Tag Archives: blackheath

Family Politics

The year 1812 started propitiously for Charlotte. On January 7, her sixteenth birthday was handsomely acknowledged by the Family, and the Prince not only gave her, for the first time, a birthday present, but held a dinner party for her at Carlton House. ‘I think you will say, wonders never end,’ she said, reporting this to Mercer. The party consisted of her uncles York, Clarence and Cumberland, the Queen, a brace of princesses, Augusta and Mary (the Regent’s favourites), and was presided over by the Regent, ‘in so good a humour that they spoke of it with surprise’.

Before dinner their gracious host conducted them over ‘the whole of Carlton House’ showing off his latest acquisitions of paintings and furniture; and then they sat down amid ‘much joking and good humour’ to a splendid repast. Unfortunately Charlotte had to dine with her mother at Blackheath immediately afterwards, and so was unable to do full justice to the vast and delectable meal, at the end of which the Prince, oozing with amiability, toasted his mother in a large bumper. He does not appear to have toasted his daughter, whose birthday it was, but ‘I am never so happy,’ he said, ‘as when in the bosom of my family. I trust we may very often meet again in this way…and that your Majesty will do me the honour of frequently presiding at this board…’

‘I was thunderstruck,’ said Charlotte. But she found this excessive affection for his mother a disconcerting portent. Every change of mood, each wind that blew within the Royal Family, had its meaning: Charlotte was by now familiar with the signs. There were reasons, she felt certain, for this sudden attack of filial piety. ‘The Queen has quite got master of the Prince,’ she had observed a week earlier, and now she endorsed it, adding, ‘I know [it] is not a good sign with regard to his measures in Government&politics.’ ‘The Prince,’ she told Mercer, ‘is quite governed by his mother and the Manchester Square folks.’ These were the Hertfords, staunch Tories. Charlotte was not alone in her fears. ‘From now on,’ wrote Lord Holland, ‘the Prince was charged by the Whigs with ingratitude and perfidy. We all encouraged every species of satire against him and his mistress.’ The cartoonists licked their pencils: the print shops, said Charlotte, were full of ‘scurrilous caricatures’.

The Royal Family were beginning to regard Princess Charlotte as someone to be reckoned with: she held strong views and aired them freely. ‘Fortunately’, wrote Princess Mary in 1812, ‘Charlotte is not at all afraid of the Queen, as she runs on from subject to subject and into all her jokes with the Q., just as she does with us, and stands over Queen’s chair & yesterday afternoon kept the Queen laughing from eight o’clock until 10.’ Though they were to cross the swords in the future, the time came when Queen Charlotte developed a respect for her granddaughter and namesake and became her champion.

The young Princess was critical of what she called the Royal Menagerie, and commented shrewdly, if not always kindly, upon their characters. ‘No family,’ she asserted, ‘was ever composed of such odd people: and there have happened such extraordinary things, that in any other family…are never herd of before.’

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

queen_charlotte_by_sir_thomas_lawrence_1789

Picture: Portrait of Queen Charlotte by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1789, National Gallery

Zapisz

Zapisz

Zapisz

Charlotte Meets Sir William Drummond

The men whom Charlotte met at her mother’s dinner table were not attractive to her, though she was aware that several were past or present favourites of the Princess. Conversation, at Blackheath and Kensington, was not censored in Charlotte’s presence, and when she was in her early teens she heard the whole story of Mary Anne Clarke, the Duke of York’s discarded mistress, and the scandal of the sale of Army commissions, relayed, enlarged and dwelt upon with relish. She was not so shocked by this, being accustomed to hear scandalous reports of her uncles, as she was by the conversations she had with Sir William Drummond, the scholar and agnostic, who informed her that the Bible was founded upon myth-‘I can assure you your Royal Highness there is nothing in it, it is all an allegory and nothing more.’ Charlotte met Sir William three times at her mother’s house, in the course of which he told her to study Oriental history, as being more amusing than Scripture, and asserted that the Royalty and Nobility of this country had always been educated by priests-‘the most corrupt and contemptible of mankind’. For once Charlotte found herself on the side of the Bishop of Salisbury – the ‘great U.P.’, her much mocked preceptor, to whom, having extricated herself with dignity from Sir William, she confided the appalling statements which he had made.

A decree came from on high: Princess Charlotte was to meet no society whatever at her mother’s house.

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

More about these meetings in the footnote here

drummondwilliam

Zapisz

Charlotte Meets Her Maternal Uncle

The year 1809 had deprived thirteen-year-old Charlotte of her second ‘adopted parent’. But it also brought her two new friends. The first was a real relation, her uncle William, the new Duke of Brunswick. The bluff but dignified and patient Duke was relieved to have reached London safely, and he never seemed to tire of listening to Charlotte’s lisping chatter.

After the duchy had been overrun, he had assembled seven hundred exiled hussars and dressed them in black uniforms in permanent mourning for his father. With this resolute little corps, he had reconquered the duchy. But the French had returned in strength and driven him out again. Dodging the French whenever he could and fighting them when he had no choice, he had led his men westward to the coast, where a squadron of British warships was waiting to carry them to England. In the years to come the romantic Black Brunswickers were to be among Britain’s most formidable allies in the war against Napoleon.

Like many military men in Europe, and like very few in clean-shaven England, the Duke had a huge moustache. Charlotte adored it. After their first meeting in Blackheath, according to George Keppel, she went back to Warwick House, painted a black moustache on her face and marched up and down in a military manner barking guttural expletives, which she hoped very much sounded like German swear words.

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

Herzog_Friedrich_Wilhelm_von_Braunschweig-Oels,_der_Schwarze_Herzog

Picture: Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel by Johann Christian August Schwartz, 1809, Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_William,_Duke_of_Brunswick-Wolfenb%C3%BCttel

The Delicate Investigation Begins

‘The Prince took the Douglases’ ‘written declarations’ to the Lord Chancellor, who felt that in the light of the last allegations there had to be some sort of enquiry. So the Lord Chancellor went to the Prime Minister, and then, to the further delight of the Prince, the Prime Minister went to the King.

At first King George was reluctant to do anything. He was fond of the Princess of Wales. Despite her estrangement from his son, he still visited her often at Blackheath. But eventually he was persuaded and gave orders for what became known as “The Delicate Investigation”.’

king george and prince of wales

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

Whose Child is Willikin?

‘The child which she claimed to be her own eventually made its appearance – a puny little creature named William Austin, who was said to be the son of a Deptford dock labourer and his wife. This may have been true; but years later Caroline swore that this baby was the bastard son of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who was smuggled into England and exchanged for the docker’s son. Prince Louis Ferdinand had been her lover, she said, when she was a girl, and she brought up the boy for his sake. Certainly Willikin, as she called him, was her favourite child, invariably given pride of place, pampered and spoiled, though by all accounts he displayed neither charm nor intelligence. “A sickly looking child with fair hair and blue eyes,” was Charlotte’s description of him.

There was also a girl, whom the Princess named Edwardina Kent: there was no question of the Duke of Kent having fathered her; she was probably the illegitimate child of Admiral Sir Sidney Smith,* who was one of Caroline’s courtiers at Blackheath, and who was an intimate friend of the Douglases.

* But the Princess had another story: Edwardina, she said, was the child of Irish parents “of the upper class” who, being forced to flee from their home, had left the infant with “a poor old peasant woman who lives at Blackheath.’

NPG D38618; William Austin by W. Nicholls, published by  Hassell & Co, after  John Raphael Smith

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

Picture: William Austin

Princess of Wales Meets Lady Charlotte Douglas

‘One November morning, when the snow lay on the ground the Princess of Wales, dressed elegantly if unsuitably in a lilac satin pelisse, yellow hald – boots and a small lilac satin cap lined with sable, walked across Blackheath Common and halted at the entrance to a house on a far side. She was accompanied by only one lady – in – waiting, as was her custom, for she liked to go as and where she pleased, without ceremony, and often, in Kensington, embarrassed her ladies by sitting down and talking to people on benches in the Park, or by knocking at front doors of houses and asking if there were any rooms to let. This time, however, she lingered outside the gate, as if uncertain what to do next. In due course she was observed by the lady of the house, who cam hurrying out, curtseying obsequiously and asking her pleasure.The Princess said, “I believe you are Lady Douglas, and you have a very beautiful child. I should like to see it.”But Lady Douglas explained with many apologies that she was only in Blackheath for an hour or two, and had left her child in London. She begged her Royal Highness to come in out of the cold, and so began a friendship which quickly ripened into an intimacy so enthusiastic on the Princess’s part that it could hardly be expected to last. The very beautiful child appears to have been forgotten, but “in a short time,” said Lady Douglas, “the Princess became so extravagantly fond of me that, however flattering it might be, it certainly was very troublesome”.

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

NPG D15480; Lady Charlotte Douglas by Charles Middlemist, after  Adam Buck

Picture: Lady Charlotte Douglas by Charles Middlemist, after Adam Buck, stipple engraving, 1810s, National Portrait Gallery

The Rumours Are Spreading About Princess Caroline…

‘His daughter’s will was not the only family business with which the Prince of Wales burdened his father’s ministers in the spring of 1806.

Like everyone in London society, the Prince had heard scores of lurid stories about the life his wife was leading in Blackheath. It was said that her dinner parties often ended in unseemly games of blind man’s buff, that she was in the habit of leaving the room with gentlemen guests and not returning for more than an hour, that she had given birth to a child and that she had had dozen of lovers, among them the treasurer of the navy, George Canning, two naval officers, the dashing Captain Sir Sidney Smith and Captain Thomas Manby, and the painter Sir Thomas Lawrence, who was known to have slept in her house while painting her portrait.

If the Prince could prove the worst of these stories, there was a chance that might be allowed to bring an action for divorce against his wife; towards the end of 1805 he was approached by a Lieutenant – Colonel of marines, Sir John Douglas, with what looked like all the proof he needed.’

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

Henry Pierce Bone, George IV, 1840

Picture: George IV by Henry Pierce Bone from http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/the-collectors/george-iv