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Charlotte’s Letter To Lord Grey

At this point, Charlotte, at Mercer’s suggestion, wrote to Lord Grey, Leader of the Foxite Whigs in the House of Lords, and asked his advice. He wrote back diplomatically, but with kindness, urging her to be patient. He reminded her a little pompously what she owed to the Prince, ‘both as a Sovereign and as a father’; and that in every question that might arise between them, she should as far as possible avoid opposition to his pleasure. It was important for her ‘at the commencement of your public life (which God grant may be long and glorious) to gain the confidence & affection of the nation’.

After these preliminaries, Grey went on to assure her that her father’s authority was not absolute.’It is his duty to advise, his right to recommend, and standing in the place of the King, he has by law a decided and insurmountable negative on the marriage of such as are under 21.’

He ended by urging her to play for time. ‘Your Royal Highness has hitherto lived in almost total seclusion. The hardship of marrying at once, from such a state, against your inclination…is, I think, too apparent to be persevered in…’

Charlotte was delighted. ‘The advice was absolutely the same exactly line of conduct I had pursued at the interview. Nothing can be more dignified, candid, liberal & impartial than the whole of the letter. It…has made me quite enchanted with him.’

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

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Charlotte’s Conversation With Princess Mary

To Charlotte’s relief, the young Prince of Orange did not put in an appearance. ‘The little hero has as yet left me quiet,’ she wrote on August 21. She was thankful to postpone the evil hour of meeting him, though she was clearly eager to hear accounts of him from those who had. There were flutterings in the Castle dovecote: the Princesses, Charlotte told Mercer, were longing to meet their niece’s young man, and were disappointed to learn that he was about to rejoin Wellington. When the Queen decided to go to London to see him and say good-bye, all her daughters wanted to accompany her. Charlotte pitied the young prince: ‘It is very unpleasant being exposed to the observation of a set of ill-natured spinsters, who only regret not being young enough to s[e]ize upon him themselves.’ Her Aunt Mary, who remembered him as a child in arms and was full of his praises, was not invited to go: the Queen decided to take Augusta and Elizabeth (‘a brace of very ugly daughters,’ wrote Charlotte). Princess Mary told her niece that the Regent had decided not to invite the Hereditary Prince on this visit, as more preparation was needed before the young couple met. Besides which, she said, the Regent ‘knew he was not handsome…’ ‘But he might improve still,’ she quickly added, ‘tho’ he is 21.’

Charlotte doubted this. ‘If you see him, you will see what is perfectly frightful,’ she told Mercer.

In fact, she was behaving badly. But she was profoundly uneasy about the Orange business, and dreaded that the Regent would make a sudden move for which she was unprepared. She felt that, at Windsor, she was surrounded by spies; and she resolved to carry the war into the enemies’ country and talk openly to one or two of them, beginning with her Aunt Mary.

‘I formed my conversation for her to repeat,’ she told Mercer. She had never trusted this aunt, whom she described as ‘the carrier of everything back again to the Prince, whose great favourite she is’. Princess Mary, she added, was ‘a very good handle, that is all…’

Her aunt listened to her sympathetically. Charlotte said how disappointed she was that her portrait had been left unfinished: she had intended it as a birthday present for her father, and had nothing else to give him. She was worried, too, because he had not spoken to her since he arrived in Windsor. Princess Mary said that she and her sisters ‘had been so used to the King’s not speaking to them for whole days together’, that it did not seem strange to her, only a pity because Charlotte saw her father so seldom. Charlotte complained of her father’s attitude to her ladies, and defended them hotly. To be sure, agreed her aunt, ‘people could not guess by inspiration what he wished to have done…the ladies, she believed, did as well as they could’ and so on. Princess Mary was exerting herself to please her niece; but she was also trying to please the Prince. She told Charlotte that her father very much wished her to be married next year, and without mentioning the Prince of Orange she tiptoed, catlike, round and round the subject of marriage, gently insinuating the idea and leaving it with Charlotte as something greatly to be desired.

(…) Charlotte did not greatly value her aunt Mary’s advice, but she was encouraged by a note from her ally, Princess Sophia, saying that she thought the conversation had done some good: Princess Mary ‘wished she could show the Prince how much he was injuring himself & hurting & trifling with’ his daughter’s feelings.

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

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Charlotte’s Loyalty To Mercer Elphinstone

The Prince was now Regent with Unrestricted Powers, and finally abandoned his Whig friends: the moderate Whigs, Grey and Grenville, had refused his invitation to join the Government and form a coalition; and Spencer Perceval remained the leader of a Tory administration*. Charlotte, strongly in favour of reform, Catholic Emancipation and all that the Whigs stood for, was learning not to discuss politics in the family, but she felt very bitterly her father’s desertion of the party, and, according to Lord Glenbervie, wept when she heard the news. The Regent was aware of her attitude, and believed her to be strongly influenced by Mercer. He determined to break the friendship(…)

The doors of Carlton House were closed to members of the Opposition, and Mercer Elphinstone was asked to cease her correspondence with Princess Charlotte. Meanwhile, the Queen had taken up the cudgels on her son’s behalf, and summoned her granddaughter for a little talk on the subject of Royalty and Politics.

Queen Charlotte was sixty-eight, and beginning to grow enormous from dropsy. She had courage, and a sense of humour, but suffering had hardened and stiffened her: she had not give vent to her feelings, but lapsed into cold, violent anger when she was thwarted. She visited her husband regularly and conscientiously, taking always a daughter with her. According to Princess Mary, the Queen’s unfortunate manner made these interviews even more painful than they need have been. She ruled her daughters with an iron rod, which she now tried to exercise upon her granddaughter.

She began by assuring her that she should look upon her father as ‘the only source of her happiness’ (news which must have struck a chill into Charlotte’s heart), and that she must be ready to accept his judgement in all things, ‘as her father must of course, not only by right but by experience, know better what was for her good’. She went on to warn Charlotte against forming particular friendships: although she should be civil to everyone, she should be careful to show no partiality for one person, and especially she should avoid any form of political friendship, which could never be depended upon. Having dropped these heavy hints, the Queen added a further warning: ‘That any member of the Royal Family taking a part against the Crown was lowering it most essentially.’

The Queen felt that she had made an impression, and Lady de Clifford told her later that Charlotte was ‘much pleased’ with the conversation, which seems hard to believe. Her father’s dictum forbidding her to correspond with Mercer came as no surprise, but the blow was overwhelming. Mercer was her best friend, the only person to whom she could confide her problems, her happiness and her misery; and who gave her wise advice. To be cut off from her was to be cut off from everything that made life bearable, and Charlotte, now spending all her time at Lower Lodge, Windsor, grew listless and wretched.

For six months she endured; but by the end of August she felt that she could bear it no longer. She decided to break the promise extracted from her by her father, and to find some means of communicating secretly with Mercer. Lady Charlotte Lindsay, her mother’s lady-in-waiting, offered to act as go-between, and on August 24 she broke the long silence.

‘I detest everything that bears the name of clandestine,’she wrote, ‘but I call this not so. I hold myself absolved from the promise that was extorted from me, not to hold any communication whatever with you. It is an unjust&cruel requisition.’

The letter was an outpouring of all her woes, which seemed almost to have unhinged her. She invests the Lower Lodge with a kind of Gothic gloom, describing it as ‘a perfect prison’, where she is surrounded by spies; and though there is something of her father’s love of drama in her description of her plight -‘a regular system of persecution seems to be the thing’- Mercer cannot have failed to feel pity and anger as she read it. Charlotte was being made to suffer cruelly in ‘this infernal dwelling’ as she called it, and it looked as if her health was affected. The house was damp, or more probably suffered from bad drains, and the relaxing air of Windsor did not agree with her. ‘None of my household have been well. I sleep but little, or suffer from severe headaches or colds… I think,’ she concludes, ‘could you see me, you would finde me very much altered, grown very serious and thoughtful at times.’

This serious, thoughtful Charlotte was devoting herself to ‘studdy’, which she described as her greatest resource, as it passed away hours of ennui. Drawing and music occupied most of her time; it was true she went for rides, but these were ‘far from agreable, as always in the compagny with the Princesses’.

‘I will not deny to you that I am far far from being happy.’

* On May 11th 1812 Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of House of Commons by John Bellingham. Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool has succeeded him as the Prime Minister.

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

charlotte-and-mercer

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The Prince of Wales Becomes Regent

When that letter was written, at the beginning of June 1811, the atmosphere in Windsor Castle was more likely to have been bitter than dull. The King’s latest bout of insanity had lasted so long that no one now expected him to recover. In January the government had brought in the Regency Bill. On 6 February, while Charlotte rode up and down in the garden, peering through the windows of Carlton House to see what was going on, the Prince of Wales had been formally sworn in as Prince Regent. Charlotte’s father was now nominal head of state, and her grandmother and most of her aunts and uncles were more inclined to feel gloomy than glad about it.

Typically, the Prince Regent decided to celebrate his appointment with an extravagant fête at Carlton House. His excuse was to entertain the exiled pretender to the throne of France, Louis-Philippe, who had actually been living in Twickenham for the last ten years. But the real reason was to mark the opening of what he hoped would be his own splendid reign.

When she heard about it, Charlotte felt sure that she would be invited, that her first ball would be this memorable event. But there was never any chance of that. As Lady Rose Weigall put it:

‘The Regent had reason to fear that her appearance in public would give a fresh stimulus to the widespread feeling in favour of herself and her mother and render him proportionately more unpopular. He was further bent upon avoiding everything which could look like a recognition of her as the heir presumptive to the Crown, probably hoping that by the death of his wife or by a divorce he might hereafter have a son through a second marriage and shut out the daughter of his deserted consort from the throne…For these reasons the Princess Charlotte was regarded as a rival to be suppressed rather than as a future sovereign.’

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

Henry Pierce Bone, George IV, 1840

Picture: George IV (The Prince Regent)

Charlotte’s Life in Windsor

Physically Charlotte developed early, and at fifteen she was a young woman.

‘She is grown excessively,’ wrote Lady Charlotte Bury, ‘and has all the fulness of a person of five-and-twenty.’ This critical lady-in-waiting considered that the young princess was neither graceful nor elegant, but had to admit that the she had ‘a peculiar air’. ‘The Princess Charlotte,’ she continues, ‘is above the middle height, extremely spread for her age; her bosom full, but finely shaped; her shoulders large, and her whole person voluptuous.’ But Lady Charlotte predicts unkindly that ‘without much care and exercise she will shortly lose all beauty in fat and clumsiness’.

The Princess was well aware of this danger: from her father and several of her aunts and uncles she inherited a tendency to stoutness, which she knew that she must fight by taking exercise; but she was lethargic, particularly in the winter, when she felt the cold excessively and hated the thought of going out. She was now spending part of the year at Windsor, and the rest of her time at Warwick House, a small building standing to the east of Carlton House, with a gate leading into the Prince’s grounds. It was shabby and isolated: ‘nothing,’ wrote Miss Cornelia Knight, ‘could more perfectly resemble a convent than this residence; but it was a seat of happiness to Princess Charlotte compared with the Lower Lodge at Windsor, and she was anxiously desirous to remain in Town as much as possible.’

At Windsor when the weather was bad, there was nothing whatsoever to do. She disliked the Queen intensely, believing at this stage that her grandmother was plotting against her; neither could she be sure of her ground with her older aunts, and she found the monotonous life, full of petty intrigue, quite intolerable. She must also have been haunted by the knowledge that her grandfather, whom she loved, was there, in the Castle, shut away from his family, rigorously hidden from sight (but not always from sound). She heard the discreet bulletins given by the numerous tiptoeing obsequious doctors: ‘not so well today as he was yesterday’, ‘the King was composed throughout the day’, ‘the King had had three hours’ sleep and was composed’, or ‘by no means as well as he was’. She learned that it was, among the family, a subject to be avoided; slowly she accepted the cruel truth, that her grandfather was hopelessly out of his mind-and she would never see him again.’

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

charlotte augusta by joseph lee 1814

Picture: Charlotte Augusta by Joseph Lee, 1814

Charlotte and Horses

“I do not think her manner dignified, as a Princess’s ought to be, or, indeed, as I should wish a daughter of mine to behave.” Lady Albinia Cumberland, Lady of the Bedchamber to the younger princesses, watched Charlotte disapprovingly when she was at Windsor in the summer of 1811. Rather grudgingly she admits that Charlotte’s riding is “beautiful-no fear of course-gallops and leaps over every ditch like a schoolboy…” But she criticizes her swaggering manner (“not at all en princesse”) and her habit of “twanging hands” with all the men. Indeed, from her description it would seem that Charlotte at fifteen was altogether too big for her boots. “She…is in awe of no one and glories in her independent way of thinking…Her passion,” adds Lady Albinia, “is horses.” Horses and dogs were, indeed, important to the young princess. Riding was her chief happiness.

In October 1807, when she was eleven years old, the Prince had given her a pony. ‘You could not have given me anything I so much wished for,’ she wrote, and added, ‘I hope some time or other my dear papa will see me mount my charming little pony.’

She was given permission to ride in the grounds of Carlton House because the doctors said that riding would be beneficial to her health. Berkeley Paget recounts how the Prince boasted of his daughter’s prowess as an equestrienne-‘turning the corners in a gallop, stopping short on the horse’s tail, &c., on which I said “Her Royal Highness must have pretty good nerves, Sir.” “God damn you, isn’t she my daughter?” was the reply. I immediately assented to it, with the strongest assurance that the firmness of his Royal nerves was universally held up as an example.’

One of the few advantages of staying at Windsor, from Charlotte’s point of view, was that she could go for long rides in the Park and Forest. The stables were filled with splendid horses, eating their heads off, and now that the King could no longer enjoy his daily ride, the grooms must have welcomed the spirited young princess who rode so fearlessly and well-even if she did give one of them a cut across the back when he got in her way. ‘This was in good humour, though,’ said Lady Albinia Cumberland kindly.

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

horse and charlotte

The Duchess of Brunswick Returns To England

‘On October 14, 1806, the Duke of Brunswick, Princess Charlotte’s grandfather, was mortally wounded at Auerstadt and his Dukedom seized by Napoleon. The Prince of Wales showed little regret at the loss of his father-in-law. “I cannot help thinking,” he wrote, “that had he survived, & had taken a review of his past political conduct, & of the very disgraceful proposals which he is supposed to have sent to the French tyrant after the complete rout of the Prussian forces under his command, he would & must have suffer’d most grieviously indeed. I cannot therefore say that his death has occasioned me either surprise or much regret.” But there was some anxiety as to the future of the widowed Duchess, Caroline’s mother, who had managed with difficulty to escape from Brunswick to Sweden. Most people thought that she would make for England, and the Duke of Clarence wrote to the Prince of Wales, “If I know the Duchess at all, she will be the least welcome visitor to her wise and virtuous daughter…”

On July 1, 1807, the Duchess of Brunswick landed in England, her native country which she had not seen for forty-three years. Her daughter, Princess Caroline, who now spent much of her time at Kensington Palace, handed over Montague House as a temporary residence for the Duchess, who was received with affection by her brother, King George. Although the Queen and her sister-in-law had always heartily detested each other, a meeting at Buckingham House, at which the Princess of Wales was present, went off successfully, and Princess Elizabeth reported to the Prince that “her reception was most cordial of my mother and they appeared mutually pleased with each other”. “She certainly is a fine old woman,” added Princess Elizabeth… ” but you see when she walks or tries to get into her carriage she is very infirm.”

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

220px-Augusta_of_Great_Britain,_duchess_of_Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel

Portrait: Augusta of Great Britain, duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel by Johann Georg Ziesenis, third quarter of 18th century