Charlotte, at seventeen, was attractive, but too fat. She had been aware of this disadvantage for some time, and had made jokes about it, describing herself packing up for the sea-side, ‘Figure to yourself my quizzical figure puffing over a trunk this hot weather.’ In winter, it was worse, when the weather was too bad to go out riding. ‘I really am afraid you will be shocked to see me grown so fat,’ she wrote to Mercer in 1811, confessing that it was entirely due to lack of exercise. She hated walking for walking’s sake (so did Queen Victoria as a girl); she had ‘no one to waltz with to play at billiards, or any of the gymnastic games wh. I should much delight in’. Evidently her circulation suffered too. ‘I feel the cold most amazingly,’ she said, ‘& begin to think that a warm pelisse would not be a disagreeable thing.’ In the winter of 1812-13 she had a heavy cold and cough, and lost her ‘apitite’. ‘Sir Henry’s prescriptions do not make me thin,’ she said crossly, ‘and do me no good.’
After her dismal sojourn at Lower Lodge she described herself as being ‘a great deal thinner’, but this did not last. Lady Charlotte Bury, who had been a beauty and was critical, said that her figure was ‘of that full round shape which is now in its prime’, but added that the princess disfigured herself by having her bodices cut so short, which made her look as if she had no waist. Her legs and feet, she admitted, were very pretty; but ‘her Royal Highness knows that they are so, and wears extremely short petticoats’.
This critical lady gave it as her opinion a few months later that ‘her figure is already gone, and will soon be precisely like her mother’s: in short, it is the very picture of her, and not in miniature.
This was unkind, and inaccurate. While the Princess of Wales had a large head, a short neck and a protuberant bosom, her daughter’s head was small and her neck long and graceful: she was broad-shouldered and full-breasted, but the upper part of her body was well-proportioned.
Evidently, from another critical description, she was too broad in the beam. This account, written a year later by Catherine, Grand-Duchess of Oldenberg to her brother the Tsar, gives a very clear portrait of the young princess, whom she calls the most interesting member of the family.
‘A little smaller than myself (the Grand-Duchess was tall) ‘well covered, especially-and too much-about the hips; white, fresh and appetising as possible, with fine arms, pretty feet, large light blue lively eyes, altho’ upon occasion they get the fixed stare of the House of Brunswick. She is blonde, has a handsome nose, a delicious mouth and fine teeth; a few tiny marks of the small pox, but scarcely visible…’
But the Duchess could not get over Charlotte’s manners. ‘So extraordinary that they take one’s breath away. I assure you I’m not exaggerating. She walks up to any man, young or old, especially to the older men, takes them by the hand, and shakes it with all her strength, and she seems to have plenty to spare. When she walks, she bounces, and steps with such vigour that one does not know where to look because her clothes are so tight-fitting and do not come down below the thick of the calf, so that at every motion it seems as tho’ she were going to show her knee. She looks like a boy, or rather a ragamuffin. I really am telling you nothing but the strictest truth. She is ravishing, and it is a crime to have allowed her to acquire such habits.
[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]