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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]

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Charlotte’s Life in Windsor

Physically Charlotte developed early, and at fifteen she was a young woman.

‘She is grown excessively,’ wrote Lady Charlotte Bury, ‘and has all the fulness of a person of five-and-twenty.’ This critical lady-in-waiting considered that the young princess was neither graceful nor elegant, but had to admit that the she had ‘a peculiar air’. ‘The Princess Charlotte,’ she continues, ‘is above the middle height, extremely spread for her age; her bosom full, but finely shaped; her shoulders large, and her whole person voluptuous.’ But Lady Charlotte predicts unkindly that ‘without much care and exercise she will shortly lose all beauty in fat and clumsiness’.

The Princess was well aware of this danger: from her father and several of her aunts and uncles she inherited a tendency to stoutness, which she knew that she must fight by taking exercise; but she was lethargic, particularly in the winter, when she felt the cold excessively and hated the thought of going out. She was now spending part of the year at Windsor, and the rest of her time at Warwick House, a small building standing to the east of Carlton House, with a gate leading into the Prince’s grounds. It was shabby and isolated: ‘nothing,’ wrote Miss Cornelia Knight, ‘could more perfectly resemble a convent than this residence; but it was a seat of happiness to Princess Charlotte compared with the Lower Lodge at Windsor, and she was anxiously desirous to remain in Town as much as possible.’

At Windsor when the weather was bad, there was nothing whatsoever to do. She disliked the Queen intensely, believing at this stage that her grandmother was plotting against her; neither could she be sure of her ground with her older aunts, and she found the monotonous life, full of petty intrigue, quite intolerable. She must also have been haunted by the knowledge that her grandfather, whom she loved, was there, in the Castle, shut away from his family, rigorously hidden from sight (but not always from sound). She heard the discreet bulletins given by the numerous tiptoeing obsequious doctors: ‘not so well today as he was yesterday’, ‘the King was composed throughout the day’, ‘the King had had three hours’ sleep and was composed’, or ‘by no means as well as he was’. She learned that it was, among the family, a subject to be avoided; slowly she accepted the cruel truth, that her grandfather was hopelessly out of his mind-and she would never see him again.’

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

charlotte augusta by joseph lee 1814

Picture: Charlotte Augusta by Joseph Lee, 1814

Friendship With George Keppel (2)

‘At twelve years old, Charlotte was in danger of becoming something of an oddity. She had, when she chose, a dazzling charm, but she often indulged in wild and hoydenish behaviour. The clearest picture of her at this time comes from a contemporary, George Keppel, who was Lady de Clifford’s grandson, and a Westminster schoolboy. “Her complexion was rather pale,” he says, and this is borne out in a later description by Lady Charlotte Bury. “Her skin,” she says, “is white, but not a transparent white; there is little or no shade in her face.” “She had blue eyes,” Keppel tells us, “and that peculiarly blonde hair which was characteristic rather of her German than of her English descent.” With her blue eyes and curly golden hair, and her pale, opaque skin her appearance must have been charming, like a fairy-tale heroine. But did not see herself in that role. “She was an excellent actress,” said George Keppel; “one of her fancies was to ape the manner of a man.” She did an excellent imitation of the Bishop – his mannerisms and gestures. Evidently she liked to think of herself as a tough masculine character, and in certain moods, to pretend that she was one. “She would double her fists,” said Keppel, “and assume an attitude of defence that would have done credit to a professed pugilist.” But defence soon turned into attack, and the unfortunate George, unable as a gentleman to hit back, was obliged to receive a series of hard punches from the boxing Princess.
[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]
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