Tag Archives: frederick the great

Charlotte Meets Prince August

Among the numerous foreign princes who danced and clicked their heels in the victory celebrations was one who appeared to Charlotte’s inexperienced eyes quite perfect. He was thirty-five, but that did not trouble her. He had been invited to London on account of his bravery at the Battle of Leipzig, and throughout the French campaign. Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich August von Preussen, to give him his full name, was the son of Prince Ferdinand*, the youngest brother of Frederick the Great. In compliment to their valiant uncle all Prince Ferdinand’s children were baptized Frederick or Frederica, which must have caused some confusion in the nursery, but later the first name was dropped. Charlotte adds to the confusion by referring to her prince as ‘F’ in her letters, for there were crops of Fredericks all over Europe, and this one was generally known as August.

He was a distinguished soldier; handsome in a conventional military way, tall, and with a figure that looked its best in uniform. Poor Dutch William must have looked plain and shrimp-like beside him. An experienced philanderer, he had little difficulty in winning Charlotte’s vulnerable heart. He probably saw her for the first time at Carlton House when, as William had noted, she was ‘in great beauty’; and after this they met clandestinely and often. It would not have been difficult for Prince August to capture her imagination with stories of his glamorous career.

‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her, that she did pity them.’

But did he? Charlotte, deluded as she was, believed their passion to be mutual, and for ever. She hung upon his every word: they exchanged rings. He swore that when he returned to Prussia he would write. And romantic, misguided, idiotic Miss Knight, enthusiastically encouraging what she believed was to be a grande passion, offered to receive and pass on his letters.

She could hardly have back a less suitable horse. Prince August was a notorious womanizer, and had begotten several children in Prussia. In 1807 he fell violently in love with the famous beauty, Madame Récamier, whom he met at Madame de Staël’s house, the Château de Coppet. She had been married for fourteen years to a banker Jacques Récamier, who was impotent; at Prince August’s request she wrote to her husband, begging him to release her. His reply, imploring her not to leave him, touched her heart, and Prince August was obliged to give her up, which he did with some bitterness and in indifferent French, ‘Je vous prie de ne plus m’écrire: vos lettres me font trop de mal. Adieu pour le dernière fois.’ He never forgot her. He had his portrait painted with her picture by Gerard in the background, and he is said to have spent hours gazing at her reclining, semi-nude beauty.

However, according to his biographer, Friedrich von Oppeln-Bronikows[k]i (Liebesgeschichten am Preussischen Hofe, Berlin 1928) he did not despair because of that unfulfilled love, but had one affair after another, or sometimes several at a time. ‘His harem,’ it was said, ‘was the talk of the town.’

No one, at this stage, murmured a word of warning to Charlotte, till one day when Mercer arrived unexpectedly at Warwick House and was met by an agitated Miss Knight. Charlotte, she whispered, was alone with Prince August in her room. Mercer insisted that this tête à tête must be broken up at once, and, as Cornelia demurred, did so herself. ‘She evidently,’ said Greville, ‘had no mind that anybody should conduct such an affair for the Princess but herself.’ Although, a month or two later she was lending a sympathetic ear to Charlotte’s outpourings on the subject of ‘F’, she saw at once that in her present precarious situation the affair must at all costs be kept quiet: Miss Knight must be mad to encourage it.

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

* He was the Louis Ferdinand who, Princess Caroline preposterously claimed, was the father of Wilikin. [In reality he was Prince Louis Ferdinand’s brother, not son. They were both the sons of Prince Augustus Ferdinand of Prussia. For more details see Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Augustus_Ferdinand_of_Prussia#Marriage_and_children ]

Suddenly Another Suitor Appears

On 10 June, while her father and most of his guests were at Ascot at the races, Charlotte signed her marriage contract and sent it round to Carlton House. In the evening she learned that her ‘Slender Billy’ had been made drunk at Ascot by Prince Paul of Wurtemberg and sent back to London like a day-tripper on top of a stagecoach. It was not the first time she had heard about her prince getting drunk – it was said that he got drunk on a visit back to Oxford – and it was not to be the last.

Two days later Charlotte attended the great banquet which her father gave for all his visitors at Carlton House. It was the only state occasion that she was allowed to attend. She had never seen anything like it. The house was full of young princes and officers. Next to most of these, her own Prince of Orange, who was a little bit drunk again, did not look like much of a catch.

By common consent, the handsomest of all was a tall, very dark young officer wearing the striking all-white uniform of the Russian heavy cavalry. When Charlotte noticed him he was at the other end of the crimson drawing room talking earnestly to a young lady. According to one of the friends who were with her, Charlotte turned to them and ‘observed how strange it was that the young lady did not seem more gratified by his attention’.

Charlotte did not get a chance to be introduced to this officer. But during the evening she was introduced to another, who was very charming, distinguished, almost as handsome and about ten years older than the hero in white. He was Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich August von Preussen, a nephew of Frederick the Great. In the course of the next month, with the giddy assistance of Cornelia Knight, this Prince was to be calling recklessly often at Warwick House.

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

Picture: Prince Augustus of Prussia by Franz Krüger, circa 1817, Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin

A Visit In Oatlands

Like the rest of the royal family, Charles’s father, the Duke of York, was at least aware of the inappropriate meetings in the park. But he did not feel inclined to reproach anyone. He was one of the many who disapproved of the way in which the Prince Regent prevented his daughter from appearing in public or even in society. If the Princess was lonely, she could hardly be criticised for taking pleasure in such company as she could find. His Duchess agreed with him. So they decided that, if the Regent was not prepared to bring his daughter out, they would do it for him. They would invite Princess Charlotte to stay at Oatlands, their country house in Surrey, and while she was there they would give a ball.

The childless Duchess of York, whose uncle was Frederick the Great, respected her husband as a soldier, but in most other ways she preferred the company of her menagerie to his. Nevertheless she knew her duty. She tolerated his infidelities with dignity. She turned his country house into a comfortable home. When he went there with his many crude companions, she had a warm welcome for all of them. She was a generous hostess. She served dinner much later than anyone else in England, and like her husband she was happy to sit up all nights afterwards playing cards. She hated ceremony. At Oatlands there was none of the stiff formality that pervaded the households of the other royal dukes. In atmosphere it was more like a little German palace or the home of an English country gentleman. Everyone who went there spoke well of it. The only drawbacks, they said, were the smell and the insanitary condition of the carpets – very few of the Duchess’s forty dogs were house-trained.

Charlotte went to Oatlands in November. The Duchess had laid on everything possible to make the stay enjoyable. Among the guests in the houseparty there were several of Charlotte’s age, including Anne and Georgiana Fitzroy, the nieces of Lord Wellington. Expeditions were arranged almost every day. On one day they went to Hampton Court Palace, which Charlotte described to Mercer as having ‘an air of gloom & coldness about it which is frightful’. On another they went to ‘the famous house’ at Paines Hill. And then they visited a house called Claremont.

The drove over to Claremont twice. On the first day they were shown round the elegant Palladian mansion, which Clive of India had begun to build over forty years earlier. On the second they inspected the splendid park, which had been designed by ‘Capability’ Brown. Clive had committed suicide before he could enjoy it, and since then there had been so many owners that no family had lived there long enough to make it a home.

Charlotte did not share her first impression of Claremont with Mercer. But another visitor, a few months later, gave hers. ‘It is’, wrote Jane Austen sadly and prophetically, ‘a house that seems never to have prospered’.

The climax of the visit was not one ball but two. The first, according to Charlotte’s letters, did not end until after 2 am, and on the on the following night the walzing went on until after four. Charlotte ‘enjoyed it of all things’, despite the conduct of her father, who had grudgingly agreed to be among the many guests. On the first evening he hurt her, and shocked everyone else, by ignoring her. On the second, while the Scottish Member of Parliament William Adam was attempting to teach her the ‘Highland Flurry’, he insisted on joining in the demonstration.

For a moment or two the Regent and Mr Adam, who was Mercer’s uncle, reeled round the room together. Then the Prince struck his shoe against the leg of a sofa, fell over and tore a tendon in his foot. Being the man he was, he made a fuss, retired to bed and remained at Oatlands for over a fortnight.

Inevitably, when the story got out, the Prince’s many enemies said that he had obviously been drunk. But, if he had been, Charlotte would have admitted it to Mercer. According to her letters the only guest who got ‘beastly drunk’ was Richard Brinsley Sheridan, remembered now as a playwright but equally well known then as a leading member of the Whig opposition.

Having introduced the Princess to the waltz, clearly the Duchess of York’s next duty was to take her to the opera. The visit was arranged to take place on 22 February the following year, when Charlotte would have passed sixteenth birthday. Meanwhile the Duke attempted to improved her mind, and perhaps her English, by lending her an anonymous novel, which both he and she believed had been written by Lady Anne Paget.

Charlotte loved it and wrote to Mercer. “Sense and Sensibility” I have just finished reading; it certainly is interesting, & you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne & me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c, however remain very like.’

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

the duke and duchess of york

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