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Princess On The Run

Charlotte lost her head. As Miss Knight left her to go to the Prince, she rushed up to her bedroom, seized a bonnet, ran down the back stairs, out of the house and – swollen knee forgotten – full-tilt into the street. Here she ran hither and thither, uncertain which way to go, until, by one account, a kindly young man, the nephew of a Pall Mall picture dealer, saw her from a window and came to her aid. Breathlessly, she begged him to call her a hackney cab, which – having no idea – who she was – he did, and she offered the driver a guinea to drive her – ‘towards Oxford Street’. She may have been careful not to betray her destination: on the other hand, never having been out by herself before, she may have been a little uncertain of the way to her mother’s house in Bayswater, which was where she planned to go. The jarvey, whose name was Higgins, obediently took her to the top of Regent Street, and by this time she had recovered her confidence enough to tell him to drive on to Connaught Place, the Princess of Wales’s house – and to drive faster.

It is not known just when the cabby tumbled to the identity of his fare, but no doubt he was he was suitably surprised and obsequious when the young Princess, arrived on her mother’s doorstep, handed him three guineas.
The excitement of her flight was slightly damped when she learned that her mother was not at home,having gone to Blackheath ‘on business’. A groom was sent off post-haste to bring her back, and Charlotte was left to cool her heels. All that she could think of to do was to order dinner; and she then decided to send for her uncle Sussex, and despatched a messenger with a scribbled note. She also summoned Mr. Brougham. As it happened, both were dining out and had to be run to earth, which caused a further delay.

At about nine o’clock the Princess of Wales arrived, accompanied by Lady Charlotte Lindsay. She had been met on the road by the galloping groom, and had hurried back, only stopping at the House of Commons to try and find Mr. Whitbread, who was not there.

She now heard the whole story. Charlotte threw herself upon her mother’s protection and announced that she wished to live with her always. To this the Princess of Wales was non-committal, and it is noticeable in Brougham’s account of what followed that she is oddly silent: Charlotte’s proposal did not entirely accord with her plans.

Brougham, who had been up all the night before on a legal case, was desperately tired when the summons reached him, and fell asleep in the carriage that was sent to fetch him to Connaught Place. Thinking that he was sent for by the Princess of Wales, he dreaded the effort that lay before him as he ‘stumbled upstairs, still half asleep, to the drawing-room’. Here, to his astonishment, he found Princess Charlotte, who rushed forward and seized both his hands, saying how impatient she had been at the delay. ‘I have run off,’ she announced. She was radiant, and brushed aside his questions, declaring, ‘Oh it is too long to tell now.’

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

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Restrictions Are Imposed

But he [The Prince Regent] was by no means satisfied with her [Miss Knight’s] apology for Charlotte’s absence at this interview. He would expect to see her to see her the following day, between two and three, he said, unless Dr. Baillie came and said that she was absolutely incapable of walking from Warwick House.

That night Charlotte sent a note to Mercer, begging her to come ‘as early as possible tome tomorrow’. Her friend had been with her when Miss Knight returned from the Regent, and knew of Charlotte’s reluctance to go to Carlton House next day. The doctors, wrote Charlotte, were to meet, ‘if possible to prevent my going’. She explained that far from avoiding a meeting with her father, she was most anxious to see him: but she was convinced that if once she set foot in Carlton House she would be kept there. The plan, she said, ‘is to be a sudden one, when once there to keep me, and not to allow my return’. She had heard rumours, through the Duke of Sussex, and later through Lady Jersey, of the Prince’s plans, which – tinged though they are with the melodrama of Gothic fiction – were frightening enough to put her on her guard against every move of the Regent and his ministers.

‘Whatever is done is to be sudden,’ she wrote. ‘Tomorrow may probably be my last day, God knows, in this house.’

She knew now that Cornelia would be removed from her and that in itself was misery, for ‘no letters perhaps will reach’ – no letters from Prince August, sent to Warwick House under cover to Miss Knight. She knew that there were to be new ladies, both elderly: one of these, Lady Ilchester, ‘appointed for certain’, had been the Queen’s Lady of the Bedchamber; and Mrs. Campbell, who had been Charlotte’s sub-governess, was to return. Charlotte did not like her. The very air of Warwick House was heavy with rumours, and the Princess, tormented by the pain in her knee, dreading the materialization of her fears, felt herself dogged and haunted by sorrows which she could not escape. ‘I dread everything & I know not why I fancy horrors in every one and thing round me.’

The next day, though Dr. Baillie said that she was perfectly capable of walking up to Carlton House, she felt too ill and wretched to go, and wrote to her father, begging that he would come to her. He kept her waiting till six in the evening, when he arrived, attended by the Bishop, whom he left with Miss Knight while he interviewed Charlotte alone. After three quarters of an hour the Bishop was summoned, and Cornelia waited on tenterhooks for the session to end. After another fifteen minutes, the door burst open. Charlotte rushed out ‘in the greatest agony’. She had but one instant, she said, to speak to Cornelia, the Prince had asked for her and was waiting. She then broke the news, which was as bad as she could have imagined. The ‘new ladies’ – Lady Ilchester, Lady Rosslyn and Mrs. Campbell – were already in the house. Miss Knight was to be dismissed, she said, and so were all the servants. Warwick House was to be given up, and Charlotte was to be kept for five days at Carlton House, after which she was to be taken to Cranbourne Lodge in the middle of Windsor Forest, where she would see nobody except the Queen once a week. Growing even more frantic, she added that if she did not go immediately to Carlton House, as she had been commanded, the Prince would sleep that night at Warwick House, as well as the ladies. In other words, Princess Charlotte was a prisoner.

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

The Whigs Are Against The Dutch Marriage

But, despite the freedom that it promised, Charlotte’s enthusiasm for her engagement was waning, and this was not just due to the attraction of Prince August, or the discovery that her betrothed was a callow, scruffy boy who could not even hold his liquor. Other forces were at work, trying to change her mind as well.

The more moderate Whigs, like Earl Grey and the Duke of Sussex, still had reservations about the cost of a close Dutch alliance, and they were still concerned that the Prince Regent had only been trying to get his daughter out of the country to induce his wife to leave as well. But the Radical Whigs, like Brougham and Whitbread, felt thwarted by the Regent’s capitulation. They were still passionately opposed to the marriage.

The restriction imposed on Charlotte’s visits to her mother and her mother’s continuing exclusion from court were political weapons that the Radicals were loath to lose. Making indignant criticisms of both or either was still their best way of embarrassing the Regent and his government. But if Charlotte got married, they would be bound to lose one. As mistress of her own household, she would be entitled to receive anyone she pleased, including her mother. And if her mother went abroad, either because Charlotte had gone or else because she disapproved of the marriage, they would lose both.

Brougham was blunt. At a secret meeting, he warned Charlotte of what he saw as the consequences of marriage. Her mother would no longer have a good reason for staying in England, and her father might even bribe her to go. Once her mother was out of the country, she would no longer be a focus for popular support. Her father would be able to divorce her quietly without too much public opposition. If that happened, he would probably get married again, and if that happened, he might well have a son. Once there was a male heir, Charlotte could no longer look forward to being Queen of England. For the time being, he said, it was Charlotte’s duty not to marry and stand by her mother.

So Charlotte had three reasons for avoiding marriage – the dismal prospect of Prince William himself; the hope that she might marry some other prince, preferably Prince August; and the duty to stand by her mother which, incidentally, would also protect her own position as heir presumptive.

Since Mercer was in London at the time, there is no written evidence of Charlotte’s real motive, but the reason that she chose as an excuse was her duty to stay loyal to her mother.

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

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

Sir John and Lady Douglas Talk To The Prince of Wales

‘Sir John Douglas, after distinguished service in the Marines, had been appointed Equerry to the Duke of Sussex. (…) His wife was handsome in a flashy, gipsy way, and was the last person who should have been favoured with Princess Caroline’s confidences. She lapped up every word that was poured out so lavishly and indiscreetly by her friend, observing her with her hard black eyes all that went on at Montague House, where numerous gentlemen dined and spent the evening (and sometimes, it was rumoured, the night), and where, in the day-time, babies were allowed to take possession of the downstairs rooms.’
[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]

 

For a few years Sir John and Lady Douglas had been the closest of friends with the Princess of Wales. But she had rejected them so completely and cruelly that they were determined to have their revenge. They were now prepared to reveal everything they knew, or claimed to know, about her, and in the course of several long sessions with the Prince and his advisers, they told it all in great detail.

All the stories of lovers were true, they said. The Princess was insatiable. She had even embarrassed the beautiful but vulgar Lady Douglas by regularly making intimate advances to her. Worst of all, they claimed, they could confirm that she had indeed given birth to a child.

Among the seven or eight poor children whom the eccentric Princess had adopted informally and then farmed out to live with friends, there was one favourite, William Austin, whom she kept in her household. According to the Douglases, the Princess had told them that the boy was her own son. Furthermore she had told both of them and others that the father was none other than the Prince of Wales. The child had been conceived, she said, during an attempted reconciliation on her last visit to Carlton House.

If the last part of that story had been true, it would have had devastating implications. It would have meant that little “Willikin” and not Charlotte was second in line to the throne of England. But the Prince of Wales knew better than anyone that it was not true, although, to his delight, he could not be so sure about the rest of the story, or indeed about any of the others.

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

caroline lady douglas and george

Charlotte’s Family: Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex

CHARLOTTE’S PATERNAL UNCLE

640px-Prince_Augustus_Frederick,_Duke_of_Sussex_by_Guy_Head

Augustus Frederick (27 January 1773 – 21 April 1843), sixth son of George III of the United Kingdom and Charlotte of Mecklenburg – Stirlitz, the Duke of Sussex, Earl of Inverness, and Baron Arklow (1801 – 1843), the only son of George III who did not pursue an army or naval career (due to asthma), Charlotte’s favourite paternal uncle

Portrait: Portrait of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex by Guy Head, National Portrait Gallery