The Marriage of Augusta of Saxe-Gotha and Frederick, Prince of Wales

By Amy-Jane Humphries

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha.

In April 1736, Britain and the Hanoverian royal family celebrated the marriage of the heir apparent, Frederick, Prince of Wales, to Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. With this union, the monarchy found itself in a unique position. For the first time since they had inherited the throne from Queen Anne in 1714, the Hanoverians had both a king and a queen and a prince and princess of Wales at its helm. The early Hanoverian period, encapsulating the reigns of George I (1714-1727) and George II (1727-1760), is notable for its dearth of consort queens. George I’s divorce from Sophia Dorothea of Celle in 1694 meant that he came to Britain without a consort. George II was crowned beside his wife, Caroline of Ansbach, in October 1727 but their partnership ended with Caroline’s death a decade later and George never remarried. The absence of the queen consort was therefore the norm rather than the exception. Instead, the early Hanoverian period could be said to have been the era of the princess of Wales.

George II.

The presence of both the senior and junior consorts in 1736 was a highly significant moment for the royal family and the country. The dynasty had never been better represented or secure. In 1734, Anne, Princess Royal, had married William IV, Prince of Orange—a union which would prove fruitful—and George II had a spare male heir in the Duke of Cumberland as well as several other princesses at or approaching marriageable age. The union of Frederick and Augusta implied that more heirs would shortly follow which would further cement the hold that the Hanoverians had on the British throne. These developments were a cause for great optimism but there was also an undercurrent of apprehension regarding the succession which was evident in some of contemporary newspaper reports.

The Daily Gazetteer, a daily newspaper printed on Paternoster Row, London, was one such periodical which betrayed a sense of uneasiness about Britain’s future. On 30th April 1736, the Gazetteer devoted its Friday edition to the “happy nuptials”[1] of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The article was as much a celebration of the match as it was an introduction of Augusta to the people of London as an ideal consort and future queen. By exalting both her character and her familial background, the Gazetteer depicts Augusta as a “blessing to [the] nation!”[2] Her “sweetness of aspect” was taken as evidence of her possessing a “gentle, benevolent disposition.”[3] Augusta’s natural affability had endeared her to George II when they first met in 1735 and it had been one of the reasons why he had encouraged the match.[4] Augusta’s good nature made her an ideal partner for Frederick and it stood her in good stead for her when she would “share the throne”[5] with her husband. The Gazetteer believed that Augusta also had the “occasion to learn perfection” by “forming herself from the model of that great princess whose endowments add dignity to her rank and whose high station, elevated as it is, is inferior to the greatness of her mind and to her exalted virtues”.[6]

Frederick, prince of Wales.

That great princess was Queen Caroline and her inclusion within the article is telling. The Gazetteer’s tone throughout the piece is highly eulogising and so allowances must be made for the author overstating the greatness of its subjects, both the Hanoverians and Augusta’s family. However, the author’s characterisation of Caroline indicates how successful she was in reinstituting the role of the royal consort. Although Caroline’s popularity fluctuated throughout her time in Britain, the fact that the Gazetteer encourages Augusta to model herself on the Queen suggests that she had successfully defined the parameters for an ‘ideal’ royal consort in Hanoverian Britain. This was a remarkable triumph given that she had been both the first princess of Wales since the sixteenth century and the first queen consort in Britain for over forty years at the time of George II’s accession.

Caroline of Ansbach.

Most of the Gazetteer’s column inches were devoted to a discussion of Augusta’s Protestant pedigree. The newspaper provides a broad sketch of her ancestry, highlighting that Frederick’s “illustrious bride” was descended from the “first founders of the Protestant name,” including Frederick the Magnanimous.[7] The Saxe-Gotha line is thus seen as having “blessed the world with a princess to protect the liberties of Britain” just as Augusta’s ancestors had protected Protestantism.[8] The Gazetteer views Augusta as a vehicle for the continuation of the Protestant settlement in Britain and it is unambiguous about how important this is. The author praises George II’s “royal care” and “affectionate zeal for the interests of the reformed religion” for organising the match and declares that the King has “completed our security” by doing so.[9]

The Gazetteer also mentions the marriage of Anne, Princess Royal to William IV, Prince of Orange, which took place two years prior. It further celebrates George II for making this match and for “providing for public security in the collateral branches of the succession.”[10] Discussion of this match comes shortly after the Gazetteer reminds its readers that “to marry a papist is a forfeiture of the succession.”[11] This inclusion reveals what the author is implicitly trying to communicate to their readership. Anne and William’s marriage paralleled the union of Princess Mary Stuart to William III, Prince of Orange in 1677. George II’s orchestration of Anne’s marriage had symbolic significance for Britain and by mentioning it the Gazetteer was signalling that, should Britain find itself with a Catholic king once again, there would be Protestant alternatives there just as there had been in 1688. Though this indicates that the author, and perhaps their readership, had concerns about the longevity of Protestant settlement, the Gazetteer was also confident that Britain’s religion, and its liberties had the “highest advantage from the personal merits of” Augusta and that the King had successfully “completed [Britain’s] security” for the future.[12] But, in the event that the situation changed, the marriage of Anne and William had ensured the dynasty and the Protestant settlement.

The emphasis on Augusta’s Protestant credentials and upon the notion of these marriages securing Britain’s future could be seen as a reflection of the fact that the Hanoverian hold on the throne was not as assured as hindsight allows us to take for granted. The Protestant succession was threatened by the Jacobites, the descendants of James II and Mary of Modena, and their supporters who were plotting the downfall of the Hanoverians and the glorious return of the Stuarts. The 1715 rebellion had taken place just over twenty years previously and another unsuccessful rising, supported by the Spanish, had followed four years later. Throughout this period, Jacobitism was a serious political threat to the Hanoverians. The viability of the movement ended after the Jacobite defeat in the 1745 rebellion but the “continued relevance” of Jacobitism during the early eighteenth-century exacerbated Britain’s tendency to “place dynastic issues at the centre of political contention.”[13] This is reflected in the Gazetteer’s statement that “our happiness is bound up in the welfare of the royal family.”[14] By 1736, the Jacobite threat had taken on a new dimension as the Old Pretender, James Stuart, had two young sons who represented the future of the Jacobite cause just as Augusta and Frederick represented the future of Protestant Britain.

Portrait of a young George III.

Though the future of the dynasty did not seem safe to some contemporary observers, the marriage of Frederick and Augusta did secure the throne for the Hanoverians. In 1737, their first child, the Princess Augusta, was born at St. James’s Palace. However, the burden of monarchy would fall upon the shoulders of the child born the following year—the future George III. Frederick’s unexpected death in 1751 meant that Augusta would never “share the throne” [15] as the Gazetteer had hoped. This may be why Augusta has been somewhat forgotten in history. Instead of ruling Britain, the Dowager Princess put her energies into preparing her son to be king. In that, she can undoubtedly be said to have succeeded. George III was, until the reign of his granddaughter, Britain’s longest reigning monarch and his wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, remains the country’s longest serving queen consort. It is from that union that Elizabeth II descends. Thus, the royal family as we know it today could not have existed without Frederick’s marriage to his “illustrious bride.”[16] With this marriage Britain’s security truly was ensured.

Family portrait of Frederick and Augusta with their children.

Sources:

“On the happy nuptials of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales,” Daily Gazetter, April 30th, 1736.

“From Saturday May 29. to Tuesday June 1. 1736,” London Gazette, June 1736.

Further Reading:

Jeremy Black, George II: Puppet of the Politicians? Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007.

John L. Bullion, “‘To play what game she pleased without observation’: Princess Augusta and the political drama of the succession, 1736-56.” In Queenship in Britain 1660-1837: royal patronage, court culture, and dynastic politics, edited by Clarissa Campbell Orr, 207-235. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.

Christine Gerrard, “Queens-in-waiting: Caroline of Anspach and Augusta of Saxe-Gotha as Princesses of Wales.” In Queenship in Britain 1660-1837: royal patronage, court culture, and dynastic politics, edited by Clarissa Campbell Orr, 143-161. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.

Stephanie Koscak, “Rituals of Royal Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Frederick, Prince of Wales, Takes a Mistress.” The Court Historian 26, no. 1 (May 2021): 71-92.

Andrew C. Thompson, George II. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.



[1] “On the happy nuptials of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales,” Daily Gazetteer, April 30th, 1736.

[2] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[3] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[4] Andrew C. Thompson, George II (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 112.

[5] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[6] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[7] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[8] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[9] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[10] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[11] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[12] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[13] Jeremy Black, George II: Puppet of the Politicians? (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007), 16.

[14] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[15] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

[16] “On the happy nuptials,” Daily Gazetteer.

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