of a man – whose breath and hide is a compound between tobacco and garlic” – Prince Frederick of Hesse Homburg. Four weeks later, one of the youngest sons of George III – forty-four-year old Adolphus (‘Dolly’) Frederick, Duke of Cambridge, married Augusta of Hesse-Cassel. On 13th July, the fat and elderly Dukes of Kent and Clarence knelt down at Kew in a ,unique double marriage ceremony “to save time and money”.