Princess Charlotte was an unhappy person, and had what would appear to have been a horrible life. She was the daughter of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), and although she found happiness in her marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld she died at the age of 21, following the birth of a still-born son. There was an outpouring of national grief which has been compared with the more recent Princess Diana hysteria.
I was in Brighton last Saturday, and a fair bit of my time there was spent in the Royal Pavilion. The whole building is quite astonishing, but there is also an exhibition, Charlotte, the Forgotten Princess, which is on until March 2013, and is well worth visiting.
I’ve subsequently started reading Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Major Works, within which I coincidentally found his On the Death of the Princess Charlotte. His views on the hysteria surrounding the death of a princess seem to have been similar to those of Christopher Hitchens, but the section I have copied below particularly caught my eye. Some things haven’t changed very much at all since 1817.
The government which the imperfect constitution of our representative assembly threw into the hands of a few aristocrats, improved the method of anticipating the taxes by loans, invented by the ministers of William III, until an enormous debt had been created. In the war against the republic of France, this policy was followed up, until now, the mere interest of the public debt amounts to more than twice as much as the lavish expenditure of the public treasure, for maintaining the standing army, and the royal family, and the pensioners, and the placemen. The effect of this debt is to produce such an unequal distribution of the means of living, as saps the foundation of social union and civilized life. It creates a double aristocracy, instead of one which was sufficiently burthensome before, and gives twice as many people the liberty of living in luxury and idleness, on the produce of the industrious and the poor. And it does not give them this because they are more wise and meritorious than the rest, or because their leisure is spent in schemes of public good, or in those exercises of the intellect and the imagination, whose creations ennoble or adorn a country. They are not like the old aristocracy men of pride and honour, sans peur at sans tache, but petty piddling slaves who have gained a right to the title of public creditors, either by gambling in the funds, or by subserviency to government, or some other villainous trade. They are not the “Corinthian capital of polished society,” but the petty and creeping weeds which deface the rich tracery of its sculpture.