Monthly Archives: August 2018

Charlotte Meets Leopold For The First Time

Charlotte and Cornelia Knight went round to the Pulteney Hotel to join the throng of others who had gone to say goodbye to the Tsar and his sister. When at last they reached the Grand Duchess Catherine’s apartment, she led Charlotte into an anteroom and came out leaving her alone with the Tsar. Miss Knight insisted that this was improper and that she must join them. When she entered, the Tsar was trying in vain to make Charlotte reconsider her marriage. The Hereditary Prince of Orange was in the building. She had only to find him and tell him that she had changed her mind. He went up to a newspaper lying on a table and pointed at a paragraph, as he spoke. She was ‘giving up an excellent marriage, one essential to the interests of her country, and all to be praised by a Mr Whitbread’.

The Tsar accepted defeat and took his leave. Charlotte came out of the anteroom agitated. If she left now she was bound to meet the Hereditary Prince in the waiting room or on the stairs or in the hall. The Grand Duchess led her to a small door, opened it and pointed to the back stairs. She kissed Princess Charlotte, and then, to the great delight of the lady companion, she kissed Cornelia Knight.

Charlotte and Miss Knight beat their undignified retreat down the back stairs, which led into a little hall beside the main hall. Several people had come into it to avoid the crush in the main hall, and one of them, at the foot of the stairs with his back to them, was a tall, dark, handsome officer wearing the all-white uniform of the Russian heavy cavalry.

The officer turned. He was not more than twenty-four years old, but his badges signified that he was already a Lieutenant-General. He asked if he could help the ladies. Miss Knight explained that this was the Princess Charlotte of Wales and that they would be grateful if he would see them to her carriage.

The officer escorted the ladies through the throng, found the carriage and handed them into it.

Charlotte thanked him and asked his name.

When she learned he was a prince, she scolded him for not having called on her like most of the other princes.

The Prince begged her forgiveness and asked to be allowed to make up for his omission.

Charlotte consented.

The carriage drove away.

The Prince walked back up the steps to the hotel.

He was the General Officer Commanding the Heavy Cavalry of the Tsar, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]

Picture: Portrait of Leopold I of Belgium by George Dawe, the Royal Collection

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Charlotte Breaks Off The Engagement

On 16 June Charlotte had a meeting with William at Warwick House and told him that she could only marry him if he would accept that her mother would always be welcome in their home. When he said that he would never be allowed to agree to that, she told him that she could not marry him. The Hereditary Prince could not believe it. He asked her to think again and then left, offended and crestfallen.

Charlotte thought again and wrote to him that evening, with words, grammar and spelling that sounded more like the voice of Brougham than her own.

After reconsidering according to your wishes the conversation that passed between us this morning, I am still of the opinion that the duties and affection that naturally bind us to our respective countries render our marriage incompatible… From recent circumstances that have occurred I am fully convinced my interest is materially connected with that of my mother… After what has passed upon this subject this morning between us (which was much too conclusive to require further explanation) I must consider our engagement from this moment to be totally and for ever at an end. I leave the explanation of this affair to be made by you to the Prince…

She then ended with her sincere concern for causing him pain and asked him to accept her best wishes for his happiness.

Two days later she received a brief reply. ‘I found the night before last your letter, and have lost no time to acquaint my family with its contents, but cannot comply with your wish by doing the same with regard to the Regent… Hoping that you shall never feel any cause to repent of the step you have now taken, I remain… etc.’

‘Good English he writes’, said Charlotte sarcastically.

Since Charlotte was the one who had broken off the engagement, it was reasonable to say that she was the one who should tell her father, but Charlotte thought it was cowardly. When she wrote to her father herself that day, she made out that it was the Prince who had broken off the engagement. ‘He told me that our duties were divided, that our respective interests were in our different countries… Such an avowal was sufficient at once to prove to me Domestick happiness was out of the question.’

The Prince Regent received the news ‘with astonishment, grief and concern’. When it got out, as it was bound to do, the Radical Whigs and the Princess of Wales were jubilant. But the Regent and his advisers bided their time. His imperial and royal guests were about to leave. Since they were all sympathetic to Charlotte, it would be wiser to let them go before starting any family rows.

[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]

The Whigs Are Against The Dutch Marriage

But, despite the freedom that it promised, Charlotte’s enthusiasm for her engagement was waning, and this was not just due to the attraction of Prince August, or the discovery that her betrothed was a callow, scruffy boy who could not even hold his liquor. Other forces were at work, trying to change her mind as well.

The more moderate Whigs, like Earl Grey and the Duke of Sussex, still had reservations about the cost of a close Dutch alliance, and they were still concerned that the Prince Regent had only been trying to get his daughter out of the country to induce his wife to leave as well. But the Radical Whigs, like Brougham and Whitbread, felt thwarted by the Regent’s capitulation. They were still passionately opposed to the marriage.

The restriction imposed on Charlotte’s visits to her mother and her mother’s continuing exclusion from court were political weapons that the Radicals were loath to lose. Making indignant criticisms of both or either was still their best way of embarrassing the Regent and his government. But if Charlotte got married, they would be bound to lose one. As mistress of her own household, she would be entitled to receive anyone she pleased, including her mother. And if her mother went abroad, either because Charlotte had gone or else because she disapproved of the marriage, they would lose both.

Brougham was blunt. At a secret meeting, he warned Charlotte of what he saw as the consequences of marriage. Her mother would no longer have a good reason for staying in England, and her father might even bribe her to go. Once her mother was out of the country, she would no longer be a focus for popular support. Her father would be able to divorce her quietly without too much public opposition. If that happened, he would probably get married again, and if that happened, he might well have a son. Once there was a male heir, Charlotte could no longer look forward to being Queen of England. For the time being, he said, it was Charlotte’s duty not to marry and stand by her mother.

So Charlotte had three reasons for avoiding marriage – the dismal prospect of Prince William himself; the hope that she might marry some other prince, preferably Prince August; and the duty to stand by her mother which, incidentally, would also protect her own position as heir presumptive.

Since Mercer was in London at the time, there is no written evidence of Charlotte’s real motive, but the reason that she chose as an excuse was her duty to stay loyal to her mother.

[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]