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Happy Birthday Charlotte!

It is the anniversary of Princess Charlotte’s birth today! As always on this occasion let me quote the letter which the baby’s father, the Prince of Wales, sent to his mother Queen Charlotte.

‘(…) The Princess, after a terrible hard labour for above twelve hours, is this instant brought to bed of an immense girl, and I assure you notwithstanding we might have wish’d for a boy, I receive her with all the affection possible, and bow with due defference and resignation to the decrees of Providence (…)’

(an extract from the Prince of Wales’ letter to his mother Queen Charlotte taken from ‘Caroline&Charlotte’ by Alison Plowden)

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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]

Charlotte’s Pregnancy Makes Headlines

Charlotte left Claremont at least once during the summer. On 12 August she went over briefly with Leopold to Richmond to attend the party given to celebrate her father’s birthday by the grandmother of another famous cavalry commander, the Dowager Countess of Cardigan. For most of the time, however, she was content to live as she had always lived at Claremont, receiving occasional visits from friends and giving dinner parties for her neighbours.

Yet despite her seclusion, Charlotte’s name was seldom out of the newspapers. Every rumour about her condition, every anecdote, however unlikely, was seized upon gratefully and elaborated in print by every editor and commentator. It was all part of a happy, hopeful story – the only member of the royal family that anybody cared about was soon to give birth – and in 1817 it was almost the only happy story.

The rest of the news was always bad. Britain was in the middle of a post-war recession. Manufactures had reduced production and laid off some of their workers. A very bad harvest had had the same effect in the country. The Corn Law, which was passed to keep the price of corn at a profitable level for farmers and landowners, had put the price of bread beyond the pockets of even those labourers who were still employed.

Charlotte and Leopold had been doing what they could, distributing food and employing as many men as they could afford to make aesthetic ‘improvements’ to their park. But there were not too many who did the same. Bitter indignation and resentment were widespread. Riots were frequent. The Habeas Corpus Act had been suspended so that the government, which had no effective coordinated policies, could lock up suspected rabble-rousers without trial.

At the end of August, Stockmar recorded that Charlotte’s condition was even influencing the Stock Market. ‘Bets for enormous sums have been made on the sex of the expected child, and it has been already calculated on the Stock Exchange that a Princess would only raise the funds 2 1/2 per cent, whilst a Prince would send them up 6 per cent.’

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

‘The Princess is uncommonly well, and I hope will do well,’ wrote her dresser, Mrs. Louis, at the beginning of September. She was beginning now to take her daily outings in a small pony chaise, or walking slowly, leaning on her husband’s arm. ‘The Prince is so very kind to her,’ Mrs. Louis wrote; but some people considered that Charlotte should have a female friend or relation with her at this time. Her old friend Lady Ashbrook, who had kept her company at Weymouth, wrote offering to be with her at the birth, but Charlotte declined, explaining that the Queen suggested being with her, and she had refused. After this, she could not invite anyone else. But perhaps in moments of depression she wished that her mother were not so far away. ‘I have not heard from my mother for a long time,’ she wrote to Lady Charlotte Bury. ‘If you can give me any intelligence of her, I should be much obliged.’ And she added that she was ‘daily expecting to be confined’.

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

Charlotte Is Pregnant

From this highly-dramatic atmosphere the calm of Claremont seemed far removed. Charlotte, who from time to time received a hint of her mother’s way of life, tried to obtain first-hand news of her. She begged Lady Charlotte Bury, who kept up with the Princess, to ask her to write. That she wrote herself is certain: and, surprisingly, Leopold approved of her doing so. ‘I heard from my daughter de oder day,’ the Princess of Wales is quoted as writing (the spelling is Lady Charlotte’s). ‘She expect to be confined in November.’ From this announcement, the letter must have been written in the spring or early summer of 1817.

On April 30, 1817, Prince Leopold arrived in his travelling carriage at Carlton House. For once, he was without Princess Charlotte, because she was in an interesting condition, and he was come to bring the happy news to the Prince Regent.

Charlotte was in radiant health, and all through the summer was able to keep up her social activities. On May 2, the anniversary of their wedding, the Coburgs gave a party, to which they invited the Duke and Duchess of York, the Castlereaghs and Lievens, the celebrated Marquis of Anglesey who had lost a leg at Waterloo – and Miss Mercer Elphinstone. Alas, the friendship had foundered. Mercer’s politics, since her intimacy with the Comte de Flahaut, were alarmingly Jacobinical, and she was now affronted because, on arrival at Claremont, she was not shown straight into Charlotte’s presence, as of old, but was obliged to wait with other guests to be received by their host and hostess together. Two days later, Prince Leopold wrote to tell the Regent that Charlotte had failed to persuade Miss Mercer to give her back, or to destroy, all her letters.*

* It is, for the biographer, a very great blessing that she did fail. Charlotte’s inimitable letters remained firmly in Mercer’s hands, were inherited by her daughter who married the Fourth Marquees of Lansdowne, and eventually reached the Lansdowne family archives at Bowood, where they are today.

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

The Princess of Wales Is Making Troubles Again

There had been further rumours of a divorce. At the end of 1815 Charlotte had been ‘in despair’ at what Mercer had told her of the Princess’ alleged intimacy with her courier, Bartolomeo Pergami. ‘Surely, surely, my dear Marguerite, there can be nothing there, a low common servant …!’ But in July 1816 Miss Knight learnt from the Duke of Sussex that the Regent was ‘moving everything’ to get a divorce.

A month later, Charlotte was relieved to hear through Brougham that attempts to prove adultery with this man, whom the Princess had now made her Chamberlain, had been abandoned, ‘as they could get nothing but foreign witnesses’. ‘Thank God,’ she wrote, ‘my mind on that rubbish is now quite at rest.’

But it could not be at rest for long. The exploits of the Princess of Wales were not allowed to pass unnoticed, and rumours were constantly reaching England of her extraordinary behaviour in different parts of Europe. She was continually on the move, and English visitors who encountered raised hands and eyes to heaven and stored up their impressions to be passed on to their friends. Her appearance was embarrassingly odd: she had a passion for appearing ‘en Vénus’ and, like Nell Gwynn, sat for her portrait naked to the waist. ‘I cannot tell you how sorry and ashamed I felt as an Englishwoman,’ wrote Lady Bessborough, after seeing Caroline dancing at a ball. She did not recognize her: for one thing, the Princess was wearing a black wig. Her first impression was of ‘a short, very fat elderly woman, with an extremely red face (owing I suppose to the heat) in a girl’s white frock-looking dress, back and neck quite low (disgustingly so) down to the middle of her stomach; very black hair and eyebrows, which gave her a fierce look, and a wreath of light pink roses on her head’. ‘I was staring at her,’ continued Lady Bessborough, ‘from the oddity of her appearance, when suddenly she nodded and smiled at me, and not recollecting her, I was convinced she was mad, till William Bentinck* pushed me and said, “Do you not see the Princess of Wales nodding to you?” ‘

By this time, nearly all Caroline’s English companions had left her. The last to go was Henry Holland, her doctor, who returned to England in April 1815, unable to last the pace any longer.** She was waited upon, after this, by a motley collection of Germans, Italians and French, Arabs and Turks, but nobody seemed to stay long. ‘I was taken three German footmen from Brunswick,’ she recounted later, ‘which had formerly been soldiers in my brother’s regiment but one of them was so drunken that I was obliged to send him back to Brunswick, & I desired Mr. Pergami to find another in his place.’ Later her German maid had to be left behind, for ‘bad conduct’; a French maid was sent back to her parents for ‘very bad conduct’; her courier, Sacchini, robbed her of 200 Napoleons and was instantly sacked, and so was Restal, her piquer, or outrider, who was caught stealing the horses’ food. Mr. Pergami must have had his hands full keeping the staff in some sort of order.

*The British envoy.

** He later became Physician to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and was made a Baronet.

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

Picture: James Lonsdale, Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), circa 1820, National Portrait Gallery

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

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 Is Writing To The Prime Minister

At Warwick House, the news [about the battle of Waterloo] was, for the most part, a relief. Napoleon had decided to strike at the right flank and try to take on the allies one at time. So the Russians were too far away to be engaged – Leopold was safe. Wellington and Blücher were the only commanders who had been able to combine, and theirs were the armies that suffered casualties. Among these, Charlotte learned, both Charles Hesse and the Hereditary Prince of Orange had been wounded, although neither so severely that his life was in danger. But there was also a loss, and it was a loss that brought back the gloom that Warwick House had not seen since the death of Mrs Gagarin.

Two days before the battle of Waterloo, in an attempt to halt the French advance, the Duke of Brunswick had been killed leading his black cavalry in a charge at Quatre Bras. The little duchy had lost another duke to Napoleon.

(…)

Grief did not, however, distract Charlotte from what was now her only important objective. By the time she wrote that letter [to her mother], she had written to the Prime Minister asking him to represent her formally with her father and request him to offer her hand in marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. If he did not agree, she warned, she would remain a spinster and refuse all other suitors.

This time the Prince Regent’s excuse was ‘the state of the Continent and the negotiations’ that followed the exile of Napoleon to St Helena. This, he said, was not the moment to consider such a proposal. In his report to Charlotte, Lord Liverpool told her that for the time being he felt there was no more he could do; the matter would have to be ‘postponed for his Royal Highness’s further consideration’.

When the Duke of York heard what had happened he agreed with the Prime Minister and advised Charlotte to be patient. He was in touch with Leopold and knew he was about to join the allied army in Paris. Duty might well prevent him from coming to England for a few months anyway, and meanwhile Charlotte was about to be sent away for another seaside exile in Weymouth. The Duke’s advice was to wait until November, when Parliament would be sitting again, and then ‘make another push’.

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

Picture: Portrait of the 2nd Earl of Liverpool by Thomas Lawrence, before 1827, National Portrait Gallery

The Duke of Brunswick Dies

There was another cause for anxiety: the Princess of Wales had announced that she was returning to England. According to Princess Mary, the Regent flew into a rage upon hearing of it, refused to believe it, and ‘declared she could not come’. He summoned his Privy Council, and their advice was that ‘she was not to be admitted here’. Since last heard of, she had been wandering about Europe, losing the more reputable among her retinue, who, one by one, left her to return to England. In 1814 she had visited her brother at the Court of Brunswick, and had gone from there to Naples, where she wrote to Lady Charlotte Lindsay, ‘Even English person are very civil and good humour with me; even the Holland have been so to me. The King and the Queen [of Naples] are both very clever and very good-natured indeed to me, and very fond of my society.’ She adds that her only regret is hearing nothing from Princess Charlotte: ‘she never write once, so I write ever week.’

How many of these letters reached Charlotte is not known, but in May 1815 she promised the Regent ‘upon my honour never to write from this moment directly or indirectly to her, that all kind of communication shall cease & that I will abstain from seeing her when she comes to England’. Charlotte’s only request is that she may not have to tell her mother of this herself. ‘I find it would be impossible quite for me to do, as I could not pen anything harsh or disrespectful, & in giving up what I now do I have done my utmost.’*

But a month later, the news arrived that the Duke of Brunswick – ‘Brunswick’s fated chieftain’ – had been killed at Quatre Bras. Charlotte was deeply grieved: she had been devoted to this uncle, and she asked the Regent’s permission to write to her mother, ‘as my own feelings as well as a sence of propriety, & respect towards her, will not allow me to pass it over in silence’.

This was permitted; but otherwise a total silence was maintained between mother and daughter. Nevertheless, disconcerting rumours reached Charlotte from various parts of Europe: her mother was in debt, in the power of one of her entourage, living in a crazy and irresponsible way. Always there was the dread that she would provide the Prince with grounds for divorce, but Charlotte hoped that there were ‘too many difficulties on the other side to make a divorce practicable’.

* During Christmas 1814 the Prince Regent had a conversation with Charlotte about the Delicate Investigation and her mother’s reckless behaviour. Charlotte confessed that the Princess of Wales was leaving her alone in her bedroom with Captain Hesse and that she exchanged the letters with him. The Prince Regent was shocked but treated Charlotte kindly, assuring her that he would make sure that the letters would be found and destroyed (he later asked Lord Keith and Mercer to retrieve them from Captain Hesse).

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

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]