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The Fifteen Princesses of Orange: Anne, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange

Anne, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange, is better known in the Netherlands as Anna of Hanover. She was born in 1709 as the daughter of the future George II of Great Britain and Caroline of Ansbach. Her father had been away on a hunting trip and wrote to his wife, ‘I have just received the good news of the birth of a daughter at which I feel all imaginable please…I am only a bit angry that it caused you pain. You should know me well enough my very dear Caroline to believe that everything that concerns you is infinitely precious to me’. 

Her grandfather succeeded as George I of Great Britain five years after she was born and the family moved to London. Her education consisted of studying languages, singing and painting and she excelled at the latter. She even painted a self portrait in 1740.

Self portrait of Anna of Hanover in 1740

Self portrait of Anna of Hanover in 1740

When her grandfather died in 1726 her father became King and she was created Princess Royal on 30 August 1727 as the eldest daughter of the sovereign. By then marriage negotiations between her and Willem (William) Karel Hendrik Friso, future Prince of Orange. They married on 25 March 1734 at St. James’ Palace. A cold reception in the Netherlands followed. Anne could not get along with her mother-in-law Marie Louise of Hesse-Kassel, despite the fact that she moved out of the Princessehof as soon as Anne arrived and gave her precedence as the daughter of a King. When William left on campaign Anne returned to England and could barely be convinced to return.

Though their marriage was not a love match, their letters show their were fond of each other. Anne’s sisters reportedly called him ‘le monstre’, but Anne lovingly called him ‘Pépin’ or ‘Pip’ and he called her ‘my adorable Annin’.

Anne was believed to be pregnant in 1734 and she grew heavier. However after a ten month ‘pregnancy’ it became clear there would be no child after all. By 1736 Anne was actually pregnant, but her first daughter died at birth. Her labour had begun on 3 December but after four days there was no progress and Anne was growing weaker. A male midwife was forced to kill the child to save the mother. The little girl lay in state for three days before the coffin was taken to Delft. Her mother wrote to her, ‘words cannot tell how I have suffered and my joy at receiving you back from God. I have you and that is enough. May he grant you renewed strength and make a happy mother of a family, be certain that you will happier and easier labours than this in the future’.

The same tragedy occurred in 1739 and it was recorded that ‘on the evening of the 23rd December Madame the Princess of Orange Nassau was delivered of a young princess in whom the light of life never shone’. She gave birth to a healthy daughter, Caroline Wilhelmina , in 1743. Marie Louise of Hesse-Kassel celebrated at the baptism with a brand new dress. Anne insisted on feeding the baby herself. She was followed by Anne Marie in 1746, but she died later that same year. William wrote, ‘this special and dear baby we hope she will find peace and that one we shall be reunited’. In 1748 a healthy son was born, he was also named William. Anne was 37 years old. The baby was created Count of Buren at just one hour old. William reportedly proudly, ‘he takes the breast though he’s still a little bit clumsy about it’.

Anne’s husband died suddenly after a brief illness on 22 October 1751. He had suffered a stroke and he had been bled twice by doctors. Anne was beside him when he died. Her son was just three years old. Anne was appointed regent for him and according to a letter from a noble, ‘mevrouw de princes aanvaardt de regering met veel flegme en fermeteit’, or translated ‘Madam the Princess took command with calm fortitude and firmness’. Despite this, she was known as proud and stubborn. Anne’s health declined throughout 1758 and she set about settling the matter of her daughter’s marriage. ‘I must establish my daughter, she is very young but the position of our house in the Republic makes me anxious for her to stay there to support the well-intentioned and discourage faction’. Caroline married Karl Christian of Nassau-Weilburg but Anne wasn’t around to witness it. She had suffered continuously from fevers and heaviness of her legs and on 9 January 1759 the pain became unbearable and Anne was heard to scream. On 12 January she rallied and said to her chaplain, ‘I am ready to go when God calls me’. After this she fell asleep and died that day with her daughter beside her.  Her son William had been sent to bed.

A newspaper paid generous tribute to her:

‘A princess who in her tenderest years already showed an upright and sincere piety, a princess who in all the blows of life showed a steadfast resignation, a princess skilled in different languages, a princess who although born and bred in another country was in no way an enemy to ours’.

Photocredit: Self portrait in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons 

Quotes and letters from: Baker-Smith, V.P.M. – A Life of Anne of Hanover (Leiden, 1995).