Monthly Archives: June 2019

Who Is Leopold? (Part 1)

Prince Leopold George Christian Frederick, the youngest child of Duke Francis of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was born on 16 December 1790. His family was descended from the eleventh-century Margraves of Meissen and Lausitz, but in the seven hundred years since then few of his ancestors had made a mark on the pages of European history […] Like most of the younger sons of the many German rulers, Leopold was educated to make his own way in the world as a soldier or a diplomat. He learned Christian ethics, Latin, Russian, French and English. He was taught to draw, to play the piano, to ride and to fence. But he was also taught to be ambitious – and for that there were plenty of role models in his family. Unlike their ancestors, the latest generations of the House of Coburg were hungry for power, position and wealth.

During the first few years of Leopold’s life his uncle Frederick was commanding an Austrian army in the Netherlands. His eldest brother Ernest, who succeeded their father as Duke, became a general in the Russian army and married an eccentric German heiress, who added the neighbouring estates of Gotha to Coburg and Saalfeld. His other brother, Ferdinand, served in the Austrian army and married even richer Hungarian princess.

The only one of his four sisters who married for love was Sophia, the eldest. Her husband was one of the many refugees who fled to Germany from France on the outbreak of the Revolution. He was only a count, but he was a rich count who had managed to bring most of his money with him, and he was a good friend to Leopold.

The other sisters married for position. Antoinette married Duke Alexander of Wurtemberg, Victoria married Prince Emich Charles of Leningen; and Julia did best of all. She married the brother of the Tsar, the Grand Duke Constantine.

With such a sister, it was not difficult for a beautiful boy to find favour and patronage at the Russian court. Leopold was enlisted as a cadet in the Imperial Guard when he was only five, soon after his sister’s wedding. In the following year he was given the honorary commission of captain. Next year he was made a colonel.

After that Julie grew tired of her husband’s cruelty and went home to Coburg. But Leopold remained a favourite with the Grand Duke and the Tsar. On 15 May 1803, when he was still only twelve, they made him a general.

to be continued …

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

Picture: Leopold I of Belgium by George Dawe, 19th century, Royal Collection.

Leopold Is Becoming A Serious Candidate For Charlotte’s Husband

Charlotte, in spite of her father’s silence on the subject, was still uneasy about the Orange match, and feared that the Regent was only biding his time before bringing it up again. Determined as she was never again to have anything to do with ‘that nasty, ugly spider-legged little Dutchman’, she unburdened herself to her grandmother, who assured her that the whole affair was over: ‘it not only cannot but should not even be thought of with any propriety.’ The Queen believed that a veil should be drawn over the whole episode, for ‘nothing can be said or done, nothing ought’.

The Duchess of York, in more forcible terms, said the same thing, adding that she really wished him (the Prince of Orange) married and out of the way, and the Duke emphatically agreed. The ‘little Duchess’ was wholeheartedly Charlotte’s friend and ally, and so it now seemed was the Duke, while the Queen talked of her, said the Duchess, ‘with the greatest possible interest and good nature’.

Nevertheless, the beginning of 1815 found Charlotte depressed and anxious. She still had moments of bitter regret for her lost lover, and, in spite of efforts to shake off her illusions, she was still writing, at the end of the month, ‘I think I get less cured of my unfortunate passion, I think than ever.’

But it is this very defeat of her hopes, she admits, that makes her lose no time in turning elsewhere for a husband. She is only waiting for the Duke of York to say the moment is propitious, to bring up the name of her next candidate. And to her Aunt Mary, in private, she is ready to confess that though ‘not the least in the world’ in love with Prince Leopold, she has ‘a very good opinion of him, and would rather marry him than any other pince for that reason’.

Princess Mary seemed now to have cast aside all thoughts of the Saxe-Coburg prince for herself (after all, he was only twenty-four), and launched forth vehemently in his praises as a suitable husband for Charlotte. No-one’s character, she said, stood higher, and he was of a very old House.

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

Charlotte’s Heart Is Broken

Perhaps it was, after all, a good thing that she was going back to Cranbourne Lodge. The season was over at Weymouth and the place had lost its summer charm. It was too windy for sailing, and she spent far too much time by herself. She admitted that her health was better: even though her heart was broken, she looked well, and she told Lady Ashbrook that she had been trying to ride again, ‘and really it goes off better than I could have hoped, which I know you will be glad to hear’. But she went on to tell this kind friend that she had been ‘very uneasy & unhappy upon certain subjects’, and to excuse herself from writing further as she was ‘out of spirits’.

On December 16, she and her ladies set out of for Windsor. She described the journey as sad and uncomfortable. Lady Rosslyn, ‘old Cross Bones’, who always got on her nerves, sat opposite her in the carriage, ‘& really her eternal fidgets & frights nearly drove me distracted’. In any case, Charlotte was hardly in the mood to enjoy herself: two days before, she had written, ‘My hear has had a very sudden & great shock.’ On her return, a letter from Mercer awaited her, which confirmed what she had already heard: Prince August was to marry an Englishwoman, a Miss Rumbolt.

At last, quite suddenly, the wretched, pathetic dream was shattered, the bright bubble of hope vanished into thin air. Charlotte accepted that F had played her false. Her feeling, she said, was not anger or resentment, ‘it is too deep … to allow of anything else but grief’.

At the Castle, she learned a little more about her faithless lover, to whom she now always refers as Prince Augustus. ‘The Duke of Kent told me that P. Augustus was the only black sheep in the family, & que sa main gauche a était offert a tous les jolies femmes en Allemagne.’ But the black sheep’s cousin, the Duchess of York, whether or no she knew anything of Charlotte’s infatuation, gave an even more daunting account of him. His breath, she said uncompromisingly, stank. ‘Handsome as he was, there was no going near him or bearing his approaching, for that it was worse than anything ever was, & at the opera she was obliged really to get one of her brothers to change places with her for fear of being sick.’

It seems strange that this unfortunate defect was not noticed by all the jolie femmes to whom he made love; even stranger that it should have passed unnoticed by the exquisite Madame Récamier. But nothing could have been more precisely aimed to disillusion a lovesick girl.

‘I feel quite convinced,’ wrote Charlotte, ‘that regrets are of no avail … As faith was broken, confidence is gone for ever.’

Throughout the F affair the assiduous Miss Knight – banished and living with friends – had linked the lovers by receiving and forwarding letters. Charlotte dreaded that Notte (as she now always called her) would make things worse for her by reproaching the Prussian prince for his faithlessness. However, she misjudged her. Cornelia managed to smuggle Charlotte’s picture and a ring, returned by F, and wrote calmly and sadly, enclosing a letter – ‘an easy, cool, familiar, friendly letter’ in which Prince August regretfully brings the correspondence to an end. ‘If anything was further wanted to decide the affair,’ said Charlotte, ‘this does it.’

The Duchess of York, having dropped one highly-charged bombshell, followed it up with further disclosures: that, as well as having ‘horrible’ breath – was he, perhaps, too fond of garlic? – he had at least two mistresses. ‘He is not a general favourite,’ she assured her niece; in fact, nobody really liked him except his mother. If the Duchess had set out to finish the affair she could hardly have done so more efficiently. ‘Have I not echappé belle?’ Charlotte demanded of Mercer, and in the next breath went on to discuss the Prince of Saxe-Coburg.

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

Charlotte Enjoys Her Holidays

Gradually, Charlotte began to relax, and allow the tranquil air of Weymouth to calm and invigorate her. She had not been there since she was a child; now she enjoyed visits to curious and ancient places like any other tripper: she was fascinated by Portland and Chesil Beach, and her interest in old buildings – chiefly derived from the reading of Gothic romance – was stimulated by a visit to Corfe Castle.

The town of Weymouth provided her with plenty of entertainment, and she was excited to discover a smuggler who was selling ‘the most delightful French silks at 5 shillings a yard. I am going to be after him,’ she vowed. Weymouth was harbouring a vast amount of French merchandise, and she saw French women, selling prints from Bordeaux. ‘You never saw such odd looking people.’

‘The visit of Princess Charlotte renders this place a continued scene of splendour and gaiety,’ wrote the Salisbury & Winchester Gazette; ‘the sands are every day crowded with rank, beauty and fashion.’ Charlotte’s friends from Windsor, Lord and Lady Ashbrook, arrived to stay at Russell’s Royal Hotel, in company with other noble personages, and the Solicitor General. The Princess began to entertain at Gloucester Lodge, inviting ‘a select party’ to hear Signor Rivolta, ‘the celebrated Italian minstrel’ who gave a most unusual concert, playing on eight instruments at once. Charlotte, we are told, was ‘highly gratified’, so perhaps Signor Rivolta was gifted as well as ingenious.

On the anniversary of her grandfather’s Jubilee, she gave a party which was distinguished by a fireworks display, culminating in a ‘set piece’ in the form of an illuminated portrait of the King. The party was followed by a ball at the Assembly Rooms, ‘attended by all the rank and fashion here’.

Day after day, in spite of the time of year, she bathed in the sea before breakfast and, like her grandfather, benefited from it. She soon felt well enough to go sailing, and H.M.S. Zephyr, sloop of war, was at her service. On what the newspaper correspondent described as ‘a most heavenly day’ the Princess and her suite were conveyed in the royal barge to the Zephyr, which was commanded by Captain Creyke. ‘A royal salute was fired, the yards manned, the royal standard hoisted and every other complimentary honour was shown to her Royal Highness.’ The party sailed along the coast as far as St. Alban’s Point, ‘and we were happy to find out that the Princess experienced no unpleasant effects’. On the contrary she enjoyed herself, and wanted to go again. Sailing became her favourite pastime, and she loved watching all the pageantry of the Naval vessels exercising in the Channel.

The Bishop felt it incumbent upon him to send a report of Charlotte’s health to Windsor. It was very greatly improved, he said. ‘Her spirits are uniformly good & her mind appears to be in a tranquil state. I am strongly inclined to think that she is really happy here.’

Alas, poor Bishop, he knew nothing of his Princess’s true state of mind. Nor did Mrs. Campbell, who Charlotte now decided was well meaning and kind-hearted but who irritated her by talking of her ‘happiness’. How could she be happy? But ‘I must say,’ said Charlotte, ‘that I get every day more ignimatical to myself, & if so must be doubly so to them.’

Dr. Baillie had said that she should stay on at Weymouth as long as possible, and now she found that she wanted to. ‘I have no objection to remain here, as I certainly amuse myself infinitely better, & am more comfortable than at Cranbourne.’ Away from Windsor and family politics, her anxieties seemed less overwhelming. Nevertheless, the smiling face which she showed to the Weymouth crowds was not expressive of her inmost feelings. The turquoise heart was lost for good, and so, she began to believe, was Prince August.

She could not stop loving him; she invented reasons for his neglect of her. Nobody will ever know what was the attraction which drew her to this vain and heartless Prussian officer, but it was strong, and she could not free herself. ‘I think & think about how it will be, & how it will all turn out,’ she said. Sometimes she felt cheerful and confident, at others she was cast down to the depths of despair, and felt that the whole thing was hopeless. In her letters to Mercer she returned again and again to what she called ‘the constant subject of my thoughts’.

It seems likely that Mercer never favoured Prince August, and was working against him. She certainly broke up a tete a tete between the Prince and Charlotte when Miss Knight was encouraging the affair; and later the Princess told her, ‘I never heard one piece of good news about F from you since the business began.’ Perhaps Mercer was trying to spare Charlotte pain, knowing that the frail romance was bound to break up: certainly there is every indication that she discouraged it.

(…)

It became imperative to know how things stood with F. He must be made to write. Mercer had been sent extracts copied from his letters, to prove that he did still love Charlotte: she was now asked to draft a sort of ultimatum to him, for the Princess to send. ‘It is impossible,’ Charlotte told her, ‘to put it better or more forcibly than you do.’

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

Picture: Ruins of Corfe Castle from the outer bailey, source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corfe_Castle#/media/File:Corfe_Castle,_Dorset.jpg