Tag Archives: ernest I duke of saxe-coburg and gotha

Leopold Is Writing To The Prince Regent

It was ‘en grande uniforme’ that he called upon Princess Charlotte at Warwick House: he greatly admired her, was well aware of her exalted position as Heiress Presumptive to the throne of England, and wished to make the best possible impression. When she drove out in the Park, he would follow her, ride near her open carriage, and ‘endeavour to be noticed’. He was already acquainted with Miss Mercer, and it was under her banner that he presented himself at Warwick House. Here, according to Miss Knight, he showered the Princess with compliments; but ‘there were reasons’, she added mysteriously, ‘why this matter was by no means agreeable to Princess Charlotte’. Those reasons, needles to say, were Charlotte’s feelings for Prince August of Prussia, which Miss Knight so vehemently condoned, thereby causing her own downfall. It may be remembered that poor Miss Knight, during a stormy interview with the Prince Regent just before her dismissal, blurted out a defence of the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, whom she was using as a red herring. The Regent saw what she was up to and waved aside her excuses: Prince Leopold, he said, was a most honourable young man: and had written him a letter which perfectly justified his conduct.

The Regent’s letter from Prince Leopold had obviously been composed with a great deal of thought, and in the carefully-worded phrases of a seasoned diplomat, assured the Prince Regent that Leopold regretted any indiscretion he may have committed by visiting (at her invitation) the Princess Charlotte at Warwick House. He recounted enthusiastically his first meeting with the Princess, on the back stairs of Pulteney’s Hotel, where he was hanging about waiting for an audience to bid farewell to the Tsar. (Here he put in a tactful word to the effect that his parting from the Regent’s detested Grand Duchess was not very tender, since she had jilted his brother, Prince Ernest.) ‘Princess Charlotte,’ he said-returning to the encounter on the back stairs, ‘condescended to take my arm, and to allow me to escort her to her carriage; and she told me that I had not been at all polite, not having called upon her… She hoped that if I made a longer stay I should be more polite in the future.’

It was this invitation that he had responded, cutting short a visit to the Opera to pay his respects at Warwick House, where Charlotte had received him, in the presence of the Duchess of Leeds, with ‘beaucoup de bienveillance’. He stayed, he said, for about three-quarters of an hour, and then, perceiving that the Princess was unwell, he took his leave.

But afterwards he began to think that he had made a faux pas: the Dutch engagement had so very recently been broken off, and alone in his Marylebone lodgings he wondered if perhaps he had been too bold, too precipitate. He saw now that it was not the time for what he called ‘les plus petits mots de plus’. All he wished to do, at this stage, was to leave a good impression, and a word (to Count Münster*) to the effect that, when the time came, he would be ready, if summoned, to return.

It was a curiously pompous, fussy letter from a young man of twenty-four, but it worked wonders with the Regent, leaving a favourable impression which had not faded when, early in 1815, Mercer reported from Brighton that the Prince had spoken highly to Lord Keith of the ‘P of S-C’. Charlotte was overjoyed. ‘Il me fait un plaisir aimable the P.R. having named & done justice in so handsome a way … to P. S-C’s name & conduct, too.’ She was convinced that before he left England this prince had offered himself to the Regent as her suitor, and had been refused, because it was stupid time to do it, ‘when common sence & prudence ought to have told him that he or any man that tried would be rejected’. But she considered that he should have chanced his luck with her first. ‘If however he continues in favour with the P.R., it is not impossible he may still succeed.’ In fact, she had made up her mind to marry him.

‘I have perfectly decided & made up my mind to marry,’ she announced, ‘and the person I have as decidedly fixed on is Prince Leopold.’ She was convinced, she said, that he would make her tolerably comfortable & happy, which she had never felt when engaged to the Prince of Orange. She was encouraged by the attitude of the Royal Family, who all, in the absence at Brighton of the Regent, supported her in her choice. The Queen was all graciousness and good humour; and Charlotte learned that she was ‘monstrously provoked with the Prince for ‘thinking any more of the P.O. business’. He was spending far too much time at Brighton, said his mother, without doing any business. He lingered there with Lady Hertford, and prohibited his Ministers from coming to him, though there were two important matters to be settled at once, the Corn Bill** and the Income Tax***.

* Hanoverian Minister of State – now resident in England.
** Prohibiting importation of corn while the price at home was below 80s. a quarter.
*** It was reduced from two shillings in the pound to one shilling.

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

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Who Is Leopold? (Part 2)

Two years later, when Napoleon advanced against the armies of Austria and Russia, intrepid, fourteen-year-old Leopold set out to turn his honorary commission into a real one. But he arrived too late. Two days after he reached the Russian headquarters, news came that the allies had been crushed at Austerlitz.

Leopold went home. In the following year, when Napoleon went to war with Prussia, Coburg was overrun and plundered by the French. There was no resistance. Leopold’s father, the Duke, was already on his deathbed; his eldest brother, the heir, who had gone to join the Prussian army, was also in bed, immobilised by typhoid fever.

The Duke died. The French took over the government of his duchy and incorporated it into the Confederation of Rhine. Coburg became the part of the French Empire.

Since the new Duke was still in bed a hundred and fifty miles away, his formidable mother took up his cause. She demanded an audience with Napoleon. When he refused, she turned to the Tsar, who was then in the process of changing sides and was about to become Napoleon’s ally. The Tsar agreed to help. One of the terms of the treaty that he signed with Napoleon in Tilsit, on 7 July 1807, was that Coburg, while remaining pert of the Confederation, was to be restored to the rule of young Duke Ernest.

As soon as he recovered from his fever, Ernest went to thank Napoleon at his headquarters in Dresden. He was received warmly. The Emperor even promised to increase the size of his duchy by adding a large part of Bayreuth to it. But within weeks of his homecoming, Ernest was on the edge of bankruptcy. Even with the additional income from Gotha, which he had acquired through his wife, his ruined estates in Coburg and Saalfeld were incapable of providing enough revenue to pay for all the soldiers that Napoleon was demanding for his army. So Ernest decided to follow the Emperor to Paris and remind him of his promise and, knowing that good looks and charm were advantages diplomatically as well as socially, he took his brother Leopold with him.

They arrived in Paris on 14 October. Napoleon was not there. The Palace of the Tuileries was occupied by no one but guards and servants. While they waited, however, the brothers were received out at Malmaison by the Empress Josephine, and it was there that Leopold was introduced to her beautiful daughter Hortense.

Leopold was then two months short of his seventeenth birthday, and Hortense was twenty-four. She was married to Napoleon’s brother Louis, the King of Holland, but she had left him and come back to live with her mother, and she was still in mourning for a baby son who had died suddenly five months earlier. Over the next few days, the unhappy Queen of Holland consoled herself by seducing the handsome Prince from Coburg.

Meanwhile Ernest had met a famous Greek beauty, Pauline Panam. For almost six months, Ernest and Leopold stayed in Paris with nothing to do but enjoy the company of Pauline and Hortense.

At last, in March 1808, the French Emperor returned to his capital. Before setting out again for Spain, he granted a brief audience to the brothers from Coburg. It was not a success. Napoleon remembered his promise to Ernest but did nothing to fulfil it, and when Leopold asked to be taken onto his staff as an aide-de-camp, he declined to decide one way or the other. There were, however, dozens of young princes looking for jobs on the Emperor’s staff in 1808, and at least Leopold was one of the few who left an impression on him. In Napoleon’s opinion, Prince Leopold was the handsomeest man who ever set foot in the Tuileries.

In terms of position and wordly wealth, the brothers left Paris empty-handed. But they were both the richer in experience, and Ernest had something to show for it as well. He was accompanied by Pauline Panam, ‘la belle Greque’. To avoid any chance of scandal, she travelled dressed as a man. When they reached the city of Coburg, she was set up discreetly on a farm nearby, where, a few months later, she give birth to a child.

to be continued …

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

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.