Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) was queen consort of Great Britain for fifty-seven years. Until the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 2021, Charlotte had been the longest serving consort in British history. At the time of her marriage to George III, she was Britain’s first queen consort in over twenty years.
Charlotte was considered a suitable consort because the duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was obscure and relatively disconnected from European politics. Her apparent disinterest in politics and intrigue was incredibly palatable to George III and to his government.
Charlotte was passionate about the arts, music, and botany. These were interests she shared with Marie Antoinette of France, whom she corresponded with frequently. They grew close and Charlotte prepared apartments for Marie in case she needed to flee France, but they went unused.
As queen, Charlotte fulfilled her central task: to have children. After the birth of the future George IV in 1762, a further fourteen children followed. George and Charlotte would make sure all their children received a good education.
In 1765, George III may have experienced his first bout of mental illness which triggered a regency act that would have left Charlotte as regent if George was deemed permanently incapable of ruling. The King recovered but in 1788 his illness tragically returned with full force.
Such was the strain on Charlotte that she was said to have gone completely grey in only a handful of days. The King recovered once more in 1789 but by the turn of the century he was increasingly ill, and the couple spent less and less time together.
In 1811, regency powers were turned over to the Prince of Wales as it became clear that George III would not recover. Charlotte continued to fulfil her public role and served as a hostess for the Prince of Wales due to his estrangement from his wife but did so only reluctantly.
Charlotte died in 1818, aged seventy-four. George III was so ill that it is thought he never knew that she had passed away. George died just over a year later and was buried with her in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor where they would be joined in the coming centuries by many of their descendants.
Janice Hadlow, The Strangest Family: The Private Lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians (London: William Collins, 2014).