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A State Prisoner

Two days after her capture, Charlotte, with the aid of her drawing master Mr. Starkey, succeeded in smuggling a pencilled letter to Mercer out of Carlton House. She was allowed neither pen, ink nor paper, but she had stolen ‘these few sheets’, and intended, she said, to pass the letter through milk, to preserve the pencil. She was writing to her uncle Sussex in the same way.

‘You have no idea of my situation,’ she wrote to Mercer. ‘Oh, God, it ought to be remedied indeed, for it is wretched, and enough to send anyone wild … I am complete prisoner, not a letter or thing could get to me except by some merciful private hand.’ Even the Bishop was a welcome visitor in her desolation: he had promised to try and see Mercer, to beg her to get permission to visit Charlotte.

‘Shall you venture,’ she enquires of her friend, ‘upon asking leave to come and see me? … Oh, I wish you would … pray, pray do it.’ She is filled with self-reproach: ‘It is I who by my mad conduct brought all this upon you’ – and she reminds herself yet again of their heartbroken parting when ‘I could not utter one single word because you could not’. The following Monday she is to be moved to Cranbourne Lodge, in Windsor Forest, where she will be even more isolated. Her new ladies, she says, ‘are stupider and duller than anything’. She did not even attempt to talk, and meals were a misery – ‘so forlorn and prisonish’ – and she thinks of the cheerful dinners at Warwick House when Mercer was with her.

She was never alone, even at night, and the atmosphere of watching and suspicion was intolerable. ‘Louis went to Warwick House for some things for me, but … Lady Ilchester went over with her and followed her everywhere she went … and told her there must be no talking or messages with the servants.’

In spite of inflicting this heavy punishment upon his daughter, the Regent was all charm when they met. ‘I heartily begged his pardon for my rash act,’ she said, and he told her that he had forgiven her.”He cried a vast deal,’ she said, ‘did not know what to do for me, but would try & not make my life miserable.’ But the mention of Mercer, she said, drew from her ‘a violent shower of tears’. Altogether, it was a tearful scene, but hardly a constructive one for Charlotte’s future.

On July 18 the Princess moved from Carlton House to Cranbourne Lodge. To her surprise she found the house ‘very cheerful & very good, the view lovely’. She felt it was ‘an honourable retreat … and very far superior to Lower Lodge’. But there was no lessening of restrictions, and she could not shake off her wardresses. ‘Lady Ilchester is best,’ she wrote, ‘I don’t like Campbell at all.’ A week later she changed her mind: Mrs. Campbell was trying to please her and displayed ‘diffidence and delicacy’. But Lady Rosslyn she could never abide: she nicknamed her ‘Famine’ and ‘Vixen’, and her two dim nieces, the Misses Coates, were dubbed ‘the Consequences’. ‘The old one’ (Lady Rosslyn), she wrote, ‘is as detestable an old lump of bones as ever was, never seems good-humoured or pleased, & is always listening to what is going on … ‘

On receiving Charlotte’s pencilled note from Carlton House, the Duke of Sussex composed a letter to the Prime Minister. Princess Charlotte, he said, was being treated as a State Prisoner. Her health was suffering, and her doctors had prescribed sea bathing as vitally important to her recovery. He demanded permission to visit her.

Two days later, on July 19, having received no reply, he got up in the House of Lords, and put five questions, devised by Brougham, to Lord Liverpool. He wished to know, he said, if the Princess is allowed to receive her friends as usual; if she is able to write and receive letters. Is she actually under the restraint of imprisonment? Did not her doctors, a year ago, prescribe a yearly visit to the seaside as necessary to her health? And lastly, now that she passed the age when by Law she is fit to govern, what steps have been taken towards providing her with an Establishment suitable to her rank, and to the part she will soon have to perform?

The questions were pertinent, and embarrassing.

Lord Liverpool refused to answer, on the grounds that the points raised by the Duke ‘would bear by implication a disagreeable appearance as uninvited as it was unnecessary’.

‘Old Bags’, the Lord Chancellor, who was largely responsible for the Regent’s restrictions on Charlotte, ‘administered a rebuke.’ But Sussex, undeterred, said that he would raise the subject again. Before he finally sat down he begged to address the Woolsack, quoting Bacon – he believed it was Bacon – on the importance to man of reading, writing and conversation, and pointing out that ‘retirement, coercion and seclusion were not the means to instruct and give Princess Charlotte of Wales the most favorable idea of the beauty and advantages of the glorious constitution of this country, over which she was one day, please God, to rule’.

Perhaps it is not surprising that after this the Regent refused to meet his brother Sussex again.

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

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Messengers Come And Go

The party was upstairs in the drawing room when Mercer arrived accompanied by ‘the Great UP’. After Charlotte’s flight, when the Prince Regent went off to join a card party at the Duke of York’s apartments, Mercer and the Bishop had agreed to go up to Connaught House and try to persuade Charlotte to come home, and Cornelia Knight had refused to come with them because she could no longer bring herself to set foot in a house that belonged to the Princess of Wales.

Mercer was invited up to the drawing room, while the Bishop was shown into the dining room. It was a pattern of precedence that was to be maintained throughout the night. Partisans of the Princess were brought straight upstairs: representatives of the Regent were at best shown into the dining room and in most cases not even admitted to the house.

The Bishop did not have to wait too long, however. He was soon sent back to find the Regent with a note from Charlotte, in which she promised to return to Warwick House provided she was allowed to see Mercer as often as she wished, and provided Miss Knight and Mrs Louis were allowed to remain members of her household.

He had not been long gone when a series of coaches and carriages arrived carrying the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the other law officers, advisers and privy councillors who had been summoned and sent out by the Regent. To Brougham’s much amused embarrassment, Charlotte merrily instructed the servants to tell them all to wait in their carriages.

Then Cornelia Knight arrived. As soon as Mercer and the Bishop had left the Warwick House she had become so anxious about Charlotte that she changed her mind. She would have come after them then and there if she could. She had sent a note to Lady Salisbury explaining the emergency and asking if she could borrow her carriage. But the carriage had not been available until after it had dropped Lady Salisbury at the opera house.

In her memoir, Cornelia Knight wrote that once she was in the drawing room she gave Charlotte her royal seal, a key and a letter that had arrived after her departure. But she did not say who it was from.

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

Dark Clouds Are Gathering Over Charlotte’s Head

The Bishop of Salisbury now turned up again, like a bird of ill omen. He gently let fall in the course of a chat with Charlotte that he had heard from the Prime Minister and Lord Eldon that unless she were to write a submissive letter to her father, promising to reconsider her decision in a few months and marry the Prince of Orange, ‘arrangements would be made by no means agreeable to her inclinations’. This last phrase bore the stamp of her enemy, Eldon, who had once said that if she were his daughter he would have her locked up. On that occasion, she burst into tears: now she was past crying.

The sinister threat was received with dismay at Warwick House. Miss Knight believed that one of the ‘arrangement’ would be her dismissal: the Duchess of Leeds had already been asked to resign. It looked as if Warwick House and its entire household were about to be given up. That day Charlotte told one of her pages that she expected all the servants would be sent away; but she promised that she would never forget them, and would take them back whenever it was in her power. (Two years later, after her marriage, she honoured this promise.)

She wrote to her father an affectionate, if not a submissive letter. She had not written before, she said, for fear of an unfavourable reception; but she found it impossible to remain silent any longer without letting him know how she dreaded having angered him and forfeited his affection.

She had hoped, she went on, to have had a chance to talk to him, and to justify ‘any part of my conduct that may have displeased you’. She told him that her health was troubling her: for weeks she had suffered from a painful and swollen knee, and the doctors now advised sea air to restore her. She knew how important it was for her to be well, but she assured him that she could never make ‘a perfect recovery’ unless she knew herself forgiven and restored to favour.

The Regent did not answer.

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

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

The Princess of Wales Has Friends in High Places

‘The Prince of Wales was bitterly disappointed. His father’s ministers had let him down. Their disapproval was not enough. They had found him no grounds for divorce.His wife, on the other hand, was self – righteously triumphant. During the “Delicate Investigation” the King had not visited her, and he had not invited her to visit him. But now that she had been acquitted by his arbitrary tribunal, she felt that it was his duty to acknowledge her innocence publicly by inviting her to court again. She wrote to the King asking him to receive her, but the King was not so sure that he should. There was much in the report that could not be condoned. So the Princess of Wales decided to write to him again. Since she had not been allowed to present her defence to the committee in Downing Street, she would present it to the King in Windsor instead.With the best but biased legal advice from Spencer Perceval, who had recently resigned the office of Attorney General after the death of Pitt, she laid out her detailed rebuttal of every charge that the Dougleses had brought against her. Her letter, dated 2 October, was so long that it became known sarcastically as “The Book”.

Nine weeks later, when she had received no reply, not even an acknowledgement, the Princess wrote to the King again begging for him to receive her and restore her reputation. At the same time, however, in a barely veiled threat, she arranged to have copies of “The Book” printed.

Nevertheless, it was another seven weeks before the Lord Chancellor’s office informed the Princess that, despite his reservations, the King was now ready to receive her. But week after week went by without any invitation arriving.

Eventually, on 5 March 1807, five months after her first letter, the Princess of Wales lifted the veil from her threat. If she did not receive an invitation within the next week, she would publish “The Book”.’

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

‘”I am a real Brunswick, and do not know what fear is,” the Princess had told Lady Douglas, and now she was fearless in her determination to be accepted once more by the Royal Family. She had her supporters and sympathizers, and some powerful political friends. Lord Eldon, the ex-Lord Chancellor, and Spencer Perceval, later to become Tory Prime Minister, were her advisers, and with their assistance she drew up a document giving a detailed defence of her
conduct, which, under the title of “The Book”, she threatened to publish. On May 18, 1807, it was reported that the Princess of Wales had appeared at the Opera and at the Queen’s Drawing Room. Although greeted with marked frigidity by Queen Charlotte, the Princess had a riotous reception at Covent Garden. She felt that she had won. The Book was withdrawn.’

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

‘By then the gossips in London society had exhausted their imaginations speculating about what “The Delicate Investigation” had discovered and about what might be in “The Book”. To the press and the general public, who knew very little about the Princess of Wales and a great deal that they did not like about her husband, she was a wronged woman who deserved their support. The reputation of the royal family sank even further.

Spencer Perceval believed, and indeed hoped, that publication of “The Book” would bring down the government that had treated the Princess so shoddily. But, as it turned out, there was never any need for publication. A few days later, the coalition government destroyed itself. The Cabinet resigned, bitterly divided over whether or not Roman Catholics should be allowed to sit in Parliament and hold commissions in the army.

The Tories were returned to the office. George Canning became Foreign Secretary and Spencer Perceval became Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Princess of Wales had friends in high places.

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

caroline and spencer perceval

Picture: Caroline of Brunswick and Spencer Perceval

Moving To Warwick House

‘The Prince had by now agreed that Princess Charlotte should live at Lower Lodge, Windsor, and be brought up under her grandfather’s direction; but following another vain attempt at reconciliation with his father, he decided after all to keep her in London. A lengthy correspondence throughout 1805 failed to decide upon a permanent plan for the child’s upbringing. This correspondence, which the King insisted must be conducted through Lord Eldon, the Chancellor, was extremely longwinded and there seemed little likehood of the charming scene visualised by Lord Moira – “the Prince holding one hand [of Princess Charlotte] while the King held the other” – coming true. The only conclusion reached by the end of 1805 was that while the Prince was in London his daughter should live at Warwick House, which adjoined Carlton House, and that she should spend the rest of the year at Windsor, where the King insisted that her mother should be allowed to visit her.The King’s growing attachment to Princess Caroline was now being remarked upon. “Whenever he is in town on a Thursday, instead of dining at the Queen’s House or going back to there, he constantly dines with the Princess at Blackheath and returns late in the evening across the country to Kew.” In fact the whole arrangement was unsatisfactory to the Prince, who was outraged when he learned that the £ 5,000 a year allotted to him for Princess Charlotte’s education was now to be deducted if the King took over.As the Prince had enjoyed making lists of Rules for the Nursery, so the King now settled down to make lists of persons whom he considered suitable instructors for his granddaughter. “She must,” he said, “both day and night be constantly under the eyes of responsible persons,’ and one as a vision of the lively child hemmed in by large shadowy figures.’

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

 king george charlotte and the prince of wales

The King Falls Into Madness Again

It became a cloak and dagger situation. The Prince consulted Charles James Fox, who wrote a few days later of “the desperate attempt that is making to take the Princess from your Royal Highness”, and advised the Prince to remove his daughter immediately from Woolwich to Carlton House. “Where she is now,” he continues, “she cannot be safe. For God’s sake, Sir, let no one persuade you that this is not a matter of the highest importance to you.”

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Elton*, intervened. He advised the Prince to wait till the King returned from Weymouth before taking further action. He warned him of the effect that any drastic measure might have upon the King’s mind. Now, three years after his last illness, the King was giving unmistakable signs that his mind was unbalanced. Although able to dictate letters and deal with state affairs, in his private life he behaved oddly, buying houses and giving extravagant presents. His family watched him with growing alarm. They viewed his increasing kindness to the Princess of Wales with dismay. He conferred upon her the Rangership of Greenwich, and offered to give her Greenwich Park, which she refused. The Prince’s secretary and spy, Colonel McMahon, reported that he received her at Kew because at Windsor “he knew that the Queen and Princesses would be rude to her”. He treated his daughter – in – law with the greatest kindness and affection, but, sadly, his attitude to the Queen worsened, as illness warped his mind. He reverted to the idea which had possessed him in 1788, that his true Queen was the Countess of Pembroke – ‘Queen Esther’. He would like to live with her, he said, in the Great Lodge in Windsor Park; but if she declined his offer, he would transfer it to the Duchess of Rutland. With one or other of these ladies he would “live snug at the Lodge’ while the Queen went to London to hold weekly Drawing Rooms.

It was hoped that sea bathing at Weymouth would restore the King, and although he had to be restrained from riding his horse into church, he seems to have presented his usual benign and friendly countenance to the world, and The Times correspondent, comparing the respectability of Weymouth with the vulgarity of Brighton, reported that ‘the piety, the morality, the decorum of a virtuous Court shed their influence around…”

But on their return from Weymouth, the King and the Queen, at her instigation, began to live apart: she was frightened of him. Whether at Windsor or at Buckingham Palace, she made sure that there would be no question of their sleeping together, and locked the door against her husband. Her temper suffered under the strain: she bullied her daughters and snapped at the King. She sided with the Prince in royal rows.

The King’s position cannot have been happy. He was beginning to go blind, and could not recognize people across a room; yet, to outsiders at least, he appeared in excellent health.

“Our good King,” wrote Lord Henley, who often saw him at Windsor, “continues mind and body, the sight excepted, better than I have seen him for years…This morning I met him in the Park at ten o’clock and rode with him until a quarter past one. He was cheerful, and we had more than one of his hearty laughs, which I have not heard before for some time.”

This was, indeed, the general impression. At the King’s request “that horrible doctor* had been dismissed, and he believed himself, at sixty – six, fit and well.

*Dr. Samuel Foart Simmons, Physician to St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics.He was called in in 1804 when the King refused to see Dr. Willis; brought his assistants and put the King in a strait – jacket. He was with difficulty persuaded to go, at the insistence of the Prince of Wales.

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

220px-George_III_Zoffany

 * Correct spelling: ‘Eldon’. More about him here.