Tag Archives: alexander I tsar of russia

Charlotte Returns to Weymouth

At first Charlotte found it easy enough to follow the advice to be patient with her father. But it was not so easy to be patient with Leopold. As soon as she reached Weymouth, she wrote to Mercer telling her that ‘the Leo’ was in Paris, and begging her to write to him, although she added, ‘Preach up prudence. A false step now I feel would ruin all.’

In the weeks and then months that followed, Mercer wrote encouraging letters to Leopold, Leopold wrote back to Mercer, Mercer passed on what he had said to Charlotte, and in her answers Charlotte became more and more eager and less and less inclined to go on writing.

On 21 August, late at night, she wrote:

Your account of him constantly at Lady Castlereagh’s stupid suppers does not astonish me… Oh why should he not come over, it is so near & it is but a run over of a few hours. I quite languish for his arrival. He is really wrong in keeping back as he does. Having got your letter what more can he wish for to bring him? Don’t you know an old proverb wh. says, ‘Hope long delayed maketh the heart sick’. What does he mean about a crisis? I see & hear of nothing that is like it.

Just over a week later, after Mercer had induced Leopold to share his feelings with her, Charlotte wrote, ‘I will tell you candidly that I am delighted, not to say charmed & flattered at what Leo writes about his sentiments and feelings for me, & the way in wh. he expresses himself is peculiarly pleasing.’

After another month she was beginning to hope that Leopold had decided to come over, and yet at the same time both she and Mercer were worried that someone was advising him against it – it was possible that ‘hints might have reached him through the Prussians’ about Prince August, or that somebody had told him about Charles Hesse. If he did come, Charlotte wanted Mercer to meet him and explain.

If you see him long enough to have such confidential & various conversation with him, I allow you…to clear all that up to him in the best manner you please, & even if think it necessary, to hint also at Hesse’s affair since I was quite clear (that unless he is well prepared & armed against all the lies & different things that will be told him) he will not know what to believe, who to credit, or how to act.

A week later, still hoping that Leopold was coming soon, Charlotte was in a mood to be devious. She told Mercer, ‘I give you carte blanche if you see him, to say & do all that circumstances will allow & require. Don’t send him any of his letters, let me see them when we meet, that you may honorably be able to keep to saying you never forwarded any letters to me.

Yet amid all the frustration and disappointment, the news that raised Charlotte’s hopes the highest was not about Leopold but about ‘Slender Billy’. It was announced in Holland that the Hereditary Prince of Orange was engaged to marry the Tsar’s younger sister, the Grand Duchess Anne.

The Dutch fleet was to be united with the Russian fleet. For those who were inclined to suspect a conspiracy, and who did not know how much Charlotte detested the young Prince of Orange, it looked as though the scheming Grand Duchess Catherine had brought about the breach between them as part of a long-term Russian plan. But for Charlotte the news was nothing more than a merciful release. Her father no longer had a pet plan to promote above any other.

But then she heard that several other eligible princes had been seen in London and at Windsor. On 14 October she wrote, ‘I have such a dread of all foreign Princes, the sight as well as the name of them alarm me from the idea of some intrigue or other going on for my marrying someone of them.’

By then it was a while since Mercer had heard from Leopold, and a week later Charlotte began to despair. ‘His silence to you is now what surprises & occupies me the most for you ought to have heard long before this.’

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

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Leopold Is Writing To The Prince Regent

It was ‘en grande uniforme’ that he called upon Princess Charlotte at Warwick House: he greatly admired her, was well aware of her exalted position as Heiress Presumptive to the throne of England, and wished to make the best possible impression. When she drove out in the Park, he would follow her, ride near her open carriage, and ‘endeavour to be noticed’. He was already acquainted with Miss Mercer, and it was under her banner that he presented himself at Warwick House. Here, according to Miss Knight, he showered the Princess with compliments; but ‘there were reasons’, she added mysteriously, ‘why this matter was by no means agreeable to Princess Charlotte’. Those reasons, needles to say, were Charlotte’s feelings for Prince August of Prussia, which Miss Knight so vehemently condoned, thereby causing her own downfall. It may be remembered that poor Miss Knight, during a stormy interview with the Prince Regent just before her dismissal, blurted out a defence of the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, whom she was using as a red herring. The Regent saw what she was up to and waved aside her excuses: Prince Leopold, he said, was a most honourable young man: and had written him a letter which perfectly justified his conduct.

The Regent’s letter from Prince Leopold had obviously been composed with a great deal of thought, and in the carefully-worded phrases of a seasoned diplomat, assured the Prince Regent that Leopold regretted any indiscretion he may have committed by visiting (at her invitation) the Princess Charlotte at Warwick House. He recounted enthusiastically his first meeting with the Princess, on the back stairs of Pulteney’s Hotel, where he was hanging about waiting for an audience to bid farewell to the Tsar. (Here he put in a tactful word to the effect that his parting from the Regent’s detested Grand Duchess was not very tender, since she had jilted his brother, Prince Ernest.) ‘Princess Charlotte,’ he said-returning to the encounter on the back stairs, ‘condescended to take my arm, and to allow me to escort her to her carriage; and she told me that I had not been at all polite, not having called upon her… She hoped that if I made a longer stay I should be more polite in the future.’

It was this invitation that he had responded, cutting short a visit to the Opera to pay his respects at Warwick House, where Charlotte had received him, in the presence of the Duchess of Leeds, with ‘beaucoup de bienveillance’. He stayed, he said, for about three-quarters of an hour, and then, perceiving that the Princess was unwell, he took his leave.

But afterwards he began to think that he had made a faux pas: the Dutch engagement had so very recently been broken off, and alone in his Marylebone lodgings he wondered if perhaps he had been too bold, too precipitate. He saw now that it was not the time for what he called ‘les plus petits mots de plus’. All he wished to do, at this stage, was to leave a good impression, and a word (to Count Münster*) to the effect that, when the time came, he would be ready, if summoned, to return.

It was a curiously pompous, fussy letter from a young man of twenty-four, but it worked wonders with the Regent, leaving a favourable impression which had not faded when, early in 1815, Mercer reported from Brighton that the Prince had spoken highly to Lord Keith of the ‘P of S-C’. Charlotte was overjoyed. ‘Il me fait un plaisir aimable the P.R. having named & done justice in so handsome a way … to P. S-C’s name & conduct, too.’ She was convinced that before he left England this prince had offered himself to the Regent as her suitor, and had been refused, because it was stupid time to do it, ‘when common sence & prudence ought to have told him that he or any man that tried would be rejected’. But she considered that he should have chanced his luck with her first. ‘If however he continues in favour with the P.R., it is not impossible he may still succeed.’ In fact, she had made up her mind to marry him.

‘I have perfectly decided & made up my mind to marry,’ she announced, ‘and the person I have as decidedly fixed on is Prince Leopold.’ She was convinced, she said, that he would make her tolerably comfortable & happy, which she had never felt when engaged to the Prince of Orange. She was encouraged by the attitude of the Royal Family, who all, in the absence at Brighton of the Regent, supported her in her choice. The Queen was all graciousness and good humour; and Charlotte learned that she was ‘monstrously provoked with the Prince for ‘thinking any more of the P.O. business’. He was spending far too much time at Brighton, said his mother, without doing any business. He lingered there with Lady Hertford, and prohibited his Ministers from coming to him, though there were two important matters to be settled at once, the Corn Bill** and the Income Tax***.

* Hanoverian Minister of State – now resident in England.
** Prohibiting importation of corn while the price at home was below 80s. a quarter.
*** It was reduced from two shillings in the pound to one shilling.

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

Who Is Leopold? (Part 5)

While he was in Paris, Leopold renewed his friendship with Hortense and visited her frequently in her blue boudoir on the Rue Cerutti. On 25 April he wrote to his sister Sophia: ‘The Tsar is going to England, and I am very tempted to make the journey, because there will be a great many festivities. But it would cost too much.’

By then, however, the Tsar had been receiving letters from his sister in London. The proposed marriage between England and Holland was not in Russia’s best interest, but it was clear that England’s Princess Charlotte was more interested in marriage than in her future husband. If she could be introduced to a prince who was handsome, charming and successful, she might at least be induced to think twice about the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

The next time Leopold sat down to write to his favourite sister his plans had changed. The Tsar was taking him in his entourage to London.

Leopold borrowed a carriage from Sophia’s husband, and in return he lent him the castle in Austria which had just been given to him by the grateful Emperor. He visited the best tailors in Paris. He spent so much that when he reached crowded London the only lodgings he could afford were two rooms on the second floor of number 21 Marylebone High Street, which he rented from Mr Hole, who ran a greengrocer’s shop on the ground floor. The simple lodgings were not without advantages, however. When he was not in attendance on the Tsar or out and about in London society, Leopold spent most of his time with Mr Hole’s young housemaid, who was overwhelmed by the handsome Prince and adored the way his eyelids drooped slightly when he bowed.

In the light of all this, it may not have been a coincidence that Leopold was waiting at the foot of the back stairs when Charlotte left the Grand Duchess’s apartments after saying goodbye to her; it may be that the Tsar was only testing her when he asked her to make peace with the young Prince of Orange. Certainly his dismissive sneer at ‘a Mister Whitbread’ was disingenuous. The liberal Tsar was in sympathy with the Whigs. He had received Samuel Whitbread at the Pulteney Hotel; and he had angered the Regent by greeting him warmly at a reception.

A few days after the Tsar left London, Leopold wrote significantly to his eldest brother:

The Tsar has given me permission to stay here as long as it suits me. I only decided to do so after much hesitation, and after certain very singular events made me glimpse the possibility, even the probability, of realising the project we spoke of in Paris. My chances are, alas, very poor, because of the father’s opposition, and he will never give his consent. But I have resolved to go on to the end, and only to leave when all my hopes have been destroyed…

By then Leopold had visited Charlotte. He left a state concert before it ended and went round to Warwick House wearing his full dress uniform. While he was there, Mercer arrived. She was delighted by the surprise. She already knew the Prince and she approved of him. For her, this was much more the sort of prince who ought to be courting the future Queen of England.

After that, more often than not, when Charlotte and Miss Knight took the air in Hyde Park, Leopold just happened to be there as well. Each time the Princess acknowledged him with a nod, and each time, in response, the Prince trotted up to her carriage and rode beside her for a while.

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

Who Is Leopold? (Part 4)

Leopold left Erfurt and went back to Coburg. Four years later Napoleon summoned the princes of the German Confederation to Dresden. He was preparing to invade Russia. Leopold, now twenty-one years old, decided not to attend. Technically his loyalties were divided. He was a citizen in Napoleon’s empire, but he was an officer in the Tsar’s army. Yet while his conscience was telling him his loyalties lay with Russia, his common sense was to wait and see what happened.

Common sense prevailed. Leopold went to Italy and waited. The French army reached Moscow and then retreated from its ruins. By the time it crossed the border, it had been almost annihilated by the Russian winter and relentless Cossacks.

On 28 February 1813, when the Russian and Prussian leaders met at Kalish to form alliance against Napoleon, Leopold was there. When he reported for duty, he was given the real rank of colonel and attached to the staff of the Imperial Guard.

In his first battle, the allies’ defeat at Lutzen, Leopold commanded a brigade of cavalry. It may still have been an honorary command, with other officers making the decisions, but in the Russian army, which was notorious in those days for the ineptitude of its officers, it was not difficult for an able man to get noticed. Three weeks later, at Bautzen, Leopold took charge of the brigade himself. He led it out in front of the advancing French and covered the allied retreat into Silesia.

After that Leopold was a cavalry commander. He played a key role in the victory at Kulm, where he was decorated in the field with the Cross of St George. He led a charge at the great battle of Leipzig and was decorated again, this time with the Cross of Maria Theresa. At the end of the campaign, he led the Russian heavy cavalry on its westward advance from Switzerland towards Paris, engaging the enemy at Brienne, Fere-Champenoise and Bellville.

On 31 March 1814, riding at the head of his cuirassiers, and wearing the well-earned insignia of a Lieutenant-General, Leopold escorted the Tsar of Russia and the King of Prussia into the French capital.

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

Who Is Leopold? (Part 3)

In October Leopold went to Erfurt where Napoleon, the Tsar and many of the leading rulers in the Confederation of the Rhine had assembled for a conference. In reality it was more of a celebration than a conference. There were more balls, banquets and parades than meetings. But amid these Leopold managed to obtain an audience with the Emperor, at which he repeated his brother’s request for more land and his own for a position on the imperial staff. The answer to the former was more encouraging and more specific than before. Napoleon agreed to add parts of Bayreuth and Bamberg to Coburg. But the answer to the latter was still non-committal.

In later life Leopold always denied that he had asked for a position. He said that it was Napoleon who offered him a job and that he had turned it down. But Napoleon told a different story, and Napoleon was the one who had no reason to disguise the truth. During his exile on St Helena, he told the Comte de las Cases, ‘This Prince Leopold might have been my aide-de-camp; he begged it of me; I don’t know what prevented his appointment. It is very lucky for him he did not succeed.’

In 1808 Leopold could not have felt that he was doing anything dishonourable or disloyal. His homeland was part of the French Empire, and he had been granted an honorary commission by the Tsar, who was then Napoleon’s ally. Like so many other princes, he simply sought advancement in the entourage of his new commander. After Napoleon’s defeat, however, it was unlikely that others would see it that way. To have asked for such a job would not have looked good in England, and to have succeeded in obtaining it would have made Leopold ineligible for almost all the honours and offices that were subsequently offered to him.

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

Who Is Leopold? (Part 2)

Two years later, when Napoleon advanced against the armies of Austria and Russia, intrepid, fourteen-year-old Leopold set out to turn his honorary commission into a real one. But he arrived too late. Two days after he reached the Russian headquarters, news came that the allies had been crushed at Austerlitz.

Leopold went home. In the following year, when Napoleon went to war with Prussia, Coburg was overrun and plundered by the French. There was no resistance. Leopold’s father, the Duke, was already on his deathbed; his eldest brother, the heir, who had gone to join the Prussian army, was also in bed, immobilised by typhoid fever.

The Duke died. The French took over the government of his duchy and incorporated it into the Confederation of Rhine. Coburg became the part of the French Empire.

Since the new Duke was still in bed a hundred and fifty miles away, his formidable mother took up his cause. She demanded an audience with Napoleon. When he refused, she turned to the Tsar, who was then in the process of changing sides and was about to become Napoleon’s ally. The Tsar agreed to help. One of the terms of the treaty that he signed with Napoleon in Tilsit, on 7 July 1807, was that Coburg, while remaining pert of the Confederation, was to be restored to the rule of young Duke Ernest.

As soon as he recovered from his fever, Ernest went to thank Napoleon at his headquarters in Dresden. He was received warmly. The Emperor even promised to increase the size of his duchy by adding a large part of Bayreuth to it. But within weeks of his homecoming, Ernest was on the edge of bankruptcy. Even with the additional income from Gotha, which he had acquired through his wife, his ruined estates in Coburg and Saalfeld were incapable of providing enough revenue to pay for all the soldiers that Napoleon was demanding for his army. So Ernest decided to follow the Emperor to Paris and remind him of his promise and, knowing that good looks and charm were advantages diplomatically as well as socially, he took his brother Leopold with him.

They arrived in Paris on 14 October. Napoleon was not there. The Palace of the Tuileries was occupied by no one but guards and servants. While they waited, however, the brothers were received out at Malmaison by the Empress Josephine, and it was there that Leopold was introduced to her beautiful daughter Hortense.

Leopold was then two months short of his seventeenth birthday, and Hortense was twenty-four. She was married to Napoleon’s brother Louis, the King of Holland, but she had left him and come back to live with her mother, and she was still in mourning for a baby son who had died suddenly five months earlier. Over the next few days, the unhappy Queen of Holland consoled herself by seducing the handsome Prince from Coburg.

Meanwhile Ernest had met a famous Greek beauty, Pauline Panam. For almost six months, Ernest and Leopold stayed in Paris with nothing to do but enjoy the company of Pauline and Hortense.

At last, in March 1808, the French Emperor returned to his capital. Before setting out again for Spain, he granted a brief audience to the brothers from Coburg. It was not a success. Napoleon remembered his promise to Ernest but did nothing to fulfil it, and when Leopold asked to be taken onto his staff as an aide-de-camp, he declined to decide one way or the other. There were, however, dozens of young princes looking for jobs on the Emperor’s staff in 1808, and at least Leopold was one of the few who left an impression on him. In Napoleon’s opinion, Prince Leopold was the handsomeest man who ever set foot in the Tuileries.

In terms of position and wordly wealth, the brothers left Paris empty-handed. But they were both the richer in experience, and Ernest had something to show for it as well. He was accompanied by Pauline Panam, ‘la belle Greque’. To avoid any chance of scandal, she travelled dressed as a man. When they reached the city of Coburg, she was set up discreetly on a farm nearby, where, a few months later, she give birth to a child.

to be continued …

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

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.