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The Princess of Wales Is Leaving

Towards the end of July she [Charlotte] received a visit from the Prince: he seemed to be in a good mood, but not effusive. After a little he dismissed the ladies, and told Charlotte ‘what he supposed I already know of’ – that the Princess of Wales had asked permission to leave the country. Charlotte said that ‘some time back’ her mother had mentioned that she might go, but that she had not said a word about it since. Now apparently, it was all settled: the Princess was to sail from Worthing in about ten days’ time, and even the vessel in which she was to travel had been decided upon.

As always with her father, Charlotte fought not to show her feelings; but this news came as a shattering blow. She had an affection for her mother, if only because she was her mother; and in her present forlorn state the loss of this supporter – however raffish and unreliable – was almost more than she could bear.

Her father was cheerful: it was the wisest act of the Princess’s whole life, he said. ‘He could only wish her to be happy wherever she was, & if it made her more so travelling on the Continent, he could not but agree.’ In fact, Charlotte concluded, ‘he was most perfectly satisfied‘.

She was baffled by her mother’s sudden decision. ‘I really am so hurt about it that I am very low.’ She was allowed to pay a farewell visit to Connaught Place, guarded by her two she-dragons: but the Princess’s attitude dismayed her. She said good-bye to her daughter calmly and unemotionally: their parting, said Charlotte, ‘was little like her going to leave the country altogether’. ‘I must say,’ she wrote later, ‘what goes most to my heart … is the indifferent manner of taking leave of me … I feel so hurt at that being a leave taking (for God knows how long, or what events may occur before we meet again, or if ever she will return) …

Brougham stepped in, in a last-minute attempt to persuade the Princess to change her mind. He wrote a clever letter, full of warnings. ‘Depend upon it, Madam, there are many persons who now begin to see a chance of divorcing your Royal Highness from the Prince …’ At home, he told her, she was protected against the mischief of her enemies: abroad she was defenceless. She would lose the support of the British people, and her daughter’s succession to the Throne would become doubtful. Sending a draft of this letter to Grey, he remarked, ‘It is a strong dose, but necessary.’

Unfortunately it had no effect whatsoever. Lady Charlotte Lindsay wrote, ‘Nothing can stop her. I never saw so fixed a determination.”The only good circumstance,’ she added, ‘is her keeping her apartments at Kensington.’

On August 9, the Princess of Wales, dressed in the military style that was now fashionable – a dark cloth pelisse with large gold clasps, and a velvet and satin Hussar’s cap trimmed with a bright green feather – drove along the Steyne at Worthing, accompanied by Lady Charlotte Linsday and the child Wilikin.

A large crowd watched her, curious and silent, afraid to cheer. On her arrival in England nearly twenty years before, she had been kept waiting for her escort; now as she left she was obliged to wait for the Jason’s Captain, who was late meeting her in his barge. To get away from the crowds she decided to drive on to Lancing two miles along the coast, and here she embarked. It was a quiet departure, watched only by those who could ride or drive from Worthing. The ladies on shore waved their handkerchiefs: the Princess, aboard the barge, waved gaily and kissed her hand. She was no longer Princess of Wales, she announced to her attendants, but Caroline, a happy, merry soul. But as the barge drew away from the shores of England, we are told that she fainted.

Charlotte never saw her mother again.

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

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Princess On The Run

Charlotte lost her head. As Miss Knight left her to go to the Prince, she rushed up to her bedroom, seized a bonnet, ran down the back stairs, out of the house and – swollen knee forgotten – full-tilt into the street. Here she ran hither and thither, uncertain which way to go, until, by one account, a kindly young man, the nephew of a Pall Mall picture dealer, saw her from a window and came to her aid. Breathlessly, she begged him to call her a hackney cab, which – having no idea – who she was – he did, and she offered the driver a guinea to drive her – ‘towards Oxford Street’. She may have been careful not to betray her destination: on the other hand, never having been out by herself before, she may have been a little uncertain of the way to her mother’s house in Bayswater, which was where she planned to go. The jarvey, whose name was Higgins, obediently took her to the top of Regent Street, and by this time she had recovered her confidence enough to tell him to drive on to Connaught Place, the Princess of Wales’s house – and to drive faster.

It is not known just when the cabby tumbled to the identity of his fare, but no doubt he was he was suitably surprised and obsequious when the young Princess, arrived on her mother’s doorstep, handed him three guineas.
The excitement of her flight was slightly damped when she learned that her mother was not at home,having gone to Blackheath ‘on business’. A groom was sent off post-haste to bring her back, and Charlotte was left to cool her heels. All that she could think of to do was to order dinner; and she then decided to send for her uncle Sussex, and despatched a messenger with a scribbled note. She also summoned Mr. Brougham. As it happened, both were dining out and had to be run to earth, which caused a further delay.

At about nine o’clock the Princess of Wales arrived, accompanied by Lady Charlotte Lindsay. She had been met on the road by the galloping groom, and had hurried back, only stopping at the House of Commons to try and find Mr. Whitbread, who was not there.

She now heard the whole story. Charlotte threw herself upon her mother’s protection and announced that she wished to live with her always. To this the Princess of Wales was non-committal, and it is noticeable in Brougham’s account of what followed that she is oddly silent: Charlotte’s proposal did not entirely accord with her plans.

Brougham, who had been up all the night before on a legal case, was desperately tired when the summons reached him, and fell asleep in the carriage that was sent to fetch him to Connaught Place. Thinking that he was sent for by the Princess of Wales, he dreaded the effort that lay before him as he ‘stumbled upstairs, still half asleep, to the drawing-room’. Here, to his astonishment, he found Princess Charlotte, who rushed forward and seized both his hands, saying how impatient she had been at the delay. ‘I have run off,’ she announced. She was radiant, and brushed aside his questions, declaring, ‘Oh it is too long to tell now.’

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

Charlotte’s Loyalty To Mercer Elphinstone

The Prince was now Regent with Unrestricted Powers, and finally abandoned his Whig friends: the moderate Whigs, Grey and Grenville, had refused his invitation to join the Government and form a coalition; and Spencer Perceval remained the leader of a Tory administration*. Charlotte, strongly in favour of reform, Catholic Emancipation and all that the Whigs stood for, was learning not to discuss politics in the family, but she felt very bitterly her father’s desertion of the party, and, according to Lord Glenbervie, wept when she heard the news. The Regent was aware of her attitude, and believed her to be strongly influenced by Mercer. He determined to break the friendship(…)

The doors of Carlton House were closed to members of the Opposition, and Mercer Elphinstone was asked to cease her correspondence with Princess Charlotte. Meanwhile, the Queen had taken up the cudgels on her son’s behalf, and summoned her granddaughter for a little talk on the subject of Royalty and Politics.

Queen Charlotte was sixty-eight, and beginning to grow enormous from dropsy. She had courage, and a sense of humour, but suffering had hardened and stiffened her: she had not give vent to her feelings, but lapsed into cold, violent anger when she was thwarted. She visited her husband regularly and conscientiously, taking always a daughter with her. According to Princess Mary, the Queen’s unfortunate manner made these interviews even more painful than they need have been. She ruled her daughters with an iron rod, which she now tried to exercise upon her granddaughter.

She began by assuring her that she should look upon her father as ‘the only source of her happiness’ (news which must have struck a chill into Charlotte’s heart), and that she must be ready to accept his judgement in all things, ‘as her father must of course, not only by right but by experience, know better what was for her good’. She went on to warn Charlotte against forming particular friendships: although she should be civil to everyone, she should be careful to show no partiality for one person, and especially she should avoid any form of political friendship, which could never be depended upon. Having dropped these heavy hints, the Queen added a further warning: ‘That any member of the Royal Family taking a part against the Crown was lowering it most essentially.’

The Queen felt that she had made an impression, and Lady de Clifford told her later that Charlotte was ‘much pleased’ with the conversation, which seems hard to believe. Her father’s dictum forbidding her to correspond with Mercer came as no surprise, but the blow was overwhelming. Mercer was her best friend, the only person to whom she could confide her problems, her happiness and her misery; and who gave her wise advice. To be cut off from her was to be cut off from everything that made life bearable, and Charlotte, now spending all her time at Lower Lodge, Windsor, grew listless and wretched.

For six months she endured; but by the end of August she felt that she could bear it no longer. She decided to break the promise extracted from her by her father, and to find some means of communicating secretly with Mercer. Lady Charlotte Lindsay, her mother’s lady-in-waiting, offered to act as go-between, and on August 24 she broke the long silence.

‘I detest everything that bears the name of clandestine,’she wrote, ‘but I call this not so. I hold myself absolved from the promise that was extorted from me, not to hold any communication whatever with you. It is an unjust&cruel requisition.’

The letter was an outpouring of all her woes, which seemed almost to have unhinged her. She invests the Lower Lodge with a kind of Gothic gloom, describing it as ‘a perfect prison’, where she is surrounded by spies; and though there is something of her father’s love of drama in her description of her plight -‘a regular system of persecution seems to be the thing’- Mercer cannot have failed to feel pity and anger as she read it. Charlotte was being made to suffer cruelly in ‘this infernal dwelling’ as she called it, and it looked as if her health was affected. The house was damp, or more probably suffered from bad drains, and the relaxing air of Windsor did not agree with her. ‘None of my household have been well. I sleep but little, or suffer from severe headaches or colds… I think,’ she concludes, ‘could you see me, you would finde me very much altered, grown very serious and thoughtful at times.’

This serious, thoughtful Charlotte was devoting herself to ‘studdy’, which she described as her greatest resource, as it passed away hours of ennui. Drawing and music occupied most of her time; it was true she went for rides, but these were ‘far from agreable, as always in the compagny with the Princesses’.

‘I will not deny to you that I am far far from being happy.’

* On May 11th 1812 Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of House of Commons by John Bellingham. Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool has succeeded him as the Prime Minister.

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

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