Charlotte knew that she had at least two allies in the royal family. A week earlier, when it had not mattered so much, Princess Mary had abandoned her enigmatic attitude and ‘launched forth vehemently’ in praise of Leopold, partly because of his reputation as a man of the highest character, and partly because he came from a very old family. Then the Duke of York revealed himself as an ally, although, like Mercer, he advised Charlotte to keep quiet for the time being.
It was good advice. No proposal was likely to succeed with the Regent if it contradicted one of his own. But now that she had made up her mind, Charlotte did not feel inclined to wait. She persuaded Mercer that it would do no harm if ‘the Leo’, as she now called him, were to come over uninvited, and on 3 February she wrote to Mercer asking her to make it happen.
Before you named it I was hourly going to propose to you what certainly nothing could have authorised me or prompted me to have done, but our long intimacy & your kind affection for me. It was this, whether you thought you could by any means send him a hint that his presence at this moment in England would be of service to his views if they were the same as 6 months ago.
Next day, as if in justification, she wrote:
As I care for no man in the world now, I don’t see what it signifies as to my marrying one day sooner or later except for escaping the present evils that surround me. I don’t see what there is against my connecting myself with the most calm & perfect indifference to a man who, I know, has the highest & best character possible in every way, & is extremely prepossessing in his figure and appearance & who certainly did like me.
A few days later, however, the Prince Regent revealed his hand, proving not only that Mercer and the Duke of York were giving good advice but also that Mercer and Earl Grey had been justified in their suspicions after Christmas.
The Prince summoned Mercer and her father to Brighton, ostensibly to discuss their attempts to recover Charlotte’s letters from Captain Hesse. If those letters were to fall into the wrong hands, particularly her mother’s, he said, she would be ruined. He therefore appointed Lord Keith officially as his representative with instructions to interview Captain Hesse and find the letters.
After that the Prince turned abruptly to the possibility of a marriage with the Hereditary Prince of Orange. For Charlotte, he said, this was now ‘the only means of saving her reputation, getting out of her mother’s hands, and making herself quite happy’.
Mercer answered without a hint of respect. ‘It is not actually necessary to marry one man’, she said, ‘to apologise for writing love letters to another’.
The Prince said nothing. Emboldened by her own impatient impudence, Mercer went on, ‘The last time Princess Charlotte talked to me about it, she said that so far from repenting the step she had taken, she would rather continue to suffer all the restraint and privations she had these last six months than marry the Prince of Orange.’
The Prince did not seem to be convinced, or else he did not want to be. Mercer left the meeting frustrated. No matter what anyone thought or said, the Regent was clearly determined to have his own way.
[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]