13th February 1818. Triple Obstetrical Tragedy.
Today in 1818 saw the death by suicide of Sir Richard Croft (6th Bt). Nearby was a passage from Love’s Labour’s Lost Act V Sc.II: ‘Fair Sir, God save you! Where is the princess?’ (1)
Croft had been physician and ‘couchere’ to Princess Charlotte Augusta who died at 21 from post partium complications, along with the baby, the previous November. (2)
He felt responsible for the fatalities, particularly as forceps hadn’t been used, and as was the practice, Charlotte had been ‘bled’ and put on restricted diet to reduce the size of foetus. She was therefore weakened in any case.
Croft has unfortunately come down in history known as the ‘Triple Obstetrical Tragedy’, which changed the course of history, as if Charlotte had survived, Victoria, her cousin, wouldn’t have succeeded in 1837.
It had originally been intended that Charlotte marry Prince William of Orange which would have meant the unification of the thrones when he became William II of Netherlands. However instead she married the German, Prince Leopold.
Charlotte’s hoped for eventual accession seemed to offer hope to the nation, in contrast to her mad grandfather and her unpopular father.
The unhappy sequence of events thus constitutes one of history’s ‘might have been’, for if the Heir Presumptive, Charlotte, George IV’s only legitimate child had survived, there would have been no Age of Victoria and beyond.
As it was, the unmarried sons of George III were pressured into marriage and when the second son Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany died in 1827, the throne went in 1830 to the third son Prince William, Duke of Clarence who became William IV.
Then his 4th son Prince Edward, Duke of Kent fathered Victoria, born 18 months after the death of Charlotte.
Charlotte’s death caused a national outpouring of grief with drapers running out of black mourning material, the trade in fancy ribbons disappeared and memorial china was produced on a mammoth scale.
Henry Brougham, radical lawyer and Whig MP said: ‘It really was as if every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child’.
As customary the funeral was held quietly at night with her father George IV not attending from the medieval notion that the regal body be unaffected from disease of death. He did however send a symbolic empty coach.
The well publicized case of Charlotte resulted in a general review of practice in midwifery for both royalty and generally.
(1) Croft had been initially trained by Dr Rupert Chawner in the Author’s town of Burton-on-Trent, Staffs.
(2) Died 6.11.1817.
dailyexpress. 4.3.2012. Clare Heal.
bl.uk.Pic of Funeral.