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Charlotte’s Heart Is Broken

Perhaps it was, after all, a good thing that she was going back to Cranbourne Lodge. The season was over at Weymouth and the place had lost its summer charm. It was too windy for sailing, and she spent far too much time by herself. She admitted that her health was better: even though her heart was broken, she looked well, and she told Lady Ashbrook that she had been trying to ride again, ‘and really it goes off better than I could have hoped, which I know you will be glad to hear’. But she went on to tell this kind friend that she had been ‘very uneasy & unhappy upon certain subjects’, and to excuse herself from writing further as she was ‘out of spirits’.

On December 16, she and her ladies set out of for Windsor. She described the journey as sad and uncomfortable. Lady Rosslyn, ‘old Cross Bones’, who always got on her nerves, sat opposite her in the carriage, ‘& really her eternal fidgets & frights nearly drove me distracted’. In any case, Charlotte was hardly in the mood to enjoy herself: two days before, she had written, ‘My hear has had a very sudden & great shock.’ On her return, a letter from Mercer awaited her, which confirmed what she had already heard: Prince August was to marry an Englishwoman, a Miss Rumbolt.

At last, quite suddenly, the wretched, pathetic dream was shattered, the bright bubble of hope vanished into thin air. Charlotte accepted that F had played her false. Her feeling, she said, was not anger or resentment, ‘it is too deep … to allow of anything else but grief’.

At the Castle, she learned a little more about her faithless lover, to whom she now always refers as Prince Augustus. ‘The Duke of Kent told me that P. Augustus was the only black sheep in the family, & que sa main gauche a était offert a tous les jolies femmes en Allemagne.’ But the black sheep’s cousin, the Duchess of York, whether or no she knew anything of Charlotte’s infatuation, gave an even more daunting account of him. His breath, she said uncompromisingly, stank. ‘Handsome as he was, there was no going near him or bearing his approaching, for that it was worse than anything ever was, & at the opera she was obliged really to get one of her brothers to change places with her for fear of being sick.’

It seems strange that this unfortunate defect was not noticed by all the jolie femmes to whom he made love; even stranger that it should have passed unnoticed by the exquisite Madame Récamier. But nothing could have been more precisely aimed to disillusion a lovesick girl.

‘I feel quite convinced,’ wrote Charlotte, ‘that regrets are of no avail … As faith was broken, confidence is gone for ever.’

Throughout the F affair the assiduous Miss Knight – banished and living with friends – had linked the lovers by receiving and forwarding letters. Charlotte dreaded that Notte (as she now always called her) would make things worse for her by reproaching the Prussian prince for his faithlessness. However, she misjudged her. Cornelia managed to smuggle Charlotte’s picture and a ring, returned by F, and wrote calmly and sadly, enclosing a letter – ‘an easy, cool, familiar, friendly letter’ in which Prince August regretfully brings the correspondence to an end. ‘If anything was further wanted to decide the affair,’ said Charlotte, ‘this does it.’

The Duchess of York, having dropped one highly-charged bombshell, followed it up with further disclosures: that, as well as having ‘horrible’ breath – was he, perhaps, too fond of garlic? – he had at least two mistresses. ‘He is not a general favourite,’ she assured her niece; in fact, nobody really liked him except his mother. If the Duchess had set out to finish the affair she could hardly have done so more efficiently. ‘Have I not echappé belle?’ Charlotte demanded of Mercer, and in the next breath went on to discuss the Prince of Saxe-Coburg.

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

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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

Princess Mary Becomes Charlotte’s Adviser

Before she left England, the Princess of Wales, with what Grey called her ‘utter want of all sense of delicacy and propriety’, wrote suggesting that Charlotte might marry Prince Frederick of Orange, Slender Billy’s younger and brighter brother, who was just then in England with his regiment. In August he was at Windsor, and took part in a review of troops by the Duke of Wellington, within sight of Cranbourne Lodge – ‘a thin young man, & rode a fine prancing horse’, said General Garth, who had been to look; but Charlotte was in a rage. ‘Can you conceive anything so indelicate,’ she demanded, ‘as bringing him down close to my house after all that has passed?’ All the same, she had climbed, ‘covered with a few pelisses’, up to the roof-top, and watched what she could see of the review through a telescope.

The papers began to hint that the younger Orange prince had been sent to woo Charlotte. ‘The newspapers are very insufferable with their nonsense about me,’ she exclaimed angrily, adding that she would never again look at anything ‘in the shape of an Orange’. Again, she inveighed against the Duke of Wellington’s indelicacy ‘in bringing him down into my neighbourhood’, and she declared, ‘The only effect this Orange siege will have upon me is that I shall become very savage at last … ‘

However, Prince Frederick showed no sign of following up his dashing equestrian exploits with a visit to Cranbourne Lodge, and Charlotte’s dull life went on as before.

One consequence of the move to Windsor was that she saw more of her grandmother and aunts, and though, as she said later, ‘they all pull different ways & I go mine’, her references to the family are for the most part more tolerant. Her unheard-of behaviour in breaking off the engagement and defying her father had caused a flutter in the Castle dovecote; and when she arrived at Cranbourne Lodge she was much on the defensive and too miserable to want to see anyone. She had no desire to confide in any of the family; but in order to clear the air on the Orange question, she decided to have a talk with Princess Mary, and hoped thus to communicate her point of view, wrapped in Mary’s careful diplomacy, to the Prince.

Her aunt received her eagerly, only too delighted to have what she called a conference upon Charlotte’s recent troubles. Cat-like, with carefully-hidden claws, Princess Mary gently drew from her niece the whole story of the broken engagement, the scene with the Regent at Warwick House and finally Charlotte’s flight, seeming impressed by her niece’s firmness and intrepidity. But she was shocked, she said, to learn that she had run away ‘from desperation’; and with a sudden volte-face declared that it was all the Prince Regent’s fault. After the engagement had been broken he should have gone to see Charlotte at once, particularly when she wrote that she was ill. Then all this would never have happened.

Before the interview ended there were one or two sharp scratches from the aunt. She hinted that politically Charlotte’s behaviour had been disastrous: the Prussians, she said,were furious with her for endangering the Dutch alliance, and the King of Prussia had declared that he would not go to say good-bye to her. But ‘I confounded her,’ said the niece, ‘by saying he had sent me his Chamberlain with a very gracious & civil message.’ Princess Mary made a quick recovery, and went on to warn Charlotte to keep away from the Duchess of York, who was still excessively angry with her.* ‘We parted after this,’ said Charlotte, who nevertheless persuaded herself that the result of this conversation was ‘really favorable’. She felt that she had made it clear that she would never, in any circumstances, be talked into a renewal of the Orange match.

Princess Mary had evidently decided to play the part of Charlotte’s friend and adviser. Unfortunately, the overplayed it, and now wrote rather patronizingly, justifying the Regent’s ‘cool and reserved manner’, and indicating that Charlotte was largely to blame. ‘Though your father is desirous of showing you all the kindness he feels towards you, you must meet him half way and be sencible [sic] your own steady conduct alone can make him place confidence in you.’ This put Charlotte’s back up. ‘I am trying to conciliate the P.R. by all good means,’ she complained to Mercer, and in a thoroughly irritable condition prepared herself to go to a fête at Frogmore. This was her first appearance in public since her flight and banishment, and she was nervous.

‘We go in two carriages,’ she said. ‘I shall take Lady Ilchester in one, and let the others go in the other.’ She wished to make her entrance alone, untrammelled by the ‘whole train of nasty ugly women’, as she rudely described her ladies.

At this party she met the Duchess of York, who, contrary to Princess Mary’s dark warnings, ‘was perfect in her manner of meeting & conducting herself towards me; nothing could be better’. The Duke of York, conscious of their last encounter, was ‘awkward in manner but not unkind’; and the Regent, whom she had dreaded meeting, ‘just spoke, & good-naturedly, (the few words he did utter)’. He was closeted with ministers most of the evening, but when he left ‘he wished me good-bye & added a my dear to it’. She hoped that she was forgiven.

By degrees she was succeeding in calming her affronted relations. The Queen, to her surprise, was ‘remarkably good-humoured & gracious’; and indeed, now that the Princess of Wales had removed herself from the scene, Queen Charlotte’s attitude to her granddaughter underwent a change, and she began to act independently of the Prince, even to the point of standing up to him in defence of Charlotte’s rights.

[…]

Towards the end of August, at ‘a very seemly little musick party’ at Frogmore, Charlotte again had a tête à tête with her Aunt Mary, who was at her most amiable. She professed herself ‘all anxiety’ for her niece to marry. ‘I see no chance for you of comfort … without your marrying,’ she said. ‘All your family should be glad if there was anything that would do …’ But it seemed, when they discussed it further, that there was nothing that would do. Charlotte ‘joked’ about Prince Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who had been the Queen’s candidate. ‘Oh God, no,’ cried Princess Mary, and added, ‘I would be the last now to recommend … anyone in particular.’ But when Charlotte, apparently joking again, mentioned Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, her aunt ‘colored not a little’ and admitted, ‘I think from what I saw of him he is a very good looking & very gentlemanlike young man.’ ‘I don’t like him,’ said Charlotte, ‘for he does not suit my taste.’ At this her aunt ‘thought a little’ and then said quietly , ‘You don’t, you don’t.’ ‘She seemed quite satisfied & cheerful again,’ said Charlotte, ‘so that I suspect there is something there with her.’ It looks as if Princess Mary, trying to pick a husband for her niece, was in fact going through the list on her own behalf as well.

A few days later, evidently in answer to an enquiry on the subject from Mercer, Charlotte declared that she had no idea whether her Aunt Mary thought of the Prince of Coburg ‘in any particular way’, but her manner seemed to show that there was ‘something or other’. Princess Sophia, questioned about this by her niece, denied all knowledge of it, but said that Leopold could never be ‘worked’ as a husband for Charlotte, as ‘he had not a shilling’.

* The Hereditary Prince of Orange was her nephew.

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

A State Prisoner

Two days after her capture, Charlotte, with the aid of her drawing master Mr. Starkey, succeeded in smuggling a pencilled letter to Mercer out of Carlton House. She was allowed neither pen, ink nor paper, but she had stolen ‘these few sheets’, and intended, she said, to pass the letter through milk, to preserve the pencil. She was writing to her uncle Sussex in the same way.

‘You have no idea of my situation,’ she wrote to Mercer. ‘Oh, God, it ought to be remedied indeed, for it is wretched, and enough to send anyone wild … I am complete prisoner, not a letter or thing could get to me except by some merciful private hand.’ Even the Bishop was a welcome visitor in her desolation: he had promised to try and see Mercer, to beg her to get permission to visit Charlotte.

‘Shall you venture,’ she enquires of her friend, ‘upon asking leave to come and see me? … Oh, I wish you would … pray, pray do it.’ She is filled with self-reproach: ‘It is I who by my mad conduct brought all this upon you’ – and she reminds herself yet again of their heartbroken parting when ‘I could not utter one single word because you could not’. The following Monday she is to be moved to Cranbourne Lodge, in Windsor Forest, where she will be even more isolated. Her new ladies, she says, ‘are stupider and duller than anything’. She did not even attempt to talk, and meals were a misery – ‘so forlorn and prisonish’ – and she thinks of the cheerful dinners at Warwick House when Mercer was with her.

She was never alone, even at night, and the atmosphere of watching and suspicion was intolerable. ‘Louis went to Warwick House for some things for me, but … Lady Ilchester went over with her and followed her everywhere she went … and told her there must be no talking or messages with the servants.’

In spite of inflicting this heavy punishment upon his daughter, the Regent was all charm when they met. ‘I heartily begged his pardon for my rash act,’ she said, and he told her that he had forgiven her.”He cried a vast deal,’ she said, ‘did not know what to do for me, but would try & not make my life miserable.’ But the mention of Mercer, she said, drew from her ‘a violent shower of tears’. Altogether, it was a tearful scene, but hardly a constructive one for Charlotte’s future.

On July 18 the Princess moved from Carlton House to Cranbourne Lodge. To her surprise she found the house ‘very cheerful & very good, the view lovely’. She felt it was ‘an honourable retreat … and very far superior to Lower Lodge’. But there was no lessening of restrictions, and she could not shake off her wardresses. ‘Lady Ilchester is best,’ she wrote, ‘I don’t like Campbell at all.’ A week later she changed her mind: Mrs. Campbell was trying to please her and displayed ‘diffidence and delicacy’. But Lady Rosslyn she could never abide: she nicknamed her ‘Famine’ and ‘Vixen’, and her two dim nieces, the Misses Coates, were dubbed ‘the Consequences’. ‘The old one’ (Lady Rosslyn), she wrote, ‘is as detestable an old lump of bones as ever was, never seems good-humoured or pleased, & is always listening to what is going on … ‘

On receiving Charlotte’s pencilled note from Carlton House, the Duke of Sussex composed a letter to the Prime Minister. Princess Charlotte, he said, was being treated as a State Prisoner. Her health was suffering, and her doctors had prescribed sea bathing as vitally important to her recovery. He demanded permission to visit her.

Two days later, on July 19, having received no reply, he got up in the House of Lords, and put five questions, devised by Brougham, to Lord Liverpool. He wished to know, he said, if the Princess is allowed to receive her friends as usual; if she is able to write and receive letters. Is she actually under the restraint of imprisonment? Did not her doctors, a year ago, prescribe a yearly visit to the seaside as necessary to her health? And lastly, now that she passed the age when by Law she is fit to govern, what steps have been taken towards providing her with an Establishment suitable to her rank, and to the part she will soon have to perform?

The questions were pertinent, and embarrassing.

Lord Liverpool refused to answer, on the grounds that the points raised by the Duke ‘would bear by implication a disagreeable appearance as uninvited as it was unnecessary’.

‘Old Bags’, the Lord Chancellor, who was largely responsible for the Regent’s restrictions on Charlotte, ‘administered a rebuke.’ But Sussex, undeterred, said that he would raise the subject again. Before he finally sat down he begged to address the Woolsack, quoting Bacon – he believed it was Bacon – on the importance to man of reading, writing and conversation, and pointing out that ‘retirement, coercion and seclusion were not the means to instruct and give Princess Charlotte of Wales the most favorable idea of the beauty and advantages of the glorious constitution of this country, over which she was one day, please God, to rule’.

Perhaps it is not surprising that after this the Regent refused to meet his brother Sussex again.

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

Restrictions Are Imposed

But he [The Prince Regent] was by no means satisfied with her [Miss Knight’s] apology for Charlotte’s absence at this interview. He would expect to see her to see her the following day, between two and three, he said, unless Dr. Baillie came and said that she was absolutely incapable of walking from Warwick House.

That night Charlotte sent a note to Mercer, begging her to come ‘as early as possible to me tomorrow’. Her friend had been with her when Miss Knight returned from the Regent, and knew of Charlotte’s reluctance to go to Carlton House next day. The doctors, wrote Charlotte, were to meet, ‘if possible to prevent my going’. She explained that far from avoiding a meeting with her father, she was most anxious to see him: but she was convinced that if once she set foot in Carlton House she would be kept there. The plan, she said, ‘is to be a sudden one, when once there to keep me, and not to allow my return’. She had heard rumours, through the Duke of Sussex, and later through Lady Jersey, of the Prince’s plans, which – tinged though they are with the melodrama of Gothic fiction – were frightening enough to put her on her guard against every move of the Regent and his ministers.

‘Whatever is done is to be sudden,’ she wrote. ‘Tomorrow may probably be my last day, God knows, in this house.’

She knew now that Cornelia would be removed from her and that in itself was misery, for ‘no letters perhaps will reach’ – no letters from Prince August, sent to Warwick House under cover to Miss Knight. She knew that there were to be new ladies, both elderly: one of these, Lady Ilchester, ‘appointed for certain’, had been the Queen’s Lady of the Bedchamber; and Mrs. Campbell, who had been Charlotte’s sub-governess, was to return. Charlotte did not like her. The very air of Warwick House was heavy with rumours, and the Princess, tormented by the pain in her knee, dreading the materialization of her fears, felt herself dogged and haunted by sorrows which she could not escape. ‘I dread everything & I know not why I fancy horrors in every one and thing round me.’

The next day, though Dr. Baillie said that she was perfectly capable of walking up to Carlton House, she felt too ill and wretched to go, and wrote to her father, begging that he would come to her. He kept her waiting till six in the evening, when he arrived, attended by the Bishop, whom he left with Miss Knight while he interviewed Charlotte alone. After three quarters of an hour the Bishop was summoned, and Cornelia waited on tenterhooks for the session to end. After another fifteen minutes, the door burst open. Charlotte rushed out ‘in the greatest agony’. She had but one instant, she said, to speak to Cornelia, the Prince had asked for her and was waiting. She then broke the news, which was as bad as she could have imagined. The ‘new ladies’ – Lady Ilchester, Lady Rosslyn and Mrs. Campbell – were already in the house. Miss Knight was to be dismissed, she said, and so were all the servants. Warwick House was to be given up, and Charlotte was to be kept for five days at Carlton House, after which she was to be taken to Cranbourne Lodge in the middle of Windsor Forest, where she would see nobody except the Queen once a week. Growing even more frantic, she added that if she did not go immediately to Carlton House, as she had been commanded, the Prince would sleep that night at Warwick House, as well as the ladies. In other words, Princess Charlotte was a prisoner.

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