Royal Princesses – Part V – George III’s Descendants – Princess Sophia

Sophia Matilda was born on 3 November 1777, the twelfth child and fifth daughter of George III and Queen Charlotte. She was equally as beautiful as Mary and likely more intelligent. Sophia is said to have been the people’s favorite. Unfortunately. Sophia had inherited the family malady and often suffered from “spasms,” bouts of depression, and a throat malady that made it hard for her to swallow. Like her father, Sophia’s constitution was stronger than many expected. She lived to age 72.

Much of Sophia’s story is pure conjecture. Reportedly, she bore a General Thomas Garth an illegitimate son in 1800. Lord Glenbervie published the rumors of the child’s birth in his Journal. Supposedly, Glenbervie learned of the child from the Princess of Wales, whose “fondness” for the Royal Family had gone by the wayside. Glenbervie wrote, “The foundling which was left at the Taylors is now in a manner admitted by the Court to be Princess Sophia’s, and, as the story goes, by General Garth.”

Garth was a British Army officer and chief equerry to King George III. The child was called Thomas. Anthony Camp in Royal Mistresses and Bastards (London 2007, pages 313-323) challenges the idea of Sophia maternal attempts.

In his Memoirs, Charles Greville wrote, “The Princesses lived at the Lower Lodge. Pss. Sophia, however, was unwell, and was removed to the Upper Lodge, and a few days after the K. and Queen went to town, leaving the Pss. there. Garth, who was one of the King’s equerries, remained also, and his bedroom at the Lodge was just over hers. Nine months from that time she was brought to bed. The old King never knew of it. The Court was at Weymouth when she was big with child. She was said to be dropsical, and then suddenly recovered. “

The March 15th, 1829, version in the Morning Chronicles claimed Sophia gave birth during the royal family’s annual move from Windsor to Weymouth for their summer holiday. During the journey, Sophia took illĀ in Andover. Yet, once she reached Weymouth, she had recovered completely. Mysteriously, a male child was placed with a family named Taylor, who had just had their own son. He lived lived with the family until age 4, when General Garth removed the child to be brought up as his own.

Rumors also existed of a secret marriage, which would have been illegal because of the Royal Marriage Act. Garth was 38 years Sophia’s senior. Supposedly, he had a large port-wine colored birthmark that marred his countenance. He had a house called Ilsington in Puddletown, which was often visited by the Royal Family en route from London to Weymouth. With a reputation for devotion to the Royal Family, the Prince Regent placed Garth in charge of his renegade daughter Princess Charlotte. When she was in residence at Ilsington, Charlotte wrote to her friend Margaret Mercer Elphinstone that Garth spoiled “his son,” who was at Harrow at the time. Charlotte even insinuated that Garth put the young man in Charlotte’s way as a possible suitor.

The boy Thomas had an unsuccessful army career and found himself in deep debt. In 1829, he precipitated additional scandal by attempting blackmail. By that time, the story of Garth and Princess Sophia had taken on a life of its own. People now considered General Garth as a loyal servant who agreed to cover up an incestuous relationship between Sophia and her brother, the Duke of Cumberland, who was never a people’s favorite. Hoping to drive Cumberland from England, the newspapers printed the story. However, Cumberland brought his son and wife over from Hanover and faced the allegations head on.

Even worse than the Cumberland tale is the suspicion that Sophia’s child might have belonged to her father. When she was living in the Upper Lodge, George III was living there also. Not mad at the time, the monarch had had several episodes previously and would go mad again the following year. People consider this a strong possibility because of General Garth’s total devotion to his monarch. This would certainly explain why Sophia’s brothers and sisters closed ranks to protect her.

Part 6 concludes the series tomorrow with Princess Amelia.

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16 Responses to Royal Princesses – Part V – George III’s Descendants – Princess Sophia

  1. suzan says:

    yikes so much conjecture and so little fact perhaps….
    I just feel bad for her that she had so much inherited illness.

  2. When people think of the Regency Period as an ideal time without scandal, they are being greatly misled.

  3. Writing a novel about Sophia at the moment – this has inspired me to keep going, so thank you :o) I’d heard the Ernest rumour but not the George III one! Though having said that, he did show her an “over friendliness” in his illness, as she puts it, which gives it some foundation. Poor Sophy!

    • Laura, you might look at Passions and Principles (I think it is Joan Aiken’s book.). It’s been awhile since I have read it, but it has a nice chapter on the sisters.

    • lolalee4 says:

      Writing a novel? :) Care to give us a little preview of what you are writing?

      • I am writing a cozy mystery (my third one) based on the characters from “Pride and Prejudice.” It’s entitled “The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy.” I also am working on book 5 of my “Realm” series, which is a Regency romance series.

  4. Janet says:

    I am enjoying your series on the Royal Princesses. I look forward to the next one but can’t help but hate for it to be the last! It does not sound like this period was so ideal, at all. The life of these ladies was not such as I would have thought. It has made me sad for them in many ways.

  5. I’ve read biographies that present Sophia’s maternity of Tommy Garth as fact. And your comment about the Regency being very lively is spot on. I often wonder how much MORE lively our perception of it would be if the Victorians hadn’t been so dedicated to cleaning up history’s perception of their parents and grandparents.

    • Grace, I love your comment about the Victorians. I never considered that they must have “cleansed” the history of anything wanton or uncouth. It’s odd that in current times, with mass media, we learn everyone’s deepest secrets. Writing Jane Austen adaptations/sequels, as well as Regency romances, I am often asked about whether a love scene is appropriate between Austen characters. What is it people say: men think of sex every 10 seconds. Do you suppose it was different during the Regency? LOL!

    • lolalee4 says:

      As if the Victorians weren’t hypocritical enough. ;) I think it’s pretty much established that she did have a child, but of course, there are those who want to present the scrubbed up version of her life. I feel so much for this Princess, a woman who was bright, intelligent, and quite passionate and emotional, yet not able to be ever truly free. Lots of compassion for her.

  6. Sophia Rose says:

    This princess does have a very speculative, shadowy story. Either way, it didn’t turn out well for her.

  7. Wouldn’t you like to know the truth of what happened? Royalty knows how to skew a story to fit their needs.

    • lolalee4 says:

      I believe there was a relationship between the Duke of Cumberland and Sophia, all the evidence (circumstantial, though strong) points to it. I would love to know how to find out more about Sophia’s life, and am continuing my own research, though I’m open to suggestions about how and where to find good information about her.

  8. Obviously, we will never know the “truth.” I like your theory about Cumberland.

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