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Correspondence of Princess Sophia

Princess Sophia by Sir William Beechey, 1797 ©

Princess Sophia was born on 3 November 1777 at Buckingham House; the twelfth child and fifth daughter of George III and Queen Charlotte. Her papers are a modest collection of over 150 letters sent to a variety of correspondents, a large proportion of which were delivered to her father, George III, and eldest brother, George IV.

Educated alongside her siblings by the governess Lady Charlotte Finch, it would be beneficial to consider her correspondence alongside the governess’s own papers. Princess Sophia’s life was spent as a companion to her mother, together with her unwed sisters, and although she made her debut at court in June 1792, she mixed little with others. It was only when Sophia was requested to chaperone her niece Princess Charlotte of Wales (with whom she had an affectionate relationship, see GEO/ADD/22/92), and upon the death of Queen Charlotte in 1818, that she gained more freedom.

Princess Sophia never married and had children of her own, although rumours circulated that she gave birth to an illegitimate son in the summer of 1800. The child was supposedly fathered by George III's equerry, Major General Thomas Garth, who was thought to have raised the boy himself. The Princess lived out her final years within the household of her niece, Princess Victoria of Kent (later Queen Victoria) at Kensington Palace. She became increasingly blind and it is believed she became adversely influenced by Sir John Conroy, who took control of her finances, and may also have persuaded her to spy upon Princess Victoria. Princess Sophia died aged 70 on 27 May 1848 at Kensington Palace, and was subsequently interred at Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

Letter from Princess Sophia to George Villiers, 1804. RA GEO/ADD/13/95 Royal Archives /© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

In addition to the main series of Princess Sophia’s correspondence, this collection also features a series of letters the Princess sent to the Honourable George and Theresa Villiers. The Villiers had a close relationship with the Royal Family and consequently their letters also feature within the collections of Princess Elizabeth, Princess Mary, and the Calendar of George IV.

George Villiers (1759-1827) was a politician and favoured courtier of George III (serving as Groom of the Bedchamber, Clerk of the Council and Registrar of the Duchy of Lancaster).  He also received a private bounty from the King; couriered letters to the Queen of Württemberg in Stuttgart; became bailiff of the Windsor Farms; and ranger of Cranbourne Chase, the latter enabling him to reside at Cranbourne Lodge in Windsor Great Park.

In 1792, Villiers became the Tory Member of Parliament for Warwick, a position he held until 1802. Whilst MP for Warwick he was appointed as Paymaster to the Marines, a role he maintained after his term as an MP had ended. However, this role would end in scandal and with his disgrace. The loose accounting within the department led to him accruing extensive debts by the time of his resignation in 1809, and resulted in an investigation by the Finance Committee. His disgrace was further compounded after the death of Princess Amelia in 1810 (a close friend of Villiers) as he threatened to blackmail George III with copies of her correspondence. Villiers' actions resulted in the loss of his remaining positions and his family vacating Cranbourne Lodge in 1812.

In April 1798, George Villiers had married Theresa Parker, a union which produced ten children, and it is Theresa who appears as Princess Sophia's main correspondent within this series of papers. There are also letters from the Princess addressed to George Villiers to whom she refers to affectionately as 'Savage'. However, it appears that around the time of her sister, Princess Amelia’s death and George Villiers’ disgrace that her correspondence with the Villiers comes to an end.