Queen Charlotte’s sister: Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Princess Christiane Sophie Albertine of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the elder sister of Queen Charlotte, consort of George III.

Born on the 6th December 1735 at Mirow (in north east Germany, then in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), Christiane (also known as Christiana) was destined to have her heart broken, and it was all because of the good fortune of her sister, Charlotte.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school, 1766 or later (as she is wearing the Order of St Catherine).
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school, 1766 or later (as she is wearing the Order of St Catherine). Royal Collection Trust

Duke Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg and Princess Elisabeth Albertine of Saxe Hildburghausen had ten children, six of whom survived infancy. Christiane was the first born, and after her came:

Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1738-1794)

Charles II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1741-1816)

Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg (1742-1814)

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen Consort to George III (1744-1818)

Duke George Augustus of Mecklenburg (1748-1785)

Lid of a snuff box, c.1770 depicting Queen Charlotte (seated, centre left), her sister, Princess Christiane (wearing a blue dress and the red sash of the Order of St Catherine), their brothers, Charles, Ernest, George and Adolphus and on the far right is Charles' wife, Frederica and their infant daughter.
Lid of a snuff box, c.1770 depicting Queen Charlotte (seated, centre left), her sister, Princess Christiane (wearing a blue dress and the red sash of the Order of St Catherine), their brothers, Charles, Ernest, George and Adolphus and on the far right is Charles’ wife, Frederica and their infant daughter. Royal Collection Trust

Together with her sisters, Christiane received a rudimentary education; Charlotte’s upbringing was later described as one similar to an English country gentleman although accounts suggest the girls were taught Latin, French and Greek as well as botany and history. With a good grounding in how to run a household and, as the eldest daughter, Christiane could perhaps have expected to make a highly advantageous marriage. However, by 1761 – aged 25 years – she was still unwed.

Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg, probably by Daniel Woge, painted after January 1766 as Christiana wears the red sash denoting the Order of St Catherine.
Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg, probably by Daniel Woge, painted after January 1766 as Christiana wears the red sash denoting the Order of St Catherine. Staatliches Museum Schwerin

In the early 1760s, John Ker, the young 3rd Duke of Roxburghe, was undertaking the Grand Tour. Travelling through Europe, in 1761 he met Christiane, and fell in love.  Christiane returned his affection and the romance between them progressed far enough for an engagement to be proposed.

John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Thomas Patch, 1761.
John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Thomas Patch, 1761. National Portrait Gallery

But, a spanner was about to be thrown into the works. In England, George III had ascended the throne and started to search for a wife amongst the European royalty and nobility. His choice eventually settled on the 17-year-old Princess Charlotte and a proposal of marriage was made, and accepted in the summer of 1761, at exactly the same time that the Duke of Roxburghe was negotiating for the hand of Christiane.

Queen Charlotte, when Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz c.1760. Royal Collection Trust. This portrait may be the one sent from Mecklenburg to George III before Charlotte's arrival in England for her marriage.
Queen Charlotte, when Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz c.1760. This portrait may be the one sent from Mecklenburg to George III before Charlotte’s arrival in England for her marriage.

The younger sister’s marriage proved to be a detrimental and insurmountable barrier to the elder’s; German etiquette precluded Christiane, almost a decade Charlotte’s senior, becoming the new British queen’s subject… and George III quite possibly disliked the idea of one of his subjects, albeit one who was high in his favour, becoming his brother-in-law. Reluctantly, Christiane and the duke took the decision to part.

Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Royal Collection Trust

While George III and Queen Charlotte had a long and very happy marriage (they fell deeply in love with one another), neither Christiane nor the duke ever married. It is believed that, having suffered the loss of each other, they never found anyone else who matched up to their ideal. Sir Walter Scott knew the duke personally, and said of him that:

Youthful misfortunes, of a kind against which neither rank nor wealth possess a talisman, had case an early shade of gloom over his prospects, and given to one so splendidly endowed with the means of enjoying society that degree of reserved melancholy which prefers retirement to the splendid scenes of gaiety.

John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Pompeo Batoni, 1761.
John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Pompeo Batoni, 1761. Scottish National Gallery

A personal friend of George III, Roxburghe was rewarded with positions at court. Christiane lived for a time in Neustrelitz with her brother, Adolphus. As he too was unmarried, Christiane acted as his representative when necessary and later she was made a canoness in Herford Abbey (an ancient religious establishment for women in the Duchy of Saxony), although she continued to live with her brother rather than enter the abbey’s precincts. On the 13th January 1766, Empress Catherine II (the Great) of Russia bestowed the Order of St Catherine on Christiane.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wearing the badge, star and ribbon of the Order of St Catherine of Russia, c.1766. Previously attributed to Daniel Woge.
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wearing the badge, star and ribbon of the Order of St Catherine of Russia, c.1766. Previously attributed to Daniel Woge. Royal Collection Trust

Christiane died on the 31st August 1794. Her younger sister, Queen Charlotte, was in Weymouth with the royal family when she heard the news; the court was ordered to go into mourning.

The ladies to wear black silk, plain muslin or long lawn, crape or love hoods, black silk shoes, black glazed gloves, and black paper fans.

Undress, black or dark-grey unwatered tabbies.

The gentlemen to wear black cloth, without buttons on the sleeves or pockets, plain muslin or long lawn cravats and weepers [strips of cloth sown onto coat cuffs], black swords and buckles.

Undress, dark-grey frocks.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school c.1775.
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school c.1775. Royal Collection Trust

The Duke of Roxburghe, who became a noted bibliophile, died in 1804.

 

Sources:

Hillyard, B. (2004-09-23). Ker, John, third duke of Roxburghe (1740–1804), book collector. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Stamford Mercury, 19th September 1794

Бантыш-Каменский Н.Н. Списки кавалерам российских императорских орденов Св. Андрея Первозванного, Св. Екатерины, Св. Александра Невского и Св. Анны с учреждения до установления в 1797 году орденского капитула. Издание подготовил П.А. Дружинин. Москва, «Трутень»®, «Древлехранилище», 2005. – 228с. 500 экз. Тв. переплет. (Типогр. «Гриф и Ко», г. Тула). ISBN 5-94926-007-4.

6 thoughts on “Queen Charlotte’s sister: Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

    1. Joanne Major

      Interesting question, Lynne! The Duke of Roxburghe left a bond of annuity to a person unknown in his will; the secrecy has made people suspect that this was to an illegitimate child. We do know that there are vague rumours about a child, possibly even one conceived about the time of his engagement to Christiana, but at the moment that’s all they are as far as we’re aware. Unless, of course, anyone else knows differently?

      Like

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