Monthly Archives: May 2019

Charlotte Is Visiting HMS Leviathan

For a girl of eighteen, it was a dull sort of holiday. Her attendants were old or elderly; she was unable to ride, which was her chief delight, because she was suffering from a painful swollen knee, and she was deprived of her phaeton and ponies which she enjoyed driving at Windsor. But as time went on she began to fall under the gentle spell of Weymouth, finding pleasure in sailing, which was something new to her. Her health improved, and she went away hoping to return the following year.

It was during this visit, in the year of Waterloo, that her first biographer, Robert Huish, describes the seafaring princess, in an account which was probably picked up from eye-witness.

‘Her Royal Highness,’ writes Huish, ‘was one day at sea in her yacht, when the Leviathan of 74 guns, being under sail, brought to and fired a salute to the royal standard flying from the yacht. * The Leviathan was a magnificent man-of-war, which had shared in the capture of two Spanish ships at Cadiz, and had fought at Trafalgar. As the vessels approached each other, Leviathan’s commander, Captain Nixon, ordered his barge to be launched, and hurried abroad the yacht to pay his respects to the Princess. She was accompanied by two ladies-in-waiting and the Bishop of Salisbury, who for ten years had been supervising her education. After greeting the Captain, Princess Charlotte, said Huish, ‘expressed herself highly pleased with the appearance of the man-of-war, and intimated a wish to go abroad.’ The Bishop demurred, ‘fearful that her Father might express his displeasure at her going upon the open sea, which was then in a rough state, in an open boat’. But the Princess was determined, and the Bishop knew her well enough to give in, no doubt breathing a silent prayer as the sailors gripped their oars. The waves broke over the bows of the barge, splashing the faces of the party, but Charlotte, laughing, assured her agonized preceptor that she was only doing what Queen Elizabeth had done. ‘She had no fear of going in an open boat to board a man-of-war, so why should I?’

As the barge drew alongside the tall battleship, the order was given for all her yards to be manned, and a chair of state was let down to hoist the Princess on board. But this did not suit Her Royal Highness, who wished to make her way up the ship’s side by rope ladder, as a sailor would; and, asking Captain Nixon to follow and take care of her skirts, she proceeded to climb up with an agility and fearlessness which entranced the ship’s company.

The ship’s officers were now presented to the Princess, who greeted each with a hearty, mannish handshake, unexpected from this blonde feminine creature. She then proceeded to look about her. Standing, as was her way, with feet apart and hands clasped behind her back, she exclaimed at the spaciousness and strength of the great oaken vessel, and gazed, fascinated, at the high masts with their complicated rigging. ‘No wonder,’ she said, ‘that these ships are called the wooden walls of England.’ She asked to be allowed to see every part of the ship, not just the state rooms, but the men’s quarters and the gallery, and further down still in the heart of the vessel, the cockpit, and powder magazine, and the holds.

‘Now,’ she said, as she climbed back on the deck, ‘I have a good idea of what life on a man-of-war is like,’ and she told the Captain that this was one of the most interesting experiences of her life. She then presented him with a purse of money to be used for the benefit of his crew, ‘as a sign of my respect.’ And with that she proceeded to climb down the ship’s side as she had climbed up, to the accompaniment of loud and hearty British cheers.

* In July 1833, William IV, outraged by the salutes accorded by ships in the Solent to the Duchess of Kent and her daughter, the future Queen Victoria, decreed that in future the Royal Standard would only be saluted when the King or Queen was aboard.

[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Holme]

Picture: Attack on convoy of eighteen French merchant ships at Laigrelia, 1812 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Leviathan_(1790)#/media/File:Attack_on_convoy_of_eighteen_French_merchant_ships_at_Laigrelia.jpg

Charlotte Is Visiting A Monastery

Yet Charlotte was determined to enjoy her holiday and put on a brave face for all the ‘good people’ who came to look at her. For much of the time her mood was not far from the slightly hysterical merriment with which she greeted the law officers of the Crown during the melodrama at her mother’s house.

She went to performances at the Theatre Royal and the occasional ball at the Assembly Rooms; she was allowed to give dinner parties, to which she invited some of the aristocracy and gentry who came to stay in rented houses or at Ressell’s Royal Hotel. Like the General, one of the constant guests at these dinners was ‘the Great UP’, who took a house for his family on the seafront.

On one Sunday Charlotte went to church and heard the ‘Bish-UP’ preach a sermon for the very first time. ‘I never heard so weak a voice & so bad a delivery’, she wrote to Mercer. ‘It is enough to spoil the very best sermon that ever was composed.’ But this was nothing compared with the sermon preached on another Sunday by the apparently famous Dr Dupré. This preacher went on for forty-five minutes without notes with so many ‘blunders’ and ‘repetitions’ that he ‘kept the whole pew in a titter’. Fortunately Charlotte was able to turn her head and hide her giggles inside one of the large bonnets made fashionable by Grand Duchess Catherine.

There were expeditions to places of interest, such as Lulworth Castle and the monastery nearby. The monastery had been taken over by some Trappist monks who had been expelled from France during the Revolution. Charlotte rang the bell and asked to be shown round, but the porter, who was the only monk who was allowed to speak, explained that women were not allowed into the monastery. Charlotte insisted. The porter went away and spoke to the Abbot. The Abbot remembered that their rule, which excluded women, allowed the admission of royalty.

So while all the other ladies waited outside, the brightly dressed Princess was taken in among the black and white habits, shown round the monastery and its gardens and given a humble meal of milk, brown bread, vegetables and rice, which was served in wooden cups and bowls.

When she was not sailing, Charlotte’s lunch was usually whatever was available at an inn, or a picnic on a beach. At one of these picnics, on the pebbled beach between Portland and Bridport, some children climbed up from the water’s edge to the high bank above the beach, so that they could get a good look at the Princess. With each step they dislodged showers of pebbles which tumbled down towards the royal party.

Charlotte called up to them. ‘Hallo, there! Princess Charlotte is made of ginger-bread. If you do that you’ll break her.’

But Charlotte’s favourite picnics were those that were served on deck when she was sailing, at which, according to one guest, she consumed large quantities of ‘roast beef…with plenty of mustard!’

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

Picture: Monastery Farm, in the foreground, as viewed from Flower’s Barrow © Copyright Mike Searle and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence source: http://eastlulworth.org.uk/old/east_lulworth_monastery_farml.html

Charlotte Is Hesitating

She had not had a letter from August since he left England, and she could not read the old ones because she had burned them. The only news of him came from Mercer, and most of that consisted of rumours that were soon contradicted. It was not true that he had secretly married a Miss Rumbold. Nor was true that he had been appointed Governor of Saxony, which was also good news because, if he had been, he would never have been able to live in England.

Throughout the holiday Charlotte could only fantasise. She imagined August coming over and making a proposal to her father; and then she made herself anxious because she knew her father would refuse him. He would have to come over while Parliament was sitting. An appeal to Parliament would lead to a debate; a debate would be reported in the papers, and when the people read them they would be bound to support her against her father. If only August would make up his mind.

In one of her long outpourings to Mercer, however, Charlotte admitted that she was so miserable she might marry almost anyone. She would rather it was August. But if August did disappoint her, ‘The P. of S-C decidedly would be accepted by me in preference to any other Prince I have seen.’

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

A Bad Omen

Gloucester Lodge, a handsome red brick building on the Esplanade, stands still, commanding a fine view of Weymouth Bay.* It was built in 1780 by the Duke of Gloucester, ‘Silly Billy’s’ father, and was lent by him to King George III as a summer residence. Year after year till his final collapse, the King with his family enjoyed the benefits of Weymouth’s air and sea water, and made the little town’s fortune.

‘Weymouth was a gay place in those days [1805-6],’ wrote the Hon. Amelia Murray. ‘Two Royal yachts and three frigates in the bay; a picturesque camp of sharpshooters on the look-out; Hanoverian cavalry careering on the sands, and singing their fine musical choruses as they passed along the road; an infantry regiment, with its lively band; beautiful girls and charming children on the Esplenade; the King, Queen and Royal Family walking among their subjects …’

It was still, in 1814, a fashionable watering place, with its Theatre Royal, and its Assembly Rooms, where balls were held, and strict rules of etiquette were laid down. Gentlemen might not appear in boots, or ladies in riding habits. No one would be permitted to dance in coloured gloves. Gentlemen were requested to leave their swords st the door, and – very reasonably – no dogs would be admitted.

When the King came to Weymouth, the countryside for miles round was stirred up by his arrival, and, as Thomas Hardy describes in The Trumpet Major, numbers of people made their way up to the top of the downs, to wait half through the night for the passing of the royal carriages. ‘Thank God, I have seen my King!’ exclaimed a loyal subject after the great post-chariot, drawn by four horses, had dashed by in the light of dawn; but all she had seen, in point of fact, was ‘a profile reminding her of the current coin of the realm’.

Princess Charlotte decided that the people should see more of her than a profile, and ‘with plenty of cloaks & such like good things’ drove in an open barouche. When she arrived in Weymouth it was a little after eight, and starlight. The esplanade was filled with people, and the troops of the 17th Hussars were lined up to greet her, with the band playing ‘God Save the King’, accompanied by cheers.

It was a heartening and auspicious arrival, or so it seemed: and she was pleased with her bedroom, which had been the Queen’s, and had big windows looking over the sea. So had the drawing-room, ‘which is a very large comfortable room with large sophas at each end of it’. On one of these ‘sophas’, soon after her arrival, she sat with her feet up to rest her knee, and played ‘bagammon’ with General Garth. There was no quarrel this time, but for Charlotte the discovery of a disaster which cast a cloud over her first days in Weymouth. A little turquoise heart had fallen out of the ring which she had been given by Prince August. ‘Thank God the ring is safe on my finger,’ she said, but the stone could nowhere be found. She knew that she had had it when she arrived, ‘so that I still have a hope the maid may find it when she sweeps the room in the mg …’ Pathetically, she demanded of Mercer ‘whether you think it is unlucky&promises any ill luck, or will bring any’.

The turquoise heart was never found, and Charlotte, who had vowed that she would never remove the ring from her finger, continued vainly searching. A heart made of turquoise, the cheapest of stones, could easily have been replaced: but ‘you know,’ she wrote, ‘what a treasure it is to me, and what an inestimable value I set on it.’

It was a sad beginning to her holiday, and the silence from ‘F’** himself nagged at her constantly, so that she did not benefit from the amenities of Weymouth as quickly as she might have done. ‘I had such a horror of coming to this place,’ she wrote, ‘that I cannot but think it will bring no good to the F business.’

*It is now a hotel.
**Prince August

[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Holme]

picture source