Tag Archives: mary duchess of gloucester and edinburgh

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 And Leopold Receive Guests

In January 1817 the Regent’s carriage was stoned, as he drove to open Parliament. There was desperate poverty and distress in the country, as a result of the long wars followed by a disastrous harvest in 1816. The Regent led an attempt to encourage British manufacturers, which was taken up with enthusiasm by Charlotte and Leopold. They themselves ordered £ 1, 000 worth of Spitalfields silk, some of which they planned to hang on the walls of their great gallery. Charlotte began to collect English china, and Princess Elizabeth sent her a vase to add to her collection. In return she presented her aunt with a teapot, in the spout of which was a tiny roll of paper bearing a verse.

‘Your vase, dear aunt, I have just received,
For which receive a tea-pot;
Nor shall I be, in truth, deceived,
If both should go to pot.’

The Coburgs practised economy and charity, and tried as far as possible to live like private people. Leopold insisted that the greater part of their entourage should sleep away from Claremont and only be on call when wanted. Their household shopping, Charlotte decreed, was to be done at Esher, and all bills paid on the nail (she had experienced what it was to be in debt). In spite of having a Privy Purse and a Treasurer, they liked to supervise their own household expenses, bourgeois fashion, and Miss Knight, arriving on a visit, retreated when she found them seated at a desk covered with books and papers. ‘Come in, come in!’ Charlotte called, ”tis only Mr. and Mrs. Coburg settling their accounts.’

They began to entertain, pleased to show off their fine house. As yet, the imposing gallery, with its vast carpet, was not furnished, but the drawing-room, with its walls covered in yellow Spitalfields silk stripped with satin, and chairs and sofas to match, was a pleasant setting for parties, and early in 1817 Charlotte’s new pianoforte was installed there, a Broadwood with a case of satinwood and rosewood decorated with ormolu, which was the twin to one made in the same year for Beethoven.

At first they held family parties: ‘The Glosters have just this moment left us,’ Charlotte wrote in September 1816, and was thankful that the visit had gone off so well, for they were ‘not the most agreeable people in the world’. She seemed to have forgotten her strange predilection for the Cheese, whom she now described as ‘tiresome’, but she hoped that marriage with Princess Mary would improve him. He seemed, she said, ‘very fond of Mary & to be very happy; he is certainly all attention to her, but I cannot say she looks the picture of happiness …’

No sooner had the Gloucesters gone than the Prince Regent paid them a visit, arriving on horseback from Hampton Court, and still ready for a three-hour walk round the estate.

Charlotte and Leopold were evidently too occupied entertaining their relations to fulfil an engagement in London, for on September 14 the Foundation Stone of the Royal Coburg Theatre* was laid on their behalf by an Alderman with the charming and suitable name of Goodbehere.

It was a great pleasure having the Duchess of York so near, at Oatlands. ‘We like her so much.’ ‘We are excellent neighbours & very sociable.’ And at Christmas time they were able to join in the charitable Duchess’s party. ‘Xmas eve is a great day always at Oatlands: the Duchess has a sort of fête and fair for everybody … It was the gayest and prettiest sight I ever saw I think, the numbers of children, their parents, and all the happy merry faces, the noises they make with their toys and things.’

* The Royal Coburg Theatre became The Royal Victoria Hall, and is now known as the Old Vic.

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

Picture: portraits of Charlotte and Leopold from the cover of James Chambers’ book

Charlotte Suffers An Early Miscarriage

On 3 July Charlotte gave an important dinner party of her own, to which she invited the Duke of Wellington and his staff. When her father heard about it, he reverted to his old self. So far he had shown nothing but goodwill towards his daughter and her husband. Five weeks earlier he had invested Leopold with the Orders of the Garter and the Bath. But the thought of Charlotte playing hostess to the nation’s greatest living hero reduced him to childish jealousy.

The Regent instructed Lord Castlereagh to give a dinner for the Cabinet on the same evening and invite Wellington to attend. When he received the invitation, Wellington declined politely, saying that he was already engaged on that evening. When the day came, however, the Regent sent a messenger to Wellington ordering him to join him at Lord Castlereagh’s dinner. Wellington had no choice but to obey the royal command. So he sent his staff to dine with Charlotte and Leopold, and as soon as he could after dinner, without being rude to his host or disobedient to the Regent, he left Castlereagh’s house in St James’s Square and went up to Camelford House to join them. Charlotte was flattered. ‘I like him of all things’, she told Mercer. ‘His little short, blunt manner is not at all against him, I think, when once known.’

Three days later Charlotte was suddenly taken ill at the opera. She was well enough to go to church next day, but on the day after that Dr Baillie ordered complete rest. A week later, to universal relief, she was seen out taking the air in her carriage. But on 22 July she was not well enough to attend the wedding at which her former suitor the Duke of Gloucester was married to her aunt Princess Mary.

For a while Dr Baillie was not sure what was wrong. It was possible that the Princess was suffering from the irregular menstruation that sometimes happens in the first few weeks of marriage. But by the end of the month he was ready to announce ‘that H.R.H.’s indisposition arose from her having been in a state which gave hopes that she would, in a few months, have the happiness of giving birth to a Royal heir’.

The newspapers were sad about the miscarriage, but not despondent. The Princess was young and healthy. On 8 August they were glad to report that she had been seen out again in her carriage. Three days later they reported that she had held a musical evening, at which she had sung a German air in honour of her husband.

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

Charlotte And Leopold Take Up The Official Engagements

After little more than a week, Charlotte and Leopold went up to London, to Camelford House, where they began to receive a tedious series of ‘loyal addresses’ from various city councils and guilds. The first was from the Lord Mayor of London, who was received incongruously by the new bride in black because the court was in mourning for the Empress of Austria. But now that Charlotte was mistress of her own house she was in a position to receive anyone she pleased, and in the mornings, before the official engagements began, there were frequent visits from Cornelia Knight.

On 16 May they drove through huge crowds to Buckingham House, where the Queen gave a reception in their honour for over two thousand guests. Next day they received visits at Camelford House from Charlotte’s uncles the Dukes of York, Clarence and Gloucester, and then they went round to call on the Duchess of York and thank her for lending them Oatlands.

Yet, despite their inevitably crowded social calendar, Charlotte and Leopold found time to indulge their shared interests in music and, above all, theatre.

After leaving the Duchess of York, they went on to Drury Lane to see the great Edmund Kean in his latest tragedy, Bertram. The visit to the Duchess had delayed them so much that they arrived well after the performance had started. As they sat down in their box, the audience interrupted the play with hisses and shouts of ‘Stage Box!’. Leopold was taken aback: he thought they were being criticised for coming late. But Charlotte explained that this was what the audience did when they wanted a royal party to move their chairs forward so that they could see them better. So Leopold and Charlotte did as they were asked. That night and for ever afterwards, they sat well forward in their box, and the audiences were soon noticing how often the uninhibited Princess sat with her hand resting on her husband’s arm.

A week later they went to the theatre again, this time to Covent Garden to see The Jealous Wife. As they entered the Prince Regent’s box, several minutes before the performance was due to start, the curtain suddenly rose and the entire company sang the national anthem with a few additional verses which had been written hurriedly for the occasion and did not quite fit the cadence of the tune.

Long may the Noble Line,
Whence she descended, shine
In Charlotte the Bride!
Grant it perpetuate
And ever make it great;
On Leopold blessings wait
And Charlotte his Bride.

A fortnight after that, Charlotte and Leopold were due to attend a performance of Macbeth, in which the ageing Mrs Siddons had agreed to make one last appearance. But when the day came Charlotte was in bed suffering from what Dr Matthew Baillie, the King’s Physician Extraordinary, described as ‘a severe cold’, which had come on suddenly and forced her to leave in the middle of a charity concert a few days earlier.

Charlotte remained in bed for a week, although she was well enough to receive visits from the Queen and her aunts and uncles, and soon after that she was again going to the theatre and dinner parties.

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

Picture: Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold in their box at Covent Garden Theatre, 1816. The artist George Dawe was much patronised by the royal couple. This portrait was commissioned by Princess Charlotte, but Fry’s engraving was not issued until 6 April 1818 – after Princess Charlotte’s death in November 1817. Charlotte and Leopold are depicted seated in a classically ornamented box at the Covent Graden Theatre. He holds a libretto and looks at her. She is shown wearing a totally plain dress, but with a magnificent cashmere paisley shawl which is draped over one shoulder and falls over the box, showing off its exotic design; none of these costly shawls now survives. Charlotte has a wreath of roses in her hair and wears a low cut, high waisted dress of light weight material. The performance they are watching was of Henry VIII, performed for the benefit of the Theatrical Fund on Saturday 29 June 1817. The cast included Mrs Siddons as Queen Katherine. https://www.museumoflondonprints.com/image/143205/george-dawe-william-thomas-fry-princess-charlotte-and-prince-leopold-in-their-box-at-covent-garden-theatre-1816-1817

A Very Awkward Honeymoon

The honeymoon was not blissful. ‘We have none of us been well,’ said Charlotte, and blamed the weather. She found Leopold ‘the perfection of a lover’, and a very amiable companion, but she confessed that she felt shy of him, not at her ease or ‘quite comfortable yet in his society’.

They were probably suffering from reaction: they had both endured a long strain since Leopold’s arrival in England; moreover, they were still virtually strangers. Oatlands, with its spacious estate, was a pleasant, secluded place for a royal honeymoon, but unfortunately, although the Duke and Duchess of York had moved out, the Duchess’s animals had not. Charlotte considered that the air of the place was ‘quite unwholesome, as it is infected & impregnated with the smell & breath of dogs, birds and all sorts of animals’. (It is interesting to note that the Duchess of York, so sensitive to the bad breath of her cousin Prince August, must have been quite immune to the strong odours of her forty dogs and other creatures.)

But there were happy moments, and particularly a drive in the curricle to Claremont, their future home, ‘wh. is a real paradise’.

Two days after the wedding, the Prince Regent arrived on a visit – unexpected and not altogether welcome. Perhaps to ease any shyness on the part of his hosts, he settled down to entertain his son-in-law and bored daughter with a long discourse on the subject of uniforms, which interested him enormously. ‘For two hours and more I think,’ said Charlotte, ‘we had a most learned dissertation upon every regiment under the sun.’ But she was relieved by the good-humoured mood in which the lecture was delivered, and later heard from her Aunt Mary that the Regent had been ‘delighted with his visit & with both us’.

Since his arrival in England, Prince Leopold had been studying English, determined to master not only the language but the history of this country. He admired the English, but thought their manners ‘a little odd’ through their long separation from the Continent. He considered that, as husband to the Heiress Presumptive, he must educate himself for the high position he would one day occupy. Charlotte approved of these studies, and even on their honeymoon encouraged him to talk English, ‘wh. he really does surprisingly well considering how short a time and what little practice he has had’.

He was still suffering from neuralgia, which – temporarily relieved when the Regent’s dentist, Mr. Bew, pulled out one of his teeth – returned when he and Charlotte went to London: Miss Knight, on July 30, was unable to see the Princess, ‘as Prince Leopold was suffering from a pain in his face. But,’ Cornelia hastened to add, ‘she wrote me a very affectionate note afterwards to apologise.’

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

Picture: Oatlands Palace https://www.geni.com/projects/Oatlands-Palace-Surrey-England/25843

Day Of The Wedding (Part 3)

But Charlotte did not forget her beloved Margaret. ‘To show you how constantly you occupy my thoughts,’ she wrote two days later, ‘my last word was with [Princess] Lieven to intreat her to give you a faithful account, & to my maid just as I drove off to go & tell you how I looked & was …’

‘I promised you,’ she reminded Mercer, ‘I promised you to behave well … and everyone complimented me upon the composure & dignity of my manner, & the audible way in which I answered the responses.’ It was observed that Prince Leopold, on the other hand, ‘was not heard so distinctly, and exhibited rather more than common diffidence’.

It was also observed that the wedding ring, chosen by Charlotte, was ‘stronger and larger than those usually worn’. Twenty-nine years afterwards, Leopold told Queen Victoria that Charlotte ‘was particularly determined to be a good and obedient wife’, and this would perhaps account for Huish’s impression of her going through the ceremony ‘with a chastened joy’.

The service, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, lasted exactly twenty-five minutes, and after all was over and healths drunk, Charlotte embraced her father, shook hands with her uncles York, Clarence and Kent (the other three were not there), kissed the Queen’s hand and her aunts’ tear-stained faces, and hurried away to change. Guns boomed from the Tower and St. James’s and as if by tacit agreement, the young couple did not appear again till they were ready to set out for their honeymoon. ‘The Princess did not take leave of the company, and avoided all compliments and congratulations by slipping down the private stairs from the state apartments to the ground floor.’ As she stepped into the new green travelling carriage, she must have looked captivating, in a white pelisse bordered with ermine, and a white satin hat, trimmed with blond lace and a nodding plume of ostrich feathers.

Leopold followed her, and, as the carriage was about to set off, the Queen, who had been all graciousness and kindness throughout the day, suddenly decided that it would be shocking for them to travel together at this late hour, unchaperoned, and ordered Charlotte’s lady, Mrs. Campbell, to join them. Mrs. Campbell, a determined Scotswoman, refused, and before anything more could be said, the coach, with Charlotte’s team of greys, ornamented with white favours, drove off at high speed, heading for Oatlands, near Weybridge, the Yorks’ country residence, which the Coburgs had been lent for their honeymoon. Charlotte was free.

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

Picture: Charlotte’s wedding dress, picture by Royal Collection Trust

Day Of The Wedding (Part 1)

The day of the wedding was fine and sunny, and from an early hour crowds began to gather in the Mall, St. James’s, and all the streets near the royal residences, eager for a sight of Charlotte and Leopold.

The courtyard in front of Clarence House was ‘crowded to excess with well-dressed people of all classes’, who waited patiently but noisily for Prince Leopold to appear, which he obliged them by doing, three or four times an hour. Cheers and applause greeted him as fresh crowds replaced those who had just been satisfied by a good long stare st the handsome obliging young man, simply dressed in blue coat, buff waistcoat and grey pantaloons. At about ten o’clock the crowds were forced to make way as a team of elegant grey horses trotted briskly into the stable yard, for the Prince’s inspection. They had been carefully chosen and matched to please Princess Charlotte, and could hardly fail to please her bridegroom.

At about two o’clock the delighted mob watched Leopold drive out in a curricle, on his way to pay a ‘morning visit’ to his bride, and to inspect the new travelling carriage which had been built for them. On his return to Clarence House he found that the crowd had grown enormous, and he had difficulty in getting out of his curricle. A footman, trying to help him, was nearly crushed to death, and a number of women and children were swept by the convulsion through the doors and into the hall of Clarence House. It was an alarming moment, but Leopold remained unruffled, and was soon bowing on the balcony again, which he continued to do till five in the evening, when he withdrew to prepare himself for dinner ‘with a select party of gentlemen’.

Charlotte was at Buckingham House, dining with her grandmother and aunts.

Meanwhile, a full guard of honour of the Grenadier Guards, preceded by the band of the Coldstream Guards in full dress, marched from St. James’s Park into the courtyard of Carlton House, affording fresh entertainment for the spectators. After this, a troop of the Life Guards trotted into Pall Mall, followed by the two Bow Street magistrates, Sir Nathaniel Conant and Mr. Birnie, at the head of fifty police officers and constables, whose job it was to control the crowds. The approach to Buckingham House was already crammed with carriages, for, in the entrance hall of Buckingham House, privileged persons were gathering to see the Royal Family assemble before leaving for Carlton House.

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