But did George marry Hannah ? Officially it has been denied and denied repeatedly. Needless to say, reasons of State rendered such denials necessary. But, in spite of this, an impartial consideration of the evidence can lead only to one verdict.
In the first place, although hot-headed and impetuous, George was not a rake, but " a nice boy." And he loved Hannah Lightfoot, really loved her. It is highly improbable, therefore, that he would have been content merely to enter into an irregular union with her. And surely it is still more improbable that Hannah would have allowed such. She-had been trained strictly as a Quaker, and was a good, religious little girl.
In the second place, there is the evidence of the marriage certificate. As a matter of fact, this probably is worthless, for two certificates have been produced, and in one the ceremony is said to have been performed at Kew, in the other at Peckham. But both agree as to the name of the officiating clergyman and the date. Moreover, although these and all other documents relating to the marriage are still kept at Somerset House, nobody may see them - not even by paying the customary shilling. And even so recently as 1866 a great handwriting expert declared publicly in court that he honestly believed the signatures to be genuine. Perhaps, then, this story is not altogether mythical.
And, in one moment, love's castle, so laboriously constructed, fell to the ground, shattered like a house of cards. Hitherto excitement had made troubles endurable, but now sorrow usurped the position of romance, and, to the woman, at any rate, that sorrow was a pain which nothing could alleviate.
To be a king the Prince had been born and nursed and trained. " George, be a king." From earliest childhood an adoring mother had preached this doctrine in his ears. To see him a great ruler, not merely a figurehead, was the epitome of her ambitions. Nor was she to be disappointed ; the seeds of her advice had not fallen upon barren ground.
Indeed, from the moment when he became king, George III. resolved to be king and to be a good king. The magic of power seized hold of him, and held him spellbound, while within him dawned the consciousness of a great responsibility. Kingship eliminated his manhood ; self became absorbed in duty. And before this, his duty to his country, all other obligations faded into nothingness.
But as king it behoved him first to ensure the Protestant succession. Hitherto the advice of counsellors who urged him to take a Royal consort to himself had moved him only to anger. But now all was different He needed an heir ; his people demanded one of him. And so, after anxious deliberation - what were his true feelings one can only imagine - he informed his astonished Ministers that he had ' come to a resolution to demand in marriage the Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-strelitz, a princess distinguished by every eminent virtue and amiable endowment."
He had never seen the lady, but rumour declared her to be thoroughly domesticated and very simple. Perhaps, therefore, George hoped to find in her a meek and worthy consort, who would be able to interest herself in the welfare of his poorer subjects without demanding from him a love that he could never give. Forthwith, therefore, he sent Lord Harcourt to her with a formal offer of the King of England's hand.
The Princess was darning stockings when she received the ambassador. Nor did she consider the nature of his mission sufficiently important to justify her in ceasing work. Indeed, she listened to the proposal with the most astonishing indifference. None the less, she expressed herself quite willing to comply with George's wishes, submitted to the customary ordeal of a marriage by proxy, and straightway came to England to meet her husband.
And it was not a romantic scene, the meeting. Charlotte looked bored. George was absurdly nervous. But, in spite of this, he assured his mother in the evening that he a' ready felt "a great affection" for the bride. This was very tactful of him, for, although amiable, Charlotte could not lay claim to beauty." Her person," according to Horace Walpole, ' was small, and very lean, not well made ; her face pale and homely, her nose somewhat flat, and mouth very large."
But, in spite of shortcomings, Queen Charlotte soon proved herself one of the
4071 love best of the wives of the Kings of England. Even Walpole was impressed by the beauty of her hair. The people adored her. And George - he at any rate respected and admired her always. She almost won his love. Perhaps she would have, had it not been bestowed already.
But to Hannah this gift brought little comfort, now that disgrace and contumely had been heaped upon it. George, he who had sworn eternal love and loyalty to her, had been faithless. It was this which stabbed her like a knife. She did not understand that duty ever could demand so big a sacrifice. She was not a great adventuress gambling with life, but just a little shopgirl, who loved with all her simple soul. Position held no attractions for her; she cared not for place and power. But still she was George's wife, and if she could not be his queen, surely no other woman could be. They were tears of shame, not jealousy, which dimmed her eyes.
After all, hers is a very human story. There are no letters, it is true, no treasured relics to recall the anxious achings of Hannah's wounded heart. But this surely only makes her love the more pathetic. She loved too truly to be vindictive, and has left on record no word of bitterness, and only one of protest. " Hannah Regina " - thus she proudly signed her will. For George's sake she made no endeavour during her lifetime to assert her rights ; she did not want to make his task more difficult.
And he was not ungrateful or unsympathetic. They who suffer in silence are they who suffer most. He knew this, and, although he could not bring peace and happiness to the woman he had wronged, he did not forget her children - and his. The daughter ultimately married an officer in the Indian Army. One son fought bravely in America for his king. To another son, George Rex, was given a large estate in Africa on condition that he would neither marry nor return to England. But in his case precautions were necessary, for the boy was the living image of his father.
A Curious Legend
But what did Queen Charlotte know ? Probably everything ; perhaps George himself told her the truth. At any rate, so long as Hannah lived, she did not believe herself to be his rightful wife, and, after Hannah's death, insisted that the king should marry her again. The ceremony was performed secretly at Kew, probably in 1765. The exact date is not known ; nor is the place of Hannah's burial. But she did not die unmourned. " My father would have been a happier man," King George IV. is said to have remarked, ' if he had remained true to his marriage with Hannah Lightfoot."
Perhaps he would. And, maybe, it was not merely the burden of kingship which later deprived him of his reason. There are heavier burdens for a mind to bear even than cares of State.
And, according to one legend, the king lived to see the Princess Amelia, his dearest daughter, love and die for the love of one of Hannah Lightfoot's sons. The story has been told on page 1987, Vol.2, and this legend concerning General Fitzroy throws a new light upon it. But it cannot be substantiated. If if it be true, however, it forms a supreme and awful climax to the story of a good man's folly. Retribution could not have come to George more cruelly