by John Van Der Kiste
Review by Cheryl Bolen
George III's Children
By John Van Der Kiste
Alan Sutton Publishing Limited
Great Britain, 1992
Unlike his hedonistic eldest son, England's King George III (1738-1820)
did not philander. He settled down with his German-born wife, Charlotte
(1744-1818), at age 23, and she proceeded to bear him 15 children over
the next 20 years. He did not take mistresses. He lived frugally. And he
derived great pleasure from his large brood--until the boys became men,
Eleven of the children would reach old age. Two boys would die
before the age of 5, and his youngest daughter died while in her
twenties. Of the 15, eight were boys and seven were girls.
Van der Kiste's work is an excellent source for information on
George III's children, two of whom would rule England and another who
would rule Hanover.
If the book has a fault, it is in the method of organization. For
clarity, it would have been more helpful if each of the siblings were
assigned his or her own chapter. Unfortunately, the book is written
chronologically. The problem that arises here is that the reader can
tend to get the children mixed up. Those familiar with the regency will
be well acquainted with the Prince of Wales and his next-eldest brother,
the Duke of York. The other brothers are less famous and tend to blur,
even though they each led distinctly different lives.
The girls, too, all seem to run together. Perhaps that is because
their lives were all rather the same--as bland as their parents.
The living conditions of King George's daughters came to be known
as The Nunnery. That is because none of them was allowed to marry at the
age when most young ladies take husbands. Three of the daughters would
eventually marry--but not until they were past the age of child bearing.
Starved for the male companionship that was so lacking in their lives,
one of the sisters, Sophia (1777-1848), got pregnant by her father's
56-year-old equerry and secretly gave birth without any member of her
household being any the wiser. (The little boy was placed in a foster
home.) Augusta (1768-1840) married the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, and
Elizabeth married the Prince of Hesse-Homburg when she was 48 years of
age. The only other sister to marry was Mary, who married the Duke of
Gloucester, whose husband's father was her father's brother.
The boys were raised in pairs, sharing domiciles and tutors. For
example, the Prince of Wales and his brother Freddie (later Duke of
York) were exactly a year apart, and they were never separated from one
another. Freddie was the king's favorite son, and when it became clear
his elder brother was a bad influence on him, the king sent Freddie to
The third son, William, later the Duke of Clarence and later
still, King William IV, was sent to sea at an early age and, unlike his
regent brother, was somewhat coarse. He lived as man and wife for more
than 20 years with the actress Mrs. Jordan, who bore him 10 children.
Their children took the FitzClarence surname.
The next son, Edward (1767-1820), later known as the Duke of Kent,
lived for many years with a French widow. He was a stern military man.
After the regent's daughter, Princess Charlotte, died in childbirth in
1817, he would be one of the brothers scurrying to take a legitimate
wife in order to father a child who would inherit the English throne. He
married a young Saxe-Coburg widow who had already borne two children.
She bore a daughter, Victoria, who would succeed her Uncle William as
ruler of England in 1837.
Ernest (1771-1851), the fifth son, became King of Hanover. He was
the only brother to never have a weight problem.
Another of the brothers to undergo an illegal marriage (as the
Prince of Wales had done with Mrs. Fitzherbert in 1785) was Augustus
(1773-1843). When he was 20 he secretly married Lady Augusta, who bore
him two children, but the marriage was invalidated in 1801 because it
violated the Royal Marriage Act.
The last brother to live past childhood, Adolphus (1774-1850) was
known as the Duke of Cambridge.
Son Alfred, who was born in 1780, died at age 2. At his death, the
king said, "I am very sorry for Alfred, but if it had been Octavius,
I should have died too." Months later, Octavius, who was born in
1779, became ill after being vaccinated for smallpox, and he never
recovered. His father was almost inconsolable over the loss of his
This book is invaluable for seeing the relationships among the
siblings, who, for the most part, were very close and for seeing the
relationship of the cold queen to her offspring.
This book review first appeared in the Beau Monde’s Quizzing
Glass in September, 2005.