Review – Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of the Original People’s Princess

While I’m not officially participating in Non Fiction November, all this talk of reading non-fiction this month has definitely had an impact on my own reading. Looking over my list, I see that 2014 hasn’t been a non-fiction heavy year; I’ve only read 13 of them. And three of those have been memoirs written by funny women, which is technically non-fiction and they’ve been filled with nuggets of wisdom that I’ve taken away, but I never feel like its proper non-fiction.

You know what I mean?

Confronted with all the riches at Powell’s last month I decided to look for this one book that I’ve never been able to find anywhere: Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of the Original People’s Princess by James Chambers.

They did not have it. A rare miss I think.

But then my husband, who had been roped into my quest, found it online and surprised me by ordering it for me.

I’ve read about a lot of different British royals: Queen Victoria, Princess Louise, George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII (and his wives), George III’s daughters…you get the idea. One royal that I’ve always been curious about but only ever read about in passing was Princess Charlotte.

And now I know the whole story.


Princess Charlotte was the only legitimate child of the future George IV. In fact, out of over 50 grandchildren of George III (the crazy one), she was the only legitimate one. Her mother and father hated each other and didn’t live together for basically her entire life. They used Charlotte as a kind of pawn in their vindictive relationship. Her father basically shut her up in country estates, not allowing her to be seen in public very much.

And the people noticed. She was beloved. Because even though she was horribly treated by her parents, she was a really lovely person. Very thoughtful and polite and understood her role and her importance to people. Her father had raised her to be a Whig, and she was one, wholeheartedly. But along the way her father’s allegiances had changed and he punished his daughter for espousing the views that he had taught her to value. How different the world might have been: way back then she supported the right of the Irish people to govern themselves and thought that if they weren’t given that right, bad things would come to pass.

Eventually she came to understand that she would only ever be free of her father (and thus able to appoint her own household and not live with his spies) if she got married. Her father wanted her to marry the Prince of Orange and they were engaged for a time but eventually she married a German prince, Leopold.

Here’s the tragedy of Princess Charlotte: after fighting so hard for her independence and finding happiness with Leopold, she died shortly after giving birth to a stillborn son. She was just 21.

Her death meant that there was no legitimate heir and sent her royal uncles on a quest to see who could marry and produce that heir first. The Duke of Kent became the winner, fathering a Princess Victoria.

Leopold was devastated by her death (as was the public. Shopowners closed their stores for two weeks after her death as a sign of respect) and even though he remarried years later his second wife always knew that Charlotte was first in his heart. He eventually became King of the Belgians and advised his niece, Queen Victoria on matters of state.

This biography was a fast paced page turner. But I have one qualm: it is technically the biography of two people but we spend almost the whole time with Charlotte. Leopold’s life only matters insofar as he is with her. When she dies, his life is wrapped up in a couple of pages.

Other than that, it was worth the wait and has filled in a royals knowledge gap I had long wanted to address.

7 thoughts on “Review – Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of the Original People’s Princess

  1. This review makes me realize I have more than a few gaps in my knowledge of the royals. I was trying to figure out who everyone was as you were talking about them, and the time period. I think I have it figured out, but I think I will go do some googling to be sure. If I ever have any questions about the Royals, I will come to you! Here’s one: if you were to recommend just one book on the Royals, what would it be? How about one fiction and one nonfiction?

    • Haha yes! Ask me! I have to put all this royal knowledge to use at some point! Princess Charlotte was around during the Regency period, when her dad (the future George IV) was acting as Prince Regent for the crazy King George III.
      I definitely prefer non fiction books when it comes to royals – a lot of their lives were just too crazy to need fictionalizing. But if I had to choose just one…it’d be Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia P. Gelardi. Incredible.
      Fiction: I tend to read about Yorks and Tudors. The Other Boleyn Girl is excellent. But so are any of the books about the Yorks from Anne Easter Smith.

  2. I love biographies… when they aren’t too scholarly! I found myself reading the biographies of all the tsars and tsarines of Russia just because Henri Troyat is a biography genius!
    This biography of Princess Charlotte looks really nice, I’m going to check if my library has it! I’d be also interested too know which biographies you read for the other British royals you mentioned!

  3. Pingback: A Perfect Biography – Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte | The Paperback Princess

  4. Pingback: A List of Biographies You Should Read | The Paperback Princess

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s