The Duchess of Leeds took up her post of governess. It was inevitable that Charlotte should resent her: she also disliked her heartily, considering her ignorant and ill-mannered, totally unfit to teach anything. Moreover, she was boring, and told long-winded dull stories. She fussed over her own health, took shower-baths and sucked calomel, but was almost always ill: ‘no creature ever had such bad health.’ Socially Charlotte considered her an upstart: even the riding school where she took exercise on an old, quiet horse was second-rate. She had been a Miss Anguish, her father Accountant-General to the Court of Chancery. Now, as the second wife of a Duke, she put on airs; but ‘what can be expected of a low woman who has been pushed up & never found her level?’
There was another reason to resent the Duchess: she brought with her her daughter, Lady Catherine Osborne. ‘Her girl is in the house,’ wrote Charlotte angrily, describing her as ‘stif, no companion to me’, and besides, she was only fourteen. She danced well, conceded the Princess, and they danced together, but there would be no question, on Charlotte’s side, of friendship.
[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]
‘Depend upon it, as long as I live you shall never have an establishment, unless you marry.’
The Prince Regent did not always mean what he said, but Princess Charlotte knew all too well that he had been serious when he said that. For her, marriage was the price of freedom. If that was not enough of an incentive to marry the first man who asked her, the regime of the Duchess of Leeds was another.
It was not that the Duchess was in any way strict. On the contrary, she was easy-going and avoided every kind of conflict. She concurred with ‘the Great UP’ at every opportunity. When Charlotte was in London, she only came to Warwick House between 2 and 5 p.m., which gave the Princess the evenings to herself. But she was a boring, graceless, self-important hypochondriac. She was forever telling ‘stories of an hour’s length’ and taking cold showers to wash away her latest ailment. Worst of all, in Charlotte’s eyes, she was ‘a violent Tory‘.
The daughter of the Accountant-General to the Court of Chancery, the Duchess had won her Duke’s heart on the basis of her beauty alone, and her exalted new rank had gone to her head. To Charlotte’s embarrassment, she often ‘overacted’ her part and was patronising with people whom she regarded as inferiors.
Even so, the Duchess’s ‘disagreeable’ company might have been worth suffering if her easy-going nature had allowed Charlotte to meet and correspond with anyone she pleased. But protecting the Princess from undesirable influences was the one duty that she tried to take seriously. She was always, as Charlotte put it, ‘keeping close’ to her in public, and, with an air of innocence, the Duchess introduced her fifteen-year-old daughter, Lady Catherine Osborne, into Charlotte’s household.
To everyone outside that household, it seemed ideal that the Princess should have a companion closer to her own age. It does not seem to have occurred to any of them that a fifteen-year-old girl who danced well had nothing in common with a sophisticated seventeen-year-old Princess who looked and behaved as though she were at least twenty. But the people who were actually members of that household were very soon suspicious of Lady Catherine. She asked too many questions, and she was all too often found alone in Charlotte’s room without a good reason for being there. As Charlotte wrote to Mercer, ‘That odious Lady Catherine is a convenient spie upon everybody in the house, with her long nose of bad omen, & her flippant way of walking so lightly that one never hears her.’
Things were not as bad as they could have been, however. The tedious Duchess and her prying daughter were effectively thwarted by the conspiratorial loyalty of Miss Cornelia Knight.
[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]
The Duchess of Leeds, picture from