Within her chambers in Dutch House, now known as Kew Palace in Surrey, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the wife of George III and mother of George IV, sat in her armchair with her hand held by her son. The date was a cold 17th of November in the year 1818, and the venerable Queen Mother was dying, having had the good fortune to be in comfort and the presence of family as her hour approached. By that point, she had become the longest serving consort to a British monarch at the time, only being surpassed later by the Duke of Edinburgh today. Insofar as that was concerned, Queen Charlotte was something of an anomaly.
Monarchs in history have some notoriety with regards to their married lives. British monarchs, in particular, seemed to have difficulty with managing stable marriages, with many divorces, scandals, mistresses and domestic strife becoming so commonplace that happy marriages form the exception rather than the rule, and none more so than the Georgian line of kings. Nevertheless, certain monarchs were blessed with matches made in heaven, and George III was most definitely among them. This despite them having only met face to face for the first time on the very day of their wedding, in a ceremony conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury within St James’s Palace on the 8th of September 1761.
From the offset, Queen Charlotte faced difficulties adapting to her life as Queen Consort of the United Kingdom. Raised in the small Holy Roman duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen Charlotte spoke very little English and was under the constant scrutiny of her mother-in-law, Dowager Princess Augusta. Further, she was not considered especially attractive, being described as having dark skin and flared nostrils, which has led some to believe that Queen Charlotte may have had African ancestry through the Portuguese side of her lineage. Despite this, King George and Queen Charlotte soon settled in a fairly tranquil married life, with George III (to the scandal of his more traditionalist courtiers) establishing a formal, laid-back household with little protocol at Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace). One servant was outraged to find that the royal couple would often walk unaccompanied into town whenever they stayed at their more rural residences. And it was their mutual love for the countryside and the simple way of living that helped solidify the couple’s relationship. Throughout their 57 years of marriage, George III never took a mistress — unique among the Georgian monarchs –, and Queen Charlotte bore him no less than fifteen children, only two of which did not survive to adulthood.
Unfortunately George III’s declining mental health put a strain on the relationship, and while Charlotte remained steadfast to her husband through the first few decades of it, by the end she could scarcely stand to be near him. After his final and permanent slip into madness thought to be caused by porphyria, Charlotte had taken to eating alone, sleeping in her own quarters, and never seeing him unaccompanied. Her mood reportedly darkened, and she grew less inclined to enjoy past pleasures such as walking or attending music halls. Charlotte’s life was marked by further tragedies and turmoils, most notably the execution of her close friend-through-letters, Queen Marie Antoinette of France and Navarre. In her last years, her popularity declined, to the extent that she was jeered at by the crowd while attending a London reception, an event that caused her much distress.
On the other hand, she managed to reconcile with her estranged eldest son, Prince George of Wales, after the two clashed over who should act as Regent for the insane King George III. By November 1818, her health had deteriorated to such a state that she could no longer comfortably lie down, and she finally died of pneumonia within her chambers at Dutch House. She was outlived by her husband, who probably remained completely oblivious to his wife’s demise. At that point, he was very much insane, as well as blind and deaf. He would eventually follow Queen Charlotte on the 29th of January 1820 at the age of 81, succeeded by their son King George IV.
The room in which Queen Charlotte died was later preserved by her granddaughter, Queen Victoria, who ordered it be arrayed exactly as her grandmother left it. It can still be seen in that state to this day.