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Charlotte Is Writing To Her Father

It is difficult to understand why the Regent was so stubborn in his determination to marry Charlotte to the Dutch prince. Certainly it was a good alliance for the country; but there was more behind his uncompromising support of the match than the country’s future: he believed that his enemies were responsible for Charlotte’s change of heart, that Lady Jersey in particular had insinuated herself into the affair, gaining Charlotte’s confidence and working upon her to defy her father. He also suspected the arch-enemy, the Princess of Wales: she it was who had planned the Hesse affair, resolved to compromise her daughter, in the hopes of insinuating William Austin as claimant to the Throne. If she were to succeed in this nefarious – but possibly imaginary – plot, not only the Dutch marriage, but any royal marriage for Charlotte, would be scotched. In his way, he allowed his imagination to take hold of him, and to override every other consideration including his daughter’s feelings.

When Charlotte decided to appeal to her father to put an end, once and for all, to the possibility of her marriage with the Prince of Orange, he wrote her a letter which threw her into the depths of despair. It is a cruel letter because the Regent is playing cat-and-mouse with his daughter, allowing her to think that he is a loving father, planning everything for her happiness; and at the same time cold as steel in his unswerving attitude to the Dutch marriage, reminding Charlotte, falsely, that she had ‘earnestly and ardently begged him to betrothe her to the Hereditary Prince’. ‘Nothing has happened (to my knowledge),’ he said, ‘… to account for this change of heart.’ He blames the advice of ‘mischievous, false and wicked persons’, for raising ‘these unreasonable and groundless doubts in her mind’; and he thanks heaven that she is now withdrawn from all communication with such counsellors, ‘and justly rely upon me, as your best friend, and most anxious and dispassionate adviser’.

He goes on to remind her of ‘the melancholy and frightful disclosures’ she had made to him on Christmas Day, and her mother’s attempts to place her in a compromising situation, in which – unless adopting the advice of those who have her real interest at heart – she must feel the effects for the rest of her life.

The Princess of Wales has only ‘to make known the documents so unfortunately in her possession’, to ruin Charlotte’s chances of marriage, ‘not only with the Prince of Orange, but with any Prince of character, power and respectability’. After this frightful threat, based upon what turned out to be a false premise (it was later disclosed by Captain Hesse that he had destroyed all the letters that he had received from Charlotte), he draws to a close, assuring Charlotte that the earnestness and interest which he has expressed need not alarm her: he has taken no steps to renew the union with the Prince of Orange; and that however much he might wish for a revival, it can only come ‘from the parties themselves’.

All that night Charlotte lay awake, turning over what she could say in reply to her father’s letter. ‘I find the answering of it more painful even than the perusal,’ she told him. The Regent had suggested that she discuss his views with ‘a friend … who may be already acquainted with … your story’. By this he clearly meant Mercer, whom he thought he had won over to his point of view. ‘I feel quite confident,’ he said, ‘that your friend’s advice will not differ even in a shadow from mine.’ He was mistaken; or Mercer had not, in her long interview with him at Brighton, spoken up as ‘impudently’ as she said she did.

Charlotte regretted terribly Mercer’s absence at this juncture. Nobody at Windsor could advise her: she could only stand by her determination. ‘I remain firm and unshaken, & no arguments, no threats, shall ever bend me to marry this detested Dutchman.’

She decided to show the Prince’s letter to the Queen, who, she said, ‘was all eagerness …’ to know what the Regent had written, but ‘when I told her it was not quite what I could have wished or hoped for, she instantly said, “That is very bad indeed,” & then followed a dead silence of 10 minutes.’ When, after dinner, Charlotte read the letter to her grandmother, the Queen, she said, was ‘deeply overcome & she wept, wh. is very uncommon for her. She was very affectionate tome, implored me on her knees not to marry ever a man I did not like.’ The Queen urged her to answer at once, ‘as the less he thought I was hesitating or wavering the better’. The whole conference, said Charlotte, seemed to have upset the Queen very much.

The Princess’s reply to her father, written without advice, was brilliant. She was gentle and affectionate, but made it clear that she was resolute in her decision. And she pointed out that it was by no one’s advice that she had broken off her marriage. ‘On the contrary, it was against the advice of many.’ ‘Believe me,’ she went on, ‘my reputation is as dear to me as any woman’s … but when I know … that I am now going to be placed under your more immediate care & attention I feel no longer any anxiety upon the score. Indeed,’ she added confidently ‘were the whole known to the world very little blame could attach to me considering how very young I was.’

She made no reference to marriage, beyond saying that the union with the Prince of Orange was ‘quite impossible’. The Prince could only complain, in reply, at the speed with which she had answered, allowing herself no time for thought. This, he said, had given him no inconsiderable degree of pain. And thus, on a note of sorrow rather than anger, he dropped the subject, which he was obliged, for one reason and another to do anyway.

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

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Not the Orange Match Again …

Charlotte knew that she had at least two allies in the royal family. A week earlier, when it had not mattered so much, Princess Mary had abandoned her enigmatic attitude and ‘launched forth vehemently’ in praise of Leopold, partly because of his reputation as a man of the highest character, and partly because he came from a very old family. Then the Duke of York revealed himself as an ally, although, like Mercer, he advised Charlotte to keep quiet for the time being.

It was good advice. No proposal was likely to succeed with the Regent if it contradicted one of his own. But now that she had made up her mind, Charlotte did not feel inclined to wait. She persuaded Mercer that it would do no harm if ‘the Leo’, as she now called him, were to come over uninvited, and on 3 February she wrote to Mercer asking her to make it happen.

Before you named it I was hourly going to propose to you what certainly nothing could have authorised me or prompted me to have done, but our long intimacy & your kind affection for me. It was this, whether you thought you could by any means send him a hint that his presence at this moment in England would be of service to his views if they were the same as 6 months ago.

Next day, as if in justification, she wrote:

As I care for no man in the world now, I don’t see what it signifies as to my marrying one day sooner or later except for escaping the present evils that surround me. I don’t see what there is against my connecting myself with the most calm & perfect indifference to a man who, I know, has the highest & best character possible in every way, & is extremely prepossessing in his figure and appearance & who certainly did like me.

A few days later, however, the Prince Regent revealed his hand, proving not only that Mercer and the Duke of York were giving good advice but also that Mercer and Earl Grey had been justified in their suspicions after Christmas.

The Prince summoned Mercer and her father to Brighton, ostensibly to discuss their attempts to recover Charlotte’s letters from Captain Hesse. If those letters were to fall into the wrong hands, particularly her mother’s, he said, she would be ruined. He therefore appointed Lord Keith officially as his representative with instructions to interview Captain Hesse and find the letters.

After that the Prince turned abruptly to the possibility of a marriage with the Hereditary Prince of Orange. For Charlotte, he said, this was now ‘the only means of saving her reputation, getting out of her mother’s hands, and making herself quite happy’.

Mercer answered without a hint of respect. ‘It is not actually necessary to marry one man’, she said, ‘to apologise for writing love letters to another’.

The Prince said nothing. Emboldened by her own impatient impudence, Mercer went on, ‘The last time Princess Charlotte talked to me about it, she said that so far from repenting the step she had taken, she would rather continue to suffer all the restraint and privations she had these last six months than marry the Prince of Orange.’

The Prince did not seem to be convinced, or else he did not want to be. Mercer left the meeting frustrated. No matter what anyone thought or said, the Regent was clearly determined to have his own way.

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

Leopold Is Writing To The Prince Regent

It was ‘en grande uniforme’ that he called upon Princess Charlotte at Warwick House: he greatly admired her, was well aware of her exalted position as Heiress Presumptive to the throne of England, and wished to make the best possible impression. When she drove out in the Park, he would follow her, ride near her open carriage, and ‘endeavour to be noticed’. He was already acquainted with Miss Mercer, and it was under her banner that he presented himself at Warwick House. Here, according to Miss Knight, he showered the Princess with compliments; but ‘there were reasons’, she added mysteriously, ‘why this matter was by no means agreeable to Princess Charlotte’. Those reasons, needles to say, were Charlotte’s feelings for Prince August of Prussia, which Miss Knight so vehemently condoned, thereby causing her own downfall. It may be remembered that poor Miss Knight, during a stormy interview with the Prince Regent just before her dismissal, blurted out a defence of the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, whom she was using as a red herring. The Regent saw what she was up to and waved aside her excuses: Prince Leopold, he said, was a most honourable young man: and had written him a letter which perfectly justified his conduct.

The Regent’s letter from Prince Leopold had obviously been composed with a great deal of thought, and in the carefully-worded phrases of a seasoned diplomat, assured the Prince Regent that Leopold regretted any indiscretion he may have committed by visiting (at her invitation) the Princess Charlotte at Warwick House. He recounted enthusiastically his first meeting with the Princess, on the back stairs of Pulteney’s Hotel, where he was hanging about waiting for an audience to bid farewell to the Tsar. (Here he put in a tactful word to the effect that his parting from the Regent’s detested Grand Duchess was not very tender, since she had jilted his brother, Prince Ernest.) ‘Princess Charlotte,’ he said-returning to the encounter on the back stairs, ‘condescended to take my arm, and to allow me to escort her to her carriage; and she told me that I had not been at all polite, not having called upon her… She hoped that if I made a longer stay I should be more polite in the future.’

It was this invitation that he had responded, cutting short a visit to the Opera to pay his respects at Warwick House, where Charlotte had received him, in the presence of the Duchess of Leeds, with ‘beaucoup de bienveillance’. He stayed, he said, for about three-quarters of an hour, and then, perceiving that the Princess was unwell, he took his leave.

But afterwards he began to think that he had made a faux pas: the Dutch engagement had so very recently been broken off, and alone in his Marylebone lodgings he wondered if perhaps he had been too bold, too precipitate. He saw now that it was not the time for what he called ‘les plus petits mots de plus’. All he wished to do, at this stage, was to leave a good impression, and a word (to Count Münster*) to the effect that, when the time came, he would be ready, if summoned, to return.

It was a curiously pompous, fussy letter from a young man of twenty-four, but it worked wonders with the Regent, leaving a favourable impression which had not faded when, early in 1815, Mercer reported from Brighton that the Prince had spoken highly to Lord Keith of the ‘P of S-C’. Charlotte was overjoyed. ‘Il me fait un plaisir aimable the P.R. having named & done justice in so handsome a way … to P. S-C’s name & conduct, too.’ She was convinced that before he left England this prince had offered himself to the Regent as her suitor, and had been refused, because it was stupid time to do it, ‘when common sence & prudence ought to have told him that he or any man that tried would be rejected’. But she considered that he should have chanced his luck with her first. ‘If however he continues in favour with the P.R., it is not impossible he may still succeed.’ In fact, she had made up her mind to marry him.

‘I have perfectly decided & made up my mind to marry,’ she announced, ‘and the person I have as decidedly fixed on is Prince Leopold.’ She was convinced, she said, that he would make her tolerably comfortable & happy, which she had never felt when engaged to the Prince of Orange. She was encouraged by the attitude of the Royal Family, who all, in the absence at Brighton of the Regent, supported her in her choice. The Queen was all graciousness and good humour; and Charlotte learned that she was ‘monstrously provoked with the Prince for ‘thinking any more of the P.O. business’. He was spending far too much time at Brighton, said his mother, without doing any business. He lingered there with Lady Hertford, and prohibited his Ministers from coming to him, though there were two important matters to be settled at once, the Corn Bill** and the Income Tax***.

* Hanoverian Minister of State – now resident in England.
** Prohibiting importation of corn while the price at home was below 80s. a quarter.
*** It was reduced from two shillings in the pound to one shilling.

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

Charlotte Is Allowed To Go For Holiday

For the rest of that month the principal preoccupation at the isolation lodge was the holiday that the Duke of Sussex mentioned in his questions to the Prime Minister. Charlotte, as the Duke knew, was longing for a holiday by the sea, and her doctors were all in favour of it. She really did have a sore, swollen knee, which was now so bad that they told her to stop riding, and since her arrival at Cranbourne Lodge she had been displaying symptoms of depression. The sea air, in their view, would be ideal for both. But, to everybody’s exasperation, the Prince Regent prevaricated. As Earl Grey put it in one of his letters to Mercer, ‘All the best season will be wasted before she gets to the sea-side.’

Charlotte wanted to take Mercer with her, but the Regent said no. He claimed that Mercer’s father would not allow it. Lord Keith, he said, did not want his daughter to spend too much time in isolation with Charlotte, where there would be no chance of her meeting a suitable husband.

Charlotte wanted to go to fashionable Brighton, but the Regent said no to that as well. He wanted Brighton to himself. Eventually he asked the Queen if they could borrow Gloucester Lodge, a house that she and the King owned far away in Dorset, in no longer quite so fashionable Weymouth. The Queen took her time and then said yes, reluctantly. And so, at last, with September approaching, Weymouth was chosen as the setting for Charlotte’s seaside holiday.

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

picture: Gloucester Lodge in Weymouth, source Wikipedia

Charlotte Races With George FitzClarence

At Windsor, and also in London, the Barracks provided, if only at a distance, far more attractive society. And in October 1811, Captain George FitzClarence, the eldest son of the Duke of Clarence by the actress Mrs. Jordan, arrived in London from Portugal, as dashing a young officer as a girl could wish to see. Unfortunately, he was about to join the Prince’s Regiment at Brighton, and after some rides together at Windsor, which scandalized her aunts, Charlotte was obliged to say goodbye to her handsome cousin.

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

A few days earlier, on 11 October, she had written to Mercer, ‘George FitzClarence is arrived from Portugal; I saw him the very day he arrived in town, much grown & looking very well. At present he is in town but joins the Prince’s regiment at Brighton soon. He told me the troops were in good spirits, but that the French were 20 thousand stronger than us.’

Tall, dark and handsome Captain George FitzClarence was Charlotte’s illegitimate cousin. His father was her uncle William, Duke of Clarence – the future King William IV. His mother was Mrs Jordan, the most popular and admired actress on the London stage. Two years older than Charlotte, he was an officer in her father’s regiment, the 10th, which was now designated hussars and dressed even more extravagantly than before.

But George’s commission was no sinecure. He had seen action and had already demonstrated the qualities that would one day earn him the earldom of Munster and the exalted rank of Major-General. At the age of only fifteen he had joined the little British army in Portugal. Since then, commanded by Arthur Wellesley, who had been rewarded for his success with the title of Viscount Wellington, that army had chased the French back into Spain and was now advancing after them; George had served with it all the way. Only five months before his regiment returned to England, he had been captured by the French while lying wounded on the battlefield of Fuentes de Onoro, and had escaped a few days later when his wounds were only half healed.

George was on leave, and he was so taken with his royal cousin that he went out as often as he could to ride beside her carriage when she took the air in the parks of London or Windsor.

In Windsor in particular, Lady de Clifford had always dreaded these daily excursions. The Princess often took the reins herself, and would frequently leave the track and drive hard at every bump in the ground, rejoicing in Lady de Clifford’s discomfort as she bounced around in terror. But now there was a different cause to dread, even though it made Charlotte’s conduct more sedate. In an age that judged so much by appearances, it was unseemly for a young lady to be chatting to the same officer beside her carriage day after day, just as it was unseemly for her to be seen sitting alone on a sofa with the same gentleman for any length of time.

Lady de Clifford felt that it was her duty to report the matter to the Prince Regent, although she assured him, justifiably, that the relationship was entirely innocent.

It should have been a relief to her therefore when, after only six weeks, George FitzClarence rejoined his regiment in Brighton. But by then she was obliged to report that there was another illegitimate cousin riding devotedly beside the carriage in his place.

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

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Picture: George FitzClarence, 1st Earl of Munster (1794-1842) engraved by Richard Austin Artlett after the painting of Thomas Phillips, 1839, National Portrait Gallery

Charlotte Meets Horatia Nelson

‘These seaside visits started in August 1807, when Charlotte went to Worthing, accompanied by Lady de Clifford and Mrs. Udney. The Bishop, in a very obsequious letter to the Prince of Wales, expressed his regrets that he was not invited to join the party.
Without Dr. Fisher, and in the freedom and informality of a holiday by the sea, Charlotte enjoyed herself. She went to dine with her father at Brighton, and he sent her in his carriage to watch a review of the 10th Hussars. At Worthing there were splendid sands, and donkey carts to drive over them, as we learn from Emma Hamilton, who was staying there that summer, with Horatia, her daughter by Nelson. It was nearly two years since her lover had lost his life at Trafalgar, but he remained the nation’s idol, and his little girl, now six, was an object of curiosity, creating, as Emma puts it, “Universal Interest, alltho’ Princess Charlotte is here. SHE is left and all come to look at Nelson’s angel”. Charlotte does not seem to have resented this, for Emma adds kindly that the Princess “is a charming girl and very kind and civil to Horatia and me”.’[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]

Picture: Portrait of Emma, Lady Hamilton by George Romney, before 1802, National Portrait Gallery

Emma,_Lady_Hamilton_by_George_Romney

 

The King Falls Into Madness Again

It became a cloak and dagger situation. The Prince consulted Charles James Fox, who wrote a few days later of “the desperate attempt that is making to take the Princess from your Royal Highness”, and advised the Prince to remove his daughter immediately from Woolwich to Carlton House. “Where she is now,” he continues, “she cannot be safe. For God’s sake, Sir, let no one persuade you that this is not a matter of the highest importance to you.”

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Elton*, intervened. He advised the Prince to wait till the King returned from Weymouth before taking further action. He warned him of the effect that any drastic measure might have upon the King’s mind. Now, three years after his last illness, the King was giving unmistakable signs that his mind was unbalanced. Although able to dictate letters and deal with state affairs, in his private life he behaved oddly, buying houses and giving extravagant presents. His family watched him with growing alarm. They viewed his increasing kindness to the Princess of Wales with dismay. He conferred upon her the Rangership of Greenwich, and offered to give her Greenwich Park, which she refused. The Prince’s secretary and spy, Colonel McMahon, reported that he received her at Kew because at Windsor “he knew that the Queen and Princesses would be rude to her”. He treated his daughter – in – law with the greatest kindness and affection, but, sadly, his attitude to the Queen worsened, as illness warped his mind. He reverted to the idea which had possessed him in 1788, that his true Queen was the Countess of Pembroke – ‘Queen Esther’. He would like to live with her, he said, in the Great Lodge in Windsor Park; but if she declined his offer, he would transfer it to the Duchess of Rutland. With one or other of these ladies he would “live snug at the Lodge’ while the Queen went to London to hold weekly Drawing Rooms.

It was hoped that sea bathing at Weymouth would restore the King, and although he had to be restrained from riding his horse into church, he seems to have presented his usual benign and friendly countenance to the world, and The Times correspondent, comparing the respectability of Weymouth with the vulgarity of Brighton, reported that ‘the piety, the morality, the decorum of a virtuous Court shed their influence around…”

But on their return from Weymouth, the King and the Queen, at her instigation, began to live apart: she was frightened of him. Whether at Windsor or at Buckingham Palace, she made sure that there would be no question of their sleeping together, and locked the door against her husband. Her temper suffered under the strain: she bullied her daughters and snapped at the King. She sided with the Prince in royal rows.

The King’s position cannot have been happy. He was beginning to go blind, and could not recognize people across a room; yet, to outsiders at least, he appeared in excellent health.

“Our good King,” wrote Lord Henley, who often saw him at Windsor, “continues mind and body, the sight excepted, better than I have seen him for years…This morning I met him in the Park at ten o’clock and rode with him until a quarter past one. He was cheerful, and we had more than one of his hearty laughs, which I have not heard before for some time.”

This was, indeed, the general impression. At the King’s request “that horrible doctor* had been dismissed, and he believed himself, at sixty – six, fit and well.

*Dr. Samuel Foart Simmons, Physician to St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics.He was called in in 1804 when the King refused to see Dr. Willis; brought his assistants and put the King in a strait – jacket. He was with difficulty persuaded to go, at the insistence of the Prince of Wales.

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

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 * Correct spelling: ‘Eldon’. More about him here.