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The Whole World Mourns Charlotte

Leopold was never the same again. Almost fifty years later he told his niece Queen Victoria that he had ‘never recovered the feeling of happiness’ that ‘blessed’ his short life with Charlotte. He had always been renowned for his reserve, but, as anyone who had ever been to Claremont knew, there was a warmth beneath it. Now, in his grief, he seemed to be more morose than reserved, and the warmth beneath was replaced for ever by a loveless chill.

On the day of Charlotte’s funeral Stockmar wrote to one of Leopold’s former tutors in Coburg, ‘Life seems already to have lost all value for him, and he is convinced that no feeling of happiness can ever again enter his heart.’

Each day during the week that followed his bereavement, Leopold walked round and round the park in the rain with Dr Short, clutching a miniature of Charlotte in his hand. Late every evening, he went into the bedroom where Charlotte was laying and sat with her for most of the night. In Charlotte’s sitting room, her watch was found on the mantelpiece, and the cloak and bonnet that she had been wearing on her last drive were still hanging on the end of a screen. Leopold gave orders that they were to stay where she had left them.

He was inconsolable and his pain grew greater with almost every visitor. On the day after the deaths the doctors came back to carry out a post mortem, interfering with the bodies of his wife and son in a futile search for a cause of death. Worse, Sir Everard Home, Sergeant Surgeon to the King, came to take out their guts and embalm them.

When the medical men had done their work, the undertakers wrapped the child in linen and put him in a simple open coffin. His little heart, which the doctors had taken out, was put separately into an urn. Then Charlotte, also wrapped in linen, was lifted into her own coffin and covered with blue velvet. Leopold watched, and Mrs Campbell watched Leopold. She described him that evening in a letter to Lady Ilchester. ‘It was grief to look at him. He seemed so heartbroken.’

Even some of the visitors who came to comfort Leopold only added to his misery.The Duchess of York drove over from Oatlands and was so overcome with grief herself that she collapsed in the hall and had to be taken home before she saw him.

The Prince Regent came down and asked to see the bodies. He had left Warwickshire for London soon after he heard that his daughter was in labour, but the rider carrying less welcome news had somehow managed to gallop past his carriage and its escort in the dark. He was back at Carlton House and in bed when the Duke of York came to tell him that his daughter and grandson were dead. His response was uncharacteristically selfless. ‘What is to be done for the poor man?” he said, falling back onto pillow. ‘Great Heaven!’

Leopold gave the Regent a lock of Charlotte’s hair. Next day, the Regent’s sister Princess Mary, who was now Duchess of Gloucester, took the lock, entwined it with a lock from their youngest sister, Princess Amelia, who had died in 1810, and had them made into an eternity ring for him.

The Queen, accompanied by her daughter Princess Elizabeth, was dining with the Mayor and Corporation of Bath when the bad news reached her. She set out at once for Windsor. But back in the castle with her spinster daughters and her sad old husband she was overwhelmed with the sense of helplessness and bitter disappointment. Despair destroyed what was left of her health. It declined rapidly from that moment on. Within a year she was dead.

In Holland the Prince of Orange wept at the news, and out of deference to his grief his Russian Princess ordered the ladies of his court to dress in mourning.

When the news reached Italy, it was said, Lord Byron threw open the windows of his apartment in Venice and let out an anguished scream that was heard echoing down the Grand Canal.

Lady Charlotte Bury, who was also in Italy, summed up the situation precisely in her journal. ‘There is now no object of great interest in the English people, no one great rallying point round which all parties are ready to join… A greater public calamity could not have occurred to us; nor could it have happened at a more unfortunate moment..’

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

As for Caroline, who was living now in a villa on Lake Como, it appears that no one had troubled even to inform her of Charlotte’s death and Charlotte Bury was shocked to hear that the Princess had been left to learn the news ‘through the medium of a common newspaper!’ Lady Charlotte hastened to write and offer her Royal Highness sincere sympathy ‘in this her greatest affliction’ and presently received in return a ‘strangely worded but heartfelt expression of the poor mother’s grief’. ‘I have not only to lament an ever-beloved child’, wrote Caroline, ‘but one most warmly attached friend, and the only one I have had in England! But she is only gone before … and now I trust we shall soon meet in a much better world than the present one.’

[an extract from ‘Caroline&Charlotte’ by Alison Plowden]

Charlotte’s Pregnancy Makes Headlines

Charlotte left Claremont at least once during the summer. On 12 August she went over briefly with Leopold to Richmond to attend the party given to celebrate her father’s birthday by the grandmother of another famous cavalry commander, the Dowager Countess of Cardigan. For most of the time, however, she was content to live as she had always lived at Claremont, receiving occasional visits from friends and giving dinner parties for her neighbours.

Yet despite her seclusion, Charlotte’s name was seldom out of the newspapers. Every rumour about her condition, every anecdote, however unlikely, was seized upon gratefully and elaborated in print by every editor and commentator. It was all part of a happy, hopeful story – the only member of the royal family that anybody cared about was soon to give birth – and in 1817 it was almost the only happy story.

The rest of the news was always bad. Britain was in the middle of a post-war recession. Manufactures had reduced production and laid off some of their workers. A very bad harvest had had the same effect in the country. The Corn Law, which was passed to keep the price of corn at a profitable level for farmers and landowners, had put the price of bread beyond the pockets of even those labourers who were still employed.

Charlotte and Leopold had been doing what they could, distributing food and employing as many men as they could afford to make aesthetic ‘improvements’ to their park. But there were not too many who did the same. Bitter indignation and resentment were widespread. Riots were frequent. The Habeas Corpus Act had been suspended so that the government, which had no effective coordinated policies, could lock up suspected rabble-rousers without trial.

At the end of August, Stockmar recorded that Charlotte’s condition was even influencing the Stock Market. ‘Bets for enormous sums have been made on the sex of the expected child, and it has been already calculated on the Stock Exchange that a Princess would only raise the funds 2 1/2 per cent, whilst a Prince would send them up 6 per cent.’

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

‘The Princess is uncommonly well, and I hope will do well,’ wrote her dresser, Mrs. Louis, at the beginning of September. She was beginning now to take her daily outings in a small pony chaise, or walking slowly, leaning on her husband’s arm. ‘The Prince is so very kind to her,’ Mrs. Louis wrote; but some people considered that Charlotte should have a female friend or relation with her at this time. Her old friend Lady Ashbrook, who had kept her company at Weymouth, wrote offering to be with her at the birth, but Charlotte declined, explaining that the Queen suggested being with her, and she had refused. After this, she could not invite anyone else. But perhaps in moments of depression she wished that her mother were not so far away. ‘I have not heard from my mother for a long time,’ she wrote to Lady Charlotte Bury. ‘If you can give me any intelligence of her, I should be much obliged.’ And she added that she was ‘daily expecting to be confined’.

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

Charlotte Is Pregnant

From this highly-dramatic atmosphere the calm of Claremont seemed far removed. Charlotte, who from time to time received a hint of her mother’s way of life, tried to obtain first-hand news of her. She begged Lady Charlotte Bury, who kept up with the Princess, to ask her to write. That she wrote herself is certain: and, surprisingly, Leopold approved of her doing so. ‘I heard from my daughter de oder day,’ the Princess of Wales is quoted as writing (the spelling is Lady Charlotte’s). ‘She expect to be confined in November.’ From this announcement, the letter must have been written in the spring or early summer of 1817.

On April 30, 1817, Prince Leopold arrived in his travelling carriage at Carlton House. For once, he was without Princess Charlotte, because she was in an interesting condition, and he was come to bring the happy news to the Prince Regent.

Charlotte was in radiant health, and all through the summer was able to keep up her social activities. On May 2, the anniversary of their wedding, the Coburgs gave a party, to which they invited the Duke and Duchess of York, the Castlereaghs and Lievens, the celebrated Marquis of Anglesey who had lost a leg at Waterloo – and Miss Mercer Elphinstone. Alas, the friendship had foundered. Mercer’s politics, since her intimacy with the Comte de Flahaut, were alarmingly Jacobinical, and she was now affronted because, on arrival at Claremont, she was not shown straight into Charlotte’s presence, as of old, but was obliged to wait with other guests to be received by their host and hostess together. Two days later, Prince Leopold wrote to tell the Regent that Charlotte had failed to persuade Miss Mercer to give her back, or to destroy, all her letters.*

* It is, for the biographer, a very great blessing that she did fail. Charlotte’s inimitable letters remained firmly in Mercer’s hands, were inherited by her daughter who married the Fourth Marquees of Lansdowne, and eventually reached the Lansdowne family archives at Bowood, where they are today.

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

An Unexpected Visit

As soon as the Regent came back from Dover after seeing the King and his family off, he sent for Miss Knight. There was more Russian trouble. He now knew that Tatischeff, their Ambassador to Madrid, was on his way to join the Russian Emperor in Paris. Charlotte had become intimate with Madame Tatischeff. She was Polish, and undesirable, a low moral character. Nevertheless, Charlotte had taken a fancy to her, and at the Pulteney Hotel had given her a letter to take to France: and this, he believed, was no less than a commission to the Ambassador to arrange a marriage between herself and one of the Tsar’s brothers. Miss Knight indignantly denied this. ‘I assured him her Royal Highness had written no letters to Madame Tatischeff; that I had written one to that lady when she was at Brighton, and several notes in town’, and, in short, that the ‘principal intercourse was with respect to bonnets and gowns’.

Cornelia believed that this mischievous story had originated with Princess Lieven, ‘who hated Madame Tatischeff, and was hated in return’; but according to Lady Charlotte Bury, the Grand Duchess, in fostering the break-up of the Dutch marriage, showed Charlotte a portrait of the Grand Duke Nicholas, which made her declare that she would go no further with Slender Billy till she had seen the Tsar’s brother. Whether or not this was true, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, took the situation seriously enough to send a formal request that the Russian Grand Dukes should not join their brother the Tsar in London.

Another ministerial move to frustrate the knavish tricks of the Russians followed soon after.

Miss Knight was called downstairs early one morning, to see a Captain St. George, who has just arrived from Holland.

‘I found,’ she said, ‘that it was the Hereditary Prince of Orange …’

Charlotte was in bed when the Prince of Orange presented himself. According to Miss Knight, she was ‘greatly annoyed’ by this sudden unheralded arrival, and refused to see him. He asked for pen and paper. ‘Dearest Charlotte,’ he wrote, ‘I am extremely disturbed at your not wishing to see me; but I ask it once it once more as a particular favour that you will allow me to wait till you are up … I am most desirous and anxious to be able to speak to you freely.’ His persistence prevailed, and when Charlotte saw him again he appeared so friendly and frank that she was disarmed. She poured out all her grievances, and in particular her fears because there were no plans being made for a residence in England. He showed concern, even promising a little wildly that if a house were not provided for them here he would rent one. He seemed resolved to reassure her and allay her fears. Indeed at this point it is difficult not to feel sympathy for the young man, who was doing his best to ease the situation, and who must have found trying to soothe Charlotte as difficult as handling a bucking colt. He was desperately anxious to please her. For her sake, he said, he had agreed to come to England incognito and without his father’s permission. He had not see the Prince Regent yet: he had come straight to Charlotte; but he would go at once to Carlton House and see him. A couple of hours later he came hurrying back. The Regent, he said, wished them both to go over immediately, and said that all would be forgiven.

Charlotte refused. She ‘most earnestly entreated’ to be left alone for the rest of the day, and accordingly Prince William took himself off, to find out what arrangements had been made for his accommodation. As it happened, none had.

London was seething with plans for the reception of the Allied Sovereigns and their appendages, and the accommodation usually assigned to visiting Royalties was all booked. The Prince of Orange found lodging with his tailor, in Clifford Street.

As soon as Charlotte had had time to think, she felt certain that this visit was part of a new plot to coerce her into marriage. She was unsure how Slender Billy had been summoned, but she guessed that the Duke of York, acting for the Regent, was behind this move. Instructed as she now was by Brougham, she displayed the utmost caution, and wrote to the young Prince insisting that they should not meet again until the terms of the marriage contract were altered to suit her wishes. She was determined, she said, never to leave England except when she herself chose, and for as long as she chose.

He put up very amiably with this treatment, and appeared daily at Warwick House for a talk with Miss Knight, till at last a letter from his father seemed encouraging enough to warrant an interview with Charlotte. The terms of the contract were being altered. After this, they met frequently and on friendly terms.

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

Picture: Portrait of Julija Alexandrowna Tatischtschewa (François Gérard, 1814)

Charlotte’s First Opening Of The Parliament

In December 1812, Princess Charlotte was invited to be present for the first time at the Opening of Parliament. This event, which should have been a happy and auspicious one for her, turned out to be a sore disappointment. Ignored by her father on her arrival at the House of Lords (she did not know that he had just had a carriage accident, and may have been a little ruffled), she was ordered to fall back in the procession: her three aunts, by the Prince Regent’s orders, were to go first: ‘so I,’ said the Heiress Presumptive, ‘went into the House the last.’

She refused to show that she minded: according to Lady Charlotte Bury, she talked and laughed animatedly, ‘turned her back often upon papa’, and during the Speech from the Throne, made no effort to conceal her dislike of the Tory complacency which it displayed. ‘I did not admire any of it, I may say,’ she told Mercer.

The Prince, said Lady Charlotte Bury, ‘was much displeased at her manner’, and he was probably even more displeased at her reception by the crowds on the return drive. Charlotte, in the second carriage with the Duke of Cumberland, observed with some satisfaction that her father, gorgeously dressed in the Regimentals of the 10th Hussars, was received in total silence; but ‘they were civil and good-humoured to me,’ she wrote, ‘&cheered as I past, shouting my name.’

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

george and charlotte1

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Charlotte In The Eyes of Contemporary People

Charlotte, at seventeen, was attractive, but too fat. She had been aware of this disadvantage for some time, and had made jokes about it, describing herself packing up for the sea-side, ‘Figure to yourself my quizzical figure puffing over a trunk this hot weather.’ In winter, it was worse, when the weather was too bad to go out riding. ‘I really am afraid you will be shocked to see me grown so fat,’ she wrote to Mercer in 1811, confessing that it was entirely due to lack of exercise. She hated walking for walking’s sake (so did Queen Victoria as a girl); she had ‘no one to waltz with to play at billiards, or any of the gymnastic games wh. I should much delight in’. Evidently her circulation suffered too. ‘I feel the cold most amazingly,’ she said, ‘& begin to think that a warm pelisse would not be a disagreeable thing.’ In the winter of 1812-13 she had a heavy cold and cough, and lost her ‘apitite’. ‘Sir Henry’s prescriptions do not make me thin,’ she said crossly, ‘and do me no good.’

After her dismal sojourn at Lower Lodge she described herself as being ‘a great deal thinner’, but this did not last. Lady Charlotte Bury, who had been a beauty and was critical, said that her figure was ‘of that full round shape which is now in its prime’, but added that the princess disfigured herself by having her bodices cut so short, which made her look as if she had no waist. Her legs and feet, she admitted, were very pretty; but ‘her Royal Highness knows that they are so, and wears extremely short petticoats’.

This critical lady gave it as her opinion a few months later that ‘her figure is already gone, and will soon be precisely like her mother’s: in short, it is the very picture of her, and not in miniature.

This was unkind, and inaccurate. While the Princess of Wales had a large head, a short neck and a protuberant bosom, her daughter’s head was small and her neck long and graceful: she was broad-shouldered and full-breasted, but the upper part of her body was well-proportioned.

Evidently, from another critical description, she was too broad in the beam. This account, written a year later by Catherine, Grand-Duchess of Oldenberg to her brother the Tsar, gives a very clear portrait of the young princess, whom she calls the most interesting member of the family.

‘A little smaller than myself (the Grand-Duchess was tall) ‘well covered, especially-and too much-about the hips; white, fresh and appetising as possible, with fine arms, pretty feet, large light blue lively eyes, altho’ upon occasion they get the fixed stare of the House of Brunswick. She is blonde, has a handsome nose, a delicious mouth and fine teeth; a few tiny marks of the small pox, but scarcely visible…’

But the Duchess could not get over Charlotte’s manners. ‘So extraordinary that they take one’s breath away. I assure you I’m not exaggerating. She walks up to any man, young or old, especially to the older men, takes them by the hand, and shakes it with all her strength, and she seems to have plenty to spare. When she walks, she bounces, and steps with such vigour that one does not know where to look because her clothes are so tight-fitting and do not come down below the thick of the calf, so that at every motion it seems as tho’ she were going to show her knee. She looks like a boy, or rather a ragamuffin. I really am telling you nothing but the strictest truth. She is ravishing, and it is a crime to have allowed her to acquire such habits.

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

charlotte augusta by joseph lee 1814

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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