Tag Archives: juliette récamier

Charlotte’s Heart Is Broken

Perhaps it was, after all, a good thing that she was going back to Cranbourne Lodge. The season was over at Weymouth and the place had lost its summer charm. It was too windy for sailing, and she spent far too much time by herself. She admitted that her health was better: even though her heart was broken, she looked well, and she told Lady Ashbrook that she had been trying to ride again, ‘and really it goes off better than I could have hoped, which I know you will be glad to hear’. But she went on to tell this kind friend that she had been ‘very uneasy & unhappy upon certain subjects’, and to excuse herself from writing further as she was ‘out of spirits’.

On December 16, she and her ladies set out of for Windsor. She described the journey as sad and uncomfortable. Lady Rosslyn, ‘old Cross Bones’, who always got on her nerves, sat opposite her in the carriage, ‘& really her eternal fidgets & frights nearly drove me distracted’. In any case, Charlotte was hardly in the mood to enjoy herself: two days before, she had written, ‘My hear has had a very sudden & great shock.’ On her return, a letter from Mercer awaited her, which confirmed what she had already heard: Prince August was to marry an Englishwoman, a Miss Rumbolt.

At last, quite suddenly, the wretched, pathetic dream was shattered, the bright bubble of hope vanished into thin air. Charlotte accepted that F had played her false. Her feeling, she said, was not anger or resentment, ‘it is too deep … to allow of anything else but grief’.

At the Castle, she learned a little more about her faithless lover, to whom she now always refers as Prince Augustus. ‘The Duke of Kent told me that P. Augustus was the only black sheep in the family, & que sa main gauche a était offert a tous les jolies femmes en Allemagne.’ But the black sheep’s cousin, the Duchess of York, whether or no she knew anything of Charlotte’s infatuation, gave an even more daunting account of him. His breath, she said uncompromisingly, stank. ‘Handsome as he was, there was no going near him or bearing his approaching, for that it was worse than anything ever was, & at the opera she was obliged really to get one of her brothers to change places with her for fear of being sick.’

It seems strange that this unfortunate defect was not noticed by all the jolie femmes to whom he made love; even stranger that it should have passed unnoticed by the exquisite Madame Récamier. But nothing could have been more precisely aimed to disillusion a lovesick girl.

‘I feel quite convinced,’ wrote Charlotte, ‘that regrets are of no avail … As faith was broken, confidence is gone for ever.’

Throughout the F affair the assiduous Miss Knight – banished and living with friends – had linked the lovers by receiving and forwarding letters. Charlotte dreaded that Notte (as she now always called her) would make things worse for her by reproaching the Prussian prince for his faithlessness. However, she misjudged her. Cornelia managed to smuggle Charlotte’s picture and a ring, returned by F, and wrote calmly and sadly, enclosing a letter – ‘an easy, cool, familiar, friendly letter’ in which Prince August regretfully brings the correspondence to an end. ‘If anything was further wanted to decide the affair,’ said Charlotte, ‘this does it.’

The Duchess of York, having dropped one highly-charged bombshell, followed it up with further disclosures: that, as well as having ‘horrible’ breath – was he, perhaps, too fond of garlic? – he had at least two mistresses. ‘He is not a general favourite,’ she assured her niece; in fact, nobody really liked him except his mother. If the Duchess had set out to finish the affair she could hardly have done so more efficiently. ‘Have I not echappé belle?’ Charlotte demanded of Mercer, and in the next breath went on to discuss the Prince of Saxe-Coburg.

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

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Charlotte Meets Prince August

Among the numerous foreign princes who danced and clicked their heels in the victory celebrations was one who appeared to Charlotte’s inexperienced eyes quite perfect. He was thirty-five, but that did not trouble her. He had been invited to London on account of his bravery at the Battle of Leipzig, and throughout the French campaign. Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich August von Preussen, to give him his full name, was the son of Prince Ferdinand*, the youngest brother of Frederick the Great. In compliment to their valiant uncle all Prince Ferdinand’s children were baptized Frederick or Frederica, which must have caused some confusion in the nursery, but later the first name was dropped. Charlotte adds to the confusion by referring to her prince as ‘F’ in her letters, for there were crops of Fredericks all over Europe, and this one was generally known as August.

He was a distinguished soldier; handsome in a conventional military way, tall, and with a figure that looked its best in uniform. Poor Dutch William must have looked plain and shrimp-like beside him. An experienced philanderer, he had little difficulty in winning Charlotte’s vulnerable heart. He probably saw her for the first time at Carlton House when, as William had noted, she was ‘in great beauty’; and after this they met clandestinely and often. It would not have been difficult for Prince August to capture her imagination with stories of his glamorous career.

‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her, that she did pity them.’

But did he? Charlotte, deluded as she was, believed their passion to be mutual, and for ever. She hung upon his every word: they exchanged rings. He swore that when he returned to Prussia he would write. And romantic, misguided, idiotic Miss Knight, enthusiastically encouraging what she believed was to be a grande passion, offered to receive and pass on his letters.

She could hardly have back a less suitable horse. Prince August was a notorious womanizer, and had begotten several children in Prussia. In 1807 he fell violently in love with the famous beauty, Madame Récamier, whom he met at Madame de Staël’s house, the Château de Coppet. She had been married for fourteen years to a banker Jacques Récamier, who was impotent; at Prince August’s request she wrote to her husband, begging him to release her. His reply, imploring her not to leave him, touched her heart, and Prince August was obliged to give her up, which he did with some bitterness and in indifferent French, ‘Je vous prie de ne plus m’écrire: vos lettres me font trop de mal. Adieu pour le dernière fois.’ He never forgot her. He had his portrait painted with her picture by Gerard in the background, and he is said to have spent hours gazing at her reclining, semi-nude beauty.

However, according to his biographer, Friedrich von Oppeln-Bronikows[k]i (Liebesgeschichten am Preussischen Hofe, Berlin 1928) he did not despair because of that unfulfilled love, but had one affair after another, or sometimes several at a time. ‘His harem,’ it was said, ‘was the talk of the town.’

No one, at this stage, murmured a word of warning to Charlotte, till one day when Mercer arrived unexpectedly at Warwick House and was met by an agitated Miss Knight. Charlotte, she whispered, was alone with Prince August in her room. Mercer insisted that this tête à tête must be broken up at once, and, as Cornelia demurred, did so herself. ‘She evidently,’ said Greville, ‘had no mind that anybody should conduct such an affair for the Princess but herself.’ Although, a month or two later she was lending a sympathetic ear to Charlotte’s outpourings on the subject of ‘F’, she saw at once that in her present precarious situation the affair must at all costs be kept quiet: Miss Knight must be mad to encourage it.

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

* He was the Louis Ferdinand who, Princess Caroline preposterously claimed, was the father of Wilikin. [In reality he was Prince Louis Ferdinand’s brother, not son. They were both the sons of Prince Augustus Ferdinand of Prussia. For more details see Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Augustus_Ferdinand_of_Prussia#Marriage_and_children ]