Yesterday, a few hours after I’d posted about the new Brighton Pavilion exhibit on Princess Charlotte: The Forgotten Princess, I saw an edition of BBC One’s Bargain Hunt programme which I simply and to write about here, as it continues the theme.
Part of the programme, presented by the lovely Tim Wonnacott, included a trip to Croft Castle in Herefordshire, now a National Trust property but once the home of the Croft family.
The member of the Croft family who interests us is Sir Richard Croft, the 6th Baronet, who lived from the 9th January 1762 until the 13th February 1818.
He was the accoucheur, the fashionable male midwife, who assisted Prince Charlotte during the birth of her still-born son, and which was ultimately the cause of her premature death on the 6th November 1817.
Princess Charlotte was the popular heir presumptive to the English throne, being George IV’s only legitimate child.
Her mother was his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, shown with Princess Charlotte, below. Their marital troubles were the stuff of great scandal and publicity .
Jane Austen detested the Prince and took the part of, as she saw it, his much maligned wife. In her letter to Martha Lloyd dated 16th February, 1813, she declared:
“I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad — I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. –”
Princess Charlotte married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg Saalfeld on 2nd May 1816, amid great celebrations. I wrote about them, here. Croft Castle has some items of memorabilia relating to the wedding in its collection: here is a pearlware figure of Prince Leopold
and here is its pair, a pearlware figure of Princess Charlotte:
Her death caused the most terrible outpouring of public mourning, for, as the only legitimate heir to the throne, the succession was now in doubt. An unseemly race to produce the next heir took place between George’s brothers, and eventually on 24th May 1819, the Duke and Duchess of Kent had issue: Princess Alexandrina Victoria,who became the next heiress presumptive to the throne. She became Queen Victoria on the death of William IV in 1837.
The exhibition of grief caused by the death of Princess Charlotte was extraordinary: something that happens very rarely and was, I suppose, comparable to the near hysteria that beset many parts of the nation when Princes Diana died in tragic circumstances in 1997.
As a result of the grief in the wake of Princess Charlotte death, many commemorative items were produced. I have written about my small collection before, but the Croft family have their own collection which was on show in the programme:
We were shown some of them in detail. The book, The Memoirs of the Princess Charlotte,
an edition that was rushed out in the last weeks of the year following her death in 1817, the frontispiece showing Prince Leopold prostrate with grief at her tomb.
Pearlware cups, saucers and plates…complete with portraits of Princess Charlotte and symbols of her status and of mourning.
And finally a very touching portrait: Sir Thomas Lawrence’s sketch of Sir Richard, taken by Sir Thomas shortly after Sir Richard had committed suicide in 1818.
He had an attended another traumatic birth, and it was too much for him. Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait was taken in an attempt to console Sir Richard’s grieving sister.
The programme is available to view for another five days on the BBC iPlayer: go here to access it. It is a fascinating little interlude, and it begins approximately half way through the programme around the 24 minute mark.