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Charlotte And Leopold Take Up The Official Engagements

After little more than a week, Charlotte and Leopold went up to London, to Camelford House, where they began to receive a tedious series of ‘loyal addresses’ from various city councils and guilds. The first was from the Lord Mayor of London, who was received incongruously by the new bride in black because the court was in mourning for the Empress of Austria. But now that Charlotte was mistress of her own house she was in a position to receive anyone she pleased, and in the mornings, before the official engagements began, there were frequent visits from Cornelia Knight.

On 16 May they drove through huge crowds to Buckingham House, where the Queen gave a reception in their honour for over two thousand guests. Next day they received visits at Camelford House from Charlotte’s uncles the Dukes of York, Clarence and Gloucester, and then they went round to call on the Duchess of York and thank her for lending them Oatlands.

Yet, despite their inevitably crowded social calendar, Charlotte and Leopold found time to indulge their shared interests in music and, above all, theatre.

After leaving the Duchess of York, they went on to Drury Lane to see the great Edmund Kean in his latest tragedy, Bertram. The visit to the Duchess had delayed them so much that they arrived well after the performance had started. As they sat down in their box, the audience interrupted the play with hisses and shouts of ‘Stage Box!’. Leopold was taken aback: he thought they were being criticised for coming late. But Charlotte explained that this was what the audience did when they wanted a royal party to move their chairs forward so that they could see them better. So Leopold and Charlotte did as they were asked. That night and for ever afterwards, they sat well forward in their box, and the audiences were soon noticing how often the uninhibited Princess sat with her hand resting on her husband’s arm.

A week later they went to the theatre again, this time to Covent Garden to see The Jealous Wife. As they entered the Prince Regent’s box, several minutes before the performance was due to start, the curtain suddenly rose and the entire company sang the national anthem with a few additional verses which had been written hurriedly for the occasion and did not quite fit the cadence of the tune.

Long may the Noble Line,
Whence she descended, shine
In Charlotte the Bride!
Grant it perpetuate
And ever make it great;
On Leopold blessings wait
And Charlotte his Bride.

A fortnight after that, Charlotte and Leopold were due to attend a performance of Macbeth, in which the ageing Mrs Siddons had agreed to make one last appearance. But when the day came Charlotte was in bed suffering from what Dr Matthew Baillie, the King’s Physician Extraordinary, described as ‘a severe cold’, which had come on suddenly and forced her to leave in the middle of a charity concert a few days earlier.

Charlotte remained in bed for a week, although she was well enough to receive visits from the Queen and her aunts and uncles, and soon after that she was again going to the theatre and dinner parties.

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

Picture: Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold in their box at Covent Garden Theatre, 1816. The artist George Dawe was much patronised by the royal couple. This portrait was commissioned by Princess Charlotte, but Fry’s engraving was not issued until 6 April 1818 – after Princess Charlotte’s death in November 1817. Charlotte and Leopold are depicted seated in a classically ornamented box at the Covent Graden Theatre. He holds a libretto and looks at her. She is shown wearing a totally plain dress, but with a magnificent cashmere paisley shawl which is draped over one shoulder and falls over the box, showing off its exotic design; none of these costly shawls now survives. Charlotte has a wreath of roses in her hair and wears a low cut, high waisted dress of light weight material. The performance they are watching was of Henry VIII, performed for the benefit of the Theatrical Fund on Saturday 29 June 1817. The cast included Mrs Siddons as Queen Katherine. https://www.museumoflondonprints.com/image/143205/george-dawe-william-thomas-fry-princess-charlotte-and-prince-leopold-in-their-box-at-covent-garden-theatre-1816-1817

Day Of The Wedding (Part 2)

Just before nine o’clock, Charlotte came out of Buckingham House, climbed into an open carriage and drove the short distance down the Mall with the Queen sitting beside her and her aunts Augusta and Elizabeth sitting opposite. ‘Bless me, what a crowd’, she said. She had seen the crowds that came to see the Tsar or the opening of Parliament, but she had never seen anything like the mass that had come to watch the wedding of their future Queen.

One of the guests waiting at Carlton House was Admiral Lord Keith, who was there in his official capacity as Deputy Earl Marshal. But he was not accompanied by his daughter. Before leaving Buckingham House, Charlotte sent one of her maids up to Harley Street to tell Mercer how she looked; and after the service she asked one of her guests, Princess Lieven, to do the same. But Mercer was not there to see for herself. It was said that she was not feeling well – and it may have been true. There were five bridesmaids, and the uneven number left a gap and spoiled the symmetry of the bridal procession. Perhaps there were meant to be six.

The reports that Mercer received from the maid and the Princess are not difficult to imagine. Charlotte’s dress cost over £ 10, 000. It was a white and silver slip, covered with transparent silk net embroidered in silver lame with shells and flowers. The sleeves were trimmed with Brussels lace, and the train, which was six feet long, wad made of the same material as the slip and fastened like a cloak with a diamond clasp. She wore a wreath of diamond leaves and roses, a diamond necklace and diamond earrings, both of which had been given to her by her father, and a diamond bracelet that had been given to her by Leopold.

Leopold also wore diamonds. He was dressed for the first time in his scarlet British uniform and he carried a jewel-encrusted sword that had been given to him by the Queen. Not to be outdone, the Prince Regent was dressed in the uniform of a field marshal smothered in the badges of all the honours and orders that he had had the gall to give himself.

The ceremony was short and dignified – except for Charlotte’s slight giggle when Leopold promised to endow her with all his wordly goods. When it was over, Charlotte and Leopold stayed only long enough for the guests to drink their health. Then they left to change. Church bells pealed. Bonfires were lit. Field guns cracked their salute in St James’s Park, and far down river the cannons at the Tower of London boomed.

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

Picture: NPG D16053, ‘Marriage of the Princess Charlotte of Wales to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg, in the Crimson Saloon, at Carleton House, May 2 1816; after Robert Hicks; Nuttall, Fisher & Dixon; William Marshall Craig,print,published April 1818

Day Of The Wedding (Part 1)

The day of the wedding was fine and sunny, and from an early hour crowds began to gather in the Mall, St. James’s, and all the streets near the royal residences, eager for a sight of Charlotte and Leopold.

The courtyard in front of Clarence House was ‘crowded to excess with well-dressed people of all classes’, who waited patiently but noisily for Prince Leopold to appear, which he obliged them by doing, three or four times an hour. Cheers and applause greeted him as fresh crowds replaced those who had just been satisfied by a good long stare st the handsome obliging young man, simply dressed in blue coat, buff waistcoat and grey pantaloons. At about ten o’clock the crowds were forced to make way as a team of elegant grey horses trotted briskly into the stable yard, for the Prince’s inspection. They had been carefully chosen and matched to please Princess Charlotte, and could hardly fail to please her bridegroom.

At about two o’clock the delighted mob watched Leopold drive out in a curricle, on his way to pay a ‘morning visit’ to his bride, and to inspect the new travelling carriage which had been built for them. On his return to Clarence House he found that the crowd had grown enormous, and he had difficulty in getting out of his curricle. A footman, trying to help him, was nearly crushed to death, and a number of women and children were swept by the convulsion through the doors and into the hall of Clarence House. It was an alarming moment, but Leopold remained unruffled, and was soon bowing on the balcony again, which he continued to do till five in the evening, when he withdrew to prepare himself for dinner ‘with a select party of gentlemen’.

Charlotte was at Buckingham House, dining with her grandmother and aunts.

Meanwhile, a full guard of honour of the Grenadier Guards, preceded by the band of the Coldstream Guards in full dress, marched from St. James’s Park into the courtyard of Carlton House, affording fresh entertainment for the spectators. After this, a troop of the Life Guards trotted into Pall Mall, followed by the two Bow Street magistrates, Sir Nathaniel Conant and Mr. Birnie, at the head of fifty police officers and constables, whose job it was to control the crowds. The approach to Buckingham House was already crammed with carriages, for, in the entrance hall of Buckingham House, privileged persons were gathering to see the Royal Family assemble before leaving for Carlton House.

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

Leopold Arrives In London

On April 29 Prince Leopold and his suite left Windsor in two of the Regent’s travelling carriages and drove to Smallberry Green, near Hounslow, the home of Sir Joseph Banks, the wealthy botanist, who provided ‘a most sumptuous repast’. As soon as this was eaten, the Prince, unable to linger and be shown Sir Joseph’s exotic plants, stepped smartly into one of the Regent’s dress carriages, drawn by six magnificent bays, preceded by the Regent’s state coachman on horseback, and followed by a second carriage containing his gentlemen.

This cavalcade set out for London, a splendid sight, with coachmen, postillions, footmen and outriders in their scarlet liveries, and the inhabitants of Brentford, Hammersmith and Kensington ran and jostled to get a chance to see it. The Coburg Prince may well have been feeling nervous at what lay ahead, but he presented a calm and confident appearance, and charmed his beholders by his friendly acknowledgement of their cheers.

At 3.30 he arrived at Clarence House, where he was to remain till after the wedding. Crowds were gathered in the Mall, and had already cheered themselves hoarse when Princess Charlotte, attended by the Countess of Ilchester and Colonel Addenbrook, arrived, at 1:30, at Carlton House. They now turned their attention to Clarence House, and during the next forty-eight hours, whenever he was at home, his Serene Highness Prince Leopold was obliged to show himself over and over again on the first-floor balcony, bowing politely and kindly to the milling and ecstatic populace.

His future father-in-law had made him a general in the British army, which entitled him to a new and splendid uniform for his marriage; but presumably it was in his Russian dress uniform that he drove to a reception at Carlton House, decorated with ‘a very brilliant Austrian order on a light blue ribbon’. Charlotte, who was present, had to leave soon after Leopold’s arrival, to go to the Queen’s Court at Buckingham House. Her dress, we are told, was purple silk, and it seems odd that she should have chosen this funereal colour, the colour which she also chose for her ill-fated first meeting with the Prince of Orange.

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

The Duchess of Brunswick Returns To England

‘On October 14, 1806, the Duke of Brunswick, Princess Charlotte’s grandfather, was mortally wounded at Auerstadt and his Dukedom seized by Napoleon. The Prince of Wales showed little regret at the loss of his father-in-law. “I cannot help thinking,” he wrote, “that had he survived, & had taken a review of his past political conduct, & of the very disgraceful proposals which he is supposed to have sent to the French tyrant after the complete rout of the Prussian forces under his command, he would & must have suffer’d most grieviously indeed. I cannot therefore say that his death has occasioned me either surprise or much regret.” But there was some anxiety as to the future of the widowed Duchess, Caroline’s mother, who had managed with difficulty to escape from Brunswick to Sweden. Most people thought that she would make for England, and the Duke of Clarence wrote to the Prince of Wales, “If I know the Duchess at all, she will be the least welcome visitor to her wise and virtuous daughter…”

On July 1, 1807, the Duchess of Brunswick landed in England, her native country which she had not seen for forty-three years. Her daughter, Princess Caroline, who now spent much of her time at Kensington Palace, handed over Montague House as a temporary residence for the Duchess, who was received with affection by her brother, King George. Although the Queen and her sister-in-law had always heartily detested each other, a meeting at Buckingham House, at which the Princess of Wales was present, went off successfully, and Princess Elizabeth reported to the Prince that “her reception was most cordial of my mother and they appeared mutually pleased with each other”. “She certainly is a fine old woman,” added Princess Elizabeth… ” but you see when she walks or tries to get into her carriage she is very infirm.”

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

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Portrait: Augusta of Great Britain, duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel by Johann Georg Ziesenis, third quarter of 18th century

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.