Category Archives: Adulthood

Charlotte Is Struggling With Confirmation And Her Family

She knew herself well enough by now, she thought, to understand her own feelings. ‘It is much wiser, to crush at once all wishes or hopes & feelings which never have ended in any good …’ She was not yet eighteen, but she believed herself experienced; and witnessing her mother’s follies, she began to develop a self-imposed austerity far out of keeping with her nature, as she was soon to discover.

She was about to be confirmed, and went to Windsor for the ceremony, which took place on Christmas Day, in St. George’s Chapel. The day before, on her first appearance at the Castle since her betrothal, she was ‘excessively agitated’. First, there were all the congratulations to be got over, and she dreaded an encounter with the Queen, who for some time had not been her friend. However, ‘Mary and the Prince,’ she said, ‘were so very good natured that I got time at last to command myself a little better’. Her father was at his most gracious, and her Aunt Mary quite overwhelmed her with kindness. The Regent, she told Charlotte, had spoken of her ‘in the highest terms’, and was now blaming Lady de Clifford for all their past misunderstandings. The Dowager had prejudiced him against Charlotte, he said, by bringing him trumped-up stories of her bad behaviour, and by never teaching her ‘things that were proper’ such as manners and deportment. Charlotte accepted that Lady de Clifford was being used as a scapegoat, but she was relieved to know herself still in favour. However much she might hate her father’s enthusiastic dishonesty, when the sun shone she was happy to bask in its warmth. He gave her a beautiful diamond armlet, as a cadeau for my birthday’, and his graciousness towards her was reflected by the rest of the family. ‘Certainly,’ she said, it is the first time I have ever been treated with the least égard or civility,’ and she took advantage of the situation by giving her ‘decided & determined opinion upon several subjects & points’.

The Regent had dreaded breaking the news of Charlotte’s engagement to the Queen, and had employed the Duke of York to begin a softening-up process, in the hopes of preventing a scene. The Queen did not care for the Dutch connection, and had suggested Prince Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who was a nice, reliable German, and her nephew. However, according to Princess Mary, the Prince ‘managed the whole affair incomparably with the Queen’, showing unusual firmness which ‘left no probability for her interfering’.

He took Charlotte to see her grandmother, and remained in the room during the interview, in case anything should go wrong. The Queen, said Charlotte, ‘was gracious, but added good advice, wh. I saw rather put the Prince out of patience’. She could not help reminding Charlotte not once but many times, of her mother’s mistakes, which was tactless, to say the least. ‘I see very evidently,’ Charlotte said afterwards, ‘the Queen in her heart hates the whole marriage & connection, but the Prince having been so decided, must now put the best leg foremost‘. When this ordeal was over, there was, for Charlotte, another to go through – her confirmation. It was attended by the Queen, the Prince, and Princesses Elizabeth and Augusta, and was, said Charlotte, ‘so awful a ceremony that I felt during it and afterwards exceedingly agitated’. Emotions ran high: all her relations, said Charlotte, showed traces of ‘agitation’ on their faces when the service was over. The following morning, which was Christmas Day, she made her first communion ‘and was deeply impressed with its importance’. ‘I fancy I was flurried,’ she said, ‘as I certainly looked very white and then very red …’

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

 

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The Marriage Negotiations Begin

So for the next two months Charlotte lived in Warwick House in dull and dignified isolation. The only notable events were the various stages in the protracted negotiations over one small clause in her marriage contract.

Lords Liverpool and Castlereagh, who were drawing up the contract, were aware of most people’s reservations. They knew that no one wanted to see the crowns of England and Holland united. So they stipulated that, if Charlotte and William had more than one child, the eldest son would inherit England and the next Holland. If they had only one child, that child would inherit England and the Dutch crown would go to German branch of the House of Orange. But, out of deference to the Dutch, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary both felt that Princess Charlotte ought to be required to spend at least some time each year in Holland.

Among the Whigs there were some, such as the Duke of Sussex and Earl Grey, who approved of the proposed marriage but felt that Charlotte should never be required to leave the country against her will. But there were many others, among them Brougham and Whitbread, who were passionately opposed to the marriage. As a matter of principle they objected to turning the Dutch Republic into a monarchy, and they felt that Britain would be taking on the huge additional expense of providing for the defence of Holland, sometimes in circumstances where Britain itself was not threatened.

As a first step towards changing Charlotte’s mind, Brougham tried to persuade her that her father wanted to get her out of the country because he envied her popularity.

Charlotte was susceptible to that. She was learning not to trust her father. That was one reason why the negotiations were taking so long. She insisted that everything must be in writing – partly to prevent her father from subsequently denying anything that suited him, and partly because she was sending everything to Grey and Brougham, so that they could tell her what to write in reply.

Naturally Mercer was also consulted, first by letter and then in person. She came to town in the middle of February, and after that the most reliable of all secret messengers carried the letters between Charlotte and her Whig advisers.

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

Picture: Henry Brougham by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1825, National Portrait Gallery

Charlotte Is Trying To Make The Best Of The Situation

‘Out of spirits & agitated terribly,’ Charlotte described herself, and evidently she appeared so to Miss Knight. Yet to Mercer next day she wrote that she was quite won over by by the Prince of Orange, and was touched by his kindness and anxiety to please her. ‘He was desirous … that those I had about me for ladies should be agreeable to me & friends of mine’, and when he took his leave, ‘it was in the most affectionate manner, all warmth & openness of heart & feeling with me’.

Two days later she was writing, ‘I will fairly tell you that the little I have seen him I am delighted. Our tempers & minds I think will perfectly suit.’ She fairly poured out his praises to Mercer, adding, as the highest honour of all, ‘I tell you what I really think, wh. is that when you see & know him, you will like him too.’

She even began to become reconciled to the idea of visiting Holland from time to time, as the Prince of Orange had suggested that she might take some of her particular friends to keep her company. Loyal, jealous Miss Knight, though she disapproved of the hasty betrothal, was determined to offer some comfort, and offered herself, ‘which,’ said Cornelia, ‘she accepted with great feeling and pleasure.’

Mercer was puzzled by Charlotte’s attitude. She had described herself as ‘delighted’ with the Prince of Orange, and was apparently trying to reconcile herself to the Dutch visits. Why then was she still unhappy? Charlotte told her. She was bitterly hurt by the way in which her father had cheated her. The whole thing, his kindness, his displays of affection, which had made her so happy before her meeting with the Prince of Orange – the whole thing had been a fraud, a careful plan to win her consent to the marriage. It was ‘a trick’, she said angrily, ‘to catch me’. The question of living abroad, she now knew, was to have been kept from her till it was too late to retract.

Miss Knight too felt that Charlotte had been tricked into giving her consent. On December 21 she wrote to Mercer Elphinstone, with whom she was now on the best of terms, deploring the ‘manoeuvres’ employed by the Prince to weaken Charlotte’s resistance. The Duke and Duchess of York, said Cornelia, had done a great deal, ‘not appearing in it themselves, but by others’; indeed, from her account, Charlotte must have been surrounded by people hoping to benefit by the match. Miss Knight particularly blamed Lady Anne Smith, the Duchess of York’s lady-in-waiting, and her daughters, Anne and Georgiana Fitzroy, who, she said, ‘have worked most cautiously but unceasingly – and have persuaded the young P[rince] to ask that Georgiana may belong to* Pss Ch’. It may be remembered Georgiana Fitzroy, after waltzing with the young Prince at Oatlands, sent Charlotte an account of him, in which she raved about his waltzing but deprecated his plainness and his thinness. Georgiana was the Duke of Wellington’s niece, which no doubt commended her to the Orange prince: and three months later she was trying to make up for the unattractive picture she had given of him by emphasizing to Charlotte what a good figure he had, what good teeth and what good manners.

Miss Knight, who had observed all this going on, felt that Charlotte had been taken advantage of. Moreover, she said, ‘I know that on all hands it has been represented to him [the Prince of Orange] that she is dying to be married …’

‘She thinks, or at least says,’ Miss Knight told Mercer, ‘no one has influenced her and that it is entirely her own choice and determination!!!’

‘It remains now to make the best of it – to undeceive her as to the free agency which she thinks she has exercised, to make her gain his confidence and he hers, and if possible to prevent their governed by all these artful people …’

* In other words, be one of her Household, after her marriage.

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

Problems Arise Right After The Engagement

Cornelia Knight was waiting up for her when Charlotte returned to Warwick House. The Princess told her everything. She was now engaged to the young Prince of Orange. Miss Knight was astonished. ‘I could only remark’, she wrote years later, ‘that she had gained a great victory over herself’.

But Charlotte was already coming to terms with what had happened. ‘No, you would not say so if you were to see him’, she said. ‘He is by no means as disagreeable as I expected.’

Next day Miss Knight did get to see him. He came to call accompanied by Lord Bathurst. She was not over-impressed. ‘I thought him particularly plain and sickly in his look, his figure very slender, his manner rather hearty and boyish, but not unpleasant in a young soldier.’

On the day after that the young Prince came again, this time accompanied by Charlotte’s father. Tactfully, the Regent allowed the young couple to be alone together, although, for the sake of propriety, he and Miss Knight sat by the fire in the next room with the door open, so that they could see them.

The Regent told ‘the Chevalier’ that for the time being the betrothal was to be kept secret, and he then began to describe his plans for the marriage.

Suddenly they were both brought to their feet by the sound of Charlotte bursting into ‘a violent fit of sobs and hysterical tears’.

The Regent had no idea what was happening. ‘What!’ he said. ‘Is he taking his leave?’

‘Not yet’, said Charlotte, and then added that she was going to her room.

Tactful again, the Regent told the ladies that he and the Hereditary Prince were now late for a banquet and then hurriedly led him away.

When they were gone, Miss Knight asked Charlotte what was wrong, and she was not too surprised by the answer.

The Dutch Prince had just told the Princess that, when they were married, she would have to spend two or three months of every year in Holland.

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

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An Unexpected Engagement Announcement

But the relief was short-lived. Next day, the day when Charlotte and the Prince were due to meet, her father came round in the morning to Warwick House and put the pressure on again. He assured Charlotte that there was nothing to be nervous about. The dinner party was to be informal and as small as possible. She was to be accompanied only by the Duchess of Leeds. But, ‘he exacted a promise’. Charlotte must make up her mind that evening. After dinner she was to give him her answer ‘one way or the other’.

When Charlotte set out for the dinner, dressed in ‘violet satin, trimmed with black lace’, she was, in Miss Knight’s words, ‘pale and agitated’, and she went, in her own words ‘with trepidation’.

Yet, as far as it could be, the evening was a success. The young Prince who would one day be King William II of the Netherlands sat on Princess Charlotte’s right, with Lady Liverpool on his other side. ‘He struck me as very plain’, wrote Charlotte to Mercer, ‘but he was so lively & animated that it quite went off… It is really singular how much we agreed together in allmost everything.’

After dinner, when many other guests arrived, the young couple walked up and down among them in the state apartments for a while. Then the Prince Regent came over, led Charlotte away to another room and asked her what she thought of the Prince.

Charlotte hesitated.

‘Then it will not do?’ he said.

‘I do not say that’, said Charlotte. ‘I like his manner very well, as much as I have seen of it.’

It was hardly a firm answer ‘one way or the other’, but it was enough for the the Prince Regent. He became as over-emotional as only he knew how. ‘You make me the happiest person in the world’, he said.

He called over the Prime Minister and Lady Liverpool and gave them the good news. While they congratulated the Princess, he summoned the ‘quite awestruck’ Prince. Then he joined the Prince’s hand with his daughter’s and gave them both his royal blessing. There was to be no going back now. Not if he could help it.

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

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The Prince Of Orange Must Visit His Frogs Solo

Charlotte’s letters to Mercer take on a happier note at this point. ‘I have agreed without any demur or hesitation to see young P. when he comes,’ she wrote on December 8. She had received more accounts of him ‘from those who know him personally’, and felt that he could not, after all, be so bad: for one thing, ‘he is lively & likes fun & amusement’. A print of him was sent to Carlton House, and that evening, at a family party, it was placed upon a chair to be looked at, and ‘Princess Charlotte thought it not ugly,’ wrote Miss Knight.

At this party, attended by the Queen and two princesses, the Regent was ‘mighty busy & good-humoured’, she said. He was wearing a belt studded with rose-diamonds, to which he added a diamond clasp. It had been given to him by the Grand Seigneur of Turkey, he said, with a magnificent scimitar, but he did not greatly car for it. The ladies gathered round him, cooing with admiration, and Ladies Castlereagh and Hertford agreed with Charlotte that the diamonds would make beautiful ornaments; whereupon he undid the clasp, with a heave unwound the glittering thing from his well-corseted paunch, ‘and in the most amiable manner,’ said Charlotte, ‘gave it to me.’ She was in high favour. She dined at Carlton House two evenings in succession, and the Prince, she said, ‘was exceedingly kind & gracious … He has talked to me both days more than he has done for ages’.

On the second evening, December 9, a great many distinguished foreigners were present, including Madame de Staël, for whom Charlotte had a great admiration both as a writer and raconteur. She was accompanied by her husband and daughter, Albertine (good-humoured but silly, said Charlotte), and was ‘very pleasant’. ‘I think nothing could be more brilliant than the appearance of everything,’ wrote Charlotte, who was only just beginning to learn what Carlton House entertainment could be. Her letter to Mercer the next day bubbles with excitement and delight. ‘As to whether I was in beauty last night, I cannot answer,’ she began … ‘except by assuring you that I did not feel out of hea[l]th, or out of humour. Indeed no.’ She had blossomed under the Prince’s kindness, and had felt herself to be a success with his guests. She was happy, and even the news that she was going to Windsor for Christmas did not spoil her happiness.

Four days later, on December 13, her tone is still light-hearted, as she replies to a letter from Mercer, giving a favourable report of the Prince of Orange on his arrival at Plymouth. ‘I really admire the victory a single glimpse of his form has had upon you,’ Charlotte wrote, ‘& give my permission to your being in love with him for my sake according to the old proverb, “Love me, love my dog.”‘

This is quite a startling change of attitude, and shows how strong still was Mercer’s influence. Princess Mary, Sir Henry Halford, any member of ‘Government persons’ and even the Regent himself might try in vain to persuade her to consider the Orange alliance, but a word from Mercer in favour of the Prince, a suggestion that Charlotte should stop opposing the match, was enough to bring about a complete change of attitude. She had already agreed to see him: now she would even try to like him. She had had other good accounts of him – he was adored in the army: not only Lord Wellington, but all his brother officers spoke highly of him. Mercer’s letter had ‘eased me of 100,000 worrys’, she said.

All the same, she had her reservations. She agreed that the match would smooth out some of the problems now facing the Regent ‘with regard to the arrangement of the Netherlands’. Austria was demanding a bigger slice of Holland than had been planned and there was ‘an awkwardness … which requires much delicacy to remove’. The Netherlands rulers, the House of Orange, clearly needed British backing; but Charlotte was determined on one point: however much the young Prince might wish for the support of an English wife, nothing would induce her at any time to leave her native land. ‘As heiress presumptive to the Crown it is certain that I could not quit this country, as Queen of England still less.’ The Prince of Orange, said Charlotte firmly, must visit his frogs solo.’

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

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‘A Violent Orange Attack’

As her eighteenth birthday approached, Charlotte was hoping that Parliament would grant her freedom from governesses, and her own Establishment and income. But she feared the worst. ‘I am sure,’ she wrote, ‘there will be a tight business about my establishment as the P said that I had more liberty than any of his sisters & had more liberty to do what I pleased with my own time than any girl had. If these are the liberal plans he intends going upon, it will be charming, certainly…’

Sir Henry Halford had told her that it was hoped that she would choose a husband before any Establishment was appointed; this way, he indicated delicately, two birds could be killed with one stone. Grey’s advice, on the other hand, was to wait ’till your R.H.’s establishment shall have been fixed, till you shall have the advantage of such intercourse with society as your R.H.’s exalted station may with propriety allow’: in short, till she had gained some experience of the world, and was more sure of her own tastes and inclinations. This was what Charlotte wanted. ‘I have not the smallest inclination at present to marry, as I have seen so little, &, I may add, nothing of the world as yet, & I have so much before me in prospects that for a year or two it would not come into my head.’ She hoped that she would have the courage and determination to hold out for this; and it seemed at first that she might be successful. ‘I trust,’ she wrote to Mercer, ‘I have gained two points at least. One is that the Orange business is now quite out of the question, & quite given up; and the other is that the Prince has positively given me his promise that I should never be persuaded or forced into any alliance I did not like.’ Her father said that he would invite eligible princes to this country so that she might see them and make her own choice. This sounded like a fairy tale-and, indeed, so it was. Only just over a month later, Charlotte, now back in London, wrote to Mercer: ‘My torments and plagues are again beginning in spite of all promises made at Windsor. I have had a violent orange attack this morning…’

It was the ‘little Doctor’ who delivered it; and he was not long in dropping his bombshell. There was to be a great dinner, he told her, for the young Prince of Orange, who had been invited to England again, to be introduced to Charlotte. After the Prince solemn promise that the match should be given up, this came as a shock. Sir Henry then began use ‘every argument of seduction’ to try and interest Charlotte in the young Prince. He dangled before her everything that she would gain from this marriage: power, riches, freedom, pleasure-finally pointing out that it was ‘the general wish of the nation’ and would give ‘universal delight’. ‘The grand object now was to keep Holland affixed to this island,’ he said, and the marriage would accomplish this.

He then proceeded to knock down all criticisms of the young man’s looks: ‘that if he was too thin, he would fill out, if he had bad teeth that might be remedied, & that as to his being fair that had nothing to do with his manlyness…’ ‘He then,’ wrote Charlotte, added language I do assure you I never had herd before from anyone & certainly never expected to have done, except perhaps seeing something of the kind in a book.’ She made it clear that she was not amused, and the doctor quickly ‘turned it off with a laugh & assured me that could he find me an angel he should not think it too good.’

Charlotte decided to treat the impudent doctor to a display of ‘excessive pride&haughtiness’, and to make it clear that she was unmoved by his arguments. This match, she said, was beneath her notice: if she ever married, it should be with a person of the highest rank possible. She was in no hurry to be married, she told him, and ‘considered that 3 or 4 years hence would be quite time enough to think about such a thing’.

The next time Sir Henry called at Warwick House, Charlotte was engaged. He was confronted by Miss Knight, who said that the Princess was ‘certainly annoyed’ at what he had told her, especially after her father’s promises that she should not be forced into marriage against her will. She indicated that he had spoken without authority, which put him ‘quite out of countenance’. Indeed, faced by Cornelia’s fearless integrity, he seems to have wilted. He had not, he said, been authorized by the Prince to say ‘anything positively‘ to the Princess, only to ‘throw in some points of advice’ whenever he had an opportunity. The Prince, he said, was now ‘so pressed on all sides, particularly by his ministers, as the marriage would be so helpful to their policy’, that he ‘felt himself in an awkward predicament’ and did not at all wish to influence his daughter in her decision.

And so, after attempting to justify himself, the little doctor went away.

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

Sir Henry Halford, 1st Baronet, by Sir William Beechey, unknown date, National Portrait Gallery

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