Tag Archives: claremont

Leopold Is Grief-Stricken

[On November 6th] as at Charlotte’s birth, the night was filled suddenly with the sound of galloping horses. From Claremont the news was carried to London, and from there, far and wide, breaking over the country like a tidal wave ‘The Princess Charlotte is dead’. The blow was shattering. Such hopes had been placed upon her and her child, such a golden prospect had seemed to lie ahead if Charlotte succeeded to the throne. ‘It really was,’ said Brougham, ‘as if every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child.’

Throughout the land, instead of the joyful peals of bells that had been expected, everywhere a melancholy tolling announced the news. The whole kingdom went into deep mourning: linen drapers ran out of supplies of black cloth; houses and shops were draped in black. Even tramps and beggars tied black rags around their sleeves.

In London, all the theatres were closed; as were the Low Courts, the Royal Exchange, and the docks. Even gambling houses decided to shut down on the day of the funeral, ‘as a proper mark of respect’.

At Claremont, Leopold mourned. Everything he saw reminded him poignantly, agonizingly, of Charlotte. Nothing in her room, he ordered, was to be moved: her bonnet and pelisse, flung down when she returned from her last walk, her boots, her watch left on the chimney-piece, all were to remain untouched. He wandered, a melancholy figure, through the grounds, visiting the places where they had sketched or botanized together, pausing to gaze at the Gothic summer-house which she had planned, which would now be finished as her mausoleum. Below it was a little garden, planted with flowers that she had chosen; it would be known always as Charlotte’s garden. Like Queen Victoria in a similar plight, he was obsessed by his memories; he could only live in the past.

It is true to say that Leopold never fully recovered. He took a mistress (because she reminded him of Charlotte), and offered her morganatic marriage. She consoled Charlotte’s neglected parrot, but she could not console Leopold for long. He married again, and had children; he became King of the Belgians and Queen Victoria’s ‘dearest Uncle’; but without Charlotte he was incomplete. It was as though he had lost his heart.

When he was an old man Stockmar wrote in his reminiscences, ‘November saw the ruin of this happy home, and the destruction at one blow of every hope and happiness of Prince Leopold. He has never recovered the feelings of happiness which had blessed his short married life.’

Charlotte’s death, unexplained and totally unexpected, may be said to have altered Leopold’s whole life: indeed, it seemed at the time that it would alter the whole future of the dynasty. But Providence, so often invoked by the Regent, in its inscrutable way rearranged the pattern, and in due course Victoria and Albert fulfilled the hopes which had been placed upon Charlotte and Leopold.

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

Picture: A marble monument by Matthew Cotes Wyatt for Princess Charlotte on her grave in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle http://en.wahooart.com/@@/8Y3MAW-Matthew-Cotes-Wyatt-Cenotaph-to-Princess-Charlotte

Charlotte’s Funeral

In a nation still sunk in economic depression, the focus for hope had been taken away. But for the time being the people were still united, although it was only grief that united them. Public buildings were draped in black. Everyone who could afford it was dressed in black. Even the most destitute unemployed labourers were wearing ragged black armbands. Every place of worship, whatever the religion, prepared to hold a memorial service. Shops, most of which still displayed the portraits of Charlotte and Leopold that had been put there for their wedding, closed for business and they, when they opened again, filled their windows with mementoes – glass, pottery, porcelain, pewter, all engraved or crudely painted with Charlotte rising through an escort of angels to take her place in the heavenly palace. A fund was established to pay for a fitting marble memorial, and the poor were as eager to contribute as the rich: among the long list of ‘subscribers’ there is an unnamed child who gave sixpence. The national grief and sentimental melancholy were unprecedented. No monarch, no minister, no national hero had ever been so deeply mourned as ‘the Beloved Princess’.

(…)

On 15 November Charlotte’s heavy state coffin was delivered to Claremont. It was made of mahogany, studded in gold and covered in crimson velvet. The little Prince’s coffin was smaller, with silver studs instead of gold. The simple inner coffins were placed inside them. The urn containing the child’s heart was wrapped in velvet.

In the early evening of 18 November a black carriage drawn by six black horses set off down the drive for Windsor carrying the little Prince and his heart. Charlotte followed in a hearse drawn by eight black horses with tall black plumes. Leopold rode in the carriage behind, accompanied only by Dr Short.

They were escorted by a squadron of the 10th Hussars. At Egham the Hussars were relieved, and the escort for the rest of the journey was provided by the Royal Horse Guards. It was late and dark when they arrived in Windsor. While Charlotte was installed in Lower Lodge, her son was laid in his temporary resting place in the Royal Vault in St George’s Chapel. When the short service was over, Leopold went down to the lodge and spent the rest of the night, as usual, sitting beside Charlotte.

Next day Charlotte lay in state at Lower Lodge. At eight o’clock in the evening her heavy coffin was carried up to St George’s Chapel by eight Yeomen of the Guard, one of whom injured his spine under the strain and died soon afterwards. Leopold walked behind them, his solemn face streaked with tears. Behind Leopold came the Royal Dukes of York, Clarence, Cumberland and Sussex. Behind the Dukes came the Cabinet, then the Archbishops, the Bishops, the officers of state and all the members of the royal households. On either side, in front of huge silent crowds, their path was lined by foot guards and lit by the burning torches that were carried by every fourth guardsman instead of a reversed musket.

The Prince Regent was not there. Nor was the Queen. He was moping in Carlton House, and she and her sobbing daughters were in her apartments nearby in the castle, listening to the bells and the muffled drums.

The service, which was disrupted at the outset by a few squabbles over seating, lasted until eleven o’clock. When it was over, Leopold waited in the deanery until the congregation had dispersed. Then he went down with Dr Short and stayed praying for a long time in the Royal Vault, where his wife and son were to remain until the tomb and the memorial that the people were buying for them were ready.

In the weeks that followed, Leopold lived alone and inconsolable at Claremont. On 16 December Sir Thomas Lawrence came down to deliver the finished portrait of Charlotte. When they saw it, the entire household burst into tears. Leopold, said Lawrence, ‘was greatly affected’ and spoke to him in ‘that low subdued voice that you know to be the effort at composure’.

In his precise English accent, the Prince lamented:

Two generations gone. Gone in a moment! I have felt for myself, but I have felt for the Prince Regent. My Charlotte is gone from this country – it has lost her. She was good, she was an admirable woman. None could know my Charlotte as I did know her! It was my happiness, my duty to know her character, but it was my delight!

Meanwhile, public sorrow evolved into recrimination. The press blamed the Queen and the Prince Regent for not being with Charlotte when she died, although, had they known it, Charlotte had said that she did not want them at birth. They blamed the doctors, and some of the doctors blamed themselves. Sir Richard Croft, who may already have been contemplating suicide, wrote to Stockmar, ‘May God grant that neither you nor any connected with you may suffer what I do at this moment.’*

*He indeed committed suicide three months after Charlotte’s death.

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

Painting: The Apotheosis of Princess Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales (1796-1817) by Henry Howard, RA, 1818, Petworth House and Park, West Sussex, London and South East, National Trust http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/486162

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]

The Child Is Stillborn

In the bedroom at Claremont, Charlotte’s sporadic contractions continued ineffectively throughout the day. By seven o’clock in the evening she was tired and hungry. She had had no sleep for thirty-six hours and nothing to eat for twenty-four. But pain and Sir Richard would allow her neither. Sometimes she walked up and down in front of the fire, leaning on Leopold’s arm. Sometimes she lay on the bed. Sometimes Leopold lay beside her. And sometimes she reached out and absent-mindedly played with his hair, as though no one else was there.

In the breakfast room, Dr Baillie, who had not yet been allowed to see the patient, received regular reports, reassuring him that all was going well. But at ten o’clock Croft came out, took him into the bedroom and told him that he might need to use forceps.

A groom was sent galloping up to London to fetch Dr Sims. He arrived at 2 a.m. on the following morning.

At 8.15 Croft and Sims came into the breakfast room and informed the witnesses that the Princess was making good but gradual progress and that they now hoped it would not be necessary to risk the use of forceps.

The hours went by. By now Charlotte was always in bed.

At around six o’clock in the evening, meconium, a child’s first faeces, which usually appear after birth, oozed out onto the sheets. It was the first sign that the baby was in distress.

In the course of the next three hours Charlotte gave birth to a boy. He was, as suspected, dead. The doctor and the accoucheur tried every trick they knew to revive him. They plunged him in a bath of warm water. They rubbed him with mustard. They rubbed him with salt. But it was to no avail.

Charlotte had kept her promise. She had neither bawled nor shrieked, and now, heartbroken and exhausted after fifty hours of labour, she kept it still. She bore it all, said Baillie, ‘with a Brunswick heart’. While Mrs Griffiths and the maids around her wept, it was Charlotte who tried to comfort them.

At 9 p.m. the witnesses were informed that Her Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte had been delivered of a still-born son. In keeping with custom, Mrs Griffiths carried in the little corpse for their inspection.

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

Silence Before The Storm

When the newspapers reported that Sir Thomas Lawrence had left Claremont and returned to London, they still expected that, as the doctors had predicted, the Princess would give birth on 19 October. But 19 October came and went and all that they could say was that the Princess was still in the best health and driving out daily in her little phaeton.

The Queen was waiting for news at Windsor, hoping to visit Charlotte and her baby as soon as possible after the birth. But she had not been well for some time and on Saturday, 2 November, she went down to take the waters at Bath.

By then the Prince Regent had gone to stay with his mistress Lady Hertford and her husband at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire.

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

The following day [November 2] was a Sunday, and Charlotte, indomitable, drove out in her pony chaise. It was a lovely day, with all the colours of autumn displayed in the sunshine. After the drive, Charlotte and Leopold went to morning service in the chapel, which was filled with as usual with attendants and staff. The Princess cannot have been tired, for after the service she drove out again, with the devoted Leopold beside her. But her long-drawn-out pregnancy was becoming very wearisome, and she did not know that she had only one more day to wait, only one more drive round the estate, one more inspection of the work on the Home Farm and the building of her Gothic summer house.

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

Charlotte Sits To Sir Thomas Lawrence

And so it was that Charlotte, without he stays, sat to Sir Thomas Lawrence at the beginning of October, only a few weeks before the birth. Lawrence, who nearly twenty years before, had painted Charlotte and her mother at Blackheath, now spent nine days at Claremont, working on the new portrait, which Charlotte intended as a birthday present for her husband. The artist, accustomed to study faces, had an opportunity to scrutinize the Princess whom he had not seen since her infancy, and his account of her and her tranquil life with Leopold is, at this point, reassuring.

‘Their mode of life,’ he said, ‘is very regular. They breakfast together alone about eleven: at half past she came in to sit for me, accompanied by Prince Leopold, who stayed great part of the time. About three she would leave the painting room to take her airing round the grounds in a low phaeton with her ponies, the Prince always walking by her side …’ At five, she sat for Lawrence again, and the whole household dined together at soon after seven. After dessert, the Prince and Princess went together into the drawing-room, where they played and sang together – ‘sitting at the pianoforte, often on the same stool …’ But when the company joined them, they broke off, and, after coffee, everybody played cards, the Prince and Princess being always partners.

There was no doubt, Leopold had tamed her. Princess Charlotte, said Lawrence, ‘had nothing of the hoyden, or of that boisterous hilarity which has been ascribed to her’, and he was charmed by her straight-forward honesty, and something about her which reminded him of ‘the good King, her grandfather’.

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

Doctors Are Chosen But Some Bad Omens Appear

The optimism of the press and the market was not always shared by those who saw Charlotte, however. Lady Holland described ‘strange abnormal symptoms’. Several people said the Princess was so large that she was likely to have twins, and the Queen, who had as much experience of pregnancy as almost anyone, said that ‘her figure was so immense (to me not natural) that I could not help being uneasy to a considerable degree’.

Before setting out on a visit to Rome, Lady Ashbrook, who had grown close to Charlotte while they were both on holiday in Weymouth, called at Claremont and strongly recommended that she should engage Sir William Knighton as ‘accoucheur’. Knighton was a highly qualified physician who had studied at Aberdeen and Edinburgh. He had been made a baronet by Charlotte’s father, whom he had attended on a number of occasions, and he was widely regarded as by far the best ‘accoucheur’ in England.

When Lady Ashbrook returned from Rome, however, she discovered to her impotent anguish that Sir William had not been appointed. Dr Baillie, who, as the King’s Physician Extraordinary, was to be in charge of Charlotte’s confinement, had chosen his own brother-in-law, Sir Richard Croft, instead.

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

Three doctors were in charge of the Princess: Sir Richard Croft, Dr. Matthew Baillie, the Royal Physician, and Dr. John Sims, who was appointed as consultant to Sir Richard, and was ready to use instruments if the birth proved difficult. According to Sir Eardley Holland, who in 1952 published a profound and detailed study of Charlotte’s case, this appointment is open to discussion. Sims was an eminent botanist as well as a physician, but ‘one wonders,’ writes Sir Eardley, ‘how much time Sims had left for midwifery’. There were, he adds, at least three skilful doctors in London who would have been better fitted for the job.

Stockmar, who was Leopold’s resident physician, resolutely refused to be appointed, or to undertake any part of the treatment, such as bleeding. He believed that if anything were to go wrong, he, as a foreigner, would be blamed.

Sir Richard Croft was fifty-five, a fashionable accoucheur, who had attended the Duchess of Devonshire at the birth of her son, the sixth Duke, who was to become Charlotte’s admirer and friend. Stockmar describes Sir Richard as ‘a long thin man, no longer very young’ (the staff at Claremont called him ‘the old gentleman’), ‘fidgetty and good-natured, and,’ he adds drily, ‘seems to have more experience than either learning or understanding’. Croft had firm theories about pre-natal treatment, and prescribed for Charlotte, who had a healthy appetite, a very plain and frugal diet. He wanted to reduce her weight: so she was blooded and purged; she was also ordered to remove her stays. ‘A cow,’ he asserted, ‘does not wear stays; why should the Princess Charlotte?’

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

Picture: Matthew Baillie (1761–1823), F.R.S., after Hoppner by Henry Bone, 1817, Metropolitan Museum of Art