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Princess of Wales Is Using Her Tricks Again

When all the sovereigns, princes, statesmen and commanders were received at court, the only members of the royal family who were – conspicuously – absent were the Princes of Wales and her daughter Princess Charlotte. Realising that this was a slight, the Tsar and his sister decided to go up to Connaught House and call on the Princess of Wales. But they were dissuaded by their Ambassador, who threatened to resign if they did – his wife was having an affair with Earl Grey at the time, and as a result he knew rather more than most people about the real nature of the Princess of Wales.

The Tsar and his sister did have a chance to see the Princess of Wales, however. It was on the evening when all the royal guests went to the opera. The Prince Regent sat in the royal box with the Tsar of Russia, the King of Prussia and the Grand Duchess Catherine, and the other princes sat in the boxes on their left. As they entered to the strains of the national anthem, they saw that the Princess of Wales was standing in the box opposite.

When the anthem was over, some of the young men in the stalls encouraged the audience to applaud the Princess of Wales. Her lady-in-waiting, Lady Charlotte Campbell, suggested that she should rise and acknowledge the applause with a curtsey.

‘My dear’, said the Princess, ‘Punch’s wife is nobody when Punch is present.’

She was sure that her husband would think that the applause was for him. And sure enough she was right. The Prince Regent stood up and bowed to the audience in acknowledgement.

At the end of the performance, the audience stood and applauded again as the Prince Regent and other sovereigns left. But they were applauding his guests, not him. When they had all gone, the audience turned and directed much warmer applause to the box where the Princess of Wales was still standing. This time she acknowledged it with three smiling curtsies.

A few days later, however, at a breakfast party near Woolwich, she was seen sitting under a tree in the garden with a pot of strong beer on her knee. By the end of the party she was in a mood to be merry. She ordered all the doors in the house to be opened, grabbed a partner and set off at a gallop, calling to the other guests to follow her in flat-out procession through every room.

It was not regarded as seemly conduct for a member of the royal family. Some of the gentlemen present had been among those who led the applause at the opera. After seeing their reaction to the latest spectacle, one of the ladies, the Hon. Amelia Murray, reported that, in her opinion, they would not be so anxious to clap the Princess again.

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

Picture: Caroline, Princess of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1798,  Victoria and Albert Museum

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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The Marriage Negotiations Begin

So for the next two months Charlotte lived in Warwick House in dull and dignified isolation. The only notable events were the various stages in the protracted negotiations over one small clause in her marriage contract.

Lords Liverpool and Castlereagh, who were drawing up the contract, were aware of most people’s reservations. They knew that no one wanted to see the crowns of England and Holland united. So they stipulated that, if Charlotte and William had more than one child, the eldest son would inherit England and the next Holland. If they had only one child, that child would inherit England and the Dutch crown would go to German branch of the House of Orange. But, out of deference to the Dutch, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary both felt that Princess Charlotte ought to be required to spend at least some time each year in Holland.

Among the Whigs there were some, such as the Duke of Sussex and Earl Grey, who approved of the proposed marriage but felt that Charlotte should never be required to leave the country against her will. But there were many others, among them Brougham and Whitbread, who were passionately opposed to the marriage. As a matter of principle they objected to turning the Dutch Republic into a monarchy, and they felt that Britain would be taking on the huge additional expense of providing for the defence of Holland, sometimes in circumstances where Britain itself was not threatened.

As a first step towards changing Charlotte’s mind, Brougham tried to persuade her that her father wanted to get her out of the country because he envied her popularity.

Charlotte was susceptible to that. She was learning not to trust her father. That was one reason why the negotiations were taking so long. She insisted that everything must be in writing – partly to prevent her father from subsequently denying anything that suited him, and partly because she was sending everything to Grey and Brougham, so that they could tell her what to write in reply.

Naturally Mercer was also consulted, first by letter and then in person. She came to town in the middle of February, and after that the most reliable of all secret messengers carried the letters between Charlotte and her Whig advisers.

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

Picture: Henry Brougham by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1825, National Portrait Gallery

‘A Violent Orange Attack’

As her eighteenth birthday approached, Charlotte was hoping that Parliament would grant her freedom from governesses, and her own Establishment and income. But she feared the worst. ‘I am sure,’ she wrote, ‘there will be a tight business about my establishment as the P said that I had more liberty than any of his sisters & had more liberty to do what I pleased with my own time than any girl had. If these are the liberal plans he intends going upon, it will be charming, certainly…’

Sir Henry Halford had told her that it was hoped that she would choose a husband before any Establishment was appointed; this way, he indicated delicately, two birds could be killed with one stone. Grey’s advice, on the other hand, was to wait ’till your R.H.’s establishment shall have been fixed, till you shall have the advantage of such intercourse with society as your R.H.’s exalted station may with propriety allow’: in short, till she had gained some experience of the world, and was more sure of her own tastes and inclinations. This was what Charlotte wanted. ‘I have not the smallest inclination at present to marry, as I have seen so little, &, I may add, nothing of the world as yet, & I have so much before me in prospects that for a year or two it would not come into my head.’ She hoped that she would have the courage and determination to hold out for this; and it seemed at first that she might be successful. ‘I trust,’ she wrote to Mercer, ‘I have gained two points at least. One is that the Orange business is now quite out of the question, & quite given up; and the other is that the Prince has positively given me his promise that I should never be persuaded or forced into any alliance I did not like.’ Her father said that he would invite eligible princes to this country so that she might see them and make her own choice. This sounded like a fairy tale-and, indeed, so it was. Only just over a month later, Charlotte, now back in London, wrote to Mercer: ‘My torments and plagues are again beginning in spite of all promises made at Windsor. I have had a violent orange attack this morning…’

It was the ‘little Doctor’ who delivered it; and he was not long in dropping his bombshell. There was to be a great dinner, he told her, for the young Prince of Orange, who had been invited to England again, to be introduced to Charlotte. After the Prince solemn promise that the match should be given up, this came as a shock. Sir Henry then began use ‘every argument of seduction’ to try and interest Charlotte in the young Prince. He dangled before her everything that she would gain from this marriage: power, riches, freedom, pleasure-finally pointing out that it was ‘the general wish of the nation’ and would give ‘universal delight’. ‘The grand object now was to keep Holland affixed to this island,’ he said, and the marriage would accomplish this.

He then proceeded to knock down all criticisms of the young man’s looks: ‘that if he was too thin, he would fill out, if he had bad teeth that might be remedied, & that as to his being fair that had nothing to do with his manlyness…’ ‘He then,’ wrote Charlotte, added language I do assure you I never had herd before from anyone & certainly never expected to have done, except perhaps seeing something of the kind in a book.’ She made it clear that she was not amused, and the doctor quickly ‘turned it off with a laugh & assured me that could he find me an angel he should not think it too good.’

Charlotte decided to treat the impudent doctor to a display of ‘excessive pride&haughtiness’, and to make it clear that she was unmoved by his arguments. This match, she said, was beneath her notice: if she ever married, it should be with a person of the highest rank possible. She was in no hurry to be married, she told him, and ‘considered that 3 or 4 years hence would be quite time enough to think about such a thing’.

The next time Sir Henry called at Warwick House, Charlotte was engaged. He was confronted by Miss Knight, who said that the Princess was ‘certainly annoyed’ at what he had told her, especially after her father’s promises that she should not be forced into marriage against her will. She indicated that he had spoken without authority, which put him ‘quite out of countenance’. Indeed, faced by Cornelia’s fearless integrity, he seems to have wilted. He had not, he said, been authorized by the Prince to say ‘anything positively‘ to the Princess, only to ‘throw in some points of advice’ whenever he had an opportunity. The Prince, he said, was now ‘so pressed on all sides, particularly by his ministers, as the marriage would be so helpful to their policy’, that he ‘felt himself in an awkward predicament’ and did not at all wish to influence his daughter in her decision.

And so, after attempting to justify himself, the little doctor went away.

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

Sir Henry Halford, 1st Baronet, by Sir William Beechey, unknown date, National Portrait Gallery

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Charlotte’s Letter To Lord Grey

At this point, Charlotte, at Mercer’s suggestion, wrote to Lord Grey, Leader of the Foxite Whigs in the House of Lords, and asked his advice. He wrote back diplomatically, but with kindness, urging her to be patient. He reminded her a little pompously what she owed to the Prince, ‘both as a Sovereign and as a father’; and that in every question that might arise between them, she should as far as possible avoid opposition to his pleasure. It was important for her ‘at the commencement of your public life (which God grant may be long and glorious) to gain the confidence & affection of the nation’.

After these preliminaries, Grey went on to assure her that her father’s authority was not absolute.’It is his duty to advise, his right to recommend, and standing in the place of the King, he has by law a decided and insurmountable negative on the marriage of such as are under 21.’

He ended by urging her to play for time. ‘Your Royal Highness has hitherto lived in almost total seclusion. The hardship of marrying at once, from such a state, against your inclination…is, I think, too apparent to be persevered in…’

Charlotte was delighted. ‘The advice was absolutely the same exactly line of conduct I had pursued at the interview. Nothing can be more dignified, candid, liberal & impartial than the whole of the letter. It…has made me quite enchanted with him.’

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

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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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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]

charles_grey_2nd_earl_grey_by_sir_thomas_lawrence_copy

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

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