Tag Archives: carlton house

The Whole World Mourns Charlotte

Leopold was never the same again. Almost fifty years later he told his niece Queen Victoria that he had ‘never recovered the feeling of happiness’ that ‘blessed’ his short life with Charlotte. He had always been renowned for his reserve, but, as anyone who had ever been to Claremont knew, there was a warmth beneath it. Now, in his grief, he seemed to be more morose than reserved, and the warmth beneath was replaced for ever by a loveless chill.

On the day of Charlotte’s funeral Stockmar wrote to one of Leopold’s former tutors in Coburg, ‘Life seems already to have lost all value for him, and he is convinced that no feeling of happiness can ever again enter his heart.’

Each day during the week that followed his bereavement, Leopold walked round and round the park in the rain with Dr Short, clutching a miniature of Charlotte in his hand. Late every evening, he went into the bedroom where Charlotte was laying and sat with her for most of the night. In Charlotte’s sitting room, her watch was found on the mantelpiece, and the cloak and bonnet that she had been wearing on her last drive were still hanging on the end of a screen. Leopold gave orders that they were to stay where she had left them.

He was inconsolable and his pain grew greater with almost every visitor. On the day after the deaths the doctors came back to carry out a post mortem, interfering with the bodies of his wife and son in a futile search for a cause of death. Worse, Sir Everard Home, Sergeant Surgeon to the King, came to take out their guts and embalm them.

When the medical men had done their work, the undertakers wrapped the child in linen and put him in a simple open coffin. His little heart, which the doctors had taken out, was put separately into an urn. Then Charlotte, also wrapped in linen, was lifted into her own coffin and covered with blue velvet. Leopold watched, and Mrs Campbell watched Leopold. She described him that evening in a letter to Lady Ilchester. ‘It was grief to look at him. He seemed so heartbroken.’

Even some of the visitors who came to comfort Leopold only added to his misery.The Duchess of York drove over from Oatlands and was so overcome with grief herself that she collapsed in the hall and had to be taken home before she saw him.

The Prince Regent came down and asked to see the bodies. He had left Warwickshire for London soon after he heard that his daughter was in labour, but the rider carrying less welcome news had somehow managed to gallop past his carriage and its escort in the dark. He was back at Carlton House and in bed when the Duke of York came to tell him that his daughter and grandson were dead. His response was uncharacteristically selfless. ‘What is to be done for the poor man?” he said, falling back onto pillow. ‘Great Heaven!’

Leopold gave the Regent a lock of Charlotte’s hair. Next day, the Regent’s sister Princess Mary, who was now Duchess of Gloucester, took the lock, entwined it with a lock from their youngest sister, Princess Amelia, who had died in 1810, and had them made into an eternity ring for him.

The Queen, accompanied by her daughter Princess Elizabeth, was dining with the Mayor and Corporation of Bath when the bad news reached her. She set out at once for Windsor. But back in the castle with her spinster daughters and her sad old husband she was overwhelmed with the sense of helplessness and bitter disappointment. Despair destroyed what was left of her health. It declined rapidly from that moment on. Within a year she was dead.

In Holland the Prince of Orange wept at the news, and out of deference to his grief his Russian Princess ordered the ladies of his court to dress in mourning.

When the news reached Italy, it was said, Lord Byron threw open the windows of his apartment in Venice and let out an anguished scream that was heard echoing down the Grand Canal.

Lady Charlotte Bury, who was also in Italy, summed up the situation precisely in her journal. ‘There is now no object of great interest in the English people, no one great rallying point round which all parties are ready to join… A greater public calamity could not have occurred to us; nor could it have happened at a more unfortunate moment..’

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

As for Caroline, who was living now in a villa on Lake Como, it appears that no one had troubled even to inform her of Charlotte’s death and Charlotte Bury was shocked to hear that the Princess had been left to learn the news ‘through the medium of a common newspaper!’ Lady Charlotte hastened to write and offer her Royal Highness sincere sympathy ‘in this her greatest affliction’ and presently received in return a ‘strangely worded but heartfelt expression of the poor mother’s grief’. ‘I have not only to lament an ever-beloved child’, wrote Caroline, ‘but one most warmly attached friend, and the only one I have had in England! But she is only gone before … and now I trust we shall soon meet in a much better world than the present one.’

[an extract from ‘Caroline&Charlotte’ by Alison Plowden]

Day Of The Wedding (Part 3)

But Charlotte did not forget her beloved Margaret. ‘To show you how constantly you occupy my thoughts,’ she wrote two days later, ‘my last word was with [Princess] Lieven to intreat her to give you a faithful account, & to my maid just as I drove off to go & tell you how I looked & was …’

‘I promised you,’ she reminded Mercer, ‘I promised you to behave well … and everyone complimented me upon the composure & dignity of my manner, & the audible way in which I answered the responses.’ It was observed that Prince Leopold, on the other hand, ‘was not heard so distinctly, and exhibited rather more than common diffidence’.

It was also observed that the wedding ring, chosen by Charlotte, was ‘stronger and larger than those usually worn’. Twenty-nine years afterwards, Leopold told Queen Victoria that Charlotte ‘was particularly determined to be a good and obedient wife’, and this would perhaps account for Huish’s impression of her going through the ceremony ‘with a chastened joy’.

The service, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, lasted exactly twenty-five minutes, and after all was over and healths drunk, Charlotte embraced her father, shook hands with her uncles York, Clarence and Kent (the other three were not there), kissed the Queen’s hand and her aunts’ tear-stained faces, and hurried away to change. Guns boomed from the Tower and St. James’s and as if by tacit agreement, the young couple did not appear again till they were ready to set out for their honeymoon. ‘The Princess did not take leave of the company, and avoided all compliments and congratulations by slipping down the private stairs from the state apartments to the ground floor.’ As she stepped into the new green travelling carriage, she must have looked captivating, in a white pelisse bordered with ermine, and a white satin hat, trimmed with blond lace and a nodding plume of ostrich feathers.

Leopold followed her, and, as the carriage was about to set off, the Queen, who had been all graciousness and kindness throughout the day, suddenly decided that it would be shocking for them to travel together at this late hour, unchaperoned, and ordered Charlotte’s lady, Mrs. Campbell, to join them. Mrs. Campbell, a determined Scotswoman, refused, and before anything more could be said, the coach, with Charlotte’s team of greys, ornamented with white favours, drove off at high speed, heading for Oatlands, near Weybridge, the Yorks’ country residence, which the Coburgs had been lent for their honeymoon. Charlotte was free.

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

Picture: Charlotte’s wedding dress, picture by Royal Collection Trust

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 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

A State Prisoner

Two days after her capture, Charlotte, with the aid of her drawing master Mr. Starkey, succeeded in smuggling a pencilled letter to Mercer out of Carlton House. She was allowed neither pen, ink nor paper, but she had stolen ‘these few sheets’, and intended, she said, to pass the letter through milk, to preserve the pencil. She was writing to her uncle Sussex in the same way.

‘You have no idea of my situation,’ she wrote to Mercer. ‘Oh, God, it ought to be remedied indeed, for it is wretched, and enough to send anyone wild … I am complete prisoner, not a letter or thing could get to me except by some merciful private hand.’ Even the Bishop was a welcome visitor in her desolation: he had promised to try and see Mercer, to beg her to get permission to visit Charlotte.

‘Shall you venture,’ she enquires of her friend, ‘upon asking leave to come and see me? … Oh, I wish you would … pray, pray do it.’ She is filled with self-reproach: ‘It is I who by my mad conduct brought all this upon you’ – and she reminds herself yet again of their heartbroken parting when ‘I could not utter one single word because you could not’. The following Monday she is to be moved to Cranbourne Lodge, in Windsor Forest, where she will be even more isolated. Her new ladies, she says, ‘are stupider and duller than anything’. She did not even attempt to talk, and meals were a misery – ‘so forlorn and prisonish’ – and she thinks of the cheerful dinners at Warwick House when Mercer was with her.

She was never alone, even at night, and the atmosphere of watching and suspicion was intolerable. ‘Louis went to Warwick House for some things for me, but … Lady Ilchester went over with her and followed her everywhere she went … and told her there must be no talking or messages with the servants.’

In spite of inflicting this heavy punishment upon his daughter, the Regent was all charm when they met. ‘I heartily begged his pardon for my rash act,’ she said, and he told her that he had forgiven her.”He cried a vast deal,’ she said, ‘did not know what to do for me, but would try & not make my life miserable.’ But the mention of Mercer, she said, drew from her ‘a violent shower of tears’. Altogether, it was a tearful scene, but hardly a constructive one for Charlotte’s future.

On July 18 the Princess moved from Carlton House to Cranbourne Lodge. To her surprise she found the house ‘very cheerful & very good, the view lovely’. She felt it was ‘an honourable retreat … and very far superior to Lower Lodge’. But there was no lessening of restrictions, and she could not shake off her wardresses. ‘Lady Ilchester is best,’ she wrote, ‘I don’t like Campbell at all.’ A week later she changed her mind: Mrs. Campbell was trying to please her and displayed ‘diffidence and delicacy’. But Lady Rosslyn she could never abide: she nicknamed her ‘Famine’ and ‘Vixen’, and her two dim nieces, the Misses Coates, were dubbed ‘the Consequences’. ‘The old one’ (Lady Rosslyn), she wrote, ‘is as detestable an old lump of bones as ever was, never seems good-humoured or pleased, & is always listening to what is going on … ‘

On receiving Charlotte’s pencilled note from Carlton House, the Duke of Sussex composed a letter to the Prime Minister. Princess Charlotte, he said, was being treated as a State Prisoner. Her health was suffering, and her doctors had prescribed sea bathing as vitally important to her recovery. He demanded permission to visit her.

Two days later, on July 19, having received no reply, he got up in the House of Lords, and put five questions, devised by Brougham, to Lord Liverpool. He wished to know, he said, if the Princess is allowed to receive her friends as usual; if she is able to write and receive letters. Is she actually under the restraint of imprisonment? Did not her doctors, a year ago, prescribe a yearly visit to the seaside as necessary to her health? And lastly, now that she passed the age when by Law she is fit to govern, what steps have been taken towards providing her with an Establishment suitable to her rank, and to the part she will soon have to perform?

The questions were pertinent, and embarrassing.

Lord Liverpool refused to answer, on the grounds that the points raised by the Duke ‘would bear by implication a disagreeable appearance as uninvited as it was unnecessary’.

‘Old Bags’, the Lord Chancellor, who was largely responsible for the Regent’s restrictions on Charlotte, ‘administered a rebuke.’ But Sussex, undeterred, said that he would raise the subject again. Before he finally sat down he begged to address the Woolsack, quoting Bacon – he believed it was Bacon – on the importance to man of reading, writing and conversation, and pointing out that ‘retirement, coercion and seclusion were not the means to instruct and give Princess Charlotte of Wales the most favorable idea of the beauty and advantages of the glorious constitution of this country, over which she was one day, please God, to rule’.

Perhaps it is not surprising that after this the Regent refused to meet his brother Sussex again.

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