Princess Sophia of the United Kingdom

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Princess Sophia
Princess Sophia - Lawrence 1825.jpg
Portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c.1825
Born(1777-11-03)3 November 1777
Buckingham House, London
Died27 May 1848(1848-05-27) (aged 70)
Kensington Palace, London
Burial6 June 1848
Full name
Sophia Matilda
House Hanover
Father George III of the United Kingdom
Mother Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Princess Sophia of the United Kingdom (Sophia Matilda; 3 November 1777 – 27 May 1848) was the twelfth child and fifth daughter of King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Sophia is perhaps best known for the rumours surrounding a supposed illegitimate child to whom she gave birth as a young woman.

George III of the United Kingdom King of Great Britain and Ireland

George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of the two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death in 1820. He was concurrently Duke and prince-elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg ("Hanover") in the Holy Roman Empire before becoming King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover, but unlike his two predecessors, he was born in Great Britain, spoke English as his first language, and never visited Hanover.

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz Queen consort of the United Kingdom as the wife of King George III

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the wife of King George III. She served as Queen of Great Britain and Queen of Ireland from her wedding in 1761 until the union of the two kingdoms in 1801, after which she was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until her death in 1818. She was also the Electress of Hanover in the Holy Roman Empire until the promotion of her husband to King of Hanover on 12 October 1814, after which she was also queen consort of Hanover.

Contents

In her youth, Sophia was closest to her father, who preferred his daughters over his sons; however, she and her sisters lived in fear of their mother. The princesses were well-educated but raised in a rigidly strict household. Though he disliked the idea of matrimony for his daughters, King George had intended to find them suitable husbands when they came of age. However, the King's recurring bouts of madness, as well as the Queen's desire to have her daughters live their lives as her companions, stopped would-be suitors from offering for most of the princesses. As a result, Sophia and all but one of her sisters grew up in their mother's cloistered household, which they frequently referred to as a "Nunnery".

Though she never wed, rumours spread that Sophia became pregnant by Thomas Garth, an equerry of her father's, and gave birth to an illegitimate son in the summer of 1800. Other gossip declared the child was the product of rape by her elder brother the Duke of Cumberland, who was deeply unpopular. Historians are divided on the validity of these stories, as some believe she gave birth to Garth's child while others call them tales spread by the Royal Family's political enemies.

General Thomas Garth (1744–1829) was a British Army officer and chief equerry to King George III.

An equerry is an officer of honour. Historically, it was a senior attendant with responsibilities for the horses of a person of rank. In contemporary use, it is a personal attendant, usually upon a sovereign, a member of a royal family, or a national representative. The role is equivalent to an aide-de-camp, but the term is now prevalent only in the Commonwealth of Nations.

Ernest Augustus, King of Hanover King of Hanover

Ernest Augustus, known for most of his adult life as the Duke of Cumberland, was King of Hanover from 20 June 1837 until his death. He was the fifth son and eighth child of King George III of the United Kingdom and Hanover. As a fifth son, Ernest seemed unlikely to become a monarch, but none of his four elder brothers had a legitimate son who survived infancy. The Salic Law, which barred succession to or through a female, prevailed in Hanover; therefore, when his elder brother King William IV died in 1837, Ernest succeeded him as King of Hanover. In the United Kingdom the succession to the monarchy was determined by male-preference primogeniture, a different system, and his niece Victoria became queen, thus ending the personal union between the British and Hanoverian crowns that had existed since 1714.

The efforts of the Prince Regent to gain his sisters increased independence were further hastened along with Queen Charlotte's death in 1818. In her last years, Sophia resided in the household of her niece Princess Victoria of Kent (the future Queen Victoria), at Kensington Palace. There, she fell under the sway of Victoria's comptroller, Sir John Conroy, who took advantage of her senility and blindness; rumours also circulated that Sophia was in awe of Conroy because of his ability to deal effectively with the "bullying importunities" of Sophia's supposed illegitimate son. Sophia frequently served as his spy on the Kensington household as well as on her two elder brothers, while Conroy squandered most of her money. The princess died on 27 May 1848 at her residence in Vicarage Place, Kensington Palace.

George IV of the United Kingdom King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover

George IV was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and King of Hanover following the death of his father, King George III, on 29 January 1820, until his own death ten years later. From 1811 until his accession, he served as Prince Regent during his father's final mental illness.

Queen Victoria British monarch who reigned 1837–1901

Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. On 1 May 1876, she adopted the additional title of Empress of India.

Kensington Palace royal residence set in Kensington Gardens, London, England

Kensington Palace is a royal residence set in Kensington Gardens, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London, England. It has been a residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th century, and is currently the official London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

Early life

Princess Sophia, aged 5 in 1782 Gainsborough - Princess Sophia, 1782.jpg
Princess Sophia, aged 5 in 1782

The Princess Sophia was born at Buckingham House, London on 3 November 1777, the twelfth child and fifth daughter of King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. [1] [2] The young princess was christened on 1 December 1777 in the Great Council Chamber at St James's Palace [3] by Frederick Cornwallis, Archbishop of Canterbury. Her godparents were Prince August of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (her first cousin once-removed), the Duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (her first cousin twice-removed) and the Duchess of Mecklenburg (wife of her first cousin once-removed), all of whom were represented by proxies. [4]

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of both England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

St Jamess Palace Royal palace in the United Kingdom

St James's Palace is the most senior royal palace in the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, although no longer the principal residence of the monarch, it is the ceremonial meeting place of the Accession Council and the London residence of several minor members of the royal family.

Frederick Cornwallis Archbishop of Canterbury

Frederick Cornwallis was Archbishop of Canterbury, and the twin brother of Edward Cornwallis.

Sophia (right) with her sisters Mary and Amelia, c. 1785. Daughters of King George III.jpg
Sophia (right) with her sisters Mary and Amelia, c. 1785.

Upon Sophia's birth, King George ensured his daughters and younger sons would have allowances; through a provision of Parliament, Sophia and her elder sisters were each to receive an annual income of £6,000 either upon their marriages or the king's death. [5] The royal household was very rigid and formal, even when only the royal family were together in private. For instance, when the King entered a room, his daughters were expected to stand up, remain silent until addressed, and not leave until given permission. [6] Queen Charlotte made attempts to be economical where possible; the younger princesses wore country-made dresses, which were less expensive, and ate plain food. [7]

Sophia's early life was focused on education. [8] Lady Charlotte Finch served as her governess, a role she performed for all the royal children. [9] As with the strict education and discipline received by her brothers, Lady Charlotte through the sub-governesses chosen by Queen Charlotte arranged expert tutors to give the princesses lessons in English, French, music, art, and geography; Sophia and her sisters were also allowed to play sports and boisterous games with their brothers. [10] The queen sought to combine her daughters' entertainments with educational benefits. [11] Sophia and her siblings were brought up with an exposure to theatre and were entertained with special performances. [12] Princess Sophia's first appearance in public occurred when she accompanied her parents and elder siblings to a commemoration for George Frideric Handel, held at Westminster Abbey on 26 May 1784. [13]

Lady Charlotte Finch British noble

Lady Charlotte Finch served as royal governess to the children of King George III and Queen Charlotte for over thirty years, holding the position from 1762 to 1793. She was born to Thomas Fermor, 1st Earl of Pomfret, and his wife Henrietta Louisa Jeffreys, both of whom held court appointments. The couple were educated and frequently travelled with their growing brood of children to the continent. Charlotte, like her sisters, was well-educated; in 1746, she married the Hon. William Finch and had issue including George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea.

Handel Commemoration

The Handel festival or "Commemoration" took place in Westminster Abbey in 1784, to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of George Frideric Handel in 1759.

George Frideric Handel 18th-century German, later British, Baroque composer

George FridericHandel was a German, later British, Baroque composer who spent the bulk of his career in London, becoming well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos. Handel received important training in Halle-upon-Saale and worked as a composer in Hamburg and Italy before settling in London in 1712; he became a naturalised British subject in 1727. He was strongly influenced both by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and by the middle-German polyphonic choral tradition.

Uncommon for men of the period, Sophia's father was involved in her early upbringing and preferred his daughters to his sons. [10] [14] When possible he attended the princesses' birthday parties and other special events, and was kept informed on their progress in the schoolroom. A family friend once remarked, "I never saw more lovely children, nor a more pleasing sight than the King's fondness for them." [15] On the other hand, Queen Charlotte invoked fear in her daughters and, according to royal historian A. W. Purdue, she was not "benignly maternal". [10]

Adulthood

Princess Sophia, c. 1792. This portrait miniature, painted by Richard Cosway, is believed to have been commissioned by Sophia's brother the Prince of Wales. Princess Sophia portrait.jpg
Princess Sophia, c. 1792. This portrait miniature, painted by Richard Cosway, is believed to have been commissioned by Sophia's brother the Prince of Wales.

By 1792 Sophia and her sister Mary were being included in more family activities, [17] and at age fourteen, Sophia debuted at court on her father's birthday, 4 June 1792. [18] According to biographer Christopher Hibbert, in her young adulthood Sophia was a "delightful though moody girl, pretty, delicate and passionate." [19] As within her childhood, Sophia was devoted to her father, though she occasionally found him exasperating. She wrote that "the dear King is all kindness to me, and I cannot say how grateful I feel for it." [19] Prior to 1788, King George had told his daughters that he would take them to Hanover and find them suitable husbands [20] despite misgivings he had, which stemmed from his sisters' own unhappy marriages. [21] He remarked, "I cannot deny that I have never wished to see any of them marry: I am happy in their company, and do not in the least want a separation." [22] However, the King suffered his first bout of madness that year, when Sophia was aged eleven. Sophia remarked of her father's behaviour, "He is all affection and kindness to me, but sometimes an over kindness, if you can understand that, which greatly alarms me." [23] Further lapses into insanity occurred in 1801 and 1804, thus forestalling talk of marriage for his daughters. The question of matrimony was rarely raised; Queen Charlotte feared the subject, something which had always discomforted the King, would push him back into insanity. Furthermore, the queen, strained from her husband's illness, wanted the princesses to remain close to her. [10] [22] [24] [25]

As a result, like most of her sisters, Princess Sophia was forced to live her life as a companion of her mother. The princesses were not allowed to mix with anyone outside of the Royal Court, and rarely came into contact with men other than pages, equerries, or attendants. Constantly chaperoned, the girls frequently complained about living in a "Nunnery". [25] [26] [27] For entertainment, the queen read sermons to them [25] and the princesses practised embroidery. [28] On one occasion Sophia wrote their days were so "deadly dull... I wished myself a kangaroo." [23]

The Princess Royal was the only daughter who was able to marry while relatively young. The rest of the princesses were not without suitors, but most of the various men's efforts were stopped by Queen Charlotte. Most of the girls longed for families and children of their own, and often asked the Prince of Wales, to whom they remained close, for help, either in finding spouses, allowing them to marry their loves, or allowing them to live outside of Queen Charlotte's household. [10] A grateful Sophia once jokingly wrote to her brother, saying "I wonder you do not vote for putting us in a sack and drowning us in the Thames." [29] Before George became regent, he had little power to oblige his sisters. His ascension to the regency in 1811 led to Sophia and the other remaining unmarried princesses to receive increases in their allowances, from £10,000 to £13,000. [30] He also supported their desire to venture out into society. Queen Charlotte was outraged at these attempts, and the Prince-Regent had to reconcile the two parties carefully so that his sisters could still enjoy some independence. [10] [31]

Illegitimate child

The Prince of Wales commissioned Sir William Beechey to paint this in 1797, three years before Sophia supposedly gave birth to a child. Princess Sophia.jpg
The Prince of Wales commissioned Sir William Beechey to paint this in 1797, three years before Sophia supposedly gave birth to a child.

During Sophia's lifetime, there were various rumours about her alleged incestuous relationship with her brother, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, who later became the King of Hanover. [33] [34] The Prince Regent supposedly warned his sisters not to be alone in the same room with the Duke, [35] and Cumberland was deeply unpopular with the British people. It is unclear whether there was truth to these rumours or whether they were circulated by the Duke's numerous political enemies. [36]

Limited in exposure to eligible men, Sophia and several of her sisters became involved with courtiers and equerries. Sophia entered into a relationship with her father's chief equerry, Major-General Thomas Garth, a man thirty-three years her senior. He had a large purple birthmark on his face, causing Sophia's sister Mary to refer to him as "the purple light of love" [10] and courtier and diarist Charles Greville to call him a "hideous old devil". [37] Despite this, one lady-in-waiting noted "the princess was so violently in love with him that everyone saw it. She could not contain herself in his presence." [37] Greville wrote about Sophia and her sisters' affairs in a diary entry, "women fall in love with anything – and opportunity and the accidents of the passions are of more importance than any positive merits of mind or of body... [The princesses] were secluded from the world, mixing with few people – their passions boiling over and ready to fall into the hands of the first man whom circumstances enabled to get at them." [38]

Gossip soon spread of the existence of an illegitimate child. Some historians contend that, sometime before August 1800 in Weymouth, Sophia gave birth to a child fathered by Garth. [10] [19] [24] [39] [40] Flora Fraser believes the rumours that Sophia had a child, but has questioned whether the child was fathered by Garth, or Sophia's brother the Duke of Cumberland. [23] Historians further write that the child, baptised Thomas Garth like his father, was raised by his father in Weymouth, [10] [37] where his mother would visit him occasionally. [24] In 1828 he apparently tried to blackmail the royal family with certain incriminating documents from his father about his supposed parents' relationship, though this ended in failure. [10] [24] [36]

Conversely, Anthony Camp challenges the belief that Sophia had a child and provides a detailed summary of the available evidence. [41] In his book Royal Babylon: the Alarming History of European Royalty, author Karl Shaw writes of the possibility that the Duke raped his sister, citing evidence from Charles Greville's diaries, as well as other factors. [42] [note 1] Historian Gillian Gill believes that Sophia secretly gave birth to the child and that this is the reason Sophia never married. [40] Alison Weir and others, however, write of a possible marriage between Sophia and Garth the same year as the child's birth, [24] [43] but there is no evidence to back this assertion other than the presence of a wedding ring in a portrait of an aged Sophia. [39]

Later life

Princess Sophia, c. 1821. Painting by John Linnell. Princess Sophia (1777-1848), John Linnell painting.jpg
Princess Sophia, c. 1821. Painting by John Linnell.

Sophia was a favourite of her niece, Princess Charlotte of Wales, as the young princess liked her gentle character and had a certain fascination for the gossip surrounding Sophia's past. Charlotte detested her other aunts, and once wrote, "I can hardly believe [Sophia] belongs to them- so wholly different is she in thoughts, opinions, matters. Her nobleness and rectitude of mind renders her no favourite here. The constant scenes of intrigue, of tracasseries, she can but ill support." [44] The Prince Regent's efforts to help his sisters led to the marriages of Mary and Elizabeth, and Queen Charlotte's death in 1818 allowed Augusta and Sophia their domestic freedom, though it was too late for them to marry. [10] From her mother Sophia inherited Lower Lodge at Windsor Great Park, which she in turn gave to the Prince Regent. [45] [46] The death of Princess Augusta in 1840 resulted in Sophia inheriting Clarence House and Frogmore. [47]

After the queen's death, Sophia lived in Kensington Palace during her final years, next to her niece Princess Victoria of Kent, the future Queen Victoria. [10] As a result, Princess Sophia was one of the few paternal relatives that Victoria saw often. Like her sister-in-law the Duchess of Kent, Sophia fell under the spell of Victoria's comptroller Sir John Conroy and let him manage her money. [10] The princess became a part of the Duchess of Kent's social circle and, in return, Sophia spied for Conroy when he was absent from Kensington Palace. [40] Sophia also reported to Conroy on what she heard at St. James's Palace, as she had privileged access to courtiers as well as to her two elder brothers. [40] Gossipmongers speculated that Conroy's successful ability to deal with the "bullying inopportunities" of Sophia's illegitimate son endeared her to him, [27] [48] while some historians write that Conroy took advantage of Sophia, who in her last years had become "dizzy, easily muddled... mourning her fading looks" and a "confused, nearly blind aunt." [49] Sophia often dined with the household, but the Duchess of Kent despised her. [48] Princess Victoria was aware her aunt was a spy and the two never became close. [10] Sophia's wealth allowed Conroy to live a rich lifestyle, [40] acquiring for himself a house in Kensington for £4000, as well as two other estates for £18,000. [27] Sophia was also responsible for certain members of Victoria's household gaining higher statuses; Victoria's governess Louise Lehzen, for instance, was made a Hanoverian baroness on the orders of George IV, and Conroy was named a Knight Commander of the Hanoverian Order. [27] [50]

The tomb of Princess Sophia, Kensal Green Cemetery The tomb of Princess Sophia, Kensal Green Cemetery.JPG
The tomb of Princess Sophia, Kensal Green Cemetery

Death

After having been blind for over ten years, [36] on the morning of 27 May 1848, Princess Sophia became ill at her residence at Vicarage Place, Kensington; she was visited by her sister Mary, sister-in-law Queen Adelaide, and nephew-in-law Prince Albert. Sophia's death occurred at 6:30 later that day, when Mary, the Duchesses of Kent and Cambridge were present. [39] [51]

The princess was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, immediately in front of (east of) the central chapel [52] [53] rather than at Windsor Castle, as she wished to be near her brother, Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (who lies on the opposite side of the path). After her death, it was discovered that Conroy had squandered most of her money and that the princess had virtually no estate to bequeath. [10] [36] Charles Greville wrote an entry in his diary on 31 May:

"The Princess Sophia died a few days ago, while the Queen [Victoria] was holding the Drawing-room for her Birthday. She was blind, helpless, and suffered martyrdom; a very clever, well-informed woman, but who never lived in the world." [54]

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Princess Sophia's coat of arms Coat of Arms of Sophia Matilda of the United Kingdom.svg
Princess Sophia's coat of arms

Titles and styles

Arms

As of 1789, as a daughter of the sovereign, Sophia had use of the arms of the kingdom, differenced by a label of three points argent, the centre point bearing a heart gules, the outer points each bearing a rose gules. [55]

Ancestors

See also

British Royalty
House of Hanover
Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (1801-1816).svg
George III
George IV
Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany
William IV
Charlotte, Princess Royal and Queen of Württemberg
Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn
Princess Augusta Sophia
Elizabeth, Landgravine of Hesse-Homburg
Ernest Augustus, King of Hanover
Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex
Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge
Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh
Princess Sophia
Prince Octavius
Prince Alfred
Princess Amelia
Grandchildren
Charlotte, Princess Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
Princess Charlotte of Clarence
Princess Elizabeth of Clarence
Victoria
Princess Frederica of Cumberland
George V of Hanover
Prince George, Duke of Cambridge
Augusta, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck
Great-grandchildren
Ernest Augustus, Crown Prince of Hanover
Princess Frederica, Baroness von Pawel-Rammingen
Princess Marie of Hanover
Great-great-grandchildren
Marie Louise, Margravine of Baden
George William, Hereditary Prince of Hanover
Alexandra, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Princess Olga of Hanover
Prince Christian of Hanover
Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick and Prince of Hanover
Great-great-great-grandchildren
Ernest Augustus, Hereditary Prince of Brunswick and Prince of Hanover
Prince George William of Hanover
Frederica, Queen of the Hellenes

Notes

  1. The age and physical appearance of Thomas Garth, as well as the fact he was never dismissed from service, are indicators to Shaw that the Duke of Cumberland was the real father. [42]

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