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The Dutch Marriage Plans

In July 1813, the Prince gave ‘a magnificent breakfast’ in the gardens of Carlton House, to celebrate the Battle of Vittoria. He wrote a glowing letter to Wellington, and sent him what he had himself desired and been denied, a field-marshal’s baton. A fortnight later, after the nine days’ fighting known as the Battle of the Pyrenees, Charlotte was writing to Mercer, ‘Of course I need not tell you that a great victory has been gained by Wellington upon Soult. I write before any particulars have reached me, except that the Prince of Orange has brought the dispatches & was to be in town last night…’ ‘It was a pang,’ she continued, ‘added to the many I have to endure here [at Windsor], as I am sure my miseries will be much added to by the plagues about him…’

Charlotte, at seventeen, was aware that plans were being made for her to marry, and that the Hereditary Prince of Orange was being talked of as a likely suitor. He was at present serving on Wellington’s staff in Spain, but she believed that he had been sent to England with dispatches in order that she might meet him, which she heartily dreaded. She was not averse to the idea of marriage, but she was determined have a say in the choice of her husband: she would not be married off, as her aunt, the Princess Royal, had been – and indeed, as her mother and grandmother had been – to a foreigner whom she had never seen.

Marriage with the Prince of Orange, was, diplomatically, an excellent idea. As Europe began to free itself from the Emperor’s domination, an alliance was planned by the British Government with the liberated Holland and Belgium, under the Dutch Stadholder. A marriage between the English Princess and his son, the Hereditary Prince, would triumphantly seal this alliance.

But for Charlotte there were other considerations: a misguided marriage would, she said, be ‘worse than death’. She wanted to know what the young man was like. Her friend Georgiana Fitzroy told her that the Hereditary Prince was ‘amiable, very agreeable and sensible, adored Lord Wellington, had excellent manners but was not good looking’. This was interesting, but not enough. A month later, Miss Fitzroy, who had walzed with the young man at Oatlands, wrote that he was the best waltzer that ever was, but ‘excessively plain’ and ‘as thin as a needle’. His hair, she said, was ‘excessively plain’ and his teeth, though good, stuck out excessively in front.

Perhaps it would have been better for all concerned if Charlotte had waited for a description from her older and more tactful friend, Mercer Elphinstone.

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

Picture: Portrait of William II of the Netherlands by Nicolaas Pieneman, 1849, current location unknown

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Charlotte’s First Ball

Despite the policy of ‘protracted childhood’, however, there was one sign that the Prince Regent might be relenting a little. Two days after the exchange in the Duke of York’s apartments, on 5 February, Charlotte was allowed to attend her first ball at Carlton House. The Duchess [of Leeds] and Miss Knight went with her. In accordance with fashion, they were ‘all in white’. The Duchess and Miss Knight wore white trimmed with gold. Charlotte wore white trimmed with silver, and for the first time, again in the height of fashion, she wore ostrich feathers in her hair.

For Charlotte, the ball was a bit of disappointment. She had been led to believe that it was being given for her, but when the time came it was Princess Mary and not Charlotte who was asked to lead off the dancing. She had hoped that she would be able to dance with the young Duke of Devonshire, but soon after she arrived she was told that he was indisposed.

The son of famously beautiful Duchess, Georgiana, the 23-year-old Duke of Devonshire was very deaf and consequently shy and silent. Charlotte had ‘liked him very much’ when she first met him. She was proud that she had put him at his ease and induced him to ‘talk a great deal’. But she was not attracted to him. As she told Mercer, ‘he is certainly very plain’.

Nevertheless, as with the Duke of Gloucester, Charlotte’s father was worried by his apparent interest in her, and particularly so in this case because the Duke of Devonshire was a leading Whig. ‘Really the Prince Regent is so excessively tiresome & absurd about everything of that sort’, she wrote to Mercer, ‘…& he is so suspicious always about my politics’. It may be therefore that the Duke was not present because the Prince had told him to stay away.

Without the young Duke, Charlotte could only dance with her uncles and other, much older, partners. As one of the other guests, Miss Mary Berry, put it, ‘all very magnificent, but such a lack of dancing young men and, indeed, women, I quite pitied the Princess Charlotte from the bottom of my heart for the dulness of the ball’.

But this, at least, was not due to any exaggerated caution on the part of the Prince Regent. There was a dearth of good dancing partners in London in 1813. Like George FitzClarence and Charles Hesse, most of the young men worth dancing with were serving with Wellington in Spain.

Cornelia Knight enjoyed the ball even less than the Princess. In the course of the evening the Prince Regent took her aside and subjected her to a long, detailed and embarrassing diatribe against his wife. At the end of it he ‘even accused her of threatening to declare that Princess Charlotte was not his daughter’.

Miss Knight was ‘horrified’. ‘I really knew not what to answer.’

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

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Picture: Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796-1817), Princess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld by Alfred Edward Chalon, c.1817-19, Royal Collection Trust

https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/405449/princess-charlotte-of-wales-1796-1817-princess-of-saxe-coburg-saalfeld

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Charlotte’s Loyalty To Mercer Elphinstone

The Prince was now Regent with Unrestricted Powers, and finally abandoned his Whig friends: the moderate Whigs, Grey and Grenville, had refused his invitation to join the Government and form a coalition; and Spencer Perceval remained the leader of a Tory administration*. Charlotte, strongly in favour of reform, Catholic Emancipation and all that the Whigs stood for, was learning not to discuss politics in the family, but she felt very bitterly her father’s desertion of the party, and, according to Lord Glenbervie, wept when she heard the news. The Regent was aware of her attitude, and believed her to be strongly influenced by Mercer. He determined to break the friendship(…)

The doors of Carlton House were closed to members of the Opposition, and Mercer Elphinstone was asked to cease her correspondence with Princess Charlotte. Meanwhile, the Queen had taken up the cudgels on her son’s behalf, and summoned her granddaughter for a little talk on the subject of Royalty and Politics.

Queen Charlotte was sixty-eight, and beginning to grow enormous from dropsy. She had courage, and a sense of humour, but suffering had hardened and stiffened her: she had not give vent to her feelings, but lapsed into cold, violent anger when she was thwarted. She visited her husband regularly and conscientiously, taking always a daughter with her. According to Princess Mary, the Queen’s unfortunate manner made these interviews even more painful than they need have been. She ruled her daughters with an iron rod, which she now tried to exercise upon her granddaughter.

She began by assuring her that she should look upon her father as ‘the only source of her happiness’ (news which must have struck a chill into Charlotte’s heart), and that she must be ready to accept his judgement in all things, ‘as her father must of course, not only by right but by experience, know better what was for her good’. She went on to warn Charlotte against forming particular friendships: although she should be civil to everyone, she should be careful to show no partiality for one person, and especially she should avoid any form of political friendship, which could never be depended upon. Having dropped these heavy hints, the Queen added a further warning: ‘That any member of the Royal Family taking a part against the Crown was lowering it most essentially.’

The Queen felt that she had made an impression, and Lady de Clifford told her later that Charlotte was ‘much pleased’ with the conversation, which seems hard to believe. Her father’s dictum forbidding her to correspond with Mercer came as no surprise, but the blow was overwhelming. Mercer was her best friend, the only person to whom she could confide her problems, her happiness and her misery; and who gave her wise advice. To be cut off from her was to be cut off from everything that made life bearable, and Charlotte, now spending all her time at Lower Lodge, Windsor, grew listless and wretched.

For six months she endured; but by the end of August she felt that she could bear it no longer. She decided to break the promise extracted from her by her father, and to find some means of communicating secretly with Mercer. Lady Charlotte Lindsay, her mother’s lady-in-waiting, offered to act as go-between, and on August 24 she broke the long silence.

‘I detest everything that bears the name of clandestine,’she wrote, ‘but I call this not so. I hold myself absolved from the promise that was extorted from me, not to hold any communication whatever with you. It is an unjust&cruel requisition.’

The letter was an outpouring of all her woes, which seemed almost to have unhinged her. She invests the Lower Lodge with a kind of Gothic gloom, describing it as ‘a perfect prison’, where she is surrounded by spies; and though there is something of her father’s love of drama in her description of her plight -‘a regular system of persecution seems to be the thing’- Mercer cannot have failed to feel pity and anger as she read it. Charlotte was being made to suffer cruelly in ‘this infernal dwelling’ as she called it, and it looked as if her health was affected. The house was damp, or more probably suffered from bad drains, and the relaxing air of Windsor did not agree with her. ‘None of my household have been well. I sleep but little, or suffer from severe headaches or colds… I think,’ she concludes, ‘could you see me, you would finde me very much altered, grown very serious and thoughtful at times.’

This serious, thoughtful Charlotte was devoting herself to ‘studdy’, which she described as her greatest resource, as it passed away hours of ennui. Drawing and music occupied most of her time; it was true she went for rides, but these were ‘far from agreable, as always in the compagny with the Princesses’.

‘I will not deny to you that I am far far from being happy.’

* On May 11th 1812 Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of House of Commons by John Bellingham. Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool has succeeded him as the Prime Minister.

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

charlotte-and-mercer

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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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A Day At The Opera

As the day for the visit to the opera approached, Charlotte also agreed to dine with her father on that evening. There was no conflict in this. It was customary in these days to dine before going to the opera or the theatre; the Prince Regent, like most people, dined in the late afternoon.

There were sixteen at the dinner, among them the Duke of York, but not the Duchess, and politicians from both parties, including Sheridan and Adam. As it was bound to do, the conversation turned to politics. When too much wine had been consumed, the Prince launched into a vehement attack on the Whigs. He censured the leader of the Whig opposition, Earl Grey, for not having joined a coalition in the previous year when he was offered the opportunity, and he censured the Duke of York for corresponding with him about a possible future government.

Until he was sworn in as Regent, the Prince had been an ostentatious Whig himself. At one of his daughter’s birthday parties he has told the guests proudly that he was having her educated to espouse the ideals of Charles James Fox. Once he became Regent, therefore, the Whigs fully expected that, after a year, when he would have the power to do so, he would dismiss the government and call a general election.

By now, however, it was clear to everyone that he was never going to do any such thing. After all, it was the Tory government, now led by Spencer Perceval, that had made him Regent, and it was the Tory government that was winning the war in Spain. It was neither in his interest nor the nation’s to risk a general election at such moment.

To Charlotte her father’s conduct was nothing short of a betrayal. She was the Whig he once wanted her to be, despite the influence of Tory tutors. She could never be as fickle as he was. As a Whig she was sincere, committed and above all radical. Her letters to Mercer are full of recommendations of Whig pamphlets and journals. Shortly before the dinner she had written to her about what her father and his government were doing to suppress the Roman Catholic majority in Ireland. In a letter so passionate that her respect for grammar and syntax was even less evident than usual, she wrote:

I do indeed feel very very unhappy & uneasy about this business in Ireland; it but too too clearly shows the side he has taken. Good God, what will become of us! Of Ireland! We shall without doubt lose that, & as English people all faith & confidence in their Prince. Don’t call me a croker after all this, nor a republican for saying that the Irish will be justified in anything they do, if their long promised freedom is not granted.

As the conversation at the dinner table became more and more heated, Charlotte became more and more agitated. The Duke of York defended himself. Lord Lauderdale defended Lord Grey, who was no longer welcome at Carlton House. Eventually Charlotte burst into tears, stood up and turned to leave. Sheridan, not yet too drunk not to be chivalrous, left his seat and escorted her to the door.

Back at Warwick House Charlotte composed herself enough to make the short journey to Covent Garden. As she and the Duchess of York entered their box at the opera house, she waved over-excitedly to everyone she knew in the stalls. A few judged her behaviour a little undignified, but to most people it was charming. Then she noticed that the box opposite was occupied by Earl Grey. Here was a chance to tell the world where her political loyalties lay. Having already attracted his attention, she leaned out and, for all to see, blew kisses at the leader of the opposition.

A few days later, after the Whig gossips had spread the story of the dinner party throughout London, ‘dear Lord Byron’, whom Charlotte had been ‘seeing a great deal lately’, wrote a short poem in praise of the Princess who did not yet know how popular she was. It was entitled ‘To a Lady Weeping’.

Weep, daughter of a noble line,
A sire’s disgrace, a realm’s decay –
Ah! happy if each tear of thine
Could wash a father’s fault away!

Weep, for thy tears are virtue’s tears,
Auspicious to these suffering isles –
And be each drop, in future years,
Repaid thee of thy people’s smiles.

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

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Portrait of Charles Grey 2nd Earl Grey,  Sir Thomas Lawrence, circa 1828, National Portrait Gallery

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Charlotte’s Lamentable Dinner With Her Father

Charlotte, to her intense relief, was back in London. Even though Miss Knight described Warwick House as ‘miserably out of repair, and almost falling into ruins’, it was, she said ‘a seat of happiness to Princess Charlotte compared to Lower Lodge at Windsor’. The present arrangement was that she and her charge were to be one week in London and one at Lower Lodge. But Charlotte was ‘anxiously desirous’, said Miss Knight, ‘to remain in Town as much as possible.’ There, the prospect of a more entertaining life opened out: ‘when in Town we were to dine at Carlton House, to go to the Play and Opera, and to have a party at Warwick House, besides balls and great parties at Carlton House.’ And indeed, this gay life seemed to be beginning when Miss Knight, two days after her arrival, was invited to accompany the young Princess to dinner with her father.

‘We went at 7, and I was presented to the Regent in form.’ But she was surprised to find no ladies present, only Miss Goldsworthy, the Princesses’ governess, now very old, very deaf, and inclined to drop asleep over her dinner. However, there were three Royal Dukes, York, Cumberland and Cambridge, and Miss Knight’s feelings, so easily upset, were appeased by their princely graciousness. She could find no fault with the meal or with the surroundings; the rooms were ‘fitted up with great splendour and elegance’, though far too hot.

But she could not approve of her host’s manner to his daughter. He hardly spoke to her, and showed her no affection. ‘His greatest attentions,’ she wrote, ‘were for Miss Goldsworthy,’ to whom he evidently chose to show more favour than the daughter of Sir Joseph Knight. Her conclusion was that ‘every consideration was to be sacrificed to the plan of keeping the Princess Charlotte as long as possible a child; and consequently, whoever belonged to her was to be thought a nurse or preceptress, inferior, of course, to the nurses and preceptresses of the Princesses her aunts’. Although inclined to be huffy on her own account, Miss Knight was far more concerned on Charlotte’s, now that she had seen her vis-a-vis her father.

When they returned to Windsor, Cornelia found this opinion confirmed. The Duchess of Leeds’s daughter was considered by the Queen to be a suitable companion for Charlotte, and parties were to be given of ‘young ladies not present’ – or, as Miss Knight put it scornfully, ‘children’s balls’. She was as indignant as Charlotte, whom she described as having ‘in understanding, penetration and stature…become a woman’.

It must also be remembered that Charlotte had already had a love affair, was attractive to men, and enjoyed their company. The Prince was aware of this, and warned Miss Knight in the course of an evening party that she must see that there was no nonsense with the Duke of Gloucester. The Duke, who was known as Silly Billy, was thirty-seven and a gift to the caricaturists, but he was kind and friendly: perhaps, though, from later events, the Prince’s instincts were right, for the time came when Charlotte was quite ready to accept her goggle-eyed cousin Gloucester as a suitor.

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

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Picture: Portrait of Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh by an unknown artist, 1813-22

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Prince Regent Doesn’t Care About His Legally Wedded Wife Either

‘His other wife, Princess Caroline, sat in Kensington Palace, trying to pass the time during the Regent’s fête, with her friend Miss Berry. All her ladies had gone to Carlton House, and Miss Berry was hard to put to it to keep the Princess amused while they were away. With perambulatings through the gardens, some punishing work by the Princess on the pianoforte, a long-drawn-out meal, and a great deal of reminiscent talk the hours slowly passed, and at last Lady Glenbervie returned, ready to describe in detail the doings at Carlton House. Gold and silver fish, she said, swam in a stream which ran through mossy banks down the centre of the lengthy table with the Prince at its head, presumably just out of range of the splashing fountain that fed the stream. Some of the fish were dead, but that did not deflect from the artistry of the scene, backed by massed flowers and framed by gorgeous hangings of crimson and gold. huge candelabra hung overhead, lighting up the glitter of the Prince’s diamond aigrette and the Garter star on his breast. He was dressed in the scarlet uniform of a Field-Marshal (one of his first acts, on becoming Regent, had been to promote himself to this rank).

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