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 ill 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.