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.