Leopold was never the same again. Almost fifty years later he told his niece Queen Victoria that he had ‘never recovered the feeling of happiness’ that ‘blessed’ his short life with Charlotte. He had always been renowned for his reserve, but, as anyone who had ever been to Claremont knew, there was a warmth beneath it. Now, in his grief, he seemed to be more morose than reserved, and the warmth beneath was replaced for ever by a loveless chill.
On the day of Charlotte’s funeral Stockmar wrote to one of Leopold’s former tutors in Coburg, ‘Life seems already to have lost all value for him, and he is convinced that no feeling of happiness can ever again enter his heart.’
Each day during the week that followed his bereavement, Leopold walked round and round the park in the rain with Dr Short, clutching a miniature of Charlotte in his hand. Late every evening, he went into the bedroom where Charlotte was laying and sat with her for most of the night. In Charlotte’s sitting room, her watch was found on the mantelpiece, and the cloak and bonnet that she had been wearing on her last drive were still hanging on the end of a screen. Leopold gave orders that they were to stay where she had left them.
He was inconsolable and his pain grew greater with almost every visitor. On the day after the deaths the doctors came back to carry out a post mortem, interfering with the bodies of his wife and son in a futile search for a cause of death. Worse, Sir Everard Home, Sergeant Surgeon to the King, came to take out their guts and embalm them.
When the medical men had done their work, the undertakers wrapped the child in linen and put him in a simple open coffin. His little heart, which the doctors had taken out, was put separately into an urn. Then Charlotte, also wrapped in linen, was lifted into her own coffin and covered with blue velvet. Leopold watched, and Mrs Campbell watched Leopold. She described him that evening in a letter to Lady Ilchester. ‘It was grief to look at him. He seemed so heartbroken.’
Even some of the visitors who came to comfort Leopold only added to his misery.The Duchess of York drove over from Oatlands and was so overcome with grief herself that she collapsed in the hall and had to be taken home before she saw him.
The Prince Regent came down and asked to see the bodies. He had left Warwickshire for London soon after he heard that his daughter was in labour, but the rider carrying less welcome news had somehow managed to gallop past his carriage and its escort in the dark. He was back at Carlton House and in bed when the Duke of York came to tell him that his daughter and grandson were dead. His response was uncharacteristically selfless. ‘What is to be done for the poor man?” he said, falling back onto pillow. ‘Great Heaven!’
Leopold gave the Regent a lock of Charlotte’s hair. Next day, the Regent’s sister Princess Mary, who was now Duchess of Gloucester, took the lock, entwined it with a lock from their youngest sister, Princess Amelia, who had died in 1810, and had them made into an eternity ring for him.
The Queen, accompanied by her daughter Princess Elizabeth, was dining with the Mayor and Corporation of Bath when the bad news reached her. She set out at once for Windsor. But back in the castle with her spinster daughters and her sad old husband she was overwhelmed with the sense of helplessness and bitter disappointment. Despair destroyed what was left of her health. It declined rapidly from that moment on. Within a year she was dead.
In Holland the Prince of Orange wept at the news, and out of deference to his grief his Russian Princess ordered the ladies of his court to dress in mourning.
When the news reached Italy, it was said, Lord Byron threw open the windows of his apartment in Venice and let out an anguished scream that was heard echoing down the Grand Canal.
Lady Charlotte Bury, who was also in Italy, summed up the situation precisely in her journal. ‘There is now no object of great interest in the English people, no one great rallying point round which all parties are ready to join… A greater public calamity could not have occurred to us; nor could it have happened at a more unfortunate moment..’
[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]
As for Caroline, who was living now in a villa on Lake Como, it appears that no one had troubled even to inform her of Charlotte’s death and Charlotte Bury was shocked to hear that the Princess had been left to learn the news ‘through the medium of a common newspaper!’ Lady Charlotte hastened to write and offer her Royal Highness sincere sympathy ‘in this her greatest affliction’ and presently received in return a ‘strangely worded but heartfelt expression of the poor mother’s grief’. ‘I have not only to lament an ever-beloved child’, wrote Caroline, ‘but one most warmly attached friend, and the only one I have had in England! But she is only gone before … and now I trust we shall soon meet in a much better world than the present one.’
[an extract from ‘Caroline&Charlotte’ by Alison Plowden]