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Charlotte’s First Ball

Despite the policy of ‘protracted childhood’, however, there was one sign that the Prince Regent might be relenting a little. Two days after the exchange in the Duke of York’s apartments, on 5 February, Charlotte was allowed to attend her first ball at Carlton House. The Duchess [of Leeds] and Miss Knight went with her. In accordance with fashion, they were ‘all in white’. The Duchess and Miss Knight wore white trimmed with gold. Charlotte wore white trimmed with silver, and for the first time, again in the height of fashion, she wore ostrich feathers in her hair.

For Charlotte, the ball was a bit of disappointment. She had been led to believe that it was being given for her, but when the time came it was Princess Mary and not Charlotte who was asked to lead off the dancing. She had hoped that she would be able to dance with the young Duke of Devonshire, but soon after she arrived she was told that he was indisposed.

The son of famously beautiful Duchess, Georgiana, the 23-year-old Duke of Devonshire was very deaf and consequently shy and silent. Charlotte had ‘liked him very much’ when she first met him. She was proud that she had put him at his ease and induced him to ‘talk a great deal’. But she was not attracted to him. As she told Mercer, ‘he is certainly very plain’.

Nevertheless, as with the Duke of Gloucester, Charlotte’s father was worried by his apparent interest in her, and particularly so in this case because the Duke of Devonshire was a leading Whig. ‘Really the Prince Regent is so excessively tiresome & absurd about everything of that sort’, she wrote to Mercer, ‘…& he is so suspicious always about my politics’. It may be therefore that the Duke was not present because the Prince had told him to stay away.

Without the young Duke, Charlotte could only dance with her uncles and other, much older, partners. As one of the other guests, Miss Mary Berry, put it, ‘all very magnificent, but such a lack of dancing young men and, indeed, women, I quite pitied the Princess Charlotte from the bottom of my heart for the dulness of the ball’.

But this, at least, was not due to any exaggerated caution on the part of the Prince Regent. There was a dearth of good dancing partners in London in 1813. Like George FitzClarence and Charles Hesse, most of the young men worth dancing with were serving with Wellington in Spain.

Cornelia Knight enjoyed the ball even less than the Princess. In the course of the evening the Prince Regent took her aside and subjected her to a long, detailed and embarrassing diatribe against his wife. At the end of it he ‘even accused her of threatening to declare that Princess Charlotte was not his daughter’.

Miss Knight was ‘horrified’. ‘I really knew not what to answer.’

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

alfred-edward-chalon

Picture: Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796-1817), Princess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld by Alfred Edward Chalon, c.1817-19, Royal Collection Trust

https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/405449/princess-charlotte-of-wales-1796-1817-princess-of-saxe-coburg-saalfeld

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Mother Uses Charlotte As Her Pawn

As for her [Charlotte’s] mother, the association with the Whigs was no more than expediency. When the Tories were in opposition. the Tories had been her advisers. Now that the Whigs were in opposition, her advisers were the Whigs.

The two closest of these were the brilliant but unscrupulous Scottish lawyer Henry Brougham and a rich, vulgar brewer’s son, Samuel Whitbread. Like the Tories they leaked little stories to the press, representing the Princess of Wales in the best light they could, and her husband, which was easier, in the worst; and they waited patiently for the opportunity to manipulate the relationship to their best possible advantage. It was not a long wait.

Early in October Charlotte went up from Windsor for one of her now rare visits to her mother in Kensington Palace. Since Lady de Clifford was suffering from any eye infection, she was escorted by one of the Queen’s lady companions.

Before they left the Queen gave her companion, Miss Cornelia Knight, strict instructions. ‘Do not let Princess Charlotte go out of your sight for one moment.’

She was equally firm with her granddaughter, telling her ‘not to retire at all’, to which Charlotte answered understandably that she would have to retire for dinner and that there was nothing she had to say to her mother that she was not prepared to say in front of anybody else.

But by then the Queen’s caution was no longer necessary. A few weeks earlier Lieutenant Hesse had sailed with his regiment for Spain.

In the following week the Princess of Wales wrote to the Queen demanding that her daughter should be allowed to visit her more often and threatening to come down to Windsor unannounced if she was not. On the advise of Brougham and Whitbread, who probably wrote the letter for her, she sent a copy to Charlotte.

Innocently, Charlotte told her grandmother. The Queen, who had decided to ignore the letter, was concerned to learn that there was a copy of it. She sent for the Prince Regent. The Prince Regent sent for the Prime Minister. When Charlotte was summoned she told them that she had burned the letter. Somehow, the Prime Minister managed to persuade the Prince and his mother that they were worrying about nothing, and that there was nothing they could do about it anyway.

A week later, however, when Charlotte went on her scheduled fortnightly visit to Kensington Palace, her mother persuaded her to tell her everything that had been said at the meeting. When Charlotte seemed apprehensive, her mother reassured her. ‘She did nothing without good advice.’ And then, after another week, to Charlotte’s bitter amazement, her ‘accurate’ account of the family row appeared in several newspapers.

Using Charlotte and her mother, the Whigs had succeeded in reducing the Regent still further in the eyes of the people. They had forgotten the earlier rumours about the Princess of Wales. To them she was now a thwarted mother as well as an abandoned wife, and the Prince Regent was more than ever a decadent bully.

After that, when Charlotte drove out in her carriage, she was greed with shouts of ‘Don’t desert your mother, dear!’

charlotte-and-caroline

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

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A Visit In Oatlands

Like the rest of the royal family, Charles’s father, the Duke of York, was at least aware of the inappropriate meetings in the park. But he did not feel inclined to reproach anyone. He was one of the many who disapproved of the way in which the Prince Regent prevented his daughter from appearing in public or even in society. If the Princess was lonely, she could hardly be criticised for taking pleasure in such company as she could find. His Duchess agreed with him. So they decided that, if the Regent was not prepared to bring his daughter out, they would do it for him. They would invite Princess Charlotte to stay at Oatlands, their country house in Surrey, and while she was there they would give a ball.

The childless Duchess of York, whose uncle was Frederick the Great, respected her husband as a soldier, but in most other ways she preferred the company of her menagerie to his. Nevertheless she knew her duty. She tolerated his infidelities with dignity. She turned his country house into a comfortable home. When he went there with his many crude companions, she had a warm welcome for all of them. She was a generous hostess. She served dinner much later than anyone else in England, and like her husband she was happy to sit up all nights afterwards playing cards. She hated ceremony. At Oatlands there was none of the stiff formality that pervaded the households of the other royal dukes. In atmosphere it was more like a little German palace or the home of an English country gentleman. Everyone who went there spoke well of it. The only drawbacks, they said, were the smell and the insanitary condition of the carpets – very few of the Duchess’s forty dogs were house-trained.

Charlotte went to Oatlands in November. The Duchess had laid on everything possible to make the stay enjoyable. Among the guests in the houseparty there were several of Charlotte’s age, including Anne and Georgiana Fitzroy, the nieces of Lord Wellington. Expeditions were arranged almost every day. On one day they went to Hampton Court Palace, which Charlotte described to Mercer as having ‘an air of gloom & coldness about it which is frightful’. On another they went to ‘the famous house’ at Paines Hill. And then they visited a house called Claremont.

The drove over to Claremont twice. On the first day they were shown round the elegant Palladian mansion, which Clive of India had begun to build over forty years earlier. On the second they inspected the splendid park, which had been designed by ‘Capability’ Brown. Clive had committed suicide before he could enjoy it, and since then there had been so many owners that no family had lived there long enough to make it a home.

Charlotte did not share her first impression of Claremont with Mercer. But another visitor, a few months later, gave hers. ‘It is’, wrote Jane Austen sadly and prophetically, ‘a house that seems never to have prospered’.

The climax of the visit was not one ball but two. The first, according to Charlotte’s letters, did not end until after 2 am, and on the on the following night the walzing went on until after four. Charlotte ‘enjoyed it of all things’, despite the conduct of her father, who had grudgingly agreed to be among the many guests. On the first evening he hurt her, and shocked everyone else, by ignoring her. On the second, while the Scottish Member of Parliament William Adam was attempting to teach her the ‘Highland Flurry’, he insisted on joining in the demonstration.

For a moment or two the Regent and Mr Adam, who was Mercer’s uncle, reeled round the room together. Then the Prince struck his shoe against the leg of a sofa, fell over and tore a tendon in his foot. Being the man he was, he made a fuss, retired to bed and remained at Oatlands for over a fortnight.

Inevitably, when the story got out, the Prince’s many enemies said that he had obviously been drunk. But, if he had been, Charlotte would have admitted it to Mercer. According to her letters the only guest who got ‘beastly drunk’ was Richard Brinsley Sheridan, remembered now as a playwright but equally well known then as a leading member of the Whig opposition.

Having introduced the Princess to the waltz, clearly the Duchess of York’s next duty was to take her to the opera. The visit was arranged to take place on 22 February the following year, when Charlotte would have passed sixteenth birthday. Meanwhile the Duke attempted to improved her mind, and perhaps her English, by lending her an anonymous novel, which both he and she believed had been written by Lady Anne Paget.

Charlotte loved it and wrote to Mercer. “Sense and Sensibility” I have just finished reading; it certainly is interesting, & you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne & me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c, however remain very like.’

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

the duke and duchess of york

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‘Those Dreaded Letters’

Nevertheless, Charlotte’s decision to confess all to her father was the climax of a long-drawn-out period of anxiety on her part, a terror of discovery, and a dread of what her mother might in some unguarded moment say or write of the affair, which now assumed an importance quite out of proportion to its seriousness. Her first object was to recover her letters – all those regrettable cris de coeur, written without a thought but of pleasing the recipient, but now, with the fear of what might happen if they fell into the wrong hands, having a sinister importance. Even Hesse himself might betray her: she feared that he had not kept the mutual agreement to burn all letters – ‘which I did, most strictly, for certainly they were much too full of professions of nonsense not to have got him into into a desperate scrape if ever seen’. The correspondence had continued when Hesse moved away with his regiment to Portsmouth and Lewes, before finally crossingthe Channel to join the war. As far as Charlotte knew, her letters went with him, and so did her portrait, pressed upon ‘l’aimable sujet’ by the Princess of Wales. There were a ring and ‘several trinkets’, which Charlotte asked to have returned when she decided to end the correspondence. She gives the date for this decision as March 1813, but nearly a year later, in January 1814, after reading the casualties in the papers, she told her confidante, Mercer Elphinstone, ‘Were anything to happen to our friend I should feel it excessively, as it is impossible not to do for a person one has been so intimate with.’ The affair has certainly left its mark, and she describes it herself, ‘still out of spirits, still smarting for my own folly’. Nevertheless, ‘I beg to assure you,’ she told Mercer, ‘the little Lieutenant does not occupy a thought of mine further than wishing him well.’

The little Lieutenant had by no means disappeared from her life, however. Whether he was at home or abroad the thought of him haunted her, together with the missing packet of her letters – ‘those dreaded letters’ – which never turned up. In October 1814 she was dismayed to learn that Hesse had joined her mother’s party abroad,* and admitted to feeling hurt that the Princess should be encouraging the man she still regarded as hers. But, as she said later to her father, she could never make out whether Hesse was her lover or her mother’s. Now she was torn between hope that her mother would recover her letters, and terror of what she would do with them. ‘She is quite equal, I am sure, to produce any letters of mine that that might make a breach between the Prince Regent and me…’

Fortunately for Charlotte, who had worked herself up into a fever of anxiety, she now had an ally who was ready to give her comfort and advice, and to act as intermediary in a bid to get the letters back(…) In her firm, efficient way, Mercer wrote to Hesse, now abroad with his regiment, and persisted till she received an answer. Captain Hesse (as he now was) mentioned ‘those articles I have WITH me’ and promised that ‘should I be killed, they shall be sent to you, without being seen by any person’.

But this plan was not good enough for Miss Mercer. ‘Nonsense,’ she calls it, ‘as it is very uncertain whether or not the contents might be destroyed, or into whose hands they might fall;’ and as for the things he confessed to having with him, she firmly rejected his offer. ‘I am sure,’ she told Charlotte, ‘there is a greater chance of their being conveyed to me safely before his death than after it.’ ‘I must confess,’ she adds, ‘the shuffling letter does not make me more lenient with respect to his conduct throughout the whole affair,’ and she wrote again to Hesse, asking him briskly to ‘return, without loss of time, all the letters or presents you may now have with you’.

Captain Hesse must by his time have begun to regret that he had ever met Princess Charlotte. Mercer’s father, Viscount Keith, who knew all about the correspondence, now wrote himself repeating his daughter’s demands, and summoning Hesse to an interview when he was next in London. Hesse duly presented himself, but no letters, no box of trinkets were forthcoming. He told Lord Keith that the letters were not in existence. ‘I had given my word, that they were to be destroyed immediately after being read, and I have kept my word…’

Lord Keith now decided to present Hesse with a questionnaire, in which with Scottish thoroughness he put twenty-six searching questions to the young man, regarding his relationship with Princess Charlotte, the part played in the affair by the Princess of Wales, and the whereabouts of letters and trinkets not contained in the ‘paquet’ presented to Mercer the previous day. Hesse answered carefully and plausibly. Everything, he said, had been returned, except the letters ‘burned so soon as I received them’, and one ring, which ‘Mr. Hesse unfortunately lost, by wearing it round his feather in the field. The ring,’ he said, ‘was a small blue one.’ And so the love story ends, as did a later love story of Charlotte’s, with the loss of a small blue ring.

In July 1815, Charlotte learned from the Duke of York that Hesse had lost an arm at Waterloo-‘or lost the use of it from a very bad sword cut’. The latter seems to have been the truth, for on his last entrance into Charlotte’s life, at Weymouth in November of the same year, Hesse is described as having his arm in a leather sling. Charlotte was angry with him for being there, supposing, wrongly, that he knew of her presence; nevertheless she was interested enough to peer out of her window at him as he strolled on the promenade. ‘I watched him thro’ my teliscope,’ she wrote; ‘it was identically himself.’ Hesse perhaps not surprisingly, took himself off when he learned that his former love was in Weymouth. He applied to Lord Keith for a passage in a frigate sailing to the Mediterranean: ‘Effrontery,’ said Charlotte, by this time thoroughly disillusioned. ‘I should not wonder that he was not going again out and after my mother to tell all his griefs to her.’ She considered that the best thing that could be done ‘as he will be perpetually coming in my way’ would be to exchange him into a foreign regiment, ‘by which he would gain rank and be got rid of’. But she relented to add that ‘he really deserves something for his good behaviour towards me formely, wh. ought never to be forgot by whose who are most violent towards him…’

The last we hear of the Little Hussar is disappointing. He amused himself on the Continent, making love to a number of ladies, including the Queen of Naples, from whose vicinity he had to be forcibly expelled. After this adventure he became involved in several affairs of honour, and finally met his death in a duel with Count Leon, bastard son of Napoleon.

* On August 9, 1814, the Princess sailed to the Continent in the frigate Jason.

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

Admiral_George_Keith_Elphinstone_1st_Viscount_Keith_by_George_Sanders

Portrait: Portrait of Admiral George Keith Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith (1746-1823) by George Sanders, after 1815, the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Charlotte Spends Time With Charles Hesse

But at Windsor, possibly through George FitzClarence, she made the acquaintance of another young officer. Lieutenant Charles Hesse of the 18th Light Dragoons was good-looking if a little short of statue, but he looked well on a horse, and had a confident air which she found attractive. He was rumoured to be the Duke of York’s son by a German lady of rank, which doubtless added a certain piquancy to his charms, and Charlotte, driving in an open carriage with Hesse on horseback at her side, fell imperceptibly and delightfully in love. For six weeks, Lady de Clifford, sitting beside her royal charge, turned a blind eye on the proceedings; but suddenly and at last she found her position untenable. This sort of things could not be allowed: what on Earth would the Regent say? At all costs the affair must be stopped. Unfortunately by this time Lady de Clifford had ceased to have any influence whatsoever on the young princess, who did precisely what she chose. There was a genuine affection between them, and Charlotte, headstrong and impulsive, tried not to upset the old Dowager. But this time passion prevailed: Charlotte refused point blank to stop seeing Hesse, and when Lady de Clifford insisted upon the rides being given up, there was a violent quarrel.

By this time, the Princess of Wales knew of the affair, and in her mischievious, irresponsible way, hurled herself into the battle. It was time, she decided, for Charlotte to have a romance, and without considering the consequences of such a situation to the Heiress Presumptive, set herself to encourage the lovers. Hesse had already been given little notes to pass from mother to daughter, and when, after the scene with Lady de Clifford, Charlotte arrived at Kensington in floods of tears, Caroline took charge of the situation. ‘This will play the Devil at Windsor, but I will make amends for it,’ she declared. She would receive their correspondence and pass it on; and the pair were to meet at Kensington Palace: she arranged to let Hesse into her own room by a door opening into the gardens. In her folly and half-crazy recklessness she flung open her bedroom, where she left her daughter and the young man together, and turned the key. What took place in this bizarre bower, scene of the Princess of Wales’s illicit pleasures, will never be known; but from Charlotte’s relation of the story to her father some two years later, it seems certain that love-making, if it took place at all, was of the most decorous nature. Hesse must have realized that his position was a tricky one.

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

This was Lieutenant Charles Hesse of the 18th King’s Irish Hussars. His father was the Duke of York, and his mother, it was said, was an aristocratic German lady. He was not nearly as tall as George FitzClarence and, like many officers in Irish regiments in those days, he was a little bit of a rogue, but, like almost all of them, he was engagingly charming. And Charlotte adored him.

There is no record of how Charlotte met her ‘little lieutenant’. She may have been introduced to him by George FitzClarence, or she may have met him through her mother. Like all sensible suitors, Charles Hesse paid court to Charlotte’s mother, to such an extent that she later told Mercer she was not sure whether he was her lover or her mother’s. The Princes of Wales used Charles to carry letters to her daughter, which of course was a good excuse to ride up to her carriage, and Charlotte used her mother as one of several couriers who carried her letters to Charles. For two or three months, between their meetings, she wrote to him recklessly and gave him presents, and she continued to write to him after he went down to Portsmouth to prepare for his regiment’s embarkation for Spain.

Lady de Clifford was well aware that Charlotte and Charles were too fond of each other. She tried to prevent their meetings in the park, but as always she lost the argument. As a woman of the world – as a woman who had lived in the French court – she must also have been made suspicious by Charlotte’s long absences during some of their visits to Kensington Palace. But she may not have known for certain, as others did, that the Princess of Wales had let Lieutenant Hesse into the palace through the garden door. During those absences, he and Princess Charlotte were locked up together in her mother’s bedroom.

Like the rest of the royal family, Charles’s father, the Duke of York, was at least aware of the inappropriate meetings in the park. But he did not feel inclined to reproach anyone. He was one of the many who disapproved of the way in which the Prince Regent prevented his daughter from appearing in public or even in society. If the Princess was lonely, she could hardly be criticised for taking pleasure in such company as she could find.

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

Extract from Wikipedia:

Hesse was good-looking, attractive and a good horseman, and was soon received in society. However, his good fortune led to rumours about his parentage which Hesse did nothing to dispel. Lady Blessington says Hesse was presumed to be a son of the Margrave and Margravine of Ansbach from before their marriage,[2] while Captain Gronow says that Hesse was generally believed to have been fathered by the Duke of York.[3] Either way, Lady Blessington comments that “the calibre of his mind could not be better proved, than by his preferring to have it believed that he was the illegitimate child of persons of high rank, rather than the legitimate son of a respectable banker at Berlin”.[2] When Hesse was posted with his regiment to Bognor, in his vanity he sought to attract the attention of Princess Charlotte of Wales, only daughter of the Prince Regent, who was staying there. Several letters were exchanged between the couple through Margaret Mercer Elphinstone (later Countess de Flahaut), though General Garth also delivered some letters under the impression they were from Charlotte’s mother the Princess of Wales, who was estranged from the Regent. When the romance was discovered Hesse was sent out to Spain with his regiment.[2]

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Picture: A Private of the 18th Light Dragoons (Hussars), 1812 from http://www.memoryprints.com/image/378993/j-c-stadler-charles-hamilton-smith-a-private-of-the-18th-light-dragoons-hussars-1812