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]