Tag Archives: charlotte&leopold

Who Is Leopold? (Part 1)

Prince Leopold George Christian Frederick, the youngest child of Duke Francis of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was born on 16 December 1790. His family was descended from the eleventh-century Margraves of Meissen and Lausitz, but in the seven hundred years since then few of his ancestors had made a mark on the pages of European history […] Like most of the younger sons of the many German rulers, Leopold was educated to make his own way in the world as a soldier or a diplomat. He learned Christian ethics, Latin, Russian, French and English. He was taught to draw, to play the piano, to ride and to fence. But he was also taught to be ambitious – and for that there were plenty of role models in his family. Unlike their ancestors, the latest generations of the House of Coburg were hungry for power, position and wealth.

During the first few years of Leopold’s life his uncle Frederick was commanding an Austrian army in the Netherlands. His eldest brother Ernest, who succeeded their father as Duke, became a general in the Russian army and married an eccentric German heiress, who added the neighbouring estates of Gotha to Coburg and Saalfeld. His other brother, Ferdinand, served in the Austrian army and married even richer Hungarian princess.

The only one of his four sisters who married for love was Sophia, the eldest. Her husband was one of the many refugees who fled to Germany from France on the outbreak of the Revolution. He was only a count, but he was a rich count who had managed to bring most of his money with him, and he was a good friend to Leopold.

The other sisters married for position. Antoinette married Duke Alexander of Wurtemberg, Victoria married Prince Emich Charles of Leningen; and Julia did best of all. She married the brother of the Tsar, the Grand Duke Constantine.

With such a sister, it was not difficult for a beautiful boy to find favour and patronage at the Russian court. Leopold was enlisted as a cadet in the Imperial Guard when he was only five, soon after his sister’s wedding. In the following year he was given the honorary commission of captain. Next year he was made a colonel.

After that Julie grew tired of her husband’s cruelty and went home to Coburg. But Leopold remained a favourite with the Grand Duke and the Tsar. On 15 May 1803, when he was still only twelve, they made him a general.

to be continued …

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

Picture: Leopold I of Belgium by George Dawe, 19th century, Royal Collection.

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Charlotte Is Visiting A Monastery

Yet Charlotte was determined to enjoy her holiday and put on a brave face for all the ‘good people’ who came to look at her. For much of the time her mood was not far from the slightly hysterical merriment with which she greeted the law officers of the Crown during the melodrama at her mother’s house.

She went to performances at the Theatre Royal and the occasional ball at the Assembly Rooms; she was allowed to give dinner parties, to which she invited some of the aristocracy and gentry who came to stay in rented houses or at Ressell’s Royal Hotel. Like the General, one of the constant guests at these dinners was ‘the Great UP’, who took a house for his family on the seafront.

On one Sunday Charlotte went to church and heard the ‘Bish-UP’ preach a sermon for the very first time. ‘I never heard so weak a voice & so bad a delivery’, she wrote to Mercer. ‘It is enough to spoil the very best sermon that ever was composed.’ But this was nothing compared with the sermon preached on another Sunday by the apparently famous Dr Dupré. This preacher went on for forty-five minutes without notes with so many ‘blunders’ and ‘repetitions’ that he ‘kept the whole pew in a titter’. Fortunately Charlotte was able to turn her head and hide her giggles inside one of the large bonnets made fashionable by Grand Duchess Catherine.

There were expeditions to places of interest, such as Lulworth Castle and the monastery nearby. The monastery had been taken over by some Trappist monks who had been expelled from France during the Revolution. Charlotte rang the bell and asked to be shown round, but the porter, who was the only monk who was allowed to speak, explained that women were not allowed into the monastery. Charlotte insisted. The porter went away and spoke to the Abbot. The Abbot remembered that their rule, which excluded women, allowed the admission of royalty.

So while all the other ladies waited outside, the brightly dressed Princess was taken in among the black and white habits, shown round the monastery and its gardens and given a humble meal of milk, brown bread, vegetables and rice, which was served in wooden cups and bowls.

When she was not sailing, Charlotte’s lunch was usually whatever was available at an inn, or a picnic on a beach. At one of these picnics, on the pebbled beach between Portland and Bridport, some children climbed up from the water’s edge to the high bank above the beach, so that they could get a good look at the Princess. With each step they dislodged showers of pebbles which tumbled down towards the royal party.

Charlotte called up to them. ‘Hallo, there! Princess Charlotte is made of ginger-bread. If you do that you’ll break her.’

But Charlotte’s favourite picnics were those that were served on deck when she was sailing, at which, according to one guest, she consumed large quantities of ‘roast beef…with plenty of mustard!’

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

Picture: Monastery Farm, in the foreground, as viewed from Flower’s Barrow © Copyright Mike Searle and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence source: http://eastlulworth.org.uk/old/east_lulworth_monastery_farml.html

Charlotte Is Hesitating

She had not had a letter from August since he left England, and she could not read the old ones because she had burned them. The only news of him came from Mercer, and most of that consisted of rumours that were soon contradicted. It was not true that he had secretly married a Miss Rumbold. Nor was true that he had been appointed Governor of Saxony, which was also good news because, if he had been, he would never have been able to live in England.

Throughout the holiday Charlotte could only fantasise. She imagined August coming over and making a proposal to her father; and then she made herself anxious because she knew her father would refuse him. He would have to come over while Parliament was sitting. An appeal to Parliament would lead to a debate; a debate would be reported in the papers, and when the people read them they would be bound to support her against her father. If only August would make up his mind.

In one of her long outpourings to Mercer, however, Charlotte admitted that she was so miserable she might marry almost anyone. She would rather it was August. But if August did disappoint her, ‘The P. of S-C decidedly would be accepted by me in preference to any other Prince I have seen.’

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

Skeletons Falling From The Closet

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

Charlotte Is Allowed To Go For Holiday

For the rest of that month the principal preoccupation at the isolation lodge was the holiday that the Duke of Sussex mentioned in his questions to the Prime Minister. Charlotte, as the Duke knew, was longing for a holiday by the sea, and her doctors were all in favour of it. She really did have a sore, swollen knee, which was now so bad that they told her to stop riding, and since her arrival at Cranbourne Lodge she had been displaying symptoms of depression. The sea air, in their view, would be ideal for both. But, to everybody’s exasperation, the Prince Regent prevaricated. As Earl Grey put it in one of his letters to Mercer, ‘All the best season will be wasted before she gets to the sea-side.’

Charlotte wanted to take Mercer with her, but the Regent said no. He claimed that Mercer’s father would not allow it. Lord Keith, he said, did not want his daughter to spend too much time in isolation with Charlotte, where there would be no chance of her meeting a suitable husband.

Charlotte wanted to go to fashionable Brighton, but the Regent said no to that as well. He wanted Brighton to himself. Eventually he asked the Queen if they could borrow Gloucester Lodge, a house that she and the King owned far away in Dorset, in no longer quite so fashionable Weymouth. The Queen took her time and then said yes, reluctantly. And so, at last, with September approaching, Weymouth was chosen as the setting for Charlotte’s seaside holiday.

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

picture: Gloucester Lodge in Weymouth, source Wikipedia

Messengers Come And Go

The party was upstairs in the drawing room when Mercer arrived accompanied by ‘the Great UP’. After Charlotte’s flight, when the Prince Regent went off to join a card party at the Duke of York’s apartments, Mercer and the Bishop had agreed to go up to Connaught House and try to persuade Charlotte to come home, and Cornelia Knight had refused to come with them because she could no longer bring herself to set foot in a house that belonged to the Princess of Wales.

Mercer was invited up to the drawing room, while the Bishop was shown into the dining room. It was a pattern of precedence that was to be maintained throughout the night. Partisans of the Princess were brought straight upstairs: representatives of the Regent were at best shown into the dining room and in most cases not even admitted to the house.

The Bishop did not have to wait too long, however. He was soon sent back to find the Regent with a note from Charlotte, in which she promised to return to Warwick House provided she was allowed to see Mercer as often as she wished, and provided Miss Knight and Mrs Louis were allowed to remain members of her household.

He had not been long gone when a series of coaches and carriages arrived carrying the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the other law officers, advisers and privy councillors who had been summoned and sent out by the Regent. To Brougham’s much amused embarrassment, Charlotte merrily instructed the servants to tell them all to wait in their carriages.

Then Cornelia Knight arrived. As soon as Mercer and the Bishop had left the Warwick House she had become so anxious about Charlotte that she changed her mind. She would have come after them then and there if she could. She had sent a note to Lady Salisbury explaining the emergency and asking if she could borrow her carriage. But the carriage had not been available until after it had dropped Lady Salisbury at the opera house.

In her memoir, Cornelia Knight wrote that once she was in the drawing room she gave Charlotte her royal seal, a key and a letter that had arrived after her departure. But she did not say who it was from.

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

The Prince Regent Is Annoyed

Just before 5 p.m. on the evening of Monday, 11 July 1814, Cornelia Knight walked over from Warwick House for a meeting with the Prince Regent at Carlton House. Princess Charlotte had been summoned as well, but she had stayed behind, claiming that a sore knee prevented her from walking.

Miss Knight was anxious, the more so for being left to face the Regent on her own. A few days earlier her friend Lady Rolle had warned her that the Prince was planning changes, and had reassured her that, if she suddenly needed somewhere to stay, she would always be welcome at the Rolles London house. Since then she had learned that the Duchess of Leeds had been asked to resign. Naturally the lady companion now feared for her own position as well.

The Regent was ‘very cold, very bitter, and very silent’. He had heard that a German prince had been paying court to his daughter.

Miss Knight reassured him that Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was an honourable man. He had called only once at Warwick House and had behaved impeccably, and both she and the Duchess had been present throughout his visit.

The Regent did not disagree. He knew that Prince Leopold had behaved entirely properly. He had just received a long letter from the young Prince assuring him that his intentions were honourable and that he had only gone to Warwick House at the invitation of the Princess. The Prince about whom he complained was Prince August of Prussia.

When Miss Knight had delivered a similar but slightly less honest defence of Prince August, the Regent dismissed her and warned, that if his daughter did not come next day to explain herself, he would go to her.

Back at Warwick House, where Mercer was waiting with Charlotte, Miss Knight reported all that had been said. Charlotte and Mercer were disappointed. They had hoped that Prince Leopold was romantic enough to keep his courting a secret, and Miss Knight was dismayed to have discovered that Prince August’s courting was even less of a secret.

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