Tag Archives: blackheath

Charlotte Sits To Sir Thomas Lawrence

And so it was that Charlotte, without he stays, sat to Sir Thomas Lawrence at the beginning of October, only a few weeks before the birth. Lawrence, who nearly twenty years before, had painted Charlotte and her mother at Blackheath, now spent nine days at Claremont, working on the new portrait, which Charlotte intended as a birthday present for her husband. The artist, accustomed to study faces, had an opportunity to scrutinize the Princess whom he had not seen since her infancy, and his account of her and her tranquil life with Leopold is, at this point, reassuring.

‘Their mode of life,’ he said, ‘is very regular. They breakfast together alone about eleven: at half past she came in to sit for me, accompanied by Prince Leopold, who stayed great part of the time. About three she would leave the painting room to take her airing round the grounds in a low phaeton with her ponies, the Prince always walking by her side …’ At five, she sat for Lawrence again, and the whole household dined together at soon after seven. After dessert, the Prince and Princess went together into the drawing-room, where they played and sang together – ‘sitting at the pianoforte, often on the same stool …’ But when the company joined them, they broke off, and, after coffee, everybody played cards, the Prince and Princess being always partners.

There was no doubt, Leopold had tamed her. Princess Charlotte, said Lawrence, ‘had nothing of the hoyden, or of that boisterous hilarity which has been ascribed to her’, and he was charmed by her straight-forward honesty, and something about her which reminded him of ‘the good King, her grandfather’.

[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]

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]

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

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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

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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]

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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