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A State Prisoner

Two days after her capture, Charlotte, with the aid of her drawing master Mr. Starkey, succeeded in smuggling a pencilled letter to Mercer out of Carlton House. She was allowed neither pen, ink nor paper, but she had stolen ‘these few sheets’, and intended, she said, to pass the letter through milk, to preserve the pencil. She was writing to her uncle Sussex in the same way.

‘You have no idea of my situation,’ she wrote to Mercer. ‘Oh, God, it ought to be remedied indeed, for it is wretched, and enough to send anyone wild … I am complete prisoner, not a letter or thing could get to me except by some merciful private hand.’ Even the Bishop was a welcome visitor in her desolation: he had promised to try and see Mercer, to beg her to get permission to visit Charlotte.

‘Shall you venture,’ she enquires of her friend, ‘upon asking leave to come and see me? … Oh, I wish you would … pray, pray do it.’ She is filled with self-reproach: ‘It is I who by my mad conduct brought all this upon you’ – and she reminds herself yet again of their heartbroken parting when ‘I could not utter one single word because you could not’. The following Monday she is to be moved to Cranbourne Lodge, in Windsor Forest, where she will be even more isolated. Her new ladies, she says, ‘are stupider and duller than anything’. She did not even attempt to talk, and meals were a misery – ‘so forlorn and prisonish’ – and she thinks of the cheerful dinners at Warwick House when Mercer was with her.

She was never alone, even at night, and the atmosphere of watching and suspicion was intolerable. ‘Louis went to Warwick House for some things for me, but … Lady Ilchester went over with her and followed her everywhere she went … and told her there must be no talking or messages with the servants.’

In spite of inflicting this heavy punishment upon his daughter, the Regent was all charm when they met. ‘I heartily begged his pardon for my rash act,’ she said, and he told her that he had forgiven her.”He cried a vast deal,’ she said, ‘did not know what to do for me, but would try & not make my life miserable.’ But the mention of Mercer, she said, drew from her ‘a violent shower of tears’. Altogether, it was a tearful scene, but hardly a constructive one for Charlotte’s future.

On July 18 the Princess moved from Carlton House to Cranbourne Lodge. To her surprise she found the house ‘very cheerful & very good, the view lovely’. She felt it was ‘an honourable retreat … and very far superior to Lower Lodge’. But there was no lessening of restrictions, and she could not shake off her wardresses. ‘Lady Ilchester is best,’ she wrote, ‘I don’t like Campbell at all.’ A week later she changed her mind: Mrs. Campbell was trying to please her and displayed ‘diffidence and delicacy’. But Lady Rosslyn she could never abide: she nicknamed her ‘Famine’ and ‘Vixen’, and her two dim nieces, the Misses Coates, were dubbed ‘the Consequences’. ‘The old one’ (Lady Rosslyn), she wrote, ‘is as detestable an old lump of bones as ever was, never seems good-humoured or pleased, & is always listening to what is going on … ‘

On receiving Charlotte’s pencilled note from Carlton House, the Duke of Sussex composed a letter to the Prime Minister. Princess Charlotte, he said, was being treated as a State Prisoner. Her health was suffering, and her doctors had prescribed sea bathing as vitally important to her recovery. He demanded permission to visit her.

Two days later, on July 19, having received no reply, he got up in the House of Lords, and put five questions, devised by Brougham, to Lord Liverpool. He wished to know, he said, if the Princess is allowed to receive her friends as usual; if she is able to write and receive letters. Is she actually under the restraint of imprisonment? Did not her doctors, a year ago, prescribe a yearly visit to the seaside as necessary to her health? And lastly, now that she passed the age when by Law she is fit to govern, what steps have been taken towards providing her with an Establishment suitable to her rank, and to the part she will soon have to perform?

The questions were pertinent, and embarrassing.

Lord Liverpool refused to answer, on the grounds that the points raised by the Duke ‘would bear by implication a disagreeable appearance as uninvited as it was unnecessary’.

‘Old Bags’, the Lord Chancellor, who was largely responsible for the Regent’s restrictions on Charlotte, ‘administered a rebuke.’ But Sussex, undeterred, said that he would raise the subject again. Before he finally sat down he begged to address the Woolsack, quoting Bacon – he believed it was Bacon – on the importance to man of reading, writing and conversation, and pointing out that ‘retirement, coercion and seclusion were not the means to instruct and give Princess Charlotte of Wales the most favorable idea of the beauty and advantages of the glorious constitution of this country, over which she was one day, please God, to rule’.

Perhaps it is not surprising that after this the Regent refused to meet his brother Sussex again.

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

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Drama Continues

Only the Duke of Sussex, ‘not having been sent by the Regent’, was asked to step upstairs.

He had come in answer to a second summons, sent by Brougham. Charlotte’s note, said her uncle, was such an illegible scrawl that he had put it into his pocket unread. Brougham had been wondering how the Duke would be received, for the Princess of Wales had not spoken time for nine years, ever since he had delivered to the Prince the charges made by Lady Douglas which had led to the Delicate Investigation. But they fell into each other’s arms: ‘no one,’ said Brougham, ‘could have supposed there was the least dryness between them, to see how warmly they embraced.’

Brougham was presented, as the Princess’s legal adviser. ‘Pray, sir,’ said the Duke in his direct way, ‘supposing the Prince Regent, acting in the name and on behalf of His Majesty, were to send a sufficient force to break down the doors of this house and carry away the Princess, would any resistance in such case be lawful?’
‘It would not.’
‘Then, my dear,’ said Sussex to Charlotte, ‘you hear what the law is. I can only advise you to return with as much speed and as little noise as possible.’

Charlotte did not care for this advice, which bore no relation to her own plans. While her uncle settled down to a lively conversation in German with the Princess of Wales, Charlotte took Brougham aside, and tried to explain to him just why she had run away. The whole story came tumbling out: the quarrel with her father over the broken engagement, the dismissal of Miss Knight and of all her household, the arbitrary introduction of new ladies, her forced separation from her mother and from Mercer. She became more and more worked up: all the gaiety she had displayed at dinner had vanished, choked now by the vision of what might be done to her; Brougham noticed that she kept harking back to her terror of being forced into the Dutch marriage. He assured her that ‘without her consent freely given, it could never take place’: but she remained unconvinced. ‘They may wear me out by ill-treatment, & may represent that I have changed my mind & consented.’ She again announced her intention of living with her mother if the Regent would not agree to her terms. Brougham betrayed no sign of approval or disapproval, and she demanded at last what he advised her to do. His direction came instantly.

‘Return to Warwick House or Carlton House, and on no account pass a night out of your own house.’ At this, Charlotte broke down and sobbed: this was not the advice she had hoped for from Brougham. She accused him of turning against her: then she found that he was supported in this view by all the others – by Mercer, by the Duke of Sussex, and even, alas, by her mother. Her rebellious tears turned to despair, as Brougham, seizing his advantage, continued to assure her that this was her only course – she must return. Charlotte was appalled: after the desperate unhappiness of her plight at Warwick House she had felt that here she would be among friends. Yet now these friends were forcing her to go back, to face imprisonment and isolation, surrounded by a female bodyguard chosen without consulting her. Worst of all, she thought in this moment of agony, she would be cut off from Miss Knight, and so from her secret means of communication with Prince August. This was the most cruel deprivation of all, and hardened her in her determination not to give in.

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

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]

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 to me 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