On my biographical journey, I have come across a number of interesting characters, as many who have been following my reviews will surely know. Those who have made their mark on history are of particular interest, as it allows me to delve into curious parts of their past and determine how their choices eventually helped shape the world in which I live today. While many will know some rudimentary events surrounding George III (both fact and fiction), Flora Fraser seeks not only to shed some light on his life, but the role his daughters played at Court and throughout Europe. Fraser presents a strong biographical piece to exemplify what these six ladies of the House of Hanover did during their lives. With three who never married and only one who bore a legitimate child, their impact proved somewhat buried in historical tomes, eluding the amateur history buff. Curious and attentive readers will applaud the detailed analysis offered by Fraser in this unique piece, which explores their lives, sandwiched between two long-reigning English monarchs.
George III, whose Hanovarian bloodline had ruled England for much of the 18th century, proves to be the central character in this biographical piece, or at least his impact is felt throughout. George III and his wife, Princess Charlotte, began building their familial empire by having children soon after they wed, producing a few princes, which would eventually total nine male heirs. The six princesses, peppered amongst their brothers in order of birth, could be used to fortify the bloodline and expand the king’s control into foreign lands. Princesses Charlotte (called Royal), Augusta, Elizabeth, Mary, Sophia, and Amelia all found their lives woven into the larger narrative of their father’s reign. As Fraser shows throughout, George III loved his daughters deeply, though they came in such succession and became so numerous that he was not able to have strong individual relationships with any of his children. George III had Parliament pass the Royal Marriages Act, which required the sovereign’s approval of any marriage before it could be permitted, to stave off marriages that would bring no lasting power to the English Throne or might dissipate control, should a female offspring be married off. This proved a strong attempt to curb less than useful marriages amongst some of the older princes, but did not negate them, as Fraser recounts that many married in secret. Without their father’s sanction, the princes could not have their marriages approved and therefore left any offspring out of the line of succession, thereby leaving it up to the princesses to marry well and potentially bear a future king.
George III’s brood eventually totalled fifteen(!), throughout much unrest, particularly through the American colonial upheaval. Fraser shows that the Sovereign’s focus was firmly rooted in quelling these issues and the princesses matured without a strong paternal figure. Maternally, Queen Charlotte was constantly with child, leaving her a less than powerful influence over her own daughters as well. It was expected that the princesses would remain at Court and act in accordance with their station, attending parties and balls, where many princes and men of influence might attend. However, then aforementioned Royal Marriages Act proved daunting as well, leaving the princesses to choose from a small group of men approved by George III. Looking to his Hanovarian past, Princesses Charlotte and Elizabeth were sent to the German states to marry and strengthen relations with England, the former having a child who died while Elizabeth remained childless. Princess Mary eventually married the Duke of Gloucester, though bore no children. The other three never did marry, therefore their role in the line of succession was nil and their personal exploits proved to be minimal, even as Fraser seeks to sketch out some of their time at Court.
George III’s madness also played into the princesses lives quite significantly, as they were forced to watch their father’s acuity deteriorate over time. Fraser mentions that this mental fog could, on occasion, keep the king from realising that one of his daughters had died, further questioning his ability to rule and instigating a panic in the line of succession. During a period of regency rule by the Prince of Wales, the princesses were forced to curry favour with their brother in order to find matches or live at Court that would appeal to everyone. Fraser mentions that this period proved a strain on the princesses and left the English Court in some disarray. A quick domino effect left the princesses to watch George III die, and the Prince of Wales become George IV. This was short-lived and soon William IV ascended to the Throne, but he was also struck dead. The only remaining legitimate heir was the daughter of Edward, the Duke of Kent. Queen Victoria thereby emerged and began her lengthy reign. Fraser uses the latter chapters to tie off the lives of the five princesses who lasted into adulthood and reflects their waning years against the early time of Queen Victoria. While the queen was able to foster strong relationship with her aunts, Fraser hints at the fact that these women, whose lives began during the lengthy reign of their father would end with another royal juggernaut pushing the monarchy through the 19th century. Fascinating to extract some historical context to these women, whose footprint is barely felt in history.
Fraser’s approach proves to be highly unique and very interesting. Subtle arguments that the lives of these six princesses were significantly influenced by the life of their father cannot be lost on the attentive reader. Fraser seeks to individualise the lives of each, though the chapters that discuss them are superimposed with the progress (or regression) of George III’s time as king. Equally strong in the arguments presented is the premise that with so many children, one might have suspected that a larger reach might have been procured for the English or that several monarchs could trace back to George III. The narrative remains crisp nonetheless and allows the reader to delve into a significant amount of history while not getting too bogged down by events. It is quite difficult to obtain a thorough and all-encompassing biography of the six princesses in one narrative, though Fraser offers a wonderful overview and weaves the impact each played alongside George III’s reign. Surely this piece serves as a wonderful springboard to other works that might exist for the curious reader, though little is to be said that Fraser did not coax out of her diligent background research. A worthy investment by any reader who wishes to expand horizons and knowledge of the European scene at the time.
Kudos, Madam Fraser for this well-researched piece that introduces readers to some of the great advances women in the House of Hanover would make in decades to come. I will be sure to keep my eyes out for more of your work, which proves educational and entertaining in equal order.