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Charlotte And Leopold Are Supporting Local Community

On January 7, 1817, the Prince Regent gave a Grand Ball at Brighton to celebrate Charlotte’s twenty-first birthday; but Charlotte herself was not there. ‘They mean to keep the day themselves at Clermont,’ he told the Queen. At the beginning of December they had paid a dutiful visit to Brighton, celebrating with the rest of the family the Regent’s recovery with illness; but it seemed that they preferred the soft cool air of their own grounds to the bracing ozone of the Steyne, and accordingly, on Charlotte’s birthday, the village of Esher was hung with garlands and streamers, the bells pealed, a band played, and as it grew dusk Claremont house and grounds were illuminated. The humble dwellings of the poor, we are told, were also lit up with candles, in gratitude for the ‘distinguished munificence of their Royal benefactors’. The shopkeepers, who also had reason for gratitude – Mr. Carter, Linendraper and Haberdasher, Mr. Loveridge, Grocer, Mr. Alder, Butcher, and Mr. Judd, Saddler – vied with one another in displays of crowns, stars and transparencies. The whole village shared in the happiness of the Royal Pair.

‘We are doing a great deal to improve the place,’ Charlotte told Mercer, ‘which employs a vast many poor labouring people who would otherwise be quite out of work and probably starving for want of it … We are in the middle now of … new paling entirely round the Park.’

It was so pleasant to write ‘we’, as she now did all the time. ‘We’ had only one meaning, Leopold and Charlotte. She was protected, she believed, from all the ills of her youth by this one word; and she was no longer tormented by what her father might decide or what her mother might do. She wished that she could have been some help to her mother, but their correspondence had languished, and she agreed with Leopold that there was no means of changing the unhappy situation.

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

Picture: Claremont Park, Esher, Surrey, 19th Century

The Wedding Date Is Fixed

The wedding, after several postponements on account of the Regent’s ill health, was finally fixed for May 2, and on April 22 Prince Leopold moved from Brighton to Windsor, where he stayed at Upper Lodge. He did not meet Charlotte, however, till the 25th, when Princess Mary’s birthday was celebrated by a family party at Frogmore. The Prince Regent was affable to Charlotte and Leopold, but he did not seem at all well. ‘He is dreadfully altered,’ Charlotte observed. ‘I think he looks old & ugly, & is grown to an immense size.’ She noticed that he was unsteady on his legs, and walked ‘quite like Louis 18. If he don’t take care,’ she said, ‘he will soon get like him.’ Perhaps he had relied too much upon that merlin chair in which he wheeled himself about at Brighton.

The wedding was now imminent, and Charlotte’s fears that it would be private and ‘smuggled’ were relieved. The marriage service was to be held in the grand crimson saloon at Carlton House, and the Regent displayed his genius for ceremonial in the arrangements going afoot. A Master of Ceremonies was appointed, and his assistant. The public was to be allowed its share of entertainment, and Charlotte and Leopold would be displayed in due course. From now on they would cease to exist on their own account, but would become part of a complicated royal machine which would not release them until they were man and wife.

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

Picture: His Most Excellent Majesty George the Fourth, lithograph by T.C.P., from the original by George Atkinson, profile artist to His Majesty, printed by C. Hullmandel, published by G. Atkinson, Brighton, November 15, 1821

Dr Stockmar Appears

Nevertheless, in the planning and preparation for their life together, there was much to keep them busy. In Brighton Leopold spent several hours each day learning English, at which his vocabulary and grammar were soon much better than his pronunciation. But he was still unwell. Meeting up with Charlotte had not, as he hoped, cured everything, and nor had the hot baths which the Regent’s doctor had told him to take every other day. Within a fortnight of his arrival in Brighton he had written to Coburg to ask his personal physician, Dr Christian Stockmar, to join him.

Perceptive, practical and good-humoured, little Dr Stockmar was a highly qualified young physician who had taken over the military hospital in Coburg on the outbreak of hostilities with France. He had then served as a regimental surgeon with the Prussian army, and since the end of the war he had formed a close friendship with Leopold. Within days of his arrival in Brighton he had superseded Leopold’s equerry, Baron Hardenbroek, as his closest adviser. When Leopold and Charlotte assembled their own staff, Stockmar became the Prince’s Secretary, Comptroller of his Household and Keeper of his Privy Purse; he remained his confidant until, many years later, Leopold sent him back from Brussels to London to become mentor to his niece Victoria.

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

Picture: Baron Stockmar from the portrait by John Partridge, Arthur Christopher Benson; Viscount Esher (1907). The Letters of Queen Victoria. Volume 2. p. 272.

Leopold Causes a Split Between Charlotte and Mercer

There was no question of the young couple getting to know each other better before their marriage: they were firmly kept apart. They wrote to each other, he at Brighton, she at Cranbourne Lodge. The Regent was determined that there should be no repetition of the Orange fiasco, and accordingly, while Charlotte was at Brighton for a few days, in March, he arranged that they should never meet, except at dinner, and were never to be left alone together. When they met, the Queen or the Regent was always in the room; but their conversations, said Charlotte, was not restricted. As they murmured together in low voices, no doubt taking care not to be overheard, Charlotte managed, with an effort, to introduce the thorny subject of Hesse, on which the Regent had insisted that she should unburden herself. She did so, ‘after much difficulty’, and was profoundly relieved by Leopold’s acceptance of her story. ‘He took it uncommonly well,’ she told Mercer, ‘and was v. kind as he saw me so distressed.’ But he could not hide his horrified dismay at the part played in the affair by the Princess of Wales. ‘We did not say much about my mother,’ said Charlotte, but the Prince indicated delicately that he was well aware of her vagaries, and pitied Charlotte’s situation, torn as she was between loyalty to her mother and duty to her father. No wonder that she was emotional and excitable: but he would do all in his power, he promised, to soothe and calm her. She was profoundly grateful to Leopold. ‘Take him altogether he is a very dear creature.’

(…)

There was the question of money to be settled in Parliament: the Heiress Presumptive and her husband were treated with generosity by Lords Castlereagh and Liverpool, who proposed an income of of £ 50,000, with an extra £ 10,000 to be assigned to Princess Charlotte ‘for her separate and personal expences’. They were also to receive the capital sum of £ 10,000 for jewels, £ 10,000 for personal equipment and £ 40,000 for furniture, plate, &c.

It seemed that they would be comfortably off. But Charlotte considered that their Establishment, which was being arranged by the Regent on the lines of his own, was far too large and expensive. ‘I fear the P.R. … does not consider how far £ 50,000 will go, as they talk of tacking us on a quantity of people wh. will be too much, and must be reduced afterwards.’ And she added proudly that Coburg had a horror of ‘getting into debt & so on’. ‘I have insisted vehemently,’ she announced, ‘upon no extravagance, waste, or debts.’ Eight footmen, she thought, was too many: six would be quite enough, if they were going to afford ‘town & country carriages, riding coachmen &c.’ She was going to give up riding herself, she said. She had not ridden for some time, ‘and don’t much care about it’. But clearly the real reason was that ‘he does not very much like a ladies riding; he thinks it too violent an exercise’.

The younger Charlotte, whose chief pleasure had been to gallop through Windsor Park at top speed, would not have submitted so meekly to this curb: already Leopold’s influence was apparent. It was felt, too, in a slight coolness between Charlotte and Mercer. It was inevitable that the coming of Coburg should alter their relationship, that Charlotte’s devotion to her ‘beloved Marguerite’ should suffer a shock, and the first tremor was felt immediately. At the end of Charlotte’s letter describing ecstatically her first meeting with the prince, she wrote:

‘I must not forget to tell you that I am desired by him to scold you for your intimacy with Flahaud. He knows him personally, & disapproves highly of him, & thinks his acquaintance is likely to do you no good …’

This warning was not well received. The Comte de Flahault had been Napoleon’s aide-de-camp, and later became French Ambassador in London: he was ostracized by Lady Hertford and her set, but admired by Mercer, who eventually, to her father’s great grief, married him. Leopold’s warning may have been well-intentioned and timely, but it angered Miss Elphinstone. Charlotte made repeated efforts to appease her. ‘You know I must love you always just as much & just the same … For God sake do not fancy I ever was or am in the least angry with your intimacy with Flahaud … You know how much I love you, & that I can ill bear anything like an interruption to an intimacy that has constituted so many years of my happiness.’

In her anxiety to repair the broken friendship, Charlotte went too far. She even sent Mercer copies of Leopold’s letters. ‘I have had another very wise letter from him wh. I will send, but for God in Heaven’s sake never let it be known or suspected I ever showed you any of his or else I know he would not like it & would be angry probably.’

But in spite of all Charlotte’s efforts to revive it, the long intimacy would never be quite the same: there was a subtle difference created by the presence, even at a distance, of Leopold, and the Regent, who had never liked Mercer, was quick to take advantage of the situation.

‘Coburg,’ wrote Charlotte, ‘has a great horror of appearing ungrateful & insensible to you & your kindness, but yet I see the P. R. has been putting him on his guard, & putting into his head about female friends … & of my having more confidence in & being more guided by them than by him.’

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

Charlotte and Leopold Meet Again

It was not till the 26th, five days later, that he did see her. The Princess, with her grandmother and aunts, drove down to Brighton at the Regent’s command, and in the evening the young couple met.

Charlotte’s letter to Mercer, written that night before she retired, is almost incoherent with joy. ‘I find him charming,’ she said, ‘and go to bed happier than I have ever done yet in my life.’ She was entranced to find that they could converse so freely – ‘long conversation on different subjects interesting to our future plans of life &c.’ ‘I am certainly a most fortunate creature,’ she continued, ‘& have to bless God. A Princess never, I believe, set out in life (or married) with such prospects of happiness, real domestic ones like other people.’

The rumour which Miss Knight had heard of Charlotte’s being obliged to live in Hanover with Prince Leopold was dismissed as ‘all a humbug‘, started, she believed, by her mischievous uncle Cumberland. And to her delight an article was inserted into the marriage agreement ‘without even my asking for it’, to the effect that she would never be obliged to leave England against her inclinations. She began to feel that – as she had always hoped – the advent of Prince Leopold had smoothed away all the anxieties and terrors which had plagued her for so long. Even the Regent, wheeling himself dexterously through the overheated rooms at the Pavilion in his merlin chair,* was ‘in high spirits, good looks & humour’. He was much thinner, said Charlotte, and his legs, which had been swollen with gout, were considerably reduced.

The Queen, at this auspicious party, refused to play cards, preferring to sit and talk. ‘I never saw her so happy,’ said Charlotte, ‘or so gracious as she is, delighted at my marriage, & with him.’

At last the engagement was made public, and Charlotte could tell her friends what most of them already knew. ‘I shall fire off in all directions my letters to announce an event that everybody has been in such profound ignorance of.’

There was some uncertainty as to where Prince Leopold should stay. Weymouth was talked of, and in the meantime, when Charlotte returned to Cranbourne Lodge, he remained in Brighton.

* An early form of wheeled invalid chair, invented by a Belgian instrument maker named Merlin, who introduced roller skating into England. The Regent’s chair remained in the passage outside his bedroom till 1846 when Queen Victoria had it removed during alterations.

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

All The Problems Are Resolved

But as December came and went there was still no sign of it (…) She spent Christmas Day there [in Weymouth] without a single member of her family for company, and it was not until New Year’s Day that she and her ladies climbed into their carriages to ride back to Windsor and Cranbourne Lodge.

On 6 January Charlotte drove down to Brighton with the Queen and two of her aunts. The next day was her twentieth birthday, and the Prince Regent was giving a party for her at his pavilion. In the course of the evening she made ‘another push’ on behalf of Prince Leopold, and this time her father made no objection.

Knowing that the Regent could remember things as he wanted them to be rather than as they were, Charlotte wrote to him as soon as she returned to Cranbourne Lodge, repeating on paper exactly what had been said in Brighton. Her excuse was that her shyness often prevented her from expressing herself clearly, and ‘in the present instance’ she therefore felt that it was essential ‘to have recourse to writing’. After reminding her father that he had once told her he would leave the choice to her, she went on. ‘Thus encouraged I no longer hesitate in declaring my partiality for the Prince of Coburg – assuring you that no one will be more steady and consistent in their present & last engagement than myself.’

But there was no need to worry. The Duke of York had indeed known something. At the end of the previous year the Regent had been making enquiries. He consulted Lord Castlereagh, who had been impressed by Leopold at the Vienna Congress, and Lord Lauderdale, who had got to know him better than anyone else when he was last in England. Both agreed that he was a man of the highest principles and an ideal husband for their future queen, and furthermore Lauderdale could confirm that he was ‘partial to the young lady’.

The answer to Charlotte’s letter was the news that he father had written to Leopold summoning him to England, and that his letter was accompanied by a letter from Castlereagh explaining to Leopold that the Regent intended to offer him his daughter’s hand in marriage.

All that was needed now was for the courier to find Leopold. He was no longer in Paris, but he had not, as some said, gone to Russia. When the courier reached Coburg he was told that Leopold had gone to Berlin, and it was there that he found him, in the middle of February.

By then Charlotte was exasperated with waiting. On 21 February she wrote to Mercer. ‘By accurate calculation & measurement of the distance between Berlin & Coburg I find no reason (except the bad roads) for his not being here now.’

Charlotte’s calculation was correct. The day on which she wrote that letter was also the day on which Leopold landed at Dover and drove to London. This time there was no need to take rooms above a grocer’s shop in Marylebone High Street. This time the Prince Regent was paying. Leopold checked in at the Clarendon Hotel in Bond Street, where a suite had been reserved for him.

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

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]