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The Labour Begins

On Monday, when the labourers returned to work on the ‘improvements’ in the park, Charlotte drove down with Leopold to inspect their progress on the home farm and the ‘Gothick Temple’.

At around seven o’clock in the evening, the contractions began. As Charlotte climbed into the big bed that stood between the windows beneath a tall chintz canopy, she made a promise to Mrs Griffiths. ‘I will neither bawl nor shreik.’

Horses were saddled and grooms stood ready to ride off and summon the Privy Councillors who were required to be present as ‘witnesses’ at a royal birth.

The contractions continued: sharp, soft, painful, but not yet effective. Sir Richard Croft and Mrs Griffiths stood by the bed. Leopold was there as well.

At midnight Charlotte began to feel nauseous. At 3.30 Croft decided that it was time to send for the witnesses. One groom galloped across to Virginia Water to fetch Dr Baillie. The others headed off into the dark towards London.

A 5.15 the first to arrive was the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, who lived in Putney. The next, at 5.45, was the Home Secretary, who lived in Richmond. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was staying with the Bishop of London in Fulham, because it was closer than Lambeth, arrived at six o’clock. The last were the two who lived in central London: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who arrived at 7.30, and the Lord Chancellor, who arrived a quarter of an hour later.

Dr Baillie, despite living at Virginia Water, no further away than Richmond, only just made it before the Lord Chancellor.

The witnesses and Dr Baillie assembled in the breakfast room, which stood beside the bedroom and led into it through a large, thick door on the other side from Leopold’s dressing room. There was nothing to report, and there was nothing to be heard. Apart from their own whispers, the only sounds were the discontented chattering and occasional squawk from Coco, Charlotte’s parrot, whose stand was in the corner.

Down in the village, the gentlemen of the press, who had heard the news from the witnesses’ servants, began to assemble at the Beat.

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

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