Poignant note from Queen Charlotte to dead son`s nanny
In her note, the Queen tells Lady Charlotte Finch: “Receive this urn as an acknowledgement for your very affectionate attendance upon my dear little angel Alfred, and wear the enclosed hair, not only in remembrance of that dear object, but also as a mark of esteem from your affectionate Queen Charlotte.”
The poignancy of the note - released for the first time as part of a project to publish thousands of documents from the royal archives online - is a mark of how sharply Alfred’s death was felt by his parents.
Portrait of Queen Charlotte by Johan Joseph Zoffany
Alfred may have been one of 15 children, but his death affected both the Queen and his father the King profoundly.
Following his death, Lady Charlotte wrote that the Queen "cried vastly" and was "very much hurt by her loss and the King also."
Indeed, King George was known to be in the habit of talking to his dead son during the later bouts of madness for which he became famous - such as talking to trees or speaking for hours without pausing.
It is an image which may go some way towards explaining the trauma which led to George III’s troubled state of mind. The death of another son, Prince Octavius, six years later, had a similarly deep impact on him.
The memory of Prince Alfred was kept alive by the Royal family for years after his death, to such an extent that the celebrated artist Thomas Gainsborough later included his posthumous portrait in a painting of the royal children.
Another artist, Benjamin West, depicted Prince Alfred as an angel welcoming Octavius, who also died of smallpox, into heaven.
The note from Queen Charlotte to Lady Charlotte Finch enclosing a locket of Prince Alfred`s hair
Even before his death, the young Alfred had won the affection of the Georgian public through his rare public appearances.
In June 1782, he was taken to Deal, on the Kent coast, by Lady Charlotte in the hope the sea air would aid his recovery from smallpox.
While there, Alfred endeared himself to the people of the town, waving from his carriage to passers-by.
But even though the prince had earlier been inoculated against the disease, he continued to suffer bouts of fever and chest problems, eventually dying at Windsor Castle on Aug 20, 1782.
“He was deeply mourned by his parents and siblings,” Flora Fraser, the historian and biographer of George III, told the Telegraph. “The letter to Lady Charlotte Finch show that both the King and Queen Charlotte miss him keenly.”
Portrait of George III by Johan Joseph Zoffany
The note has been published as part of The Georgian Papers Programme, a five-year project which will eventually see 350,000 pages of historical manuscript from The Royal Archives` Georgian Collection digitised and made available to the public and academics worldwide.
Other documents include a draft letter of abdication from King George expressing his reaction to the loss of the American colonies following the War of Independence, in which he states: “America is lost! Must we fall beneath the blow? Or have we the resources to repair the mischief?”
They also include secret instructions dispatched by the King to Captain Cook in 1776 and George’s observations on astronomy.
The documents, explored in a BBC documentary, reveal the king to have been a keen patron of the arts and sciences and a man who, although he never ventured beyond the south of England, revelled in the travels of Britain’s explorers and seafarers.