Saturday, March 23, 2013

Unusual Artifacts: Queen Charlotte’s Gaming Counters, 1780

A miniature on Ivory set with pearls
showing Queen Charlotte in an ideal
light.  She was widely described as
"Not a great beauty."
The Royal Collection
Queen Charlotte didn’t have what one would call the happiest of lives. As a young bride, her husband, King George III, as well as the rest of the Royal Household was very much under the often irrational control of the Dowager Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, her mother-in-law. The King’s mother insisted that English ladies not speak directly to the German-born princess-turned-consort unless she was accompanied by one of her German handlers. It really was all quite a kerfuffle. So much of a kerfuffle, in fact, that Queen Charlotte—for a spell—had a home of her own, Buckingham House (known as “The Queen’s House”) which, as we know, grew into Buckingham Palace.

And, yet, despite these complications, Charlotte and George got along well enough to have fifteen children together (thirteen of whom survived to adulthood). Charlotte tried to remain cheerful and pursued the things which interested her—botany, music, making sure women were educated, and card games…lots and lots of card games. What else is a Queen to do when she’s stuck in one room for hours at a time while her husband goes increasingly mad? Besides, it seems she was almost constantly pregnant, so cards were a nice way to pass the time.

Gaming Counters with the Cipher of Queen Charlotte
Chinese, 1780
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty
Queen EIizabeth II
Queen Charlotte’s favorite games were “Whisk” and “Commerce.” She was known to spend hours at a time at these games. In 1780, she was presented with an elaborate gaming set which included these Chinese, mother-of-pearl gaming counters which were engraved with her cipher. Well-worn, it’s obvious that the Queen used these counters frequently.

After her death, her son sold all of her belongings (except her jewels) at an 1819 auction. Among the items sold, were these mother-of-pearl counters. Now, it’s difficult to say how they’ve come back to the Royal Collection. Some believe that they were purchased in 1819 by the Duke of Sussex who consequently auctioned them off again in 1845. Where they were after that, I’m not sure. However, I would guess that Mary of Teck picked these up sometime in the early Twentieth Century—as one does.

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