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Charlotte Sits To Sir Thomas Lawrence

And so it was that Charlotte, without he stays, sat to Sir Thomas Lawrence at the beginning of October, only a few weeks before the birth. Lawrence, who nearly twenty years before, had painted Charlotte and her mother at Blackheath, now spent nine days at Claremont, working on the new portrait, which Charlotte intended as a birthday present for her husband. The artist, accustomed to study faces, had an opportunity to scrutinize the Princess whom he had not seen since her infancy, and his account of her and her tranquil life with Leopold is, at this point, reassuring.

‘Their mode of life,’ he said, ‘is very regular. They breakfast together alone about eleven: at half past she came in to sit for me, accompanied by Prince Leopold, who stayed great part of the time. About three she would leave the painting room to take her airing round the grounds in a low phaeton with her ponies, the Prince always walking by her side …’ At five, she sat for Lawrence again, and the whole household dined together at soon after seven. After dessert, the Prince and Princess went together into the drawing-room, where they played and sang together – ‘sitting at the pianoforte, often on the same stool …’ But when the company joined them, they broke off, and, after coffee, everybody played cards, the Prince and Princess being always partners.

There was no doubt, Leopold had tamed her. Princess Charlotte, said Lawrence, ‘had nothing of the hoyden, or of that boisterous hilarity which has been ascribed to her’, and he was charmed by her straight-forward honesty, and something about her which reminded him of ‘the good King, her grandfather’.

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

Charlotte Enjoys Her Holidays

Gradually, Charlotte began to relax, and allow the tranquil air of Weymouth to calm and invigorate her. She had not been there since she was a child; now she enjoyed visits to curious and ancient places like any other tripper: she was fascinated by Portland and Chesil Beach, and her interest in old buildings – chiefly derived from the reading of Gothic romance – was stimulated by a visit to Corfe Castle.

The town of Weymouth provided her with plenty of entertainment, and she was excited to discover a smuggler who was selling ‘the most delightful French silks at 5 shillings a yard. I am going to be after him,’ she vowed. Weymouth was harbouring a vast amount of French merchandise, and she saw French women, selling prints from Bordeaux. ‘You never saw such odd looking people.’

‘The visit of Princess Charlotte renders this place a continued scene of splendour and gaiety,’ wrote the Salisbury & Winchester Gazette; ‘the sands are every day crowded with rank, beauty and fashion.’ Charlotte’s friends from Windsor, Lord and Lady Ashbrook, arrived to stay at Russell’s Royal Hotel, in company with other noble personages, and the Solicitor General. The Princess began to entertain at Gloucester Lodge, inviting ‘a select party’ to hear Signor Rivolta, ‘the celebrated Italian minstrel’ who gave a most unusual concert, playing on eight instruments at once. Charlotte, we are told, was ‘highly gratified’, so perhaps Signor Rivolta was gifted as well as ingenious.

On the anniversary of her grandfather’s Jubilee, she gave a party which was distinguished by a fireworks display, culminating in a ‘set piece’ in the form of an illuminated portrait of the King. The party was followed by a ball at the Assembly Rooms, ‘attended by all the rank and fashion here’.

Day after day, in spite of the time of year, she bathed in the sea before breakfast and, like her grandfather, benefited from it. She soon felt well enough to go sailing, and H.M.S. Zephyr, sloop of war, was at her service. On what the newspaper correspondent described as ‘a most heavenly day’ the Princess and her suite were conveyed in the royal barge to the Zephyr, which was commanded by Captain Creyke. ‘A royal salute was fired, the yards manned, the royal standard hoisted and every other complimentary honour was shown to her Royal Highness.’ The party sailed along the coast as far as St. Alban’s Point, ‘and we were happy to find out that the Princess experienced no unpleasant effects’. On the contrary she enjoyed herself, and wanted to go again. Sailing became her favourite pastime, and she loved watching all the pageantry of the Naval vessels exercising in the Channel.

The Bishop felt it incumbent upon him to send a report of Charlotte’s health to Windsor. It was very greatly improved, he said. ‘Her spirits are uniformly good & her mind appears to be in a tranquil state. I am strongly inclined to think that she is really happy here.’

Alas, poor Bishop, he knew nothing of his Princess’s true state of mind. Nor did Mrs. Campbell, who Charlotte now decided was well meaning and kind-hearted but who irritated her by talking of her ‘happiness’. How could she be happy? But ‘I must say,’ said Charlotte, ‘that I get every day more ignimatical to myself, & if so must be doubly so to them.’

Dr. Baillie had said that she should stay on at Weymouth as long as possible, and now she found that she wanted to. ‘I have no objection to remain here, as I certainly amuse myself infinitely better, & am more comfortable than at Cranbourne.’ Away from Windsor and family politics, her anxieties seemed less overwhelming. Nevertheless, the smiling face which she showed to the Weymouth crowds was not expressive of her inmost feelings. The turquoise heart was lost for good, and so, she began to believe, was Prince August.

She could not stop loving him; she invented reasons for his neglect of her. Nobody will ever know what was the attraction which drew her to this vain and heartless Prussian officer, but it was strong, and she could not free herself. ‘I think & think about how it will be, & how it will all turn out,’ she said. Sometimes she felt cheerful and confident, at others she was cast down to the depths of despair, and felt that the whole thing was hopeless. In her letters to Mercer she returned again and again to what she called ‘the constant subject of my thoughts’.

It seems likely that Mercer never favoured Prince August, and was working against him. She certainly broke up a tete a tete between the Prince and Charlotte when Miss Knight was encouraging the affair; and later the Princess told her, ‘I never heard one piece of good news about F from you since the business began.’ Perhaps Mercer was trying to spare Charlotte pain, knowing that the frail romance was bound to break up: certainly there is every indication that she discouraged it.

(…)

It became imperative to know how things stood with F. He must be made to write. Mercer had been sent extracts copied from his letters, to prove that he did still love Charlotte: she was now asked to draft a sort of ultimatum to him, for the Princess to send. ‘It is impossible,’ Charlotte told her, ‘to put it better or more forcibly than you do.’

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

Picture: Ruins of Corfe Castle from the outer bailey, source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corfe_Castle#/media/File:Corfe_Castle,_Dorset.jpg

A Bad Omen

Gloucester Lodge, a handsome red brick building on the Esplanade, stands still, commanding a fine view of Weymouth Bay.* It was built in 1780 by the Duke of Gloucester, ‘Silly Billy’s’ father, and was lent by him to King George III as a summer residence. Year after year till his final collapse, the King with his family enjoyed the benefits of Weymouth’s air and sea water, and made the little town’s fortune.

‘Weymouth was a gay place in those days [1805-6],’ wrote the Hon. Amelia Murray. ‘Two Royal yachts and three frigates in the bay; a picturesque camp of sharpshooters on the look-out; Hanoverian cavalry careering on the sands, and singing their fine musical choruses as they passed along the road; an infantry regiment, with its lively band; beautiful girls and charming children on the Esplenade; the King, Queen and Royal Family walking among their subjects …’

It was still, in 1814, a fashionable watering place, with its Theatre Royal, and its Assembly Rooms, where balls were held, and strict rules of etiquette were laid down. Gentlemen might not appear in boots, or ladies in riding habits. No one would be permitted to dance in coloured gloves. Gentlemen were requested to leave their swords st the door, and – very reasonably – no dogs would be admitted.

When the King came to Weymouth, the countryside for miles round was stirred up by his arrival, and, as Thomas Hardy describes in The Trumpet Major, numbers of people made their way up to the top of the downs, to wait half through the night for the passing of the royal carriages. ‘Thank God, I have seen my King!’ exclaimed a loyal subject after the great post-chariot, drawn by four horses, had dashed by in the light of dawn; but all she had seen, in point of fact, was ‘a profile reminding her of the current coin of the realm’.

Princess Charlotte decided that the people should see more of her than a profile, and ‘with plenty of cloaks & such like good things’ drove in an open barouche. When she arrived in Weymouth it was a little after eight, and starlight. The esplanade was filled with people, and the troops of the 17th Hussars were lined up to greet her, with the band playing ‘God Save the King’, accompanied by cheers.

It was a heartening and auspicious arrival, or so it seemed: and she was pleased with her bedroom, which had been the Queen’s, and had big windows looking over the sea. So had the drawing-room, ‘which is a very large comfortable room with large sophas at each end of it’. On one of these ‘sophas’, soon after her arrival, she sat with her feet up to rest her knee, and played ‘bagammon’ with General Garth. There was no quarrel this time, but for Charlotte the discovery of a disaster which cast a cloud over her first days in Weymouth. A little turquoise heart had fallen out of the ring which she had been given by Prince August. ‘Thank God the ring is safe on my finger,’ she said, but the stone could nowhere be found. She knew that she had had it when she arrived, ‘so that I still have a hope the maid may find it when she sweeps the room in the mg …’ Pathetically, she demanded of Mercer ‘whether you think it is unlucky&promises any ill luck, or will bring any’.

The turquoise heart was never found, and Charlotte, who had vowed that she would never remove the ring from her finger, continued vainly searching. A heart made of turquoise, the cheapest of stones, could easily have been replaced: but ‘you know,’ she wrote, ‘what a treasure it is to me, and what an inestimable value I set on it.’

It was a sad beginning to her holiday, and the silence from ‘F’** himself nagged at her constantly, so that she did not benefit from the amenities of Weymouth as quickly as she might have done. ‘I had such a horror of coming to this place,’ she wrote, ‘that I cannot but think it will bring no good to the F business.’

*It is now a hotel.
**Prince August

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

picture source

Drama Continues

Only the Duke of Sussex, ‘not having been sent by the Regent’, was asked to step upstairs.

He had come in answer to a second summons, sent by Brougham. Charlotte’s note, said her uncle, was such an illegible scrawl that he had put it into his pocket unread. Brougham had been wondering how the Duke would be received, for the Princess of Wales had not spoken time for nine years, ever since he had delivered to the Prince the charges made by Lady Douglas which had led to the Delicate Investigation. But they fell into each other’s arms: ‘no one,’ said Brougham, ‘could have supposed there was the least dryness between them, to see how warmly they embraced.’

Brougham was presented, as the Princess’s legal adviser. ‘Pray, sir,’ said the Duke in his direct way, ‘supposing the Prince Regent, acting in the name and on behalf of His Majesty, were to send a sufficient force to break down the doors of this house and carry away the Princess, would any resistance in such case be lawful?’
‘It would not.’
‘Then, my dear,’ said Sussex to Charlotte, ‘you hear what the law is. I can only advise you to return with as much speed and as little noise as possible.’

Charlotte did not care for this advice, which bore no relation to her own plans. While her uncle settled down to a lively conversation in German with the Princess of Wales, Charlotte took Brougham aside, and tried to explain to him just why she had run away. The whole story came tumbling out: the quarrel with her father over the broken engagement, the dismissal of Miss Knight and of all her household, the arbitrary introduction of new ladies, her forced separation from her mother and from Mercer. She became more and more worked up: all the gaiety she had displayed at dinner had vanished, choked now by the vision of what might be done to her; Brougham noticed that she kept harking back to her terror of being forced into the Dutch marriage. He assured her that ‘without her consent freely given, it could never take place’: but she remained unconvinced. ‘They may wear me out by ill-treatment, & may represent that I have changed my mind & consented.’ She again announced her intention of living with her mother if the Regent would not agree to her terms. Brougham betrayed no sign of approval or disapproval, and she demanded at last what he advised her to do. His direction came instantly.

‘Return to Warwick House or Carlton House, and on no account pass a night out of your own house.’ At this, Charlotte broke down and sobbed: this was not the advice she had hoped for from Brougham. She accused him of turning against her: then she found that he was supported in this view by all the others – by Mercer, by the Duke of Sussex, and even, alas, by her mother. Her rebellious tears turned to despair, as Brougham, seizing his advantage, continued to assure her that this was her only course – she must return. Charlotte was appalled: after the desperate unhappiness of her plight at Warwick House she had felt that here she would be among friends. Yet now these friends were forcing her to go back, to face imprisonment and isolation, surrounded by a female bodyguard chosen without consulting her. Worst of all, she thought in this moment of agony, she would be cut off from Miss Knight, and so from her secret means of communication with Prince August. This was the most cruel deprivation of all, and hardened her in her determination not to give in.

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

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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