When George III succeeded to the English throne in October 1760, one of his first obligations was to take a wife in order to secure the succession. Somewhat surprisingly, he chose Princess Sophie Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the niece of the reigning Duke, but nonetheless of minor royal extraction. Hugely flattered by George's proposal, the princess accepted readily and arrangements were set in train to bring her to England, not only for marriage but also for the subsequent coronation festivities scheduled for September 1761.
England's growing importance in European affairs was such that George was determined his bride would travel to her new home in a manner befitting a future Queen. The newest and most suitable of the King's yachts, Royal Caroline, was renamed Royal Charlotte in the princess's honour in July 1761, and hastily applied with the new royal ciphers as a small fleet of ships was assembled under the command of Admiral Lord Anson. The flotilla, consisting of five royal yachts - Royal Charlotte attended by the Mary, Katherine, Augusta and Fubbs - and six ships-of-war led by H.M.S. Nottingham, Lord Anson's flagship, sailed from Harwich on 7th August (1761) and embarked Princess Charlotte and her ladies at the north German town of Stade, on the Elbe below Hamburg, on the 28th. The homeward journey was beset by atrocious weather however, and when the fleet eventually made Harwich safely on 6 September, it had weathered three severe storms and been almost wrecked on the shores of Norway on more than one occasion, as it attempted to pass through the Sound and into the North Sea.
Royal Charlotte herself, built as Royal Caroline in 1749 and named after George III's grandmother Queen Caroline (of Ansbach), was designed as a sixth-rate and measured at 232 tons. The largest royal yacht to date and the only such vessel to exceed 200 tons until Royal Sovereign was launched in 1804, she was one of the most sumptuously decorated vessels ever constructed and her full ship rig required a crew of 70 men to handle. She was also a uniquely important link in the development of fast sailing vessels for the Royal Navy and her hull lines, inherited from the last years of the seventeenth century, were scaled up for some of the new frigates and sloops of the 1750s whilst her design was being re-used as late as 1804. After the Princess Augusta was launched in 1771, Royal Charlotte lost her place as the most favoured royal yacht but continued in service, her duties actually increasing as George III's many children grew into adulthood and greater independence. Last used in 1804, she was laid up thereafter and finally broken up in 1820.
This view, subsequently engraved by P.C. Canot along with two further works by Allen depicting other events surrounding Princess Charlotte's journey to England, shows the royal yacht Mary 'on her beam ends' in the centre, directly astern of the Royal Charlotte which is carrying the princess and indicating her presence aboard by the royal standard at her main masthead.
We are grateful to Michael Naxton for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.