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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Lady Charlotte Finch
14 February 1725 – 11 July 1813

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Charlotte Finch

Lady Charlotte Finch was the second eldest daughter of Thomas Fermor, 1st Earl of Pomfret and his wife Henrietta Louisa Jeffreys. The growing family would come to include ten children: four sons and six daughters. Lord and Lady Pomfret held various court appointments during their lifetimes; the earl served as Master of the Horse to Queen Caroline while his wife was a Lady of the Bedchamber.

Charlotte and her family were well travelled and sojourned to cultural and historical landmarks on the continent. While details on Fermor and her sisters’ education are minimal, mention of them in contemporary diaries implies they were well-educated. She and Lady Pomfret were well-read and interested in theology; Charlotte’s friends included the educated Elizabeth Carter. Charlotte was fluent enough in Italian for Horace Walpole to remark in 1740, she “speaks the purest Tuscan, like any Florentine” and “the Florentines look on her as the brightest foreigner that has honoured their [Accademia].” According to Walpole, Lord Granville, who had been briefly married to Charlotte’s sister Sophia, was “extremely fond” of Charlotte; after Sophia’s death in 1745, Granville gave his deceased wife’s jewels to Charlotte, “to the great discontent of his own daughters”.

On 9 August 1746, Charlotte married the Hon. William Finch (1691–1766), heir to his brother Daniel Finch, 8th Earl of Winchilsea. Shortly after the wedding, Walpole reported that Charlotte had five thousand pounds from her father, a sum that would increase when “Mr Finch settles fifteen thousand pounds more upon her”. William Finch had previously been married to Lady Anne Douglas but had no issue. He was a diplomat who served as envoy to Sweden and the Netherlands in the 1720s before becoming an MP for Cockermouth and Bewdley. Another of his roles, held from 1742, was to serve as vice-chamberlain of the royal household. He and Lady Charlotte had one son and four daughters together. One of their daughters died in 1765. Their only son, George, inherited the earldoms of Nottingham and Winchilsea from his paternal uncle in 1769.

Lady Charlotte Finch’s career as royal governess began in August 1762, when she was appointed a day after the birth of George, Prince of Wales, the eldest son and heir of King George III and Queen Charlotte. Walpole called the decision “a choice so universally approved that I do not think she will be abused even in the North Briton“. Lady Charlotte held the role of royal governess for over 30 years, and oversaw 14 of the king and queen’s 15 children.

She presided over the royal nursery, overseeing the staff members designated for each child; the staff included sub-governesses, teachers, personal attendants, and assistant governesses. She oversaw the princes until they became old enough to live in their own households, while the six princesses remained under her supervision until they turned 21.

In the mid-1760s, shortly after her appointment, troubling developments began occurring in Lady Charlotte’s home. One of her daughters died in 1765. Furthermore, William Finch, who was 34 years older than his wife, had by 1765 become senile and mentally unstable. Rumours circulated that he threw her down a staircase. Fearing for her safety, she obtained a formal separation from her husband, taking their children to live with her in an apartment at St James’s Palace and a house in Kew. He died in late 1766. Despite these stresses on her personal life, Finch continued to fulfil her position with zeal. However, when another of her daughters became ill in early 1767, Finch took leave of her job and brought the young girl to various locales in the unsuccessful hope she would survive. Finch left the sub-governess Mrs Cotesworth in charge and returned grieving in November 1767, in time to care for the fifth addition to the nursery, Prince Edward.

Lady Charlotte has been variously described by biographers as warm, competent, and kindly. As was typical for the period, the children were infrequently seen by the king and queen; Finch was the unvarying adult figure in their lives. While the royal princes endured disciplined lessons in an austere educational environment, Finch was loved by her female charges. They affectionately referred to her as “Lady Cha”, and upon returning from a trip to the continent in 1771, Queen Charlotte wrote her, “They can never be in better hands than yours”. Shefrin says that Finch “supervised a progressive nursery focused on child-centred learning” and shared a passion for education with Queen Charlotte, as is evident in their correspondence and the writings of contemporaries; the idea of noble mothers encouraging education for their children – a concept advocated by educators and scholars – was becoming popular, and Finch’s approach at court helped spread these new educational theories. Among the methods she employed was the use of “dissected maps”, some of the earliest jigsaw puzzles, to teach geography.

The historian Flora Fraser writes that “in many ways, the education… ordered for the princesses would be as rigorous as” that which the king ordered for the princes. Queen Charlotte felt that a woman equipped with an education was as able as a man. An accomplished woman herself, Finch, alongside Mrs Cotesworth, organised lessons in the arts and sciences which were taught to both the princes and princesses. Subjects included geography, English, grammar, music, needlework, dancing, and art. A tutor, Julie Krohme, taught the children in the French language. Once old enough, the princesses would travel each day to receive their education at Finch’s new house at Kew alongside the river. Conversely, the princes gradually saw less of Lady Charlotte as they became older and entered into the care of governors.

In 1774, Mrs Cotesworth retired due to ill health. While seeking a successor, Lady Charlotte requested that she devote less time to the children. This was opposed by Queen Charlotte. The monarch felt that Cotesworth’s resignation was partly due to Finch decreasing hours with the children, and also thought the other staff would be encouraged by Finch increasing her presence and “make them look upon it as a less confinement”. Finch replied that she had regularly spent many hours with the princesses, both mornings and evenings, adding:

How can I without deviating from my own principles undertake an additional duty of a kind for which I am conscious I am growing every day more unfit, as your Majesty must know what an uncommon stock of spirits and cheerfulness is necessary to go through the growing attendance of so many and such very young people in their amusements, as well as behaviour and instruction, besides ordering all the affairs of the nursery.

Lady Charlotte threatened to resign so that the queen could hire someone “younger and more fitted for it”, a declaration which ended Queen Charlotte’s quest to increase her hours. Finch remained at her post. A new sub-governess, Martha Gouldsworthy – hired on Finch’s recommendation – now spent frequent time with the princesses, chaperoning and supervising their studies in preparation for their lessons with their teacher Miss Planta. In 1782, the 14th royal child, Prince Alfred, sickened and died at Windsor near the age of two, despite Lady Charlotte’s devoted nursing.

By 1792, Lady Charlotte Finch had become ill and deaf. Princess Sophia remarked that autumn, “I am grieved to death about her, she is if possible more kind to us than ever. Indeed, both [Mrs Gouldsworthy] and her are so good to us that we should not be deserving of having such treasures about us, if we did not feel their kindness in the highest degree”. Finch resigned from her role in November 1792 and retired on 5 January 1793, though she continued to correspond with members of the royal family and receive gifts from them. She received £600 in yearly payment, supplemented by income from the South Sea Company, until her death on 11 July 1813 at St James’s Palace.

She was buried in the family vault at Ravenstone, Buckinghamshire and five royal dukes attended her funeral. Her youngest daughter was allowed to maintain their apartments at St James’s. Her will was mainly portioned out between her three surviving children. Her memorial by Francis Leggatt Chantrey, is in Holy Cross Church, Burley, adjacent to Burley House, the Rutland mansion of her son, George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea.

  • Charlotte Finch
  • George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea (4 November 1752 – 2 August 1826)
  • Sophia Finch, married Captain Charles Fielding in 1772 and had issue
  • Henrietta Finch
  • Frances Finch (?–1765)
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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Princess Sophia of the United Kingdom
3 November 1777 – 27 May 1848

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Princess Sophia

Princess Sophia of the United Kingdom was the 12th child and fifth daughter of King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Sophia is perhaps best known for the rumours surrounding a supposed illegitimate child to which she gave birth as a young woman.

In her youth, Sophia was closest to her father, who preferred his daughters over his sons; however, she and her sisters lived in fear of their mother. The princesses were well-educated but raised in a rigidly strict household. Though he disliked the idea of matrimony for his daughters, King George had intended to find them suitable husbands when they came of age. However, the King’s recurring bouts of madness, as well as the Queen’s desire to have her daughters live their lives as her companions, stopped would-be suitors from offering for the most of the princesses. As a result, Sophia and all but one of her sisters grew up in their mother’s cloistered household, which they frequently referred to as a “Nunnery”.

Though she never wed, rumours spread that Sophia became pregnant by Thomas Garth, an equerry of her father’s, and gave birth to an illegitimate son in the summer of 1800. Other gossip declared the child was the product of rape by her elder brother the Duke of Cumberland, who was deeply unpopular. Historians are divided on the validity of these stories, as some believe she gave birth to Garth’s child while others call them tales spread by the Royal Family’s political enemies.

The efforts of the Prince Regent to gain his sisters increased independence were further hastened along with Queen Charlotte’s death in 1818. In her last years, Sophia resided in the household of her niece Princess Victoria of Kent (the future Queen Victoria), at Kensington Palace. There, she fell under the sway of Victoria’s comptroller, Sir John Conroy, who took advantage of her senility and blindness; rumours also circulated that Sophia was in awe of Conroy because of his ability to deal effectively with the “bullying importunities” of Sophia’s supposed illegitimate son. Sophia frequently served as his spy on the Kensington household as well as on her two elder brothers, while Conroy squandered most of her money.

The Princess Sophia was born at Buckingham House, London on 3 November 1777, the twelfth child and fifth daughter of King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The young princess was christened on 1 December 1777 in the Great Council Chamber at St James’s Palace by Frederick Cornwallis, Archbishop of Canterbury. Her godparents were Prince August of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (her first cousin once-removed), The Duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (her first cousin twice-removed) and The Duchess of Mecklenburg (wife of her first cousin once-removed), all of whom were represented by proxies.

Upon Sophia’s birth, King George ensured his daughters and younger sons would have allowances; through a provision of Parliament, Sophia and her elder sisters each were to receive an annual income of £6,000 either upon their marriages or the king’s death. The royal household was very rigid and formal, even when only the royal family were together in private. For instance, when the King entered a room, his daughters were expected to stand up, remain silent until addressed, and not leave until given permission. Queen Charlotte made attempts to be economical where possible; the younger princesses wore country-made dresses, which were less expensive, and ate plain food.

Sophia’s early life was focused on education. Lady Charlotte Finch served as Sophia’s governess, a role she performed for all the royal children. As with the strict education and discipline received by her brothers, Lady Charlotte through the sub-governesses chosen by Queen Charlotte arranged expert tutors to give the princesses lessons in English, French, music, art, and geography; Sophia and her sisters were also allowed to play sports and boisterous games with their brothers. The queen sought to combine her daughters’ entertainments with educational benefits. Sophia and her siblings were brought up with an exposure to theatre, and were entertained with special performances. Princess Sophia’s first appearance in public occurred when she accompanied her parents and elder siblings to a commemoration for George Frideric Handel, held at Westminster Abbey on 26 May 1784.

Uncommon for the period, Sophia’s father was an involved parent in her early years, and preferred his daughters to his sons. When possible he attended the princesses’ birthday parties and other special events, and was kept informed on their progress in the schoolroom. A family friend once remarked, “I never saw more lovely children, nor a more pleasing sight than the King’s fondness for them.” On the other hand, Queen Charlotte invoked fear in her daughters and, according to royal historian A.W. Purdue, she was not “benignly maternal”.

By 1792 Sophia and her sister Mary were being included in more family activities, and at age fourteen, Sophia debuted at court on her father’s birthday, 4 June 1792. According to biographer Christopher Hibbert, in her young adulthood Sophia was a “delightful though moody girl, pretty, delicate and passionate.” As within her childhood, Sophia was devoted to her father, though she occasionally found him exasperating. She wrote that “the dear King is all kindness to me, and I cannot say how grateful I feel for it.” Prior to 1788, King George had told his daughters that he would take them to Hanover and find them suitable husbands despite misgivings he had, which stemmed from his sisters’ own unhappy marriages. He remarked, “I cannot deny that I have never wished to see any of them marry: I am happy in their company, and do not in the least want a separation.” However, the King suffered his first bout of madness that year, when Sophia was aged eleven. Sophia remarked of her father’s behaviour, “He is all affection and kindness to me, but sometimes an over kindness, if you can understand that, which greatly alarms me.” Further lapses into insanity occurred in 1801 and 1804, thus forestalling talk of marriage for his daughters. The question of matrimony was rarely raised; Queen Charlotte feared the subject, something which had always discomforted the King, would push him back into insanity. Furthermore the queen, strained from her husband’s illness, wanted the princesses to remain close to her.

As a result, like most of her sisters, Princess Sophia was forced to live her life as a companion of her mother. The princesses were not allowed to mix with anyone outside of the Royal Court, and rarely came into contact with men other than pages, equerries, or attendants. Constantly chaperoned, the girls frequently complained about living in a “Nunnery”. For entertainment, the queen read sermons to them and the princesses practised embroidery. On one occasion Sophia wrote their days were so “deadly dull… I wished myself a kangaroo.”

The Princess Royal was the only daughter who was able to marry while relatively young. The rest of the princesses were not without suitors, but most of the various men’s efforts were stopped by Queen Charlotte. Most of the girls longed for families and children of their own, and often asked the Prince of Wales, to whom they remained close, for help, either in finding spouses, allowing them to marry their loves, or allowing them to live outside of Queen Charlotte’s household. A grateful Sophia once jokingly wrote to her brother, saying “I wonder you do not vote for putting us in a sack and drowning us in the Thames.” Before George became regent, he had little power to oblige his sisters. His ascension to the regency in 1811 led to Sophia and the other remaining unmarried princesses to receive increases in their allowances, from £10,000 to £13,000. He also supported their desire to venture out into society. Queen Charlotte was outraged at these attempts, and the Prince-Regent had to reconcile the two parties carefully so that his sisters could still enjoy some independence.

During Sophia’s lifetime, there were various rumours about her alleged incestuous relationship with her brother, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, who later became the King of Hanover. The Prince Regent supposedly warned his sisters not to be alone in the same room with the Duke, and Cumberland was deeply unpopular with the British people. It is unclear whether there was truth to these rumours or whether they were circulated by the Duke’s numerous political enemies.

Limited in exposure to eligible men, Sophia and several of her sisters became involved with courtiers and equerries. Sophia entered into a relationship with her father’s chief equerry, Major-General Thomas Garth, a man thirty-three years her senior. He had a large purple birthmark on his face, causing Sophia’s sister Mary to refer to him as “the purple light of love” and courtier and diarist Charles Greville to call him a “hideous old devil”. Despite this, one lady-in-waiting noted “the princess was so violently in love with him that everyone saw it. She could not contain herself in his presence.” Greville wrote about Sophia and her sisters’ affairs in a diary entry, “women fall in love with anything – and opportunity and the accidents of the passions are of more importance than any positive merits of mind or of body… [The princesses] were secluded from the world, mixing with few people – their passions boiling over and ready to fall into the hands of the first man whom circumstances enabled to get at them.”

Gossip soon spread of the existence of an illegitimate child. Some historians contend that, sometime before August 1800 in Weymouth, Sophia gave birth to a child fathered by Garth. Historians further write that the child, baptised Thomas Garth like his father, was raised by his father in Weymouth, where his mother would visit him occasionally. In 1828, this child apparently tried to blackmail the royal family with certain incriminating documents from his father about his supposed parents’ relationship, though this ended in failure.

Conversely, Anthony Camp challenges the belief that Sophia had a child and provides a detailed summary of the available evidence. In his book Royal Babylon: the Alarming History of European Royalty, author Karl Shaw writes of the possibility that the Duke raped his sister, citing evidence from Charles Greville’s diaries, as well as other factors.

Sophia was a favourite of her niece, Princess Charlotte of Wales, as the young princess liked her gentle character and had a certain fascination for the gossip surrounding Sophia’s past. Charlotte detested her other aunts, and once wrote, “I can hardly believe [Sophia] belongs to them- so wholly different is she in thoughts, opinions, matters. Her nobleness and rectitude of mind renders her no favourite here. The constant scenes of intrigue, of tracasseries, she can but ill support.” The Prince Regent’s efforts to help his sisters led to the marriages of Mary and Elizabeth, and Queen Charlotte’s death in 1818 allowed Augusta and Sophia their domestic freedom, though it was too late for them to marry. From her mother Sophia inherited Lower Lodge at Windsor Great Park, which she in turn gave to the Prince Regent. The death of Princess Augusta in 1840 resulted in Sophia inheriting Clarence House and Frogmore.

After the queen’s death, Sophia lived in Kensington Palace during her final years, next to her niece Princess Victoria of Kent, the future Queen Victoria. As a result, Princess Sophia was one of the few paternal relatives that Victoria saw often. Like her sister-in-law the Duchess of Kent, Sophia fell under the spell of Victoria’s comptroller Sir John Conroy and let him manage her money. The princess became a part of the Duchess of Kent’s social circle and, in return, Sophia spied for Conroy when he was absent from Kensington Palace. Sophia also reported to Conroy on what she heard at St. James’s Palace, as she had privileged access to courtiers as well as to her two elder brothers. Gossipmongers speculated that Conroy’s successful ability to deal with the “bullying inopportunities” of Sophia’s illegitimate son endeared her to him, while some historians write that Conroy took advantage of Sophia, who in her last years had become “dizzy, easily muddled… mourning her fading looks” and a “confused, nearly blind aunt.” Sophia often dined with the household, but the Duchess of Kent despised her. Princess Victoria was aware her aunt was a spy and the two never became close. Sophia’s wealth allowed Conroy to live a rich lifestyle, acquiring for himself a house in Kensington for £4000, as well as two other estates for £18,000. Sophia was also responsible for certain members of Victoria’s household gaining higher statuses; Victoria’s governess Louise Lehzen, for instance, was made a Hanoverian baroness on the orders of George IV, and Conroy was named a Knight Commander of the Hanoverian Order.

After having been blind for over ten years, on the morning of 27 May 1848, Princess Sophia became ill at her residence at Vicarage Place, Kensington; she was visited by her sister Mary, sister-in-law Queen Adelaide, and nephew-in-law Albert, Prince Consort. Sophia’s death occurred at 6:30 later that day, when Mary, the Duchesses of Kent and Cambridge were present.

The princess was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, immediately in front of (east of) the central chapel rather than at Windsor Castle, as she wished to be near her brother, Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (who lies on the opposite side of the path). After her death, it was discovered that Conroy had squandered most of her money and that the princess had virtually no estate to bequeath. Charles Greville wrote an entry in his diary on 31 May:

“The Princess Sophia died a few days ago, while the Queen [Victoria] was holding the Drawing-room for her Birthday. She was blind, helpless, and suffered martyrdom; a very clever, well-informed woman, but who never lived in the world.”

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