The Death of Princes Alfred & Octavius and Queen Charlotte’s mysterious pregnancies

Our present Queen was not the only one to have an ‘Annus horribilis’, for King George III and Queen Charlotte theirs, however, lasted somewhat longer than one year. For them, the years between 1781-1783 could, without a doubt be described as being some of the worst years of their lives with the loss of their two youngest sons. Both parents were devastated by such tragic events.

We begin at the end of March 1781 when the newspapers reported that the queen was once again pregnant with what would be her fifteenth child and that a public announcement would be made at court after the Easter holidays. No announcement came – did the queen miscarry or was it merely ‘fake news’?

Kentish Gazette 28 March 1781
Kentish Gazette 28 March 1781

Early autumn of 1781 it was reported that young Prince Alfred (born 1780) was dangerously ill and that the queen was constantly attending to her youngest children in the nursery. By October Alfred was deemed to be much better and out of danger. All fourteen children were now doing well, even if the Prince of Wales (later George IV) was giving concern to his parents over his scandalous relationship with Grace Dalrymple Elliott who, at the end of March 1782, produced her one and only daughter reputedly as a result of her liaison with the Prince.

Prince Alfred (1780-1782). Miniature painted c.1782, British School. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Prince Alfred (1780-1782). Miniature painted c.1782, British School. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Prince Alfred’s health remained something of a cause for concern and in May 1782, it was agreed that he should be taken to Deal Castle to make use of the salt water there for the benefit of his health. Mid-August his health again deteriorated and on August 20th, 1782, despite Dr Heberden attending to him throughout the night, young Prince Alfred, aged one year and eleven months died of ‘a consumption’; other reports stated that whilst perfectly healthy when he was born, he became weak and died from ‘an atrophy’. A report given in the Reading Mercury amongst several other newspapers stated that:

The queen is much affected at this calamity, probably more so on account of its being the only one she has experienced after a marriage of 20 years, and have been the mother of fourteen children. There will be no general mourning for the death of Prince Alfred, it being an established etiquette never to go into mourning for any of the royal blood of England under fourteen years of age, unless for the heir apparent to the crown.

The young prince’s body will be removed from Windsor to the Prince’s chamber next the House of Lords, where it will be till the time of internment in Henry the VIIth chapel, Westminster Abbey. The queen is now pregnant of her fifteenth children, thirteen of which are living.

The queen – pregnant! We had to find out more.

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette 29 August 1782
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette 29 August 1782

 

A lock of Prince Alfred's hair given to Lady Charlotte Finch
A lock of Prince Alfred’s hair given to Lady Charlotte Finch

History tells us that the next child born to Queen Charlotte was Princess Amelia in August 1783, so what of the reported pregnancy in 1782. We thought it must be another piece of ‘fake news’, but seemingly not. The Norfolk Chronicle at the end of April 1782 stated that the queen was ‘in her fifth month of her fifteenth child’.

Another newspaper report regarding the death of Prince Alfred also pointed out that the queen was now ‘big with her fifteenth child’ and another confirmed her to be ‘in the seventh month of her pregnancy’ at that time. So, you would have expected reports in the press about the birth of this child about September or even October – but nothing, not a word, and if a royal child was stillborn, confirmation would still usually appear in the newspapers – very strange!

Although there was no official period of mourning the Royals were not seen out until 7th September when they travelled to Buckingham House from Kew. There are several reports of the queen continuing with her usual duties but still no mention of the pregnancy.

The Apotheosis of Prince Octavius (1779-83) by Benjamin west, 1783. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
The Apotheosis of Prince Octavius (1779-83) by Benjamin West, 1783. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Early May 1783, disaster struck the royal family again when the young Prince Octavius was taken from them.

The queen never left him from Thursday night till Saturday, when he died; his majesty also continued with him from Friday evening till his death. Their majesties are almost inconsolable for the loss of the amiable young prince. Princess Sophia, who was inoculated at the same time it was feared would not recover; but yesterday it was thought the disorder had taken a favourable turn. Prince Octavius is to be interred privately in Westminster Abbey with his late deceased brother Alfred.

The Three Youngest Daughters of George III, John Singleton Copley, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
The Three Youngest Daughters of George III, John Singleton Copley, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

After these tragedies, life was to improve for the royal family with the birth of Princess Amelia almost one year after the death of Prince Alfred meaning she was conceived just after the queen would have given birth to the child she had been reported to have been bearing in 1782 – all very strange!

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7 thoughts on “The Death of Princes Alfred & Octavius and Queen Charlotte’s mysterious pregnancies

  1. When King Philip II of Spain and Queen Mary of England experienced the first much wanted pregnancy in late 1554, she told the entire court as soon as possible. It was either a miscarriage or a fake pregnancy 😦 After Philip’s visit in 1557, Mary thought she was pregnant again, this time baby being due in early 1558. Once again it was either a miscarriage or a fake pregnancy 😦

    Queen Charlotte was very different in that she successfully delivered a lot of children, but she too suffered terribly as a mother. Very strange indeed, and deeply sad.

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    1. Sarah Murden

      Thank you so much for your comments, both very sad stories. We have no idea where the concept of Queen Charlotte being pregnant on that occasion came from, but it struck us as really strange that the newspapers frequently referred to it at different stages of the pregnancy i.e. five months, then seven months etc – then nothing – all very odd!

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  2. Teresa Broderick

    I’m just completely stunned by fifteen pregnancies!! What terrible lives these women lived. It’s a miracle that thirteen survived. I have three children and believe me that was more than enough times to be pregnant.

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    1. Sarah Murden

      Thanks for your comments and yes fifteen was quite high, but many women at that time gave birth to at least six children, although their chance of surviving to adulthood was much lower than it would be today. 🙂

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    1. Sarah Murden

      We suspect it will remain a mystery or simply a case of ‘fake news’. Thank you so much for your kind comments. The newspaper reports are online but via a subscription to something like either Ancestry or FindMyPast. We also understand that for those in education they can be accessed via their institution’s library. Hope this helps. S&J

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