Princess Augusta Sophia was born at Buckingham House, St. James Park, London, the sixth child and second daughter of George III and his wife Queen Charlotte. Frederick Cornwallis, The Archbishop of Canterbury christened the young princess on 6 December 1768 in the Great Council Chamber at St. James Palace. Her godparents were Prince Charles of Mecklenburg (her maternal uncle, who was visiting England), The Queen of Denmark and The Hereditary Duchess of Brunswick-Luneberg (her paternal aunts). When only a month old, Lady Mary Coke declared her “the most beautiful infant I ever saw.”
The family life of the daughters of George III was not, prior to the king’s first serious illness in 1788, an unhappy one. They were spared the strict educational regime and harsh discipline which fell to the lot of their brothers, and under the supervision of a well-loved governess, Lady Charlotte Finch, received lessons in English, French, geography, music, and art. Despite (or perhaps because of) the size of her family Queen Charlotte was not benignly maternal, and her daughters were scared of her, while the king was highly emotionally attached to them, preferring them to his sons, and was reluctant for them to marry and leave home.
A succession of foreign princes made tentative attempts to become suitors to the princesses, but the queen repelled most of their offers, and many were not even passed on to the potential brides. Charlotte, the princess royal, whom the queen held responsible for the conduct of her sisters (who in turn regarded her as a ‘tell-tale’), was the first to succeed in marrying. In 1796 Prince Friedrich of Wurttemberg (1754-1816), a 42-year-old widower whose first wife had died in suspicious circumstances, made an offer; the king gave reluctant consent to the match, and the wedding took place on 18 May 1797. Unfortunately, the Princess Royal’s escape from her parents did not open the door for her sisters.
Princess Augusta reported had been a great comfort to her mother during the trying times of the King’s illness. She even slept in a tent bed in the Queen’s room as company and as protection from the King’s ramblings. However, Princess Augusta Sophia was three and forty when George III was finally declared insane in 1811. The following year, she wrote her brother, the Prince Regent, and begged him to arrange a secret marriage for her with an English military officer with whom she had been in love for years.
Augusta had met an Irish career officer called Brent Spencer. He was the son of a country squire and had joined the army when he was but seventeen. Spencer had served with the Duke of York in Holland in 1799. Later, he served with distinction in Egypt, before returning to England in 1805, where he appointed equerry to the King and given a promotion to major general. In 1807, Spencer led a surprise attack on Copenhagen, and served in the Peninsular War as second in command to Sir Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington). Upon his retirement in 1811, Spencer was made a general. After his years of service, he bought a small estate at Lee, close to Windsor.
In 1812, Augusta wrote her appeal to her brother. She shared with George IV how her affections had remained true for the twelve years of her acquaintance with Spencer. She begged the Prince Regent to sanction a waiver of the Royal Marriage Act and to intercede with Queen Charlotte. “I am certain the Queen cannot approve if she merely thinks of my birth and station, but when she considers the character of the man, the faithfulness and length of our attachment, the struggles that I have been compelled to make, never retracting from any of my duties, I am sure that she will say that long and great has been my trial, and correct has been my conduct. I am proud of possessing the affection and good opinion of an honest man and highly distinguished character, and I am sure that what you can do to make us happy, you will not leave undone.”
We are not aware of what measures George IV took in behalf of his sister, but he always loved his sisters thoroughly. When his daughter, Charlotte, died in childbirth, he chose Spencer to carry the news to Windsor. Spencer was installed as a Knight of the Bath in 1817. His relationship with Princess Augusta could never be a public one, and the couple appeared to accept the situation. When Queen Charlotte died in 1818, Augusta inherited a house and farm at Frogmore. She moved to the property after her father’s death in 1820.
We can only hope that Augusta found some happiness at this point in her life. Perhaps, Spencer attended upon her there. He died in 1828, while Augusta lived on until 1840.
Return tomorrow for Part III on Princess Elizabeth.