Tag Archives: james chambers

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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Charlotte Is Writing To The Prime Minister

At Warwick House, the news [about the battle of Waterloo] was, for the most part, a relief. Napoleon had decided to strike at the right flank and try to take on the allies one at time. So the Russians were too far away to be engaged – Leopold was safe. Wellington and Blücher were the only commanders who had been able to combine, and theirs were the armies that suffered casualties. Among these, Charlotte learned, both Charles Hesse and the Hereditary Prince of Orange had been wounded, although neither so severely that his life was in danger. But there was also a loss, and it was a loss that brought back the gloom that Warwick House had not seen since the death of Mrs Gagarin.

Two days before the battle of Waterloo, in an attempt to halt the French advance, the Duke of Brunswick had been killed leading his black cavalry in a charge at Quatre Bras. The little duchy had lost another duke to Napoleon.

(…)

Grief did not, however, distract Charlotte from what was now her only important objective. By the time she wrote that letter [to her mother], she had written to the Prime Minister asking him to represent her formally with her father and request him to offer her hand in marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. If he did not agree, she warned, she would remain a spinster and refuse all other suitors.

This time the Prince Regent’s excuse was ‘the state of the Continent and the negotiations’ that followed the exile of Napoleon to St Helena. This, he said, was not the moment to consider such a proposal. In his report to Charlotte, Lord Liverpool told her that for the time being he felt there was no more he could do; the matter would have to be ‘postponed for his Royal Highness’s further consideration’.

When the Duke of York heard what had happened he agreed with the Prime Minister and advised Charlotte to be patient. He was in touch with Leopold and knew he was about to join the allied army in Paris. Duty might well prevent him from coming to England for a few months anyway, and meanwhile Charlotte was about to be sent away for another seaside exile in Weymouth. The Duke’s advice was to wait until November, when Parliament would be sitting again, and then ‘make another push’.

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

Picture: Portrait of the 2nd Earl of Liverpool by Thomas Lawrence, before 1827, National Portrait Gallery

Napoleon Returns To France

And then came the news that brought all negotiations in Brighton, Windsor, London, Vienna and anywhere else in Europe to a standstill. On 1 March Napoleon had escaped from the island of Elba. He had landed in France. His old army was rallying round him.

The Congress of Vienna broke up. The nations of Northern Europe made ready to go back to war.

Amid the anxiety on every other front, the emergency brought one relief to Charlotte. Captain Hesse came home to rejoin his regiment. Mercer and her father found and confronted him. He convinced them that all letters had been burned. The trunk that contained them was empty. With but two exceptions, every present that he had ever received from Charlotte was returned to Mercer. One exception was a turquoise ring, which he first said was still in his baggage and then said had been lost when he was wearing it round his plume in battle. The other was the watch. But Charlotte did not think that either of these was significant enough to be incriminating. The matter was at an end. The little hussar was no longer a threat.

On 14 May Mercer received a letter from Leopold. It was the answer to the one she had sent him much earlier, but it had taken a long time to reach her. It had been written in Vienna on 28 April. Leopold had little hope of going back to England now. He was about to rejoin the Russian army and take up his old command. But if Mercer could assure him that he would be welcome to the Princess, he would do all that he could come.

Mercer wrote back. She did not dare to give him that assurance. Making suggestions was as much as she could risk. If she was caught negotiating a royal marriage, she would never be allowed to see Charlotte again.

But on 2 June, before her letter reached him, Leopold wrote another to Mercer. After thinking about it, he had decided not to risk coming to England uninvited. If he did, he might offend the Regent, and without the Regent’s goodwill, his dream could never be fulfilled.

But by then Leopold would not have been able to come to England anyway. Napoleon had assembled 125,000 men in northern France. Further north, along the border, the allies were waiting. In another two weeks they would be fully prepared for a combined invasion. Meanwhile, if Napoleon struck first, they were almost ready to receive him. The Austrians were to the east of Strasbourg, in a long line between Basle and Worms. The Russians were in the centre, north-west of Frankfort. The Prussians were south-west of them, below Namur and Liege. The British, Dutch, Hanoverians and Brunswickers were to the west between Brussels and the sea.

And most of the men who had played leading parts in Charlotte’s short life were with them. Leopold was with the Russians in the centre; August was with Blücher’s Prussians; Charles Hesse, George FitzClarence, the Prince of Orange and the Duke of Brunswick were with Wellington beyond Brussels.

No matter what route Napoleon chose, at least one of them would be in harm’s way.

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

Not the Orange Match Again …

Charlotte knew that she had at least two allies in the royal family. A week earlier, when it had not mattered so much, Princess Mary had abandoned her enigmatic attitude and ‘launched forth vehemently’ in praise of Leopold, partly because of his reputation as a man of the highest character, and partly because he came from a very old family. Then the Duke of York revealed himself as an ally, although, like Mercer, he advised Charlotte to keep quiet for the time being.

It was good advice. No proposal was likely to succeed with the Regent if it contradicted one of his own. But now that she had made up her mind, Charlotte did not feel inclined to wait. She persuaded Mercer that it would do no harm if ‘the Leo’, as she now called him, were to come over uninvited, and on 3 February she wrote to Mercer asking her to make it happen.

Before you named it I was hourly going to propose to you what certainly nothing could have authorised me or prompted me to have done, but our long intimacy & your kind affection for me. It was this, whether you thought you could by any means send him a hint that his presence at this moment in England would be of service to his views if they were the same as 6 months ago.

Next day, as if in justification, she wrote:

As I care for no man in the world now, I don’t see what it signifies as to my marrying one day sooner or later except for escaping the present evils that surround me. I don’t see what there is against my connecting myself with the most calm & perfect indifference to a man who, I know, has the highest & best character possible in every way, & is extremely prepossessing in his figure and appearance & who certainly did like me.

A few days later, however, the Prince Regent revealed his hand, proving not only that Mercer and the Duke of York were giving good advice but also that Mercer and Earl Grey had been justified in their suspicions after Christmas.

The Prince summoned Mercer and her father to Brighton, ostensibly to discuss their attempts to recover Charlotte’s letters from Captain Hesse. If those letters were to fall into the wrong hands, particularly her mother’s, he said, she would be ruined. He therefore appointed Lord Keith officially as his representative with instructions to interview Captain Hesse and find the letters.

After that the Prince turned abruptly to the possibility of a marriage with the Hereditary Prince of Orange. For Charlotte, he said, this was now ‘the only means of saving her reputation, getting out of her mother’s hands, and making herself quite happy’.

Mercer answered without a hint of respect. ‘It is not actually necessary to marry one man’, she said, ‘to apologise for writing love letters to another’.

The Prince said nothing. Emboldened by her own impatient impudence, Mercer went on, ‘The last time Princess Charlotte talked to me about it, she said that so far from repenting the step she had taken, she would rather continue to suffer all the restraint and privations she had these last six months than marry the Prince of Orange.’

The Prince did not seem to be convinced, or else he did not want to be. Mercer left the meeting frustrated. No matter what anyone thought or said, the Regent was clearly determined to have his own way.

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

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]

Who Is Leopold? (Part 3)

In October Leopold went to Erfurt where Napoleon, the Tsar and many of the leading rulers in the Confederation of the Rhine had assembled for a conference. In reality it was more of a celebration than a conference. There were more balls, banquets and parades than meetings. But amid these Leopold managed to obtain an audience with the Emperor, at which he repeated his brother’s request for more land and his own for a position on the imperial staff. The answer to the former was more encouraging and more specific than before. Napoleon agreed to add parts of Bayreuth and Bamberg to Coburg. But the answer to the latter was still non-committal.

In later life Leopold always denied that he had asked for a position. He said that it was Napoleon who offered him a job and that he had turned it down. But Napoleon told a different story, and Napoleon was the one who had no reason to disguise the truth. During his exile on St Helena, he told the Comte de las Cases, ‘This Prince Leopold might have been my aide-de-camp; he begged it of me; I don’t know what prevented his appointment. It is very lucky for him he did not succeed.’

In 1808 Leopold could not have felt that he was doing anything dishonourable or disloyal. His homeland was part of the French Empire, and he had been granted an honorary commission by the Tsar, who was then Napoleon’s ally. Like so many other princes, he simply sought advancement in the entourage of his new commander. After Napoleon’s defeat, however, it was unlikely that others would see it that way. To have asked for such a job would not have looked good in England, and to have succeeded in obtaining it would have made Leopold ineligible for almost all the honours and offices that were subsequently offered to him.

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

Who Is Leopold? (Part 2)

Two years later, when Napoleon advanced against the armies of Austria and Russia, intrepid, fourteen-year-old Leopold set out to turn his honorary commission into a real one. But he arrived too late. Two days after he reached the Russian headquarters, news came that the allies had been crushed at Austerlitz.

Leopold went home. In the following year, when Napoleon went to war with Prussia, Coburg was overrun and plundered by the French. There was no resistance. Leopold’s father, the Duke, was already on his deathbed; his eldest brother, the heir, who had gone to join the Prussian army, was also in bed, immobilised by typhoid fever.

The Duke died. The French took over the government of his duchy and incorporated it into the Confederation of Rhine. Coburg became the part of the French Empire.

Since the new Duke was still in bed a hundred and fifty miles away, his formidable mother took up his cause. She demanded an audience with Napoleon. When he refused, she turned to the Tsar, who was then in the process of changing sides and was about to become Napoleon’s ally. The Tsar agreed to help. One of the terms of the treaty that he signed with Napoleon in Tilsit, on 7 July 1807, was that Coburg, while remaining pert of the Confederation, was to be restored to the rule of young Duke Ernest.

As soon as he recovered from his fever, Ernest went to thank Napoleon at his headquarters in Dresden. He was received warmly. The Emperor even promised to increase the size of his duchy by adding a large part of Bayreuth to it. But within weeks of his homecoming, Ernest was on the edge of bankruptcy. Even with the additional income from Gotha, which he had acquired through his wife, his ruined estates in Coburg and Saalfeld were incapable of providing enough revenue to pay for all the soldiers that Napoleon was demanding for his army. So Ernest decided to follow the Emperor to Paris and remind him of his promise and, knowing that good looks and charm were advantages diplomatically as well as socially, he took his brother Leopold with him.

They arrived in Paris on 14 October. Napoleon was not there. The Palace of the Tuileries was occupied by no one but guards and servants. While they waited, however, the brothers were received out at Malmaison by the Empress Josephine, and it was there that Leopold was introduced to her beautiful daughter Hortense.

Leopold was then two months short of his seventeenth birthday, and Hortense was twenty-four. She was married to Napoleon’s brother Louis, the King of Holland, but she had left him and come back to live with her mother, and she was still in mourning for a baby son who had died suddenly five months earlier. Over the next few days, the unhappy Queen of Holland consoled herself by seducing the handsome Prince from Coburg.

Meanwhile Ernest had met a famous Greek beauty, Pauline Panam. For almost six months, Ernest and Leopold stayed in Paris with nothing to do but enjoy the company of Pauline and Hortense.

At last, in March 1808, the French Emperor returned to his capital. Before setting out again for Spain, he granted a brief audience to the brothers from Coburg. It was not a success. Napoleon remembered his promise to Ernest but did nothing to fulfil it, and when Leopold asked to be taken onto his staff as an aide-de-camp, he declined to decide one way or the other. There were, however, dozens of young princes looking for jobs on the Emperor’s staff in 1808, and at least Leopold was one of the few who left an impression on him. In Napoleon’s opinion, Prince Leopold was the handsomeest man who ever set foot in the Tuileries.

In terms of position and wordly wealth, the brothers left Paris empty-handed. But they were both the richer in experience, and Ernest had something to show for it as well. He was accompanied by Pauline Panam, ‘la belle Greque’. To avoid any chance of scandal, she travelled dressed as a man. When they reached the city of Coburg, she was set up discreetly on a farm nearby, where, a few months later, she give birth to a child.

to be continued …

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