Saturday, 10 August 2013

wondering what could have been - let's go back in time

You'll no doubt recall that yesterday I was wondering what the monarchy might have looked like if Queen Victoria's government had changed the rules of succession, so they weren't sexist any more.  It didn't turn out so well for Britain or for the monarchy.  But what if we went even further back in time?

I don't know who did this lovely picture
but I found it here
Queen Victoria reigned 1837-1901.  She was the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, but he died when she was tiny, so she inherited the throne from her Uncle, William IV (reigned 1830-1837).  He had no children.  William IV had succeeded his older brother, George IV (reigned 1820-1830), who had outlived his only daughter.  George was the oldest of his siblings, and succeeded his father, George III (reigned 1760-1820).  However, George III was not the eldest of his siblings.  That would be his older sister, Augusta.

The previous monarch had been George II.  Augusta and George's grandfather.  George II's father, George I (there are more names you could use, if you're reading this Royal family), had imprisoned George II's mother, and George II never forgave him for it.  George II himself had a happy marriage to Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach, who was described as being attractive and intelligent.  They had nine children, the eldest of whom was a boy.  Although patriarchy was alive and well in Georgian times, I like to think it's not unfeasible that George II could have changed the rules of succession.  I mean, it is, obviously, unfeasible.  He didn't.  But what if he had?

Princess Augusta.  In a parallel universe
Queen Augusta.
Portrait by Johann Georg Ziesenis

George II reigned 1727-1760.  When he died, his son and heir, Frederick had been in his grave nine years, so the throne passed on.  In the real world it passed to George III, but if it had passed to Augusta, then we'd have a whole different situation.

Augusta was born second in line to the throne and Rule Britannia! (see below) was performed for the first time to celebrate her third birthday.  Happy Birthday to you hadn't been written yet.  She was born in 1737, and would have been 23 when her grandfather died in 1760.  At this age she wasn't yet married.  So if she had become Queen Augusta we must wonder if she would have still married her husband, Charles of Brunswick in 1764.  The marriage was a political one, and the two didn't waste much liking on each other.  Charles had affairs, which Augusta tolerated, and she was perceived as being aloof.  She also missed living in Britain.  Of course, this could have been a different story if she had been Queen - she would surely have been expected to stay in Britain.  Lucky Augusta!  

Having not had challenges enough, Augusta had two sons who had to be declared invalids, and exempted from the succession.  This also affected public opinion of her, but I think that if she had been Queen of Britain she would have been happier, and if the succession didn't rely so much on boys, she could have enjoyed the family she had.  Even though Charles and Augusta didn't get on, they had seven children.

Augusta junior, or Zelmira
Portrait by Hansmartin Decker-Hauff
Augusta's oldest child was a daughter; Augusta.  There were a lot of people in the family with August-type names, so Augusta junior was called Zelmira by her family.  In the name of sanity, I'm going to call her that too.  

Zelmira was born in 1764, and married Prince Fredrick of W├╝rttemberg when she was 15.  Again, this was a political marriage - Frederick was next in line to the throne of W├╝rttemberg (in Germany).  Unfortunately, Frederick was also bisexual, having affairs with noblemen.  He was also very big - 6'11" and fat; and he was violent toward his young wife. They did, however, have four children.  Empress Catherine II of Russia (Catherine the Great) had appointed Frederick the Governor-General of Eastern Finland, and he and Zelmira were based in Vyborg.  It was therefore to Catherine that Zelmira fled in 1786 when the violence got too much.  Catherine granted her protection and expelled Frederick from Russia, saying to his sister: "it is I who try to bury abominations and it is my duty to suppress any further ones."  Unbelievably, Zelmira's parents would not allow her to obtain a divorce from Frederick, but Catherine took pity and allowed her to live in one of her estates, Lohde castle, in what is now Estonia.

Catherine appointed  Wilhelm von Pohlmann as Zelmira's custodian.  Zelmira was 21, and Wilhelm 60.  We don't know if it was rape or not, but Zelmira got pregnant.  On 27th September 1788 Zelmira went into premature labour.  The child was stillborn and Zelmira heamorraged.  Wilhelm refused to get help, for fear of the pregnancy being discovered, and Zelmira bled to death.  Her 23 year old body was buried in a nearby churchyard.  The Empress and Zelmira's parents were informed of her death (but the reason for it only transpired later).  

Zelmira would never become Augusta II, but when she died in 1788, her mother, our Augusta I would still have been on the throne.  She would have ruled until her death in 1813, at which point she would have been succeeded by Zelmira's son... more on that next time.