Category Archives: Adulthood

Charlotte’s Letter To Lord Grey

At this point, Charlotte, at Mercer’s suggestion, wrote to Lord Grey, Leader of the Foxite Whigs in the House of Lords, and asked his advice. He wrote back diplomatically, but with kindness, urging her to be patient. He reminded her a little pompously what she owed to the Prince, ‘both as a Sovereign and as a father’; and that in every question that might arise between them, she should as far as possible avoid opposition to his pleasure. It was important for her ‘at the commencement of your public life (which God grant may be long and glorious) to gain the confidence & affection of the nation’.

After these preliminaries, Grey went on to assure her that her father’s authority was not absolute.’It is his duty to advise, his right to recommend, and standing in the place of the King, he has by law a decided and insurmountable negative on the marriage of such as are under 21.’

He ended by urging her to play for time. ‘Your Royal Highness has hitherto lived in almost total seclusion. The hardship of marrying at once, from such a state, against your inclination…is, I think, too apparent to be persevered in…’

Charlotte was delighted. ‘The advice was absolutely the same exactly line of conduct I had pursued at the interview. Nothing can be more dignified, candid, liberal & impartial than the whole of the letter. It…has made me quite enchanted with him.’

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

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Charlotte Loses Patience

[In a letter to Mercer Elphinstone] Charlotte was sure that the Prince [of Orange] had been summoned to meet her, and in support of this she recounted a conversation that had taken place between her and ‘a Government person’ at Windsor. According to this unnamed minister, it was being said that Charlotte had ‘persistently refused’ to consider her planned marriage to the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

Charlotte was incensed by his impertinence and infuriated to learn that she was already being blamed for her response to a plan that had not yet even been put to her. So she decided to tease the minister and add a red herring to his rumour. Without denying what he had said, she told him that she much preferred the Duke of Gloucester.

‘Good God’, said he. ‘I can hardly believe you are serious.’
When he then reminded her that she could not marry without her father’s permission, Charlotte answered that ‘nothing was so easy as to make a publick declaration that I never would marry anyone else.’
The trick worked. The ‘Government person’ was clearly ‘both surprised & frightened’.
‘I was rather amused I confess’, wrote Charlotte, and she ‘laughed heartily’ after he was gone.

But in reality she felt threatened. Even the government was gossiping. She went on the defensive. She declined to attend every event at which she thought the Hereditary Prince of Orange might be present. But she was curious enough to ask about him, and she learned a bit from one of his dancing partners, Georgiana Fitzroy. The Hereditary Prince was apparently ‘very gentlemanlike’, well informed & pleasant’ and he was ‘the best waltzer that ever was’. But he was also ‘excessively plain’ and ‘thin as a needle’. Georgiana thought that Charlotte would find him ‘frightful’.

Had Charlotte but known it, the Hereditary Prince was as apprehensive as she was. It was a relief to both of them when he went back Spain after less than a month without being introduced to her. But she still felt that the plan was brewing, and she knew that she was being watched more closely than ever. Lady Catherine Osborne was everywhere. For a while Charlotte and Miss Knight had avoided being understood by her by talking to each other in German. But Lady Catherine, who had her own governess, had learned enough German to make out what they were saying. So now they were talking to each other in Italian, and Lady Catherine was busy learning that from a music master.

One night, when Charlotte found ‘her little Ladyship’ loitering yet again in a dark passage, she lost patience, pushed her into the water closet, locked the door and kept her there for a quarter of an hour. ‘It did for a good laugh to Miss K & me’, she told Mercer, ‘as the young ladies dismay was not small, & her assurances thro’ the door very amusing‘.

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

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Charlotte’s Conversation With Princess Mary

To Charlotte’s relief, the young Prince of Orange did not put in an appearance. ‘The little hero has as yet left me quiet,’ she wrote on August 21. She was thankful to postpone the evil hour of meeting him, though she was clearly eager to hear accounts of him from those who had. There were flutterings in the Castle dovecote: the Princesses, Charlotte told Mercer, were longing to meet their niece’s young man, and were disappointed to learn that he was about to rejoin Wellington. When the Queen decided to go to London to see him and say good-bye, all her daughters wanted to accompany her. Charlotte pitied the young prince: ‘It is very unpleasant being exposed to the observation of a set of ill-natured spinsters, who only regret not being young enough to s[e]ize upon him themselves.’ Her Aunt Mary, who remembered him as a child in arms and was full of his praises, was not invited to go: the Queen decided to take Augusta and Elizabeth (‘a brace of very ugly daughters,’ wrote Charlotte). Princess Mary told her niece that the Regent had decided not to invite the Hereditary Prince on this visit, as more preparation was needed before the young couple met. Besides which, she said, the Regent ‘knew he was not handsome…’ ‘But he might improve still,’ she quickly added, ‘tho’ he is 21.’

Charlotte doubted this. ‘If you see him, you will see what is perfectly frightful,’ she told Mercer.

In fact, she was behaving badly. But she was profoundly uneasy about the Orange business, and dreaded that the Regent would make a sudden move for which she was unprepared. She felt that, at Windsor, she was surrounded by spies; and she resolved to carry the war into the enemies’ country and talk openly to one or two of them, beginning with her Aunt Mary.

‘I formed my conversation for her to repeat,’ she told Mercer. She had never trusted this aunt, whom she described as ‘the carrier of everything back again to the Prince, whose great favourite she is’. Princess Mary, she added, was ‘a very good handle, that is all…’

Her aunt listened to her sympathetically. Charlotte said how disappointed she was that her portrait had been left unfinished: she had intended it as a birthday present for her father, and had nothing else to give him. She was worried, too, because he had not spoken to her since he arrived in Windsor. Princess Mary said that she and her sisters ‘had been so used to the King’s not speaking to them for whole days together’, that it did not seem strange to her, only a pity because Charlotte saw her father so seldom. Charlotte complained of her father’s attitude to her ladies, and defended them hotly. To be sure, agreed her aunt, ‘people could not guess by inspiration what he wished to have done…the ladies, she believed, did as well as they could’ and so on. Princess Mary was exerting herself to please her niece; but she was also trying to please the Prince. She told Charlotte that her father very much wished her to be married next year, and without mentioning the Prince of Orange she tiptoed, catlike, round and round the subject of marriage, gently insinuating the idea and leaving it with Charlotte as something greatly to be desired.

(…) Charlotte did not greatly value her aunt Mary’s advice, but she was encouraged by a note from her ally, Princess Sophia, saying that she thought the conversation had done some good: Princess Mary ‘wished she could show the Prince how much he was injuring himself & hurting & trifling with’ his daughter’s feelings.

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

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An Unfortunate Dinner In Sandhurst

The Prince of Orange [later King William I] was delighted. He was going to be a king, and king of an enlarged kingdom as well. It was more than he could have dreamed possible.

But so far no one bothered to mention it to the future Queen of England or the Prince who might one day succeed his father as King William II of Holland.

Nevertheless there were too many whispers. Charlotte was sure that the plan was true, and she was in two minds about it. On the one hand the Hereditary Prince of Orange came from a family that her mother ‘detested’, and Charlotte would never ‘be tempted to purchase temporary ease by gratifying the Windsor & Ministerial cabals’. On the other hand, if the Prince had enough ‘qualities of the head & heart’ to make him ‘likeable and desirable’, he offered a chance to change her life for the better, even if ‘love’ was ‘out of question’.

All that was certain for the time being was that Charlotte was prepared to give the plan a chance. But her first experience of the House of Orange did not leave her with a good impression.

It was on 12 August, at the Prince Regent’s birthday party – the one to which Charlotte went without a present. The party was held at Sandhurst, the new home of the Military Academy. In the morning ‘the Great UP’, now Bishop of Salisbury, consecrated the chapel, and the Queen presented new colours to the cadets. In the evening, the entire company sat down to dinner. The royal family and the guests of honour, including the Prince of Orange, who was in England to negotiate his son’s future, sat at a table inside the house, and all the other guests sat in tents in the grounds.

According to Charlotte, the only man in the royal party who was not ‘dead drunk’ was her favourite uncle, the Duke of Brunswick. In the course of the evening the Prince Regent slid silently under the table, where he was eventually joined by the Prince of Orange, the Commander in Chief and almost all his ministers. By the time they got there, the dishevelled Prince of Orange had managed to discard his coat and waistcoat, most of the ministers were incapable of speaking and the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, was in such a state that, by his own admission, he could not remember next day where he had been or who he had been with.

The last to fall was the Commander in Chief, the Duke of York, who did so by rolling backwards out of his chair, banging his head against a wine cooler and pulling the table cloth and everything on it on top of him. He was revived by the Duke of Brunswick, who poured iced water over his head, and he was sent back to London in a post-chaise, wrapped in a greatcoat.

When the Queen left, she was kept waiting for ‘a full half hour’ while various nervous equerries searched for her host and helped him out to see her into her carriage.

In Charlotte’s opinion, the double celebration of the opening of Sandhurst and the Prince Regent’s birthday ‘began badly and ended in tragedy’. Miss Knight agreed. ‘It was a sad business. We went home very quietly in an open carriage by the lovely moonlight.’

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

Picture: Portrait of William I, King of the Netherlands by Joseph Paelinck, 1819, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

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The Dutch Marriage Plans

In July 1813, the Prince gave ‘a magnificent breakfast’ in the gardens of Carlton House, to celebrate the Battle of Vittoria. He wrote a glowing letter to Wellington, and sent him what he had himself desired and been denied, a field-marshal’s baton. A fortnight later, after the nine days’ fighting known as the Battle of the Pyrenees, Charlotte was writing to Mercer, ‘Of course I need not tell you that a great victory has been gained by Wellington upon Soult. I write before any particulars have reached me, except that the Prince of Orange has brought the dispatches & was to be in town last night…’ ‘It was a pang,’ she continued, ‘added to the many I have to endure here [at Windsor], as I am sure my miseries will be much added to by the plagues about him…’

Charlotte, at seventeen, was aware that plans were being made for her to marry, and that the Hereditary Prince of Orange was being talked of as a likely suitor. He was at present serving on Wellington’s staff in Spain, but she believed that he had been sent to England with dispatches in order that she might meet him, which she heartily dreaded. She was not averse to the idea of marriage, but she was determined have a say in the choice of her husband: she would not be married off, as her aunt, the Princess Royal, had been – and indeed, as her mother and grandmother had been – to a foreigner whom she had never seen.

Marriage with the Prince of Orange, was, diplomatically, an excellent idea. As Europe began to free itself from the Emperor’s domination, an alliance was planned by the British Government with the liberated Holland and Belgium, under the Dutch Stadholder. A marriage between the English Princess and his son, the Hereditary Prince, would triumphantly seal this alliance.

But for Charlotte there were other considerations: a misguided marriage would, she said, be ‘worse than death’. She wanted to know what the young man was like. Her friend Georgiana Fitzroy told her that the Hereditary Prince was ‘amiable, very agreeable and sensible, adored Lord Wellington, had excellent manners but was not good looking’. This was interesting, but not enough. A month later, Miss Fitzroy, who had walzed with the young man at Oatlands, wrote that he was the best waltzer that ever was, but ‘excessively plain’ and ‘as thin as a needle’. His hair, she said, was ‘excessively plain’ and his teeth, though good, stuck out excessively in front.

Perhaps it would have been better for all concerned if Charlotte had waited for a description from her older and more tactful friend, Mercer Elphinstone.

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

Picture: Portrait of William II of the Netherlands by Nicolaas Pieneman, 1849, current location unknown

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The Chance For Freedom Is Coming

Throughout all this Charlotte spent a large part of every day nursing Mrs Gagarin. She had not been well for several months, and by the end of March it seemed likely that she would not recover.

‘While she was capable of taking airings’, wrote Cornelia Knight, ‘her Royal Highness constantly sent her out in a carriage, and when she grew so weak as to be confined to her room, visited her two or three times a day, carried her in her arms to the window, and exerted every faculty to soothe and comfort her.’

Her death was recorded in the Gentleman’s Magazine:

‘July 1. At Warwick House, Mrs Gagarin, many years an affectionate and faithful attendant of the Princess Charlotte of Wales. Her last moments were solaced by the condescending and unremitting attentions of of her Royal Highness, reflecting a lustre on the native goodness of her heart, superior to all the appendages of her exalted rank.’

Charlotte, wrote Miss Knight, ‘was very low for a long time afterwards, though she endeavoured to suppress and conceal her feelings’.

Yet amid all this sadness and frustration there was one element of happiness – the presence of Mercer Elphinstone.

Mercer came down from Scotland in the middle of March and stayed until the end of July.

When she knew her friend was coming, Charlotte wrote to her father, saying that she had heard the news from a third party and asking his permission to see her. Their correspondence had been, as Charlotte put it, ‘conducted with such secrecy & prudence’ that the Prince was convinced they had not been in touch with each other. All Charlotte’s letters were still being open by his agents at the Post Office, and there had been no sign of it. He therefore acceded to what he regarded as a reasonable request.

There were some, including Cornelia Knight, who suspected that the Prince had written to Mercer saying that he would only let her see his daughter if she promised to persuade her not to be too supportive of her mother. But Mercer, who was always wary of Charlotte’s mother, would have done that anyway if she thought it appropriate.

For more than four months Charlotte and Mercer saw each other as often as they pleased. But the Prince Regent had forbidden Mercer to stay in the same house as Charlotte. So when Charlotte was in London, Mercer came round to Warwick House from her own house in Harley Street, and when Charlotte was in Windsor at Lower Lodge, Cornelia Knight arranged for Mercer to stay nearby with a friend, Mrs Hallam.

Throughout those months there were no letters. There is therefore no record of what they discussed. But there is no doubt that one of the most important topics was the rumour that Mercer mentioned in one of her last letters from Scotland.

In her reply Charlotte wrote that she too had heard it. Perhaps, if the Princess were willing to pay it, the price of freedom would soon be available.

It was being said that the Prince Regent and his ministers were planning to arrange a marriage between Princess Charlotte and the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

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

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The Prince Regent Is Becoming More And More Suspicious

For Charlotte the spring and summer of 1813 were for the most part dreary and sad. The only balls that she attended were in the houses of her father or her uncles, and at all of them the Prince Regent was as paranoid as ever.

At one ball, given by the Duke and Duchess of York, the Prince saw that his daughter was again sitting on a sofa talking to the Duke of Gloucester, for whom, if he only knew it, she did not have ‘the smallest partiality’. He instructed Lady Liverpool to go over and tell her to change places with Lady Bathurst, who was sitting on the other side of her. Instead of obeying, Charlotte stood up and strode out of the room. Later she went back and apologised to the Duke, and she went home, in the words of Cornelia Knight, ‘indignant and hurt at having been watched and worried’.

The Prince was equally suspicious of the Duke of Devonshire, who was certainly very attentive to Charlotte. But, as she told Mercer, he would bestow his attentions somewhere else, where they might at least be appreciated. Sir Henry Halford, who was fast becoming the Prince’s favourite messenger, was sent more than once to admonish the Duchess of Leeds and Miss Knight for not keeping a close enough watch when the Duke of Devonshire was around. And on another occasion he was sent to tell Miss Knight that the Prince was not pleased to learn that she and Charlotte had been seen out in her carriage one morning on the road to Chiswick, where the Duke was giving a breakfast party at his villa – to which Miss Knight pleaded honestly that life at Warwick House was so dull that they had simply gone out to all the fancy carriages drive by.

The Prince even forbade Charlotte to continue sitting for the painter George Sanders at his studio, because while she was there she was exposed to the bad influence of such visitors as Lady Jersey. Both the Duchess of Leeds and Miss Knight insisted defiantly that the pious painter and his studio were beyond reproach. Charlotte was having her portrait painted as a birthday present for her father, and the visitors were only there to see how it was coming on, sometimes at the Prince’s request. But it was to no avail, and since Sanders refused to paint at Warwick House, where the light was as bad as everything else, the birthday present was never finished.

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

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Picture: George Sanders, by Andrew Geddes, (c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation from the page https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/george-sanders-1774-1846/

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