When all the sovereigns, princes, statesmen and commanders were received at court, the only members of the royal family who were – conspicuously – absent were the Princes of Wales and her daughter Princess Charlotte. Realising that this was a slight, the Tsar and his sister decided to go up to Connaught House and call on the Princess of Wales. But they were dissuaded by their Ambassador, who threatened to resign if they did – his wife was having an affair with Earl Grey at the time, and as a result he knew rather more than most people about the real nature of the Princess of Wales.
The Tsar and his sister did have a chance to see the Princess of Wales, however. It was on the evening when all the royal guests went to the opera. The Prince Regent sat in the royal box with the Tsar of Russia, the King of Prussia and the Grand Duchess Catherine, and the other princes sat in the boxes on their left. As they entered to the strains of the national anthem, they saw that the Princess of Wales was standing in the box opposite.
When the anthem was over, some of the young men in the stalls encouraged the audience to applaud the Princess of Wales. Her lady-in-waiting, Lady Charlotte Campbell, suggested that she should rise and acknowledge the applause with a curtsey.
‘My dear’, said the Princess, ‘Punch’s wife is nobody when Punch is present.’
She was sure that her husband would think that the applause was for him. And sure enough she was right. The Prince Regent stood up and bowed to the audience in acknowledgement.
At the end of the performance, the audience stood and applauded again as the Prince Regent and other sovereigns left. But they were applauding his guests, not him. When they had all gone, the audience turned and directed much warmer applause to the box where the Princess of Wales was still standing. This time she acknowledged it with three smiling curtsies.
A few days later, however, at a breakfast party near Woolwich, she was seen sitting under a tree in the garden with a pot of strong beer on her knee. By the end of the party she was in a mood to be merry. She ordered all the doors in the house to be opened, grabbed a partner and set off at a gallop, calling to the other guests to follow her in flat-out procession through every room.
It was not regarded as seemly conduct for a member of the royal family. Some of the gentlemen present had been among those who led the applause at the opera. After seeing their reaction to the latest spectacle, one of the ladies, the Hon. Amelia Murray, reported that, in her opinion, they would not be so anxious to clap the Princess again.
[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]
Picture: Caroline, Princess of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1798, Victoria and Albert Museum
(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation