Charlotte, her ladies and her servants set out from Windsor for the town of Weymouth in a column of coaches on Friday, 9 September.
If she had forgotten the warmth of the crowd’s reception on the day when her father opened Parliament, she was soon reminded. She was still the most popular member of the royal family. ‘Wherever I changed horses’, she told Mercer, ‘there were people assembled to see me, & they all looked good humoured and took off their hats’. She stopped in Andover for an early dinner and then drove on to spend the night at the Antelope Inn in Salisbury, where, she was delighted to report, the ‘Bish-UP’, as usual, was not in residence. She had to press through the crowd to get from her carriage to the inn, and in answer to their calls, she stood at her bedroom window for a long time with a candle held up so that they could see her.
Next day the party drove on through crowded towns and villages towards Weymouth. They stopped for dinner at Puddletown, where General Garth*, who had gone ahead of them, had rented a house for himself. There was a young boy running around in the house, and the General, who said he was his adopted nephew Tom, told Charlotte after dinner that the boy would be ‘much mortified’ if she did not take notice of him. ‘A heart of steel could not have refused that’, wrote Charlotte, ‘for a more lovely boy was never beheld’.
Skinny old Lady Rosslyn and her nieces, whom Charlotte was now calling ‘Famine and the Consequences’, were no longer in the room by then, but Lady Ilchester and Mrs Campbell were still there, and they were both shocked that the General had introduced the boy to the Princess.
If not also shocked, Charlotte was at least taken aback when she was told his true identity. Tom’s mother was her favourite aunt, Princess Sophia, and General Garth was his father.
In the course of the next week all the ladies were surprised by the extent to which the strict old General spoiled the boy. He even allowed him to stay on for a few days after the new term had started at Harrow. But now that Charlotte knew who he was – and the General clearly knew that she knew – it was embarrassing for her to have him around. Everyone in Weymouth seemed to know who he was as well. People even gathered to have a look at him when he was taken into town to have his hair cut. As she told Mercer, Charlotte suspected that the General was making her uncomfortable on purpose, probably because it was an indirect way of getting his own back on her aunt for having spurned both him and their son. It was not Tom’s fault, but Charlotte was relieved when he did at last go back to school.
* General Thomas Garth (1744–1829) was a British Army officer and chief equerry to King George III. He was added to Charlotte’s entourage when she moved in to Cranbourne Lodge.
[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]
Picture: Princess Sophia by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1825, Royal Collection