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Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick, and family

Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick, with her son, 1767. RCIN 405359 ©

The collection of papers from the House of Brunswick comprises over 200 documents, principally correspondence, covering the period 1759 to 1819. These letters are written in both French and English, and the majority of this correspondence is from Princess Augusta, later Duchess of Brunswick (1737-1813), to her brother George III. In addition there are various letters sent from her husband and sons to both George III and George IV (when Prince Regent) amongst others.

Brunswick was a principality of the Holy Roman Empire located in present day North Western Germany. Brunswick had originally included the Electorate of Hanover (the territory George I possessed when he inherited the British throne, which passed to his male heirs), closely linking the Houses of Hanover and Brunswick. To maintain this connection dynastic marriages often occurred, and Princess Augusta’s marriage was no exception. She wed Charles William Frederick, Hereditary Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel (1735-1806), later Charles II Duke of Brunswick, on 16 January 1764. This collection includes details of their marriage treaty and although this was a diplomatic union Augusta was initially happy with her husband - she wrote to George III in December 1764 that ‘I never knew anybody with a more real good heart’. The couple would become the Duke and Duchess of Brunswick in 1780 after the death of Charles I.

Princess Augusta was far from enamoured by her new home in Brunswick, writing shortly after her arrival that ‘it is impossible to keep one’s countenance at the odd…manners of these people’.Throughout her life she remained staunchly British and never fully adapted to her life in Brunswick.

The Duke and Duchess’s union would result in seven children, all of whom feature heavily within the correspondence: Augusta (later Duchess Frederick of Württemberg), Karl, Caroline (later Queen consort of George IV), George, Augustus, Frederick William and Amelia (who died in infancy). As a consequence of both Dukes George and Augustus being declared invalids, and Karl, the Hereditary Prince similarly impaired and without issue, Frederick William would inherit the Dukedom upon the death of his father in 1806 after the Battle of Auerstadt.

The surviving Brunswick daughters Augusta and Caroline made their own dynastic marriages, and Caroline’s marriage in 1795 to George, Prince of Wales continued the link between the Houses of Hanover and Brunswick. This disastrous union can be traced throughout this collection from the hopeful preparations to the breakdown of the marriage, when Princess Augusta thanks her brother for looking after her daughter.

In addition to the difficulties surrounding Caroline of Brunswick, this collection is filled with information regarding family events that would be expected in letters between brother and sister, including: congratulations upon the births of children, news of their siblings such as the death of Edward, Duke of York and Albany in 1767, and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding their sister Caroline Matilda, Queen of Denmark and Norway.

Letter from Princess Augusta of Brunswick to George III, 19 February 1764, GEO/MAIN/51978-51979 Royal Archives /© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

Unsurprisingly, the Napoleonic Wars are referred to significantly within the collection, as the conflicts had a heavy impact on Brunswick. The continent became increasingly unsafe for the ruling families and between 1807 and 1813, the territories of Hanover and Brunswick would become the Kingdom of Westphalia under Napoleon. In the aftermath of the wars the two territories were once again separated with Hanover becoming a Kingdom and Brunswick a Duchy. During these upheavals the now Dowager Duchess of Brunswick feared falling into the hands of the French and in her letters referred to the ‘vile Corsican usurper’. In 1807, George III granted her permission to flee to England and upon her return Augusta resided with her daughter, the Princess of Wales, at Montagu House, Blackheath, until moving to Brunswick House. Augusta, the Dowager Duchess of Brunswick, never returned to the continent and died in London in 1813.  She was interred at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, and the correspondence between her sons and the Prince Regent after her death reveal the Brunswick family failed to invite the Royal Family to the Duchess’s funeral. The Duke of Brunswick wrote to the Prince Regent begging for forgiveness pleading ignorance of the ‘customs of this country’.

The papers of the House of Brunswick should be consulted in conjunction with other available collections, such as the official papers of George III and George IV, to discover the counterpart correspondence and gain a deeper understanding of the events described within the papers from the House of Brunswick.