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Charlotte Returns to Weymouth

At first Charlotte found it easy enough to follow the advice to be patient with her father. But it was not so easy to be patient with Leopold. As soon as she reached Weymouth, she wrote to Mercer telling her that ‘the Leo’ was in Paris, and begging her to write to him, although she added, ‘Preach up prudence. A false step now I feel would ruin all.’

In the weeks and then months that followed, Mercer wrote encouraging letters to Leopold, Leopold wrote back to Mercer, Mercer passed on what he had said to Charlotte, and in her answers Charlotte became more and more eager and less and less inclined to go on writing.

On 21 August, late at night, she wrote:

Your account of him constantly at Lady Castlereagh’s stupid suppers does not astonish me… Oh why should he not come over, it is so near & it is but a run over of a few hours. I quite languish for his arrival. He is really wrong in keeping back as he does. Having got your letter what more can he wish for to bring him? Don’t you know an old proverb wh. says, ‘Hope long delayed maketh the heart sick’. What does he mean about a crisis? I see & hear of nothing that is like it.

Just over a week later, after Mercer had induced Leopold to share his feelings with her, Charlotte wrote, ‘I will tell you candidly that I am delighted, not to say charmed & flattered at what Leo writes about his sentiments and feelings for me, & the way in wh. he expresses himself is peculiarly pleasing.’

After another month she was beginning to hope that Leopold had decided to come over, and yet at the same time both she and Mercer were worried that someone was advising him against it – it was possible that ‘hints might have reached him through the Prussians’ about Prince August, or that somebody had told him about Charles Hesse. If he did come, Charlotte wanted Mercer to meet him and explain.

If you see him long enough to have such confidential & various conversation with him, I allow you…to clear all that up to him in the best manner you please, & even if think it necessary, to hint also at Hesse’s affair since I was quite clear (that unless he is well prepared & armed against all the lies & different things that will be told him) he will not know what to believe, who to credit, or how to act.

A week later, still hoping that Leopold was coming soon, Charlotte was in a mood to be devious. She told Mercer, ‘I give you carte blanche if you see him, to say & do all that circumstances will allow & require. Don’t send him any of his letters, let me see them when we meet, that you may honorably be able to keep to saying you never forwarded any letters to me.

Yet amid all the frustration and disappointment, the news that raised Charlotte’s hopes the highest was not about Leopold but about ‘Slender Billy’. It was announced in Holland that the Hereditary Prince of Orange was engaged to marry the Tsar’s younger sister, the Grand Duchess Anne.

The Dutch fleet was to be united with the Russian fleet. For those who were inclined to suspect a conspiracy, and who did not know how much Charlotte detested the young Prince of Orange, it looked as though the scheming Grand Duchess Catherine had brought about the breach between them as part of a long-term Russian plan. But for Charlotte the news was nothing more than a merciful release. Her father no longer had a pet plan to promote above any other.

But then she heard that several other eligible princes had been seen in London and at Windsor. On 14 October she wrote, ‘I have such a dread of all foreign Princes, the sight as well as the name of them alarm me from the idea of some intrigue or other going on for my marrying someone of them.’

By then it was a while since Mercer had heard from Leopold, and a week later Charlotte began to despair. ‘His silence to you is now what surprises & occupies me the most for you ought to have heard long before this.’

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

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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]

Who Is Leopold? (Part 5)

While he was in Paris, Leopold renewed his friendship with Hortense and visited her frequently in her blue boudoir on the Rue Cerutti. On 25 April he wrote to his sister Sophia: ‘The Tsar is going to England, and I am very tempted to make the journey, because there will be a great many festivities. But it would cost too much.’

By then, however, the Tsar had been receiving letters from his sister in London. The proposed marriage between England and Holland was not in Russia’s best interest, but it was clear that England’s Princess Charlotte was more interested in marriage than in her future husband. If she could be introduced to a prince who was handsome, charming and successful, she might at least be induced to think twice about the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

The next time Leopold sat down to write to his favourite sister his plans had changed. The Tsar was taking him in his entourage to London.

Leopold borrowed a carriage from Sophia’s husband, and in return he lent him the castle in Austria which had just been given to him by the grateful Emperor. He visited the best tailors in Paris. He spent so much that when he reached crowded London the only lodgings he could afford were two rooms on the second floor of number 21 Marylebone High Street, which he rented from Mr Hole, who ran a greengrocer’s shop on the ground floor. The simple lodgings were not without advantages, however. When he was not in attendance on the Tsar or out and about in London society, Leopold spent most of his time with Mr Hole’s young housemaid, who was overwhelmed by the handsome Prince and adored the way his eyelids drooped slightly when he bowed.

In the light of all this, it may not have been a coincidence that Leopold was waiting at the foot of the back stairs when Charlotte left the Grand Duchess’s apartments after saying goodbye to her; it may be that the Tsar was only testing her when he asked her to make peace with the young Prince of Orange. Certainly his dismissive sneer at ‘a Mister Whitbread’ was disingenuous. The liberal Tsar was in sympathy with the Whigs. He had received Samuel Whitbread at the Pulteney Hotel; and he had angered the Regent by greeting him warmly at a reception.

A few days after the Tsar left London, Leopold wrote significantly to his eldest brother:

The Tsar has given me permission to stay here as long as it suits me. I only decided to do so after much hesitation, and after certain very singular events made me glimpse the possibility, even the probability, of realising the project we spoke of in Paris. My chances are, alas, very poor, because of the father’s opposition, and he will never give his consent. But I have resolved to go on to the end, and only to leave when all my hopes have been destroyed…

By then Leopold had visited Charlotte. He left a state concert before it ended and went round to Warwick House wearing his full dress uniform. While he was there, Mercer arrived. She was delighted by the surprise. She already knew the Prince and she approved of him. For her, this was much more the sort of prince who ought to be courting the future Queen of England.

After that, more often than not, when Charlotte and Miss Knight took the air in Hyde Park, Leopold just happened to be there as well. Each time the Princess acknowledged him with a nod, and each time, in response, the Prince trotted up to her carriage and rode beside her for a while.

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

Charlotte Is Visiting A Monastery

Yet Charlotte was determined to enjoy her holiday and put on a brave face for all the ‘good people’ who came to look at her. For much of the time her mood was not far from the slightly hysterical merriment with which she greeted the law officers of the Crown during the melodrama at her mother’s house.

She went to performances at the Theatre Royal and the occasional ball at the Assembly Rooms; she was allowed to give dinner parties, to which she invited some of the aristocracy and gentry who came to stay in rented houses or at Ressell’s Royal Hotel. Like the General, one of the constant guests at these dinners was ‘the Great UP’, who took a house for his family on the seafront.

On one Sunday Charlotte went to church and heard the ‘Bish-UP’ preach a sermon for the very first time. ‘I never heard so weak a voice & so bad a delivery’, she wrote to Mercer. ‘It is enough to spoil the very best sermon that ever was composed.’ But this was nothing compared with the sermon preached on another Sunday by the apparently famous Dr Dupré. This preacher went on for forty-five minutes without notes with so many ‘blunders’ and ‘repetitions’ that he ‘kept the whole pew in a titter’. Fortunately Charlotte was able to turn her head and hide her giggles inside one of the large bonnets made fashionable by Grand Duchess Catherine.

There were expeditions to places of interest, such as Lulworth Castle and the monastery nearby. The monastery had been taken over by some Trappist monks who had been expelled from France during the Revolution. Charlotte rang the bell and asked to be shown round, but the porter, who was the only monk who was allowed to speak, explained that women were not allowed into the monastery. Charlotte insisted. The porter went away and spoke to the Abbot. The Abbot remembered that their rule, which excluded women, allowed the admission of royalty.

So while all the other ladies waited outside, the brightly dressed Princess was taken in among the black and white habits, shown round the monastery and its gardens and given a humble meal of milk, brown bread, vegetables and rice, which was served in wooden cups and bowls.

When she was not sailing, Charlotte’s lunch was usually whatever was available at an inn, or a picnic on a beach. At one of these picnics, on the pebbled beach between Portland and Bridport, some children climbed up from the water’s edge to the high bank above the beach, so that they could get a good look at the Princess. With each step they dislodged showers of pebbles which tumbled down towards the royal party.

Charlotte called up to them. ‘Hallo, there! Princess Charlotte is made of ginger-bread. If you do that you’ll break her.’

But Charlotte’s favourite picnics were those that were served on deck when she was sailing, at which, according to one guest, she consumed large quantities of ‘roast beef…with plenty of mustard!’

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

Picture: Monastery Farm, in the foreground, as viewed from Flower’s Barrow © Copyright Mike Searle and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence source: http://eastlulworth.org.uk/old/east_lulworth_monastery_farml.html

Charlotte Meets Leopold For The First Time

Charlotte and Cornelia Knight went round to the Pulteney Hotel to join the throng of others who had gone to say goodbye to the Tsar and his sister. When at last they reached the Grand Duchess Catherine’s apartment, she led Charlotte into an anteroom and came out leaving her alone with the Tsar. Miss Knight insisted that this was improper and that she must join them. When she entered, the Tsar was trying in vain to make Charlotte reconsider her marriage. The Hereditary Prince of Orange was in the building. She had only to find him and tell him that she had changed her mind. He went up to a newspaper lying on a table and pointed at a paragraph, as he spoke. She was ‘giving up an excellent marriage, one essential to the interests of her country, and all to be praised by a Mr Whitbread’.

The Tsar accepted defeat and took his leave. Charlotte came out of the anteroom agitated. If she left now she was bound to meet the Hereditary Prince in the waiting room or on the stairs or in the hall. The Grand Duchess led her to a small door, opened it and pointed to the back stairs. She kissed Princess Charlotte, and then, to the great delight of the lady companion, she kissed Cornelia Knight.

Charlotte and Miss Knight beat their undignified retreat down the back stairs, which led into a little hall beside the main hall. Several people had come into it to avoid the crush in the main hall, and one of them, at the foot of the stairs with his back to them, was a tall, dark, handsome officer wearing the all-white uniform of the Russian heavy cavalry.

The officer turned. He was not more than twenty-four years old, but his badges signified that he was already a Lieutenant-General. He asked if he could help the ladies. Miss Knight explained that this was the Princess Charlotte of Wales and that they would be grateful if he would see them to her carriage.

The officer escorted the ladies through the throng, found the carriage and handed them into it.

Charlotte thanked him and asked his name.

When she learned he was a prince, she scolded him for not having called on her like most of the other princes.

The Prince begged her forgiveness and asked to be allowed to make up for his omission.

Charlotte consented.

The carriage drove away.

The Prince walked back up the steps to the hotel.

He was the General Officer Commanding the Heavy Cavalry of the Tsar, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

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

Picture: Portrait of Leopold I of Belgium by George Dawe, the Royal Collection

Princess of Wales Is Using Her Tricks Again

When all the sovereigns, princes, statesmen and commanders were received at court, the only members of the royal family who were – conspicuously – absent were the Princes of Wales and her daughter Princess Charlotte. Realising that this was a slight, the Tsar and his sister decided to go up to Connaught House and call on the Princess of Wales. But they were dissuaded by their Ambassador, who threatened to resign if they did – his wife was having an affair with Earl Grey at the time, and as a result he knew rather more than most people about the real nature of the Princess of Wales.

The Tsar and his sister did have a chance to see the Princess of Wales, however. It was on the evening when all the royal guests went to the opera. The Prince Regent sat in the royal box with the Tsar of Russia, the King of Prussia and the Grand Duchess Catherine, and the other princes sat in the boxes on their left. As they entered to the strains of the national anthem, they saw that the Princess of Wales was standing in the box opposite.

When the anthem was over, some of the young men in the stalls encouraged the audience to applaud the Princess of Wales. Her lady-in-waiting, Lady Charlotte Campbell, suggested that she should rise and acknowledge the applause with a curtsey.

‘My dear’, said the Princess, ‘Punch’s wife is nobody when Punch is present.’

She was sure that her husband would think that the applause was for him. And sure enough she was right. The Prince Regent stood up and bowed to the audience in acknowledgement.

At the end of the performance, the audience stood and applauded again as the Prince Regent and other sovereigns left. But they were applauding his guests, not him. When they had all gone, the audience turned and directed much warmer applause to the box where the Princess of Wales was still standing. This time she acknowledged it with three smiling curtsies.

A few days later, however, at a breakfast party near Woolwich, she was seen sitting under a tree in the garden with a pot of strong beer on her knee. By the end of the party she was in a mood to be merry. She ordered all the doors in the house to be opened, grabbed a partner and set off at a gallop, calling to the other guests to follow her in flat-out procession through every room.

It was not regarded as seemly conduct for a member of the royal family. Some of the gentlemen present had been among those who led the applause at the opera. After seeing their reaction to the latest spectacle, one of the ladies, the Hon. Amelia Murray, reported that, in her opinion, they would not be so anxious to clap the Princess again.

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

Picture: Caroline, Princess of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1798,  Victoria and Albert Museum

(c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Allies Arrive In London

Dutch William seems at this point to have been in love with Charlotte: her attitude to him was friendly, but guarded. Her attitude to the marriage fluctuated. On June 4 she told her mother that ‘everything was fixed for her marriage; that she did not love the Prince of Orange, but that she must be married’. Yet at a previous meeting between mother and daughter only a couple of weeks before, Charlotte had declared that nothing would induce her to marry ‘young Frog’. ‘I think him so ugly that I am sometimes obliged to turn my head away in disgust when he is speaking to me.’

Much as she longed to be married and free from restraint, she insisted that she had not made up her mind. It was true she had bought herself jewels with some of the money sent from Holland for that purpose; it was true she had formally given her consent to the offer of marriage brought by the Dutch envoy; but she did not consider herself committed by what she called these ‘preliminary matters’, which were, she said airily, ‘of very small importance’. She was aware that a number of interesting and personable young princes would be coming to London in the wake of the Allied Sovereigns; and she considered that she should be allowed to have a look round, so to speak, before committing herself.

Fortunately for Charlotte, with the arrival, early in June, of the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia and Prince Metternich representing the Emperor of Austria, every domestic problem, including her marriage, was swept aside in the whirlwind of excitement and triumph which took possession of the country. The victory over Napoleon – falsely believed to be total – was an event to be celebrated by all. Doves of peace and patriotic sentiments adorned public buildings, flags and streamers by day and flares and transparencies by night informed the world that the long war was won. Pulteney’s Hotel sported a banner which announced piously ‘Thanks be to God’, while across the front of Devonshire House the young Duke spelled out the one eloquent word, ‘Peace’.

(…)

It had been planned that the Regent should meet and welcome the Emperor of Russia at Shooter’s Hill, Woolwich, and conduct him to St. James’s Palace after a triumphal drive through the City. But the Tsar upset all these plans. He did not want to stay at St.James’s Palace; he preferred to join his sister at Pulteney’s Hotel, and after his meeting with the Prince Regent he jumped into Count Lieven’s carriage and drove through the waiting crowds without being recognized. The Regent went back to Carlton House, and sent a message to Pulteney’s Hotel, saying he would visit the Emperor there. But as in all his encounters with the Russians, the Regent’s welcome to his victorious Ally was a disaster. The Emperor Alexander and his sister waited for two hours, when another message arrived from the Prince. ‘His Royal Highness has been threatened with annoyance in the street if he shows himself; it is therefore impossible for him to come and see the Emperor.’

It was a lamentable situation. The Russian Emperor drove in Count Lieven’s carriage to Carlton House, where he held a short conversation with his cross, flustered host. It was to be their only private interview. The Tsar, already prejudiced by his sister’s account of the Regent, now found his Ally quite insufferable. ‘A poor prince,’ he commented to Lieven as they drove away.

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

Picture: Tsar Alexander I by George Dawe, 1824, Peterhof