Princess Charlotte Augusta was the only child of George Prince of Wales, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick. Her father became Prince Regent in 1811 and was crowned King George IV in l82l Charlotte was born at Carlton House in London on 7th January 1796. Her parents' marriage was disastrous and they separated a few months after Charlotte's birth. Consequently, her childhood was spent in the care of governesses and tutors.
In December 1813, she became engaged to Prince William of Orange. However, she broke off this engagement because she refused to leave England and live in Holland after her rnarriage. On 2nd May 1816, she married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. Charlotte became pregnant and the whole nation was eagerly awaiting the birth of an heir to the throne.
Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed when Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son on 5th November 1817 and died the following day. The Princess and her baby were buried in St. George's Chapel at Windsor on 19th November. According to official records, these tragic events took place at Claremont House in Surrey. The premature death of Princess Charlotte changed the course of British history. If she or her baby had survived, then her cousin, Princess Victoria, would not have become Queen.
However, there is a local legend which tells a different version of what happened during the last few weeks of Charlotte's short life. This legend claims that she and her husband were visiting his homeland during the last month of her pregnancy. Prince Leopold wanted the baby to be born there because he believed that Charlotte would receive bettor medical attention, but the Prince Regent insisted that they return to England.
According to the legend, when the Prince and Princess were sailing back to Britain, a fierce storm forced their ship to seek shelter in the Tay estuary. The Princess went into labour and was taken ashore at West Ferry, where she was accommodated in a secluded local cottage. She subsequently gave birth and died there. All the local people involved were sworn to secrecy and the bodies were smuggled back to London. Only after they had arrived at Claremont House was the devastating news made public. Princess Charlotte and her baby were buried in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Cast1e on 19th November 1817.
The main piece of evidence to support this legend is an inscribed headstone which is set into the boundary wall of a house in West Ferry. This house, which was built about 187l, was originally called Viewfield but the name was changed in the 1920s to Burnbank. Research has estab1ished that the stone was discovered when the cottage was demolished in 1901. The owner then mounted the stone in the south boundary wall where it has remained until the present time.
The inscription on the stone reads as follows:
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF HER ROYAL HIGHNESS
THE LATE PRINCESS CHARLOTTE AUGUSTA,
DAUGHTER OF HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE PRINCE REGENT
CONSORT OF HIS SERENE HIGHNESS PRINCE LEOPOLD
OF SAXE-COBURG AND HEIRESS TO THE BRITISH THRONE.
BEING JUST DELIVERED OF A STILL BORN SON,
DIED ON 6TH NOVEMBER 1817, AGLD 22 YEARS
MUCH LAMENTED BY ALL THE NATION WHO HOP'D
TO HAVE BEEN BLEST IN HER SUCCESSION.
BUT DEATH'S STRONG HAND STRUCK SUCH A BLOW
AS ALIKE HAS LAID THEIR BODIES LOW.
WHICH STROKE COST MANY MOURNFUL SIGHS,
BUT THEIR SOULS ARE HAPPY 'BOVE THE SKIES.
GOD WILL IN TIME SUPPLY THElR PLACE.
The inscription has been severely eroded by the weather and is now no longer legible, but a photograph taken in 1983 clear1y shows the lettering. One theory about the origin of the stone was that it had been brought from Windsor, where the Princess and her baby are buried. However, after examining one of the remaining fragments a well-known monumental mason identified the material as South Angus sandstone which had come from a 1ocal quarry, probably Carmyllie or Leoch. He also pointed out that the triangular shape at the top is typical of many local gravestones, which suggests thatthe memorial stone was originally intended for an outdoor location.
Burnbank House was demolished in 1986 after the ground had been sold for development. A block of retirement flats and several luxury villas were built on the site. Although the memorial stone could not be preserved, the developer mounted a metal plaque on the outside of the south boundary wall at the corner of Victoria Road and Dundee Road. This plaque bears a replica of the original inscription.
In spite of researching a wide range of reference sources during the past sixteen years, the speaker has failed to find a definitive link between Princess Charlotte and the memorial stone. Nevertheless, the legend should be kept alive to encourage other local historians to continue researching the mystery of the West Ferry memorial.
At Foot of Victoria Road, Broughty Ferry
At Foot of Victoria Road, Broughty Ferry