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The Visit of the Grand Duchess Catherine

As soon as they were rid of Napoleon, all the European sovereigns were planning to come to England to celebrate their victory, and as a vanguard, or perhaps a reconnaissance, the Tsar’s favourite sister, the Grand Duchess Catherine, arrived while Napoleon was still at large.

The clever and cultured Grand Duchess Catherine was dark and dignified with slavonic, slightly Mongolian features. At the age of twenty-five she was already a widow. After nursing her husband, Prince George of Oldenberg, through his long, fatal illness, she went to neighbouring Holland, where she met Charlotte’s uncle William, the Duke of Clarence, who was there on a goodwill visit, and who was soon besotted with her.

(…) When the Grand Duchess arrived in London, the Prince Regent went round to the hotel to welcome her. But he went much too early. She was still changing to receive him when a footman came to announce his arrival. The meeting was more embarrassing than cordial.

That evening, when she dined at Carlton House, the Grand Duchess confirmed the opinion that she had formed earlier. She did not like the Prince Regent. But she liked very much his daughter, who was also present. In a letter to her brother the Tsar she described Charlotte as ‘the most interesting member of the family… She is blonde, has a handsome nose, a delicious mouth and fine teeth…She is full of spirit and positive in character. She seems to have an iron will in the smallest things…’ But ‘her manners’, wrote the Grand Duchess, ‘are so extraordinary that they take one’s breath away… 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… 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.’

After that dinner the Grand Duchess Catherine and Princess Charlotte visited each other often at the Pulteney Hotel and Warwick House – so often in fact that the Prince Regent sent Sir Henry Halford to Warwick House with an order for Miss Knight. She was to do all that she could to reduce the frequency of these meetings. It was an order that Miss Knight had neither the power nor the will to obey. She could cut down on Charlotte’s visits to the Pulteney Hotel, but she could do nothing to prevent the Grand Duchess from coming round to Warwick House – which was fortunate. Since the Regent was preventing his daughter from appearing anywhere in society other than at Carlton House, these visits were almost the only occasions on which the Princess and the Grand Duchess were able to meet.

One evening at the dinner party given by Lord and Lady Liverpool, the Prince Regent sat with the Grand Duchess Catherine on his right and the Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian Ambassador, on his left. In the course of dinner the Grand Duchess turned to him.
‘Why, your Royal Highness, do you keep your daughter under lock and key?’ she asked. ‘Why does she appear nowhere?’
‘My daughter is too young, Madame, to appear in society’, said the Prince.
‘She is not too young for you to have chosen her a husband.’
The Prince was clearly uncomfortable. ‘She will not be married for another two years’, he said.
‘When she is married’, said the Grand Duchess, ‘I hope she will know how to make up for her present imprisonment.’
The Prince snapped back at her. ‘When she is married, Madame, she will do her husband’s will, just as at present she is doing mine.’
The Grand Duchess smiled and spoke very sweetly. ‘Ah, yes. Your Royal Highness is right. Between husband and wife there can only be one will.’
So far the conversation had been conducted in French. But now the Prince turned to the Princess Lieven and spoke in English, in rage, and loudly enough for everyone at the table to hear him.
‘This is intolerable!’

The Grand Duchess Catherine and Charlotte continued to meet, and the Grand Duchess was always as blunt with Charlotte as she had been with her father. She told her that she thought the Prince Regent was ‘a voluptuary’. And as for the Duke of Clarence, he was positively ‘vulgar’. While they were in Holland he had actually been so presumptuous as to propose to her.

It was at one of these meetings, on 5 April, that Lord Bathurst called to inform Princess Charlotte that the allies had entered Paris. Four days later news came that Napoleon had abdicated.

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

Picture: Ekaterina Pavlovna of Russia by anonymous (19 c., Hermitage)

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An Unexpected Engagement Announcement

But the relief was short-lived. Next day, the day when Charlotte and the Prince were due to meet, her father came round in the morning to Warwick House and put the pressure on again. He assured Charlotte that there was nothing to be nervous about. The dinner party was to be informal and as small as possible. She was to be accompanied only by the Duchess of Leeds. But, ‘he exacted a promise’. Charlotte must make up her mind that evening. After dinner she was to give him her answer ‘one way or the other’.

When Charlotte set out for the dinner, dressed in ‘violet satin, trimmed with black lace’, she was, in Miss Knight’s words, ‘pale and agitated’, and she went, in her own words ‘with trepidation’.

Yet, as far as it could be, the evening was a success. The young Prince who would one day be King William II of the Netherlands sat on Princess Charlotte’s right, with Lady Liverpool on his other side. ‘He struck me as very plain’, wrote Charlotte to Mercer, ‘but he was so lively & animated that it quite went off… It is really singular how much we agreed together in allmost everything.’

After dinner, when many other guests arrived, the young couple walked up and down among them in the state apartments for a while. Then the Prince Regent came over, led Charlotte away to another room and asked her what she thought of the Prince.

Charlotte hesitated.

‘Then it will not do?’ he said.

‘I do not say that’, said Charlotte. ‘I like his manner very well, as much as I have seen of it.’

It was hardly a firm answer ‘one way or the other’, but it was enough for the the Prince Regent. He became as over-emotional as only he knew how. ‘You make me the happiest person in the world’, he said.

He called over the Prime Minister and Lady Liverpool and gave them the good news. While they congratulated the Princess, he summoned the ‘quite awestruck’ Prince. Then he joined the Prince’s hand with his daughter’s and gave them both his royal blessing. There was to be no going back now. Not if he could help it.

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

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The Prince Regent Is Becoming More And More Suspicious

For Charlotte the spring and summer of 1813 were for the most part dreary and sad. The only balls that she attended were in the houses of her father or her uncles, and at all of them the Prince Regent was as paranoid as ever.

At one ball, given by the Duke and Duchess of York, the Prince saw that his daughter was again sitting on a sofa talking to the Duke of Gloucester, for whom, if he only knew it, she did not have ‘the smallest partiality’. He instructed Lady Liverpool to go over and tell her to change places with Lady Bathurst, who was sitting on the other side of her. Instead of obeying, Charlotte stood up and strode out of the room. Later she went back and apologised to the Duke, and she went home, in the words of Cornelia Knight, ‘indignant and hurt at having been watched and worried’.

The Prince was equally suspicious of the Duke of Devonshire, who was certainly very attentive to Charlotte. But, as she told Mercer, he would bestow his attentions somewhere else, where they might at least be appreciated. Sir Henry Halford, who was fast becoming the Prince’s favourite messenger, was sent more than once to admonish the Duchess of Leeds and Miss Knight for not keeping a close enough watch when the Duke of Devonshire was around. And on another occasion he was sent to tell Miss Knight that the Prince was not pleased to learn that she and Charlotte had been seen out in her carriage one morning on the road to Chiswick, where the Duke was giving a breakfast party at his villa – to which Miss Knight pleaded honestly that life at Warwick House was so dull that they had simply gone out to all the fancy carriages drive by.

The Prince even forbade Charlotte to continue sitting for the painter George Sanders at his studio, because while she was there she was exposed to the bad influence of such visitors as Lady Jersey. Both the Duchess of Leeds and Miss Knight insisted defiantly that the pious painter and his studio were beyond reproach. Charlotte was having her portrait painted as a birthday present for her father, and the visitors were only there to see how it was coming on, sometimes at the Prince’s request. But it was to no avail, and since Sanders refused to paint at Warwick House, where the light was as bad as everything else, the birthday present was never finished.

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

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Picture: George Sanders, by Andrew Geddes, (c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation from the page https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/george-sanders-1774-1846/

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