King George III had a big family, siring 15 children with his poor Queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. But it’s only their flamboyant and extravagant firstborn, George, Prince of Wales, and his younger brother William, who succeeded him on the throne that are usually remembered. Their six sisters – Charlotte, Augusta, Elizabeth, Sophia, Amelia and Mary – are now only footnotes in history books about their more famous family members. Finally, someone has decided to write their stories.
At first sight, their lives may seem pretty boring and uneventful. Only 3 of them married, when they were already quite old, and no children were born from these unions. They spent most of their lives at home, enjoyed very little freedom and you’d be excused for thinking they spent their days only shopping for new gowns, gossiping and attending court balls. But from their letters, on which Fraser heavily relied for her book, a different picture emerges. The princesses fell in love and, one of them, Sophia, even gave birth to an illegitimate child. They also all had dreams of their own they tried to fulfill in whatever way they could, although their plans were often frustrated.
They had to deal with their father’s mental illness, which not only grieved them but also put an end to their dreams of marriage and the freedom that would come with their new status, for fear the King wouldn’t have been able, in the state he was in, to part with one of his beloved daughters, and have a relapse. Yet, they all loved their father very much. Only the oldest, Augusta, managed to get married while her father, then well, was still alive. They also lived in a time of political instability: America was fighting their war of Independence against Britain and the French would, a few years later, depose and murder their king and queen. However, the political and social situation of the time is barely touched upon.
Instead, the book focuses mostly on the private lives of the princesses, examining them in minute details. Although I usually love reading tidbits about people’s lives, there are just way too many in this book. A lot of them don’t add anything to the story, but just bog it down. At times it feels like you’re reading an excerpt from a letter after another, and they are mostly about simple, mundane things that happened to them. Because of it, I found the book slow, tedious and hard to get into. And it’s a shame because, to minutely record every little detail about the princesses’ lives, the author only briefly touches upon more interesting topics, such as the relationship Sophia had with the father of her child or that of Amelia with the man she wanted to marry. From the book, it’s clear that she was madly in love with him, but he’s barely mentioned.
In addition, sometimes it can be difficult to keep track of all the people who appear in the book. However, this is understandable, given the size of theur family. Luckily, there’s a genealogical tree at the beginning of the book, which I kept referring to. For these reasons, although this book is a delightful and informative read, I would recommend it only to those with a strong interest in the Georgian era and the British royal family. The casual reader may find it too dry and confusing to follow.
Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III by Flora Fraser is an informative, delightful and detailed account of the lives of the British princesses. However, the many personal details about their daily life bog down the book somewhat, while the big number of people that appears in it can at times confuse the readers. Because of it, I would recommend it only to those who are very interested in these princesses. Casual, non-academic readers may find it too dry a read.