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Princess Sophia of the United Kingdom

Princess Sophia
Princess Sophia, c. 1825, painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence
Full name
Sophia Matilda
House House of Hanover
Father George III
Mother Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Born (1777-11-03)3 November 1777
Buckingham House, London
Died 27 May 1848(1848-05-27) (aged 70)
Kensington Palace, London
Burial Kensal Green Cemetery, London

The Princess Sophia (Sophia Matilda; 3 November 1777 – 27 May 1848) was the 12th child and fifth daughter of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Sophia is perhaps best known for the rumours surrounding a supposed illegitimate child to which she gave birth as a young woman.

In her youth, Sophia was closest to her father, who preferred his daughters over his sons; however, she and her sisters lived in fear of their mother. The princesses were well-educated but raised in a rigidly strict household. Though he disliked the idea of matrimony for his daughters, King George had intended to find them suitable husbands when they came of age. However, the King's recurring bouts of madness, as well as the Queen's desire to have her daughters live their lives as her companions, stopped would-be suitors from offering for the most of the princesses. As a result, Sophia and all but one of her sisters grew up in their mother's cloistered household, which they frequently referred to as a "Nunnery".

Though she never wed, rumours spread that Sophia became pregnant by Thomas Garth, an equerry of her father's, and gave birth to an illegitimate son in the summer of 1800. Other gossip declared the child was the product of rape by her elder brother the Duke of Cumberland, who was deeply unpopular. Historians are divided on the validity of these stories, as some believe she gave birth to Garth's child while others call them tales spread by the Royal Family's political enemies.

The efforts of the Prince Regent to gain his sisters increased independence were further hastened along with Queen Charlotte's death in 1818. In her last years, Sophia resided in the household of her niece Princess Victoria of Kent (the future Queen Victoria), at Kensington Palace. There, she fell under the sway of Victoria's comptroller, Sir John Conroy, who took advantage of her senility and blindness; rumours also circulated that Sophia was in awe of Conroy because of his ability to deal effectively with the "bullying importunities" of Sophia's supposed illegitimate son. Sophia frequently served as his spy on the Kensington household as well as on her two elder brothers, while Conroy squandered most of her money. The princess died on 27 May 1848 at her residence in Vicarage Place, Kensington Palace.


  • Early life 1
  • Adulthood 2
    • Illegitimate child 2.1
  • Later life 3
    • Death 3.1
  • Titles, styles, honours and arms 4
    • Titles and styles 4.1
    • Arms 4.2
  • Ancestors 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Princess Sophia, aged 5 in 1782

The Princess Sophia was born at Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.[1][2] The young princess was christened on 1 December 1777 in the Great Council Chamber at St James's Palace[3] by Frederick Cornwallis, Archbishop of Canterbury. Her godparents were Prince August of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (her first cousin once-removed), The Duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (her first cousin twice-removed) and The Duchess of Mecklenburg (wife of her first cousin once-removed), all of whom were represented by proxies.[4]

Sophia (right) with her sisters Mary and Amelia, c. 1785.

Upon Sophia's birth, King George ensured his daughters and younger sons would have allowances; through a provision of Parliament, Sophia and her elder sisters each were to receive an annual income of £6,000 either upon their marriages or the king's death.[5] The royal household was very rigid and formal, even when only the royal family were together in private. For instance, when the King entered a room, his daughters were expected to stand up, remain silent until addressed, and not leave until given permission.[6] Queen Charlotte made attempts to be economical where possible; the younger princesses wore country-made dresses, which were less expensive, and ate plain food.[7]

Sophia's early life was focused on education.[8] Westminster Abbey on 26 May 1784.[13]

Uncommon for the period, Sophia's father was an involved parent in her early years, and preferred his daughters to his sons.[10][14] When possible he attended the princesses' birthday parties and other special events, and was kept informed on their progress in the schoolroom. A family friend once remarked, "I never saw more lovely children, nor a more pleasing sight than the King's fondness for them."[15] On the other hand, Queen Charlotte invoked fear in her daughters and, according to royal historian A.W. Purdue, she was not "benignly maternal".[10]


Princess Sophia, c. 1792. This Prince of Wales.[16]

By 1792 Sophia and her sister

External links

  • Beatty, Michael A. (2003). The English Royal Family of America, From Jamestown to the American Revolution. McFarland & Company.  
  • Gill, Gillian (2009). We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals. New York: Ballatine Books.  
  • Hall, Matthew (1858). The Royal Princesses of England: From the Reign of George the First. London: G. Routledge & Co.  
  • Panton, Kenneth J. (2011). Historical Dictionary of the British Monarchy. Scarebrow Press, Inc.  
  • Purdue, A.W. (2004). "George III, Daughters of (act. 1766–1857)".   (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Shaw, Karl (2001). Royal Babylon: the Alarming History of European Royalty. Three Rivers Press.  
Works cited
  1. ^ Fraser 2004, p. 53.
  2. ^ Weir 2008, p. 299.
  3. ^ Hall 1858, p. 307.
  4. ^ Burke, John Bernard (1849). "The Patrician, Volume 6". The Patrician (London: Myers and Co). p. 100. 
  5. ^ Fraser 2004, p. 59.
  6. ^ Hibbert 2000, p. 203.
  7. ^ Fraser 2004, p. 86.
  8. ^ Hall 1858, p. 308.
  9. ^ Beatty 2003, p. 226.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Purdue 2004.
  11. ^ Fraser 2004, pp. 86–87.
  12. ^ Hibbert 2000, p. 99.
  13. ^ Hall 1858, pp. 307–308.
  14. ^ Hibbert 2000, p. 98.
  15. ^ Hibbert 2000, pp. 98–99.
  16. ^ "Princess Sophia (1777–1848)".  
  17. ^ Fraser 2004, p. 145.
  18. ^ Fraser 2004, p. 147.
  19. ^ a b c Hibbert 2000, p. 384.
  20. ^ Black 2006, p. 157.
  21. ^ Robinson, David (2 October 2004). "The Princess diaries".  
  22. ^ a b  
  23. ^ a b c Burton, Sarah (25 September 2004). "Birds in a gilded cage".  
  24. ^ a b c d e Beatty 2003, p. 229.
  25. ^ a b c Black 2006, p. 156.
  26. ^ Hibbert 2000, p. 378.
  27. ^ a b c d Hibbert 2001, p. 26.
  28. ^ Williams 2010, p. 60.
  29. ^ Byrne, Paula (6 September 2004). "No fairytale princesses".  
  30. ^ Hall 1858, p. 331.
  31. ^ Beatty 2003, pp. 229–230.
  32. ^ "Princess Sophia (1777–1848)".  
  33. ^ Gill 2009, p. 30.
  34. ^ Hibbert 2000, p. 368, 384.
  35. ^ Shaw 2001, pp. 213–214.
  36. ^ a b c d Panton 2011, p. 429.
  37. ^ a b c Williams 2010, p. 35.
  38. ^ David, Saul (2000). The Prince of Pleasure: The Prince of Wales and the Making of the Regency. Grove Press. p. 201.  
  39. ^ a b c Weir 2008, p. 300.
  40. ^ a b c d e Gill 2009, p. 47.
  41. ^ Camp, Anthony (2007). Royal Mistresses and Bastards: Fact and Fiction 1714–1936. London: Anthony J. Camp. pp. 313–23.  
  42. ^ a b Shaw 2001, p. 214.
  43. ^ Black 2006, p. 159.
  44. ^ Williams 2010, pp. 61, 68.
  45. ^ Hall 1858, p. 330.
  46. ^ Roberts, Jane (1997). Royal landscape: the gardens and parks of Windsor. Yale University Press. p. 170.  
  47. ^ Hall 1858, pp. 331–332.
  48. ^ a b Williams 2010, p. 177.
  49. ^ Williams 2010, pp. 176–177, 257.
  50. ^ Williams 2010, p. 203.
  51. ^ "Death of the Princess Sophia".   (subscription required for online access)
  52. ^ Hall 1858, p. 332.
  53. ^ "The Late Princess Sophia".   (subscription required for online access)
  54. ^  
  55. ^ Velde, Francois. "Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family". Retrieved 27 August 2011. 


  1. ^ The age and physical appearance of Thomas Garth, as well as the fact he was never dismissed from service, are indicators to Shaw that the Duke of Cumberland was the real father.[42]


British Royalty
House of Hanover
Quarterly, I and IV Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or; II Or a lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counter-flory Gules; III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent; overall an escutcheon tierced per pale and per chevron, I Gules two lions passant guardant Or, II Or a semy of hearts Gules a lion rampant Azure, III Gules a horse courant Argent, the whole inescutcheon surmounted by crown
George III
George IV
Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany
William IV
Charlotte, Princess Royal and Queen of Württemberg
Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn
Princess Augusta Sophia
Elizabeth, Landgravine of Hesse-Homburg
Ernest Augustus I of Hanover
Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex
Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge
Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh
Princess Sophia
Prince Octavius
Prince Alfred
Princess Amelia
Charlotte, Princess Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
Princess Charlotte of Clarence
Princess Elizabeth of Clarence
George V of Hanover
Prince George, Duke of Cambridge
Augusta, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck
Ernest Augustus, Crown Prince of Hanover
Princess Frederica, Baroness von Pawel-Rammingen
Princess Marie of Hanover
Marie Louise, Princess Maximilan of Baden
Prince George William of Hanover
Alexandra, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
Princess Olga of Hanover
Prince Christian of Hanover
Ernest Augustus, Prince of Hanover and Duke of Brunswick
Ernest Augustus, Prince of Hanover and Hereditary Prince of Brunswick
Prince George William of Hanover
Frederica, Queen of the Hellenes

See also


As of 1789, as a daughter of the sovereign, Sophia had use of the arms of the kingdom, differenced by a label of three points argent, the centre point bearing a heart gules, the outer points each bearing a rose gules.[55]


  • 2 November 1777 – 27 May 1848: Her Royal Highness The Princess Sophia

Titles and styles

Princess Sophia's coat-of-arms.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

"The Princess Sophia died a few days ago, while the Queen [Victoria] was holding the Drawing-room for her Birthday. She was blind, helpless, and suffered martyrdom; a very clever, well-informed woman, but who never lived in the world."[54]

The princess was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, immediately in front of (east of) the central chapel[52][53] rather than at Windsor Castle, as she wished to be near her brother, Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (who lies on the opposite side of the path). After her death, it was discovered that Conroy had squandered most of her money and that the princess had virtually no estate to bequeath.[10][36] Charles Greville wrote an entry in his diary on 31 May:

After having been blind for over ten years,[36] on the morning of 27 May 1848, Princess Sophia became ill at her residence at Vicarage Place, Kensington; she was visited by her sister Mary, sister-in-law Queen Adelaide, and nephew-in-law Albert, Prince Consort. Sophia's death occurred at 6:30 later that day, when Mary, the Duchesses of Kent and Cambridge were present.[39][51]


The tomb of Princess Sophia, Kensal Green Cemetery

[50][27] After the queen's death, Sophia lived in

Sophia was a favourite of her niece, Princess Charlotte of Wales, as the young princess liked her gentle character and had a certain fascination for the gossip surrounding Sophia's past. Charlotte detested her other aunts, and once wrote, "I can hardly believe [Sophia] belongs to them- so wholly different is she in thoughts, opinions, matters. Her nobleness and rectitude of mind renders her no favourite here. The constant scenes of intrigue, of tracasseries, she can but ill support."[44] The Prince Regent's efforts to help his sisters led to the marriages of Mary and Elizabeth, and Queen Charlotte's death in 1818 allowed Augusta and Sophia their domestic freedom, though it was too late for them to marry.[10] From her mother Sophia inherited Lower Lodge at Windsor Great Park, which she in turn gave to the Prince Regent.[45][46] The death of Princess Augusta in 1840 resulted in Sophia inheriting Clarence House and Frogmore.[47]

Princess Sophia, c. 1821. Painting by John Linnell.

Later life

Conversely, Anthony Camp challenges the belief that Sophia had a child and provides a detailed summary of the available evidence.[41] In his book Royal Babylon: the Alarming History of European Royalty, author Karl Shaw writes of the possibility that the Duke raped his sister, citing evidence from Charles Greville's diaries, as well as other factors.[42][note 1] Historian Gillian Gill believes that Sophia secretly gave birth to the child and that this is the reason Sophia never married.[40] Alison Weir and others, however, write of a possible marriage between Sophia and Garth the same year as the child's birth,[24][43] but there is no evidence to back this assertion other than the presence of a wedding ring in a portrait of an aged Sophia.[39]

Gossip soon spread of the existence of an illegitimate child. Some historians contend that, sometime before August 1800 in Weymouth, Sophia gave birth to a child fathered by Garth.[10][19][24][39][40] Flora Fraser believes the rumours that Sophia had a child, but has questioned whether the child was fathered by Garth, or Sophia's brother the Duke of Cumberland.[23] Historians further write that the child, baptised Thomas Garth like his father, was raised by his father in Weymouth,[10][37] where his mother would visit him occasionally.[24] In 1828, this child apparently tried to blackmail the royal family with certain incriminating documents from his father about his supposed parents' relationship, though this ended in failure.[10][24][36]

Limited in exposure to eligible men, Sophia and several of her sisters became involved with courtiers and equerries. Sophia entered into a relationship with her father's chief equerry, Major-General Thomas Garth, a man thirty-three years her senior. He had a large purple birthmark on his face, causing Sophia's sister Mary to refer to him as "the purple light of love"[10] and courtier and diarist Charles Greville to call him a "hideous old devil".[37] Despite this, one lady-in-waiting noted "the princess was so violently in love with him that everyone saw it. She could not contain herself in his presence."[37] Greville wrote about Sophia and her sisters' affairs in a diary entry, "women fall in love with anything – and opportunity and the accidents of the passions are of more importance than any positive merits of mind or of body... [The princesses] were secluded from the world, mixing with few people – their passions boiling over and ready to fall into the hands of the first man whom circumstances enabled to get at them."[38]

During Sophia's lifetime, there were various rumours about her alleged incestuous relationship with her brother, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, who later became the King of Hanover.[33][34] The Prince Regent supposedly warned his sisters not to be alone in the same room with the Duke,[35] and Cumberland was deeply unpopular with the British people. It is unclear whether there was truth to these rumours or whether they were circulated by the Duke's numerous political enemies.[36]

The Prince of Wales commissioned Sir William Beechey to paint this in 1797,[32] three years before Sophia supposedly gave birth to a child.

Illegitimate child

[31][10] He also supported their desire to venture out into society. Queen Charlotte was outraged at these attempts, and the Prince-Regent had to reconcile the two parties carefully so that his sisters could still enjoy some independence.[30] The

As a result, like most of her sisters, Princess Sophia was forced to live her life as a companion of her mother. The princesses were not allowed to mix with anyone outside of the Royal Court, and rarely came into contact with men other than pages, equerries, or attendants. Constantly chaperoned, the girls frequently complained about living in a "Nunnery".[25][26][27] For entertainment, the queen read sermons to them[25] and the princesses practised embroidery.[28] On one occasion Sophia wrote their days were so "deadly dull... I wished myself a kangaroo."[23]

[25][24][22][10] Further lapses into insanity occurred in 1801 and 1804, thus forestalling talk of marriage for his daughters. The question of matrimony was rarely raised; Queen Charlotte feared the subject, something which had always discomforted the King, would push him back into insanity. Furthermore the queen, strained from her husband's illness, wanted the princesses to remain close to her.[23] However, the King suffered his first bout of madness that year, when Sophia was aged eleven. Sophia remarked of her father's behaviour, "He is all affection and kindness to me, but sometimes an over kindness, if you can understand that, which greatly alarms me."[22] He remarked, "I cannot deny that I have never wished to see any of them marry: I am happy in their company, and do not in the least want a separation."[21] despite misgivings he had, which stemmed from his sisters' own unhappy marriages.[20]

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