The Other Princess Charlotte: The Tragic Death of a Nation’s Hope

The Other Princess Charlotte: The Tragic Death of a Nation’s Hope

200 years before the birth of Kate and Will’s daughter Charlotte, there was another Princess Charlotte who captivated a nation. Her father the Prince Regent and future King George IV was universally disliked for his excesses. Years of too much drinking, partying and general unrestrained living had not endeared him to the nation. His disastrous marriage to Caroline of Brunswick had ended in separation shortly after Charlotte’s birth, a mere nine months after their wedding. Charlotte was George’s only legitimate heir and a ray of hope in the eyes of a fed up nation.

On the 2nd of May 1816, Charlotte married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coberg-Saalfeld. It was a love match for which Charlotte had fought hard. However, with King George III nearing the end of his life, while completely held in the grips of insanity, and her unpopular father acting as Regent, there was no time to waste in producing an heir.

After two miscarriages, it was announced in April of 1817 that Charlotte was once again pregnant. The nation was captivated by the news and bookies began taking bets as to the sex of the baby, economists were predicting a stock market rise after the birth.

After gaining what was considered too much weight, her Accoucheur (male midwife) Sir Richard Croft put her on a strict diet and occasionally had the princess bled. Unfortunately, this only served to weaken her. Leopold’s physician, German doctor Christian Stockmar, was appalled by what he saw as archaic prenatal practices. He had been asked to join Charlotte’s royal medical team but refused on the grounds that if something went wrong the foreigner would be blamed.

On the 3rd of November, Charlotte went into labour. The first stage went very slowly with weak contractions dragging out for 26 hours. Charlotte was not allowed food during this time. Early on, Dr Croft diagnosed the baby as breach but he took the decision not to intervene. Using forceps would have assisted in the delivery but, in a time before anaesthetics, forceps could have resulted in injury to the baby or even death to the mother.

The second stage of labour, which is characterised by the actual pushing, lasted an incredible 24 hours. The doctors became concerned when they spotted meconium, a dark green sludge which comes from a newborn’s bowels, a clear sign that the baby was in distress.

At some point during the labour, Charlotte’s personal physician, Dr. Matthew Baillie, sent for the noted obstetrician Dr. John Sims but Richard Croft refused to let him see her. On 5th of November, a full 50 hours after her water broke, an exhausted Charlotte gave birth to a 9 pound stillborn baby boy. The placenta was only partially separated after the birth and was manually removed.

The doctors afterwards determined that Charlotte was in relatively good health. They allowed her to eat then left her to rest. Around midnight the princess began to vomit and was having trouble breathing. Dr Croft arrived to find her cold to the touch with a feeble and erratic heart rate, she was also bleeding.

Leopold, who had not left his wife’s side throughout her difficult labour and delivery, had gone off to get some rest. When his wife took a turn for the worse, Dr Stockmar went to get him but found him difficult to rouse. At this point, Stockmar heard Charlotte shout his name. He ran in to see her but found that he was too late, Princess Charlotte was dead.

The accepted diagnosis for Charlotte’s death was a haemorrhage. Early intervention would have sped the labour along but still may not have saved the princess’s life. It is believed that her forced diet and sessions of being bled during pregnancy resulted in the princess almost certainly being anaemic during childbirth. A major loss of blood would have been too much for her overworked body to cope with.

The Prince Regent was so distraught by the death of his daughter that he could not attend her funeral. Charlotte’s mother Caroline fainted on hearing the news of her daughter’s death. Of Leopold, his physician and friend Dr Stockmar wrote, “November saw the ruin of this happy home, and the destruction at one blow of every hope and happiness of Prince Leopold. He has never recovered the feeling of happiness which had blessed his short married life.”

The rest of the country also grieved for the loss of their princess. Fabric suppliers ran out of the colour black as people went into mourning. It was said that even the poor and homeless wore black armbands. Shops closed for weeks and even gambling dens closed their doors on the day of Charlotte’s funeral. Charlotte was buried on the 19th of November 1817 at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Despite assurances from both the Prince Regent and Leopold that he was not to blame, Dr Croft was wracked with guilt over his part in Charlotte’s death. Three months later, he was found dead in his home from a self inflicted gunshot wound.

With the loss of The Prince Regent’s only legitimate heir, it fell on his brothers to provide for the future of the throne. George III’s fourth son, Prince Edward Duke of Kent soon proposed to Leopold’s sister Victoria, Dowager Princess of Leiningen. Together, they had Alexandrina Victoria who would later become Queen Victoria, one of the United Kingdom’s greatest monarchs.

The medical professional also learned a few lessons from this senseless tragedy. The use of contraction stimulants were implemented, birth anaesthesia became more widely used, doctors began experimenting with blood transfusions after birth and they were more likely to intervene with the use of forceps in prolonged second stages of labour. Queen Victoria would find birth anaesthesia especially useful in her nine pregnancies.

The Secret of York Minster

The Secret of York Minster

York Minster, one of the most important religious sites in Europe, has a secret. Underneath this mighty cathedral lie the remains of nearly 2,000 years of history. Some of the events that happened on this site still have implications for us today.

Eboracum

Across from the Minster stands a reminder of a once great empire. A single Roman column marks the site of the principia, or headquarters, of Eboracum—as York was then known. On the exact spot where York Minster now sits was a basilica, a ceremonial room within the principia.

It was almost certainly in this basilica in AD306 that Constantine was proclaimed Emperor of Rome.  He was visiting Briton when news of his father’s death reached him. The Sixth Legion, stationed in Eboracum at the time, quickly proclaimed him Emperor.

Constantine would later convert to Christianity and make the religion legal in the Roman Empire. No longer could Christians be persecuted here for their beliefs, paving the way for Christianity to spread throughout Europe and onto the rest of the world.  It is especially symbolic then that in the spot where he was first declared Emperor now stands one of the most important religious buildings in all of Christendom.

The Normans

Centuries after the Romans left Britain, William of Normandy became king of England.  The North, led by its unofficial capital of York, rebelled against William’s right to rule.  In the winter of 1069 William began a merciless campaign to punish the region, dubbed the Harrying of the North.  The Northeast of England was literally set ablaze as towns, livestock and crops were destroyed and a reported 100,000 people lost their lives from either direct Norman aggression or starvation.

William replaced the Northern ruling class with his own men including appointing Thomas of Bayeux as York’s Archbishop. Originally, Thomas repaired the Saxon Minster which had been badly damaged during the Harrying of the North. However, a few years later it was completely destroyed by the Danes. Thomas took this opportunity to begin building a Norman masterpiece which he placed directly on top of the remains of the old Roman fortress.

The new Cathedral was impressive, spanning around 365 feet with a large nave and three semi-circular apses. The interior was decorated with ornately carved columns and brightly painted with biblical scenes. Its size, beauty and noticeably French architecture was a symbol of Norman superiority.

Gothic Rivalry

By the early 13th century, cathedrals were being built in the Gothic Style. Pointed arches, flying buttresses and soaring ceiling heights allowed these huge buildings to soar higher than ever before, reaching up towards heaven.

The new Archbishop of York, Walter de Gray, watched as Canterbury Cathedral, York Minster’s historic rival, was rebuilt in this new style.  In response, Walter began what would be a 250 year building programme to make York Minster the largest Gothic building in Britain.

Alongside all of the things one would expect from a Gothic building, high ceilings, flying buttresses and pointed arches, York Minster boasts enormous painted glass windows and a 235 foot (72 m) central tower. This tower is large enough to fit the entire leaning tower of Pisa inside!

Modern Discoveries

In the mid 1960’s a study of the Minster’s stonework began.  To their horror, they discovered that the central tower was buckling under its own weight.  Subsidence had caused huge cracks, distorted walls and rotting foundations.  The central tower was very near collapse.

Although they knew that the Minster sat on top of the foundations of the old Norman cathedral, it was believed that those foundations were sufficient to hold up the newer one.  Unfortunately, they discovered that the Norman foundations sat on top of the remains of the Roman basilica which was not built to hold such a mighty building.  This proved to be the ultimate cause of the near collapse. Work began in the early 1970’s to repair the cause of the damage.

The opportunity for an archeological excavation could not be passed up. So, over the course of the next few years engineers and archaeologists worked together. The engineering work was so impressive that even now engineers will come to look at the restoration. Archaeologists found a huge number of artefacts that tell us about the early life of the church and of Eboracum

Filling in the excavations created by the engineers was deemed to be too costly. The decision was made to convert the new space into an undercroft museum. In 2013 a newly refurbished and interactive Undercroft Museum opened to the public. Visitors can see Roman walls, early coins, a Viking ceremonial horn and Norman pillars. The museum takes you through 2,000 years of York’s history including the day-to-day operations of the Minster.

If you would like more information about York Minster or the Undercroft Museum, click on the links below:

https://yorkminster.org/home.html

https://yorkminster.org/york-minster-revealed/visitor-experience-at-york-minster/the-undercroft.html

Explore York Minster yourself by following this link to Google Earth.  Drag and Drop the little man (bottom right corner) over the dots to get the best views.  https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/York/@53.9621362,-1.082884,239m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x4878c340e19865f1:0x4774ab898a54e4d1!8m2!3d53.9599651!4d-1.0872979