Prince Charming in Disguise

By: Bronwyn Scott

Chapter One




Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover, Germany, autumn 1704

Kings, even future kings, could be a lot of things but not refused. Yet it seemed Hedwig Sophia, the Dowager Duchess of Holstein-Gottorp, had done just that.

‘She has declined a proposal from the future King of England?’ a flare of characteristic temper mingled with disbelief in young Prince George’s voice, his dismay evident in the slouch of his posture as he collapsed inelegantly into a chair. Not all of his dismay was over the refusal. Most of it was over having come from the delectable Lady Marie-Thérèse’s warm and accommodating bed.

One thought kept running through his head: He’d given up a bout of morning lovemaking for this? Who did the duchess think she was to refuse him? He had excellent prospects these days. It wasn’t merely his own arrogance that suggested such a conclusion, it was empirically true. He’d always been assured of succeeding his father as the Elector of Hanover, but now his prospects were settled far beyond that, his future ascension to the British throne assured thanks to Queen Anne.

Aging and wanting to ensure there would be no more Catholics on the English throne, Queen Anne had decreed the throne would pass to George’s grandmother, Sophia, the Dowager Electress of Hanover, by right of her being James I’s granddaughter and a Protestant. After her, the throne would go to his father and eventually to him.

He was a king-in-waiting, and while he waited, his wife would have the privilege of being called the Princess of Wales, the first one to bear that title in two hundred years. That alone would be an honour, to say nothing of the title his wife would bear later: queen consort.

It would have been enough for any number of the eager women in the Hanover Court. He didn’t exactly lack for female companionship in or out of the bedchamber.

Yet it apparently wasn’t enough for the Dowager Duchess of Holstein-Gottorp. George fished in the pocket of his waistcoat for a miniature he carried of her. He’d stopped by his chambers for it on a last-minute whim when he’d received the summons. He knew the envoy from the duchess was here. He’d been expecting good news. It had seemed a nice touch to have her picture on him at the moment of acceptance. It would make a romantic gesture to pull out the miniature, an intimate detail for the envoy to convey back to the dowager duchess about George’s reaction upon hearing the glorious news.

To his mind, the decision was au fait accompli. Not only was Hedwig Sophia a dowager duchess, she was the daughter of Charles IX of Sweden, a princess in her own right. She of all people knew the power of what marriage to him offered.

When he’d arrived at his father’s study, the envoy had gone. His father had looked at him with steady eyes and delivered the news. She had declined the match.

‘Who does she think she’ll get better than me?’ George groused, spearing his father with a hard look. Usually he and his father disagreed on most points. But on this, they’d been fairly aligned. His father’s own unhappiness in marriage had spurred a desire to see his son’s marriage better settled.

George gave the cased miniature a flip and studied the portrait inside. The dowager duchess was pretty enough with her dark hair and dark eyes. Both features upheld her reputation for intelligence. She’d already born one son before her husband had seen fit to die, freeing her of what was rumoured to have been an unhappy marriage to which she had not freely consented.

By no means was he in love with her. Love before marriage had no real place in a political alliance, and usually didn’t have a place afterwards. But he was certain she would have been a credit to him and, in turn, he believed in his own arrogance that marriage to a young, attractive man like himself would have been far less of a nuisance than her prior husband.

George’s father shrugged a shoulder. ‘I would not perceive her refusal as a personal criticism. The envoy mentioned there are other contenders for her hand. From the way he spoke of them, I do not think she means to marry again, not you or anyone else. She’s too busy enjoying herself with a young noble at the Swedish court. But it’s unlikely she means to marry him either.’

Well, so be it. George shut the miniature with a forceful click. As with many things in his life, he was most concerned with events from his point of view. He was nearly twenty-five, and the heir to Great Britain part aside, he needed a wife, preferably one that he liked at least a little. Ideally, one that he liked a lot. It would have surprised his father to know the thoughts running through his son’s mind at the moment. He might have grown up knowing the expectations of a political marriage but that didn’t stop him from acquiring expectations of his own. Surely, some affection, some mutual regard, was possible.

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