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Silence Before The Storm

When the newspapers reported that Sir Thomas Lawrence had left Claremont and returned to London, they still expected that, as the doctors had predicted, the Princess would give birth on 19 October. But 19 October came and went and all that they could say was that the Princess was still in the best health and driving out daily in her little phaeton.

The Queen was waiting for news at Windsor, hoping to visit Charlotte and her baby as soon as possible after the birth. But she had not been well for some time and on Saturday, 2 November, she went down to take the waters at Bath.

By then the Prince Regent had gone to stay with his mistress Lady Hertford and her husband at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire.

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

The following day [November 2] was a Sunday, and Charlotte, indomitable, drove out in her pony chaise. It was a lovely day, with all the colours of autumn displayed in the sunshine. After the drive, Charlotte and Leopold went to morning service in the chapel, which was filled with as usual with attendants and staff. The Princess cannot have been tired, for after the service she drove out again, with the devoted Leopold beside her. But her long-drawn-out pregnancy was becoming very wearisome, and she did not know that she had only one more day to wait, only one more drive round the estate, one more inspection of the work on the Home Farm and the building of her Gothic summer house.

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

Leopold Causes a Split Between Charlotte and Mercer

There was no question of the young couple getting to know each other better before their marriage: they were firmly kept apart. They wrote to each other, he at Brighton, she at Cranbourne Lodge. The Regent was determined that there should be no repetition of the Orange fiasco, and accordingly, while Charlotte was at Brighton for a few days, in March, he arranged that they should never meet, except at dinner, and were never to be left alone together. When they met, the Queen or the Regent was always in the room; but their conversations, said Charlotte, was not restricted. As they murmured together in low voices, no doubt taking care not to be overheard, Charlotte managed, with an effort, to introduce the thorny subject of Hesse, on which the Regent had insisted that she should unburden herself. She did so, ‘after much difficulty’, and was profoundly relieved by Leopold’s acceptance of her story. ‘He took it uncommonly well,’ she told Mercer, ‘and was v. kind as he saw me so distressed.’ But he could not hide his horrified dismay at the part played in the affair by the Princess of Wales. ‘We did not say much about my mother,’ said Charlotte, but the Prince indicated delicately that he was well aware of her vagaries, and pitied Charlotte’s situation, torn as she was between loyalty to her mother and duty to her father. No wonder that she was emotional and excitable: but he would do all in his power, he promised, to soothe and calm her. She was profoundly grateful to Leopold. ‘Take him altogether he is a very dear creature.’

(…)

There was the question of money to be settled in Parliament: the Heiress Presumptive and her husband were treated with generosity by Lords Castlereagh and Liverpool, who proposed an income of of £ 50,000, with an extra £ 10,000 to be assigned to Princess Charlotte ‘for her separate and personal expences’. They were also to receive the capital sum of £ 10,000 for jewels, £ 10,000 for personal equipment and £ 40,000 for furniture, plate, &c.

It seemed that they would be comfortably off. But Charlotte considered that their Establishment, which was being arranged by the Regent on the lines of his own, was far too large and expensive. ‘I fear the P.R. … does not consider how far £ 50,000 will go, as they talk of tacking us on a quantity of people wh. will be too much, and must be reduced afterwards.’ And she added proudly that Coburg had a horror of ‘getting into debt & so on’. ‘I have insisted vehemently,’ she announced, ‘upon no extravagance, waste, or debts.’ Eight footmen, she thought, was too many: six would be quite enough, if they were going to afford ‘town & country carriages, riding coachmen &c.’ She was going to give up riding herself, she said. She had not ridden for some time, ‘and don’t much care about it’. But clearly the real reason was that ‘he does not very much like a ladies riding; he thinks it too violent an exercise’.

The younger Charlotte, whose chief pleasure had been to gallop through Windsor Park at top speed, would not have submitted so meekly to this curb: already Leopold’s influence was apparent. It was felt, too, in a slight coolness between Charlotte and Mercer. It was inevitable that the coming of Coburg should alter their relationship, that Charlotte’s devotion to her ‘beloved Marguerite’ should suffer a shock, and the first tremor was felt immediately. At the end of Charlotte’s letter describing ecstatically her first meeting with the prince, she wrote:

‘I must not forget to tell you that I am desired by him to scold you for your intimacy with Flahaud. He knows him personally, & disapproves highly of him, & thinks his acquaintance is likely to do you no good …’

This warning was not well received. The Comte de Flahault had been Napoleon’s aide-de-camp, and later became French Ambassador in London: he was ostracized by Lady Hertford and her set, but admired by Mercer, who eventually, to her father’s great grief, married him. Leopold’s warning may have been well-intentioned and timely, but it angered Miss Elphinstone. Charlotte made repeated efforts to appease her. ‘You know I must love you always just as much & just the same … For God sake do not fancy I ever was or am in the least angry with your intimacy with Flahaud … You know how much I love you, & that I can ill bear anything like an interruption to an intimacy that has constituted so many years of my happiness.’

In her anxiety to repair the broken friendship, Charlotte went too far. She even sent Mercer copies of Leopold’s letters. ‘I have had another very wise letter from him wh. I will send, but for God in Heaven’s sake never let it be known or suspected I ever showed you any of his or else I know he would not like it & would be angry probably.’

But in spite of all Charlotte’s efforts to revive it, the long intimacy would never be quite the same: there was a subtle difference created by the presence, even at a distance, of Leopold, and the Regent, who had never liked Mercer, was quick to take advantage of the situation.

‘Coburg,’ wrote Charlotte, ‘has a great horror of appearing ungrateful & insensible to you & your kindness, but yet I see the P. R. has been putting him on his guard, & putting into his head about female friends … & of my having more confidence in & being more guided by them than by him.’

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

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]

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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Family Politics

The year 1812 started propitiously for Charlotte. On January 7, her sixteenth birthday was handsomely acknowledged by the Family, and the Prince not only gave her, for the first time, a birthday present, but held a dinner party for her at Carlton House. ‘I think you will say, wonders never end,’ she said, reporting this to Mercer. The party consisted of her uncles York, Clarence and Cumberland, the Queen, a brace of princesses, Augusta and Mary (the Regent’s favourites), and was presided over by the Regent, ‘in so good a humour that they spoke of it with surprise’.

Before dinner their gracious host conducted them over ‘the whole of Carlton House’ showing off his latest acquisitions of paintings and furniture; and then they sat down amid ‘much joking and good humour’ to a splendid repast. Unfortunately Charlotte had to dine with her mother at Blackheath immediately afterwards, and so was unable to do full justice to the vast and delectable meal, at the end of which the Prince, oozing with amiability, toasted his mother in a large bumper. He does not appear to have toasted his daughter, whose birthday it was, but ‘I am never so happy,’ he said, ‘as when in the bosom of my family. I trust we may very often meet again in this way…and that your Majesty will do me the honour of frequently presiding at this board…’

‘I was thunderstruck,’ said Charlotte. But she found this excessive affection for his mother a disconcerting portent. Every change of mood, each wind that blew within the Royal Family, had its meaning: Charlotte was by now familiar with the signs. There were reasons, she felt certain, for this sudden attack of filial piety. ‘The Queen has quite got master of the Prince,’ she had observed a week earlier, and now she endorsed it, adding, ‘I know [it] is not a good sign with regard to his measures in Government&politics.’ ‘The Prince,’ she told Mercer, ‘is quite governed by his mother and the Manchester Square folks.’ These were the Hertfords, staunch Tories. Charlotte was not alone in her fears. ‘From now on,’ wrote Lord Holland, ‘the Prince was charged by the Whigs with ingratitude and perfidy. We all encouraged every species of satire against him and his mistress.’ The cartoonists licked their pencils: the print shops, said Charlotte, were full of ‘scurrilous caricatures’.

The Royal Family were beginning to regard Princess Charlotte as someone to be reckoned with: she held strong views and aired them freely. ‘Fortunately’, wrote Princess Mary in 1812, ‘Charlotte is not at all afraid of the Queen, as she runs on from subject to subject and into all her jokes with the Q., just as she does with us, and stands over Queen’s chair & yesterday afternoon kept the Queen laughing from eight o’clock until 10.’ Though they were to cross the swords in the future, the time came when Queen Charlotte developed a respect for her granddaughter and namesake and became her champion.

The young Princess was critical of what she called the Royal Menagerie, and commented shrewdly, if not always kindly, upon their characters. ‘No family,’ she asserted, ‘was ever composed of such odd people: and there have happened such extraordinary things, that in any other family…are never herd of before.’

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

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Picture: Portrait of Queen Charlotte by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1789, National Gallery

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Prince Regent Doesn’t Care About ‘His True Wife’ Anymore

‘The Carlton House fête marked the end of Mrs. Fitzherbert’s reign. While Charlotte played Cinderella at Windsor, with no Fairy Godmother to send her to the ball, Maria Fitzherbert tore up her invitation and remained at home. On receiving her card she had written to the Prince to ask at which table she was to sit. He replied that she might sit wherever she chose except at his table, where rank alone regulated the ceremonial. Maria replied hotly that their relationship entitled her to the first place at his table; but she did not press her claim: rather than see her successor, the handsome, elegant Lady Hertford, seated in a place of honour at the Prince’s table, she preferred to stay away. And so the woman whom he had once called ‘my only true and real wife’ withdrew herself from his life for ever.’

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

Mrs. Fitzherbert by Thomas Gaisborough

Picture: Mrs. Fitzherbert by Thomas Gaisborough, 1784, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California, USA