[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