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A Visit In Oatlands

Like the rest of the royal family, Charles’s father, the Duke of York, was at least aware of the inappropriate meetings in the park. But he did not feel inclined to reproach anyone. He was one of the many who disapproved of the way in which the Prince Regent prevented his daughter from appearing in public or even in society. If the Princess was lonely, she could hardly be criticised for taking pleasure in such company as she could find. His Duchess agreed with him. So they decided that, if the Regent was not prepared to bring his daughter out, they would do it for him. They would invite Princess Charlotte to stay at Oatlands, their country house in Surrey, and while she was there they would give a ball.

The childless Duchess of York, whose uncle was Frederick the Great, respected her husband as a soldier, but in most other ways she preferred the company of her menagerie to his. Nevertheless she knew her duty. She tolerated his infidelities with dignity. She turned his country house into a comfortable home. When he went there with his many crude companions, she had a warm welcome for all of them. She was a generous hostess. She served dinner much later than anyone else in England, and like her husband she was happy to sit up all nights afterwards playing cards. She hated ceremony. At Oatlands there was none of the stiff formality that pervaded the households of the other royal dukes. In atmosphere it was more like a little German palace or the home of an English country gentleman. Everyone who went there spoke well of it. The only drawbacks, they said, were the smell and the insanitary condition of the carpets – very few of the Duchess’s forty dogs were house-trained.

Charlotte went to Oatlands in November. The Duchess had laid on everything possible to make the stay enjoyable. Among the guests in the houseparty there were several of Charlotte’s age, including Anne and Georgiana Fitzroy, the nieces of Lord Wellington. Expeditions were arranged almost every day. On one day they went to Hampton Court Palace, which Charlotte described to Mercer as having ‘an air of gloom & coldness about it which is frightful’. On another they went to ‘the famous house’ at Paines Hill. And then they visited a house called Claremont.

The drove over to Claremont twice. On the first day they were shown round the elegant Palladian mansion, which Clive of India had begun to build over forty years earlier. On the second they inspected the splendid park, which had been designed by ‘Capability’ Brown. Clive had committed suicide before he could enjoy it, and since then there had been so many owners that no family had lived there long enough to make it a home.

Charlotte did not share her first impression of Claremont with Mercer. But another visitor, a few months later, gave hers. ‘It is’, wrote Jane Austen sadly and prophetically, ‘a house that seems never to have prospered’.

The climax of the visit was not one ball but two. The first, according to Charlotte’s letters, did not end until after 2 am, and on the on the following night the walzing went on until after four. Charlotte ‘enjoyed it of all things’, despite the conduct of her father, who had grudgingly agreed to be among the many guests. On the first evening he hurt her, and shocked everyone else, by ignoring her. On the second, while the Scottish Member of Parliament William Adam was attempting to teach her the ‘Highland Flurry’, he insisted on joining in the demonstration.

For a moment or two the Regent and Mr Adam, who was Mercer’s uncle, reeled round the room together. Then the Prince struck his shoe against the leg of a sofa, fell over and tore a tendon in his foot. Being the man he was, he made a fuss, retired to bed and remained at Oatlands for over a fortnight.

Inevitably, when the story got out, the Prince’s many enemies said that he had obviously been drunk. But, if he had been, Charlotte would have admitted it to Mercer. According to her letters the only guest who got ‘beastly drunk’ was Richard Brinsley Sheridan, remembered now as a playwright but equally well known then as a leading member of the Whig opposition.

Having introduced the Princess to the waltz, clearly the Duchess of York’s next duty was to take her to the opera. The visit was arranged to take place on 22 February the following year, when Charlotte would have passed sixteenth birthday. Meanwhile the Duke attempted to improved her mind, and perhaps her English, by lending her an anonymous novel, which both he and she believed had been written by Lady Anne Paget.

Charlotte loved it and wrote to Mercer. “Sense and Sensibility” I have just finished reading; it certainly is interesting, & you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne & me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c, however remain very like.’

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

the duke and duchess of york

Zapisz

Miss Cornelia Knight Becomes Charlotte’s Lady Companion

Soon afterwards Lady de Clifford resigned as governess. The continuing eye infection was a good excuse, but she must have known that her lack of vigilance had lost her the confidence of her employer, and that it was probably better to jump before she was pushed (…)

In January 1813, just after she had celebrated her seventeenth birthday, Charlotte was told that new governess was to be the Duchess of Leeds and that, since Mrs Udney had also decided to retire, her new sub-governess was to be Miss Cornelia Knight.

Charlotte was furious. No girl of seventeen had a governess. And anyway she was a princess. She ought to have her own establishment by now. She ought to have ladies-in-waiting. And one of them ought to be Mercer Elphinstone.

But this was never an argument that was going to have any effect on her father. In the last of several heated meetings, in the presence of the Queen and the Lord Chancellor, who had been brought along to add legal weight to the Prince’s prejudices, he informed his daughter that the best he was prepared to do would be to describe Miss Knight as a ‘lady companion’ and not a ‘sub-governess’.

‘Besides’, he said, with all the self-deluding confidence of someone who barely knows the half of it, ‘I know all that passed in Windsor Park; and if it were not for my clemency, I would shut you up for life. Depend upon it, as long as I live you shall never have an establishment, unless you marry.’

The Prince Regent was still determined to treat his daughter as a child. But there was not another man in the kingdom who felt inclined to do the same.

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

At this point, Lady de Clifford retired to London suffering from inflamed eyes, and Charlotte’s visits to her mother were again cancelled. The Princess wrote to the Queen, ‘to beg some person be appointed’ to accompany Charlotte to Kensington. Miss Cornelia Knight, at that time Lady Companion to the Queen, was sent with strict orders not to let Princess Charlotte out of her sight for one moment. The Queen also sent for Princess Charlotte, and told her that she was not to retire at all; to which the young princess retorted that after such a long journey she would have to retire, but she assured her grandmother that she need have no fear: ‘what she had to say to her mother she could say before  anybody.'(…)

Fortunately, early in 1813, the unlamented Mrs. Udney retired from the scene, and a new lady was appointed to succeed her, of whom Charlotte wrote, ‘An excellent valuable person is come, which is Miss Knight.’

Miss Cornelia Knight was no stranger: she had been the Queen’s lady for seven years. Charlotte thought her ‘clear-sighted & firm, accomplished & talented’. But what most pleased the Princess was that a concession had been made to her demand for an Establishment: Miss Knight was to be her Lady Companion, not her sub-governess. She was herself as precise on this point as Charlotte could wish, and went so far as to contradict the announcement from Windsor of her appointment as sub-governess by inserting a paragraph in the Morning Chronicle, February 4, 1813: ‘Miss Knight is one of the ladies companions to her Royal Highness and is the daughter of the late Sir Joseph Knight.’

There is something quaint and prim about this announcement with its toss of the head at the end; but it shows that the lady was used to standing up for her rights. In time she would have to stand up for Charlotte’s.

Ellis Cornelia Knight was fifty-six, an Admiral’s daughter, and after his death in 1775 she and her mother had lived abroad, chiefly in Italy, for economy. They were both accomplished and intellectual, a little eccentric in their dress and given to draperies, but as Lady Knight wrote, We have always lived in the best company and not inelegantly … by my daughter’s being the milliner and I the mantua-maker, stay-maker and workwoman.’ ‘Moreover,’ she added, ‘Cornelia is universally esteemed.’ Cornelia was undoubtedly talented: she wrote verses and several learned books, including a sequel to Dr. Johnson’s Rasselas and a novel called Marcus Flaminius, on which Horace Walpole commented, ‘I do protest, I think it a wonderful performance. There is so much learning and good sense well digested, such exact knowledge of Roman characters and manners … that it is impossible not to admire the judgement and excellent understanding of the authoress.’ But he was obliged to admit that ‘as a novel … it is not very amusing’.

Miss Knight could no more have written an amusing novel than her contemporary, Miss Austen, could have produced that History of the House of Coburg requested of her by the Regent’s librarian.

After Lady Knight’s death at Palermo, Cornelia was rescued from lonely poverty by Sir William and Lady Hamilton, under whose protection she remained for several years. She was prickly in defence of her hostess’s morals. ‘I must say,’ she wrote, ‘that there was certainly at that time no impropriety in living under Lady Hamilton’s roof. Her house was the resort of the best company of all nations, and the attentions paid to Lord Nelson appeared perfectly natural.’ Innocent, earnest Miss Knight saw ‘no impropriety’ in the relationship of this classic pair.

After Nelson’s death the Hamiltons returned to England, and Cornelia decided to look for a job. She was recommended by Fanny Burney to the Queen, who was partial to literary ladies, and invited Miss Knight to become a member of her household. In December 1805, at the age of forty-nine, Cornelia became a resident at Windsor, living in Park Street in a house which belonged to the Queen, who allowed her one maid to do the housework. She was paid three hundred pounds a year. Her work at this time was not arduous: most mornings were spent at Frogmore, listening to the Queen reading aloud in French and English, and doing needlework, and she was given generous leave ‘to visit her friends’. Nevertheless, during the course of the next seven years, the strain of living in that unhappy court became more and more unbearable.

But the daughter of an Admiral who had served his country for fifty-two years was not one to desert her post, and her tall, angular figure was still to be seen among the Queen’s ladies in 1812 when Lady de Clifford resigned. After the appointment of the Duchess of Leeds and subsequent rows, a little council composed of Princess Mary, the Regent and Sir Henry Halford, the royal doctor and go-between, decided that Miss Knight was just the person to be ‘about Charlotte’.

The only problem was how to detach her from the Queen without causing trouble, and this proved to be impossible. ‘The Queen is generally very cross,’ wrote Charlotte at this time. At the very idea of Miss Knight’s leaving her the Queen shook with rage: Miss Knight, torn by her divided loyalties, lapsed into hysterics, and everybody tried to pour oil on waters which became more and more troubled. ‘Of course,’ wrote Princess Mary to the Prince, ‘we must not tell the Queen Miss Knight would like a situation about Charlotte in preference to REMAINING about the Queen, that would never do.’ But that was what the Queen chose to believe, and Miss Knight felt obliged to refuse the tempting invitation out of loyalty to her Majesty. But now the Queen decided that she did not want Miss Knight, and treated her to a very cold shoulder indeed. ‘Miss Knight is a as much her own mistress as you are your own master,’ she wrote to the Prince Regent. ‘Dismissed my service since yesterday, I do certainly not mean to offer her to come back again to me.’

Miss Knight, ill with worry, now wrote to Lord Moira giving up both situations, but Moira urged her to take courage. Two days later he brought Cornelia ‘a positive command’ from the Queen to accept the place offered her. And so, after this stormy beginning, Miss Knight went to Warwick House on January 23, 1813, to begin her life with Princess Charlotte.

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

Ellis Cornelia Knight by Angelika Kauffmann in 1793

Portrait of Ellis Cornelia Knight by Angelica Kauffmann, 1793, Manchester Art Gallery

Prince Regent Has An Ambiguous Attitude To His Daughter

Princess Charlotte, in exile at Windsor – ‘Heavens how dul,’ she wrote – had been deeply hurt by her exclusion from the Prince’s party. Her only entertainment had been through the Queen’s kindness’ to be present at the Eton Montem. ‘Not having ever seen the sight before I was much interested in it,’ she said; but her pleasure was marred by the Prince’s inexplicable coldness to her. He ‘hardly spoke to me AT ALL,’ she said, ‘& when he did his manner was so cold that it was very distressing.’

It is difficult to follow the fluctuations of the Regent’s attitude to his daughter. It is possible sometimes to guess the cause of his coldness: that she is irritating to him, through her enthusiasms, her friendships, or her loyalty to her mother. But no doubt there were more subtle causes: at times she may have reminded him of himself (‘in everything she is his very image,’ said Lady Charlotte Bury) – not always a pleasant reminder. On the other hand, some look or mannerism may have recalled to him the Princess Caroline, which was an affront. She was nervous in his presence, and consequently at a disadvantage: her stammer, inherited from himself and at its worst in his company, was maddening to him. She was clever enough to be aware of these things, and tried desperately to counteract them; but all this trying did not make for an easy relationship. Nor did the Prince’s temperament. He could change direction like a weathercock, so that we hear, one day, of his being ‘remarkably kind and attentive’ to his daughter, or even ‘VERY KIND INDEED’, only to be told soon after that ‘he never spoke to me & and when we came to supper he went to bed’.

There was another reason for the Prince’s uncertainty of manner. He preferred, as we have seen, to treat his daughter as a child, and he must have been disconcerted to find that at fifteen Charlotte was, in mind and body, a woman. Those slightly prominent Hanoverian blue eyes, that ‘full but finely shaped bosom’ and ‘voluptuous’ figure, the Regent must have observed with disquiet. Charlotte would have to be kept on a tight rein. The swashbuckling tomboy of George Keppel’s acquaintance was changing rapidly, and although she still strode about showing her ankles and her drawers, she did so now because she knew that she had pretty legs. Like Jane Austen’s Catherine Morland, and at the same age, she ‘curled her hair and longed for balls’ because she wanted to meet young men and be admired.

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

george and charlotte1

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.