Before she left England, the Princess of Wales, with what Grey called her ‘utter want of all sense of delicacy and propriety’, wrote suggesting that Charlotte might marry Prince Frederick of Orange, Slender Billy’s younger and brighter brother, who was just then in England with his regiment. In August he was at Windsor, and took part in a review of troops by the Duke of Wellington, within sight of Cranbourne Lodge – ‘a thin young man, & rode a fine prancing horse’, said General Garth, who had been to look; but Charlotte was in a rage. ‘Can you conceive anything so indelicate,’ she demanded, ‘as bringing him down close to my house after all that has passed?’ All the same, she had climbed, ‘covered with a few pelisses’, up to the roof-top, and watched what she could see of the review through a telescope.
The papers began to hint that the younger Orange prince had been sent to woo Charlotte. ‘The newspapers are very insufferable with their nonsense about me,’ she exclaimed angrily, adding that she would never again look at anything ‘in the shape of an Orange’. Again, she inveighed against the Duke of Wellington’s indelicacy ‘in bringing him down into my neighbourhood’, and she declared, ‘The only effect this Orange siege will have upon me is that I shall become very savage at last … ‘
However, Prince Frederick showed no sign of following up his dashing equestrian exploits with a visit to Cranbourne Lodge, and Charlotte’s dull life went on as before.
One consequence of the move to Windsor was that she saw more of her grandmother and aunts, and though, as she said later, ‘they all pull different ways & I go mine’, her references to the family are for the most part more tolerant. Her unheard-of behaviour in breaking off the engagement and defying her father had caused a flutter in the Castle dovecote; and when she arrived at Cranbourne Lodge she was much on the defensive and too miserable to want to see anyone. She had no desire to confide in any of the family; but in order to clear the air on the Orange question, she decided to have a talk with Princess Mary, and hoped thus to communicate her point of view, wrapped in Mary’s careful diplomacy, to the Prince.
Her aunt received her eagerly, only too delighted to have what she called a conference upon Charlotte’s recent troubles. Cat-like, with carefully-hidden claws, Princess Mary gently drew from her niece the whole story of the broken engagement, the scene with the Regent at Warwick House and finally Charlotte’s flight, seeming impressed by her niece’s firmness and intrepidity. But she was shocked, she said, to learn that she had run away ‘from desperation’; and with a sudden volte-face declared that it was all the Prince Regent’s fault. After the engagement had been broken he should have gone to see Charlotte at once, particularly when she wrote that she was ill. Then all this would never have happened.
Before the interview ended there were one or two sharp scratches from the aunt. She hinted that politically Charlotte’s behaviour had been disastrous: the Prussians, she said,were furious with her for endangering the Dutch alliance, and the King of Prussia had declared that he would not go to say good-bye to her. But ‘I confounded her,’ said the niece, ‘by saying he had sent me his Chamberlain with a very gracious & civil message.’ Princess Mary made a quick recovery, and went on to warn Charlotte to keep away from the Duchess of York, who was still excessively angry with her.* ‘We parted after this,’ said Charlotte, who nevertheless persuaded herself that the result of this conversation was ‘really favorable’. She felt that she had made it clear that she would never, in any circumstances, be talked into a renewal of the Orange match.
Princess Mary had evidently decided to play the part of Charlotte’s friend and adviser. Unfortunately, the overplayed it, and now wrote rather patronizingly, justifying the Regent’s ‘cool and reserved manner’, and indicating that Charlotte was largely to blame. ‘Though your father is desirous of showing you all the kindness he feels towards you, you must meet him half way and be sencible [sic] your own steady conduct alone can make him place confidence in you.’ This put Charlotte’s back up. ‘I am trying to conciliate the P.R. by all good means,’ she complained to Mercer, and in a thoroughly irritable condition prepared herself to go to a fête at Frogmore. This was her first appearance in public since her flight and banishment, and she was nervous.
‘We go in two carriages,’ she said. ‘I shall take Lady Ilchester in one, and let the others go in the other.’ She wished to make her entrance alone, untrammelled by the ‘whole train of nasty ugly women’, as she rudely described her ladies.
At this party she met the Duchess of York, who, contrary to Princess Mary’s dark warnings, ‘was perfect in her manner of meeting & conducting herself towards me; nothing could be better’. The Duke of York, conscious of their last encounter, was ‘awkward in manner but not unkind’; and the Regent, whom she had dreaded meeting, ‘just spoke, & good-naturedly, (the few words he did utter)’. He was closeted with ministers most of the evening, but when he left ‘he wished me good-bye & added a my dear to it’. She hoped that she was forgiven.
By degrees she was succeeding in calming her affronted relations. The Queen, to her surprise, was ‘remarkably good-humoured & gracious’; and indeed, now that the Princess of Wales had removed herself from the scene, Queen Charlotte’s attitude to her granddaughter underwent a change, and she began to act independently of the Prince, even to the point of standing up to him in defence of Charlotte’s rights.
Towards the end of August, at ‘a very seemly little musick party’ at Frogmore, Charlotte again had a tête à tête with her Aunt Mary, who was at her most amiable. She professed herself ‘all anxiety’ for her niece to marry. ‘I see no chance for you of comfort … without your marrying,’ she said. ‘All your family should be glad if there was anything that would do …’ But it seemed, when they discussed it further, that there was nothing that would do. Charlotte ‘joked’ about Prince Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who had been the Queen’s candidate. ‘Oh God, no,’ cried Princess Mary, and added, ‘I would be the last now to recommend … anyone in particular.’ But when Charlotte, apparently joking again, mentioned Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, her aunt ‘colored not a little’ and admitted, ‘I think from what I saw of him he is a very good looking & very gentlemanlike young man.’ ‘I don’t like him,’ said Charlotte, ‘for he does not suit my taste.’ At this her aunt ‘thought a little’ and then said quietly , ‘You don’t, you don’t.’ ‘She seemed quite satisfied & cheerful again,’ said Charlotte, ‘so that I suspect there is something there with her.’ It looks as if Princess Mary, trying to pick a husband for her niece, was in fact going through the list on her own behalf as well.
A few days later, evidently in answer to an enquiry on the subject from Mercer, Charlotte declared that she had no idea whether her Aunt Mary thought of the Prince of Coburg ‘in any particular way’, but her manner seemed to show that there was ‘something or other’. Princess Sophia, questioned about this by her niece, denied all knowledge of it, but said that Leopold could never be ‘worked’ as a husband for Charlotte, as ‘he had not a shilling’.
* The Hereditary Prince of Orange was her nephew.
[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Holme]