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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 ]

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The Prince Of Orange Must Visit His Frogs Solo

Charlotte’s letters to Mercer take on a happier note at this point. ‘I have agreed without any demur or hesitation to see young P. when he comes,’ she wrote on December 8. She had received more accounts of him ‘from those who know him personally’, and felt that he could not, after all, be so bad: for one thing, ‘he is lively & likes fun & amusement’. A print of him was sent to Carlton House, and that evening, at a family party, it was placed upon a chair to be looked at, and ‘Princess Charlotte thought it not ugly,’ wrote Miss Knight.

At this party, attended by the Queen and two princesses, the Regent was ‘mighty busy & good-humoured’, she said. He was wearing a belt studded with rose-diamonds, to which he added a diamond clasp. It had been given to him by the Grand Seigneur of Turkey, he said, with a magnificent scimitar, but he did not greatly car for it. The ladies gathered round him, cooing with admiration, and Ladies Castlereagh and Hertford agreed with Charlotte that the diamonds would make beautiful ornaments; whereupon he undid the clasp, with a heave unwound the glittering thing from his well-corseted paunch, ‘and in the most amiable manner,’ said Charlotte, ‘gave it to me.’ She was in high favour. She dined at Carlton House two evenings in succession, and the Prince, she said, ‘was exceedingly kind & gracious … He has talked to me both days more than he has done for ages’.

On the second evening, December 9, a great many distinguished foreigners were present, including Madame de Staël, for whom Charlotte had a great admiration both as a writer and raconteur. She was accompanied by her husband and daughter, Albertine (good-humoured but silly, said Charlotte), and was ‘very pleasant’. ‘I think nothing could be more brilliant than the appearance of everything,’ wrote Charlotte, who was only just beginning to learn what Carlton House entertainment could be. Her letter to Mercer the next day bubbles with excitement and delight. ‘As to whether I was in beauty last night, I cannot answer,’ she began … ‘except by assuring you that I did not feel out of hea[l]th, or out of humour. Indeed no.’ She had blossomed under the Prince’s kindness, and had felt herself to be a success with his guests. She was happy, and even the news that she was going to Windsor for Christmas did not spoil her happiness.

Four days later, on December 13, her tone is still light-hearted, as she replies to a letter from Mercer, giving a favourable report of the Prince of Orange on his arrival at Plymouth. ‘I really admire the victory a single glimpse of his form has had upon you,’ Charlotte wrote, ‘& give my permission to your being in love with him for my sake according to the old proverb, “Love me, love my dog.”‘

This is quite a startling change of attitude, and shows how strong still was Mercer’s influence. Princess Mary, Sir Henry Halford, any member of ‘Government persons’ and even the Regent himself might try in vain to persuade her to consider the Orange alliance, but a word from Mercer in favour of the Prince, a suggestion that Charlotte should stop opposing the match, was enough to bring about a complete change of attitude. She had already agreed to see him: now she would even try to like him. She had had other good accounts of him – he was adored in the army: not only Lord Wellington, but all his brother officers spoke highly of him. Mercer’s letter had ‘eased me of 100,000 worrys’, she said.

All the same, she had her reservations. She agreed that the match would smooth out some of the problems now facing the Regent ‘with regard to the arrangement of the Netherlands’. Austria was demanding a bigger slice of Holland than had been planned and there was ‘an awkwardness … which requires much delicacy to remove’. The Netherlands rulers, the House of Orange, clearly needed British backing; but Charlotte was determined on one point: however much the young Prince might wish for the support of an English wife, nothing would induce her at any time to leave her native land. ‘As heiress presumptive to the Crown it is certain that I could not quit this country, as Queen of England still less.’ The Prince of Orange, said Charlotte firmly, must visit his frogs solo.’

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

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Charlotte, Music and Books

When she was not riding or playing with her dogs or being taught subjects which did not interest her, Charlotte spent a great deal of time playing the piano and reading. ‘This is the only compagny I have…’ And a year later: ‘I apply to reading&musick more than ever, & am fonder of it. I play a great deal of Haydon’s musick and Mozart’s for piano and accompaniments.’ At Windsor she scraped together a small orchestra. ‘Col. Taylor comes generally every Sunday evening & brings his violincello [sic], so that together with the Griesbachs, we make up a tolerable concert.’

Her reading was varied and voracious. She found Madame de Staël’s ‘De la Littérature’ entertaining and instructive, while a Gothic novel, ‘The Sicilian Mysteries’, was ‘most interesting’. ‘It is in five vol.,’ she says, ‘full of mystery & remarkably well worked up.’ At the same time she was reading ‘Sense and Sensibility’ recommended by her uncle York. She shared her father’s appreciation of Jane Austen. ‘You feel quite one of the company,’ she says, and confesses that she identified herself with the emotional Maryanne. ‘I think Maryanne & me are very alike in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c., however remain very like.’

Like most girls of her age, Charlotte admired Byron’s poetry, and went into ecstasies over each new work when it appeared. ‘I had the f i r s t that was issued,’ she said of ‘The Corsair’, ‘&  d e v o u r e d it twice in the course of the day.’ The poet himself was her pin-up.

‘Have you seen a new print of Lord Byron? I have got it and look at it very often. I admire it so very much & think it so very beautiful…’

But, studying the portrait, she shows some discernment.

‘I try to trace the man&his mind in it, but c a n n o t; it belies what he is, for it looks so l o v i n g and l o v e a b l e & something so very much above the common sort of beauty or what is regularly handsome.’

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

SenseAndSensibilityTitlePage

Picture: Title page of Sense and Sensibility’s first edition.