First things first, A Season Lost is finally published! One of the key themes readers will find during the series is childbirth: maternal mortality rates were high, which gives this strange quality to an impending birth. It might be cause for great happiness, or it might result in the loss of the mother, and/or the child. In A Season Lost, three of Elizabeth’s sisters give birth, and the experience impacts each of their lives in different ways.
Childbirth also brings me to the topic of today’s post, Princess Charlotte. The only daughter of the Prince Regent (later George IV) and his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, Charlotte was the heir to the British throne. She married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1816, and — underlining how dangerous it was even for a princess with the best medical care of the time available to her — gave birth to a stillborn boy after a long and arduous labor in November, 1817, and died following the birth.
The nation went into mourning, and history changed. If Charlotte had lived, we would have seen a Charlottian era, rather than a Victorian one. Her death sent all of the sons of George III on a royal heir race; they all discarded their mistresses and made proper marriages. The “winner,” so to speak, was the Duke of Kent and Strathearn, whose daughter, Alexandrina Victoria, would inherit the throne.
During their brief marriage, Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold did seem to have happiness. They moved in to Claremont, a mansion that today should be considered just outside of London. The house is now a school, and is not usually open to the public, but I had a chance to visit during Heritage Open Days, and thought I would share some pictures and video for the remainder of my post.
Although the house itself is closed to the public, a large portion of its grounds, the landscape garden, is now owned by the National Trust and open to visitors. Some of the biggest names in landscape architecture have worked on them over time, including Sir John Vanbrugh, William Kent, and Lancelot “Capability” Brown.
Interestingly Capability Brown also did the architecture for the current house itself, which is more of a rarity for him. It led to some interesting features melding the landscape with the house, such as this sunken service entrance, which contains a circular area where carts making deliveries could be turned around.
As you might expect, the house is very nicely situated in the landscape, on rising ground, although it otherwise has a pretty stock neo-classical Georgian exterior.
The house is in extremely good repair and strangely a lot of the original features remain (it’s now Grade I listed, so that helps). They’ve basically just sort of plunked a school down in the midst of these grand old rooms.
This detail shot of the ballroom gives an example of how many of the old architectural features are still intact. Can you imagine going to school in a place like this?
The house remained in royal hands for a time after Charlotte’s death, and Victoria did spend some time here. Her influence can be seen in certain spots, like the ceiling in what had been the dining room, where a vent removed the smells of food (which Victoria disliked).
Victoria also liked the cantilevered staircase here so well that she modeled the one at Osborne House on it.
Even some of the service areas in the basement were open to see, including the very non-service plunge pool, which I of course found interesting after a whole trip last year of learning about bathing and taking the cure.
I had some transit issues in getting out to Claremont (there was a rail strike on that day), but I’m really glad I was able to make things work and see the house. It was interesting to see a country house converted over to a school, and to have a better context for Princess Charlotte’s life. It was also a chance to see a lot of architectural features from the Regency and early Victorian (before they lost their minds on neo-gothic) eras.
I’ll have more on Regency architecture and the Duke of Kent in my next post, when we’ll take a visit to Sidmouth. But for now, I’ll leave you with a 360 video walkthrough of Claremont: