There was no question of the young couple getting to know each other better before their marriage: they were firmly kept apart. They wrote to each other, he at Brighton, she at Cranbourne Lodge. The Regent was determined that there should be no repetition of the Orange fiasco, and accordingly, while Charlotte was at Brighton for a few days, in March, he arranged that they should never meet, except at dinner, and were never to be left alone together. When they met, the Queen or the Regent was always in the room; but their conversations, said Charlotte, was not restricted. As they murmured together in low voices, no doubt taking care not to be overheard, Charlotte managed, with an effort, to introduce the thorny subject of Hesse, on which the Regent had insisted that she should unburden herself. She did so, ‘after much difficulty’, and was profoundly relieved by Leopold’s acceptance of her story. ‘He took it uncommonly well,’ she told Mercer, ‘and was v. kind as he saw me so distressed.’ But he could not hide his horrified dismay at the part played in the affair by the Princess of Wales. ‘We did not say much about my mother,’ said Charlotte, but the Prince indicated delicately that he was well aware of her vagaries, and pitied Charlotte’s situation, torn as she was between loyalty to her mother and duty to her father. No wonder that she was emotional and excitable: but he would do all in his power, he promised, to soothe and calm her. She was profoundly grateful to Leopold. ‘Take him altogether he is a very dear creature.’
There was the question of money to be settled in Parliament: the Heiress Presumptive and her husband were treated with generosity by Lords Castlereagh and Liverpool, who proposed an income of of £ 50,000, with an extra £ 10,000 to be assigned to Princess Charlotte ‘for her separate and personal expences’. They were also to receive the capital sum of £ 10,000 for jewels, £ 10,000 for personal equipment and £ 40,000 for furniture, plate, &c.
It seemed that they would be comfortably off. But Charlotte considered that their Establishment, which was being arranged by the Regent on the lines of his own, was far too large and expensive. ‘I fear the P.R. … does not consider how far £ 50,000 will go, as they talk of tacking us on a quantity of people wh. will be too much, and must be reduced afterwards.’ And she added proudly that Coburg had a horror of ‘getting into debt & so on’. ‘I have insisted vehemently,’ she announced, ‘upon no extravagance, waste, or debts.’ Eight footmen, she thought, was too many: six would be quite enough, if they were going to afford ‘town & country carriages, riding coachmen &c.’ She was going to give up riding herself, she said. She had not ridden for some time, ‘and don’t much care about it’. But clearly the real reason was that ‘he does not very much like a ladies riding; he thinks it too violent an exercise’.
The younger Charlotte, whose chief pleasure had been to gallop through Windsor Park at top speed, would not have submitted so meekly to this curb: already Leopold’s influence was apparent. It was felt, too, in a slight coolness between Charlotte and Mercer. It was inevitable that the coming of Coburg should alter their relationship, that Charlotte’s devotion to her ‘beloved Marguerite’ should suffer a shock, and the first tremor was felt immediately. At the end of Charlotte’s letter describing ecstatically her first meeting with the prince, she wrote:
‘I must not forget to tell you that I am desired by him to scold you for your intimacy with Flahaud. He knows him personally, & disapproves highly of him, & thinks his acquaintance is likely to do you no good …’
This warning was not well received. The Comte de Flahault had been Napoleon’s aide-de-camp, and later became French Ambassador in London: he was ostracized by Lady Hertford and her set, but admired by Mercer, who eventually, to her father’s great grief, married him. Leopold’s warning may have been well-intentioned and timely, but it angered Miss Elphinstone. Charlotte made repeated efforts to appease her. ‘You know I must love you always just as much & just the same … For God sake do not fancy I ever was or am in the least angry with your intimacy with Flahaud … You know how much I love you, & that I can ill bear anything like an interruption to an intimacy that has constituted so many years of my happiness.’
In her anxiety to repair the broken friendship, Charlotte went too far. She even sent Mercer copies of Leopold’s letters. ‘I have had another very wise letter from him wh. I will send, but for God in Heaven’s sake never let it be known or suspected I ever showed you any of his or else I know he would not like it & would be angry probably.’
But in spite of all Charlotte’s efforts to revive it, the long intimacy would never be quite the same: there was a subtle difference created by the presence, even at a distance, of Leopold, and the Regent, who had never liked Mercer, was quick to take advantage of the situation.
‘Coburg,’ wrote Charlotte, ‘has a great horror of appearing ungrateful & insensible to you & your kindness, but yet I see the P. R. has been putting him on his guard, & putting into his head about female friends … & of my having more confidence in & being more guided by them than by him.’
[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Holme]