Tag Archives: mary duchess of gloucester

Charlotte’s Conversation With Princess Mary

To Charlotte’s relief, the young Prince of Orange did not put in an appearance. ‘The little hero has as yet left me quiet,’ she wrote on August 21. She was thankful to postpone the evil hour of meeting him, though she was clearly eager to hear accounts of him from those who had. There were flutterings in the Castle dovecote: the Princesses, Charlotte told Mercer, were longing to meet their niece’s young man, and were disappointed to learn that he was about to rejoin Wellington. When the Queen decided to go to London to see him and say good-bye, all her daughters wanted to accompany her. Charlotte pitied the young prince: ‘It is very unpleasant being exposed to the observation of a set of ill-natured spinsters, who only regret not being young enough to s[e]ize upon him themselves.’ Her Aunt Mary, who remembered him as a child in arms and was full of his praises, was not invited to go: the Queen decided to take Augusta and Elizabeth (‘a brace of very ugly daughters,’ wrote Charlotte). Princess Mary told her niece that the Regent had decided not to invite the Hereditary Prince on this visit, as more preparation was needed before the young couple met. Besides which, she said, the Regent ‘knew he was not handsome…’ ‘But he might improve still,’ she quickly added, ‘tho’ he is 21.’

Charlotte doubted this. ‘If you see him, you will see what is perfectly frightful,’ she told Mercer.

In fact, she was behaving badly. But she was profoundly uneasy about the Orange business, and dreaded that the Regent would make a sudden move for which she was unprepared. She felt that, at Windsor, she was surrounded by spies; and she resolved to carry the war into the enemies’ country and talk openly to one or two of them, beginning with her Aunt Mary.

‘I formed my conversation for her to repeat,’ she told Mercer. She had never trusted this aunt, whom she described as ‘the carrier of everything back again to the Prince, whose great favourite she is’. Princess Mary, she added, was ‘a very good handle, that is all…’

Her aunt listened to her sympathetically. Charlotte said how disappointed she was that her portrait had been left unfinished: she had intended it as a birthday present for her father, and had nothing else to give him. She was worried, too, because he had not spoken to her since he arrived in Windsor. Princess Mary said that she and her sisters ‘had been so used to the King’s not speaking to them for whole days together’, that it did not seem strange to her, only a pity because Charlotte saw her father so seldom. Charlotte complained of her father’s attitude to her ladies, and defended them hotly. To be sure, agreed her aunt, ‘people could not guess by inspiration what he wished to have done…the ladies, she believed, did as well as they could’ and so on. Princess Mary was exerting herself to please her niece; but she was also trying to please the Prince. She told Charlotte that her father very much wished her to be married next year, and without mentioning the Prince of Orange she tiptoed, catlike, round and round the subject of marriage, gently insinuating the idea and leaving it with Charlotte as something greatly to be desired.

(…) Charlotte did not greatly value her aunt Mary’s advice, but she was encouraged by a note from her ally, Princess Sophia, saying that she thought the conversation had done some good: Princess Mary ‘wished she could show the Prince how much he was injuring himself & hurting & trifling with’ his daughter’s feelings.

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

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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]

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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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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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Family Politics

The year 1812 started propitiously for Charlotte. On January 7, her sixteenth birthday was handsomely acknowledged by the Family, and the Prince not only gave her, for the first time, a birthday present, but held a dinner party for her at Carlton House. ‘I think you will say, wonders never end,’ she said, reporting this to Mercer. The party consisted of her uncles York, Clarence and Cumberland, the Queen, a brace of princesses, Augusta and Mary (the Regent’s favourites), and was presided over by the Regent, ‘in so good a humour that they spoke of it with surprise’.

Before dinner their gracious host conducted them over ‘the whole of Carlton House’ showing off his latest acquisitions of paintings and furniture; and then they sat down amid ‘much joking and good humour’ to a splendid repast. Unfortunately Charlotte had to dine with her mother at Blackheath immediately afterwards, and so was unable to do full justice to the vast and delectable meal, at the end of which the Prince, oozing with amiability, toasted his mother in a large bumper. He does not appear to have toasted his daughter, whose birthday it was, but ‘I am never so happy,’ he said, ‘as when in the bosom of my family. I trust we may very often meet again in this way…and that your Majesty will do me the honour of frequently presiding at this board…’

‘I was thunderstruck,’ said Charlotte. But she found this excessive affection for his mother a disconcerting portent. Every change of mood, each wind that blew within the Royal Family, had its meaning: Charlotte was by now familiar with the signs. There were reasons, she felt certain, for this sudden attack of filial piety. ‘The Queen has quite got master of the Prince,’ she had observed a week earlier, and now she endorsed it, adding, ‘I know [it] is not a good sign with regard to his measures in Government&politics.’ ‘The Prince,’ she told Mercer, ‘is quite governed by his mother and the Manchester Square folks.’ These were the Hertfords, staunch Tories. Charlotte was not alone in her fears. ‘From now on,’ wrote Lord Holland, ‘the Prince was charged by the Whigs with ingratitude and perfidy. We all encouraged every species of satire against him and his mistress.’ The cartoonists licked their pencils: the print shops, said Charlotte, were full of ‘scurrilous caricatures’.

The Royal Family were beginning to regard Princess Charlotte as someone to be reckoned with: she held strong views and aired them freely. ‘Fortunately’, wrote Princess Mary in 1812, ‘Charlotte is not at all afraid of the Queen, as she runs on from subject to subject and into all her jokes with the Q., just as she does with us, and stands over Queen’s chair & yesterday afternoon kept the Queen laughing from eight o’clock until 10.’ Though they were to cross the swords in the future, the time came when Queen Charlotte developed a respect for her granddaughter and namesake and became her champion.

The young Princess was critical of what she called the Royal Menagerie, and commented shrewdly, if not always kindly, upon their characters. ‘No family,’ she asserted, ‘was ever composed of such odd people: and there have happened such extraordinary things, that in any other family…are never herd of before.’

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

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Picture: Portrait of Queen Charlotte by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1789, National Gallery

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Miss Cornelia Knight Becomes Charlotte’s Lady Companion

Soon afterwards Lady de Clifford resigned as governess. The continuing eye infection was a good excuse, but she must have known that her lack of vigilance had lost her the confidence of her employer, and that it was probably better to jump before she was pushed (…)

In January 1813, just after she had celebrated her seventeenth birthday, Charlotte was told that new governess was to be the Duchess of Leeds and that, since Mrs Udney had also decided to retire, her new sub-governess was to be Miss Cornelia Knight.

Charlotte was furious. No girl of seventeen had a governess. And anyway she was a princess. She ought to have her own establishment by now. She ought to have ladies-in-waiting. And one of them ought to be Mercer Elphinstone.

But this was never an argument that was going to have any effect on her father. In the last of several heated meetings, in the presence of the Queen and the Lord Chancellor, who had been brought along to add legal weight to the Prince’s prejudices, he informed his daughter that the best he was prepared to do would be to describe Miss Knight as a ‘lady companion’ and not a ‘sub-governess’.

‘Besides’, he said, with all the self-deluding confidence of someone who barely knows the half of it, ‘I know all that passed in Windsor Park; and if it were not for my clemency, I would shut you up for life. Depend upon it, as long as I live you shall never have an establishment, unless you marry.’

The Prince Regent was still determined to treat his daughter as a child. But there was not another man in the kingdom who felt inclined to do the same.

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

At this point, Lady de Clifford retired to London suffering from inflamed eyes, and Charlotte’s visits to her mother were again cancelled. The Princess wrote to the Queen, ‘to beg some person be appointed’ to accompany Charlotte to Kensington. Miss Cornelia Knight, at that time Lady Companion to the Queen, was sent with strict orders not to let Princess Charlotte out of her sight for one moment. The Queen also sent for Princess Charlotte, and told her that she was not to retire at all; to which the young princess retorted that after such a long journey she would have to retire, but she assured her grandmother that she need have no fear: ‘what she had to say to her mother she could say before  anybody.'(…)

Fortunately, early in 1813, the unlamented Mrs. Udney retired from the scene, and a new lady was appointed to succeed her, of whom Charlotte wrote, ‘An excellent valuable person is come, which is Miss Knight.’

Miss Cornelia Knight was no stranger: she had been the Queen’s lady for seven years. Charlotte thought her ‘clear-sighted & firm, accomplished & talented’. But what most pleased the Princess was that a concession had been made to her demand for an Establishment: Miss Knight was to be her Lady Companion, not her sub-governess. She was herself as precise on this point as Charlotte could wish, and went so far as to contradict the announcement from Windsor of her appointment as sub-governess by inserting a paragraph in the Morning Chronicle, February 4, 1813: ‘Miss Knight is one of the ladies companions to her Royal Highness and is the daughter of the late Sir Joseph Knight.’

There is something quaint and prim about this announcement with its toss of the head at the end; but it shows that the lady was used to standing up for her rights. In time she would have to stand up for Charlotte’s.

Ellis Cornelia Knight was fifty-six, an Admiral’s daughter, and after his death in 1775 she and her mother had lived abroad, chiefly in Italy, for economy. They were both accomplished and intellectual, a little eccentric in their dress and given to draperies, but as Lady Knight wrote, We have always lived in the best company and not inelegantly … by my daughter’s being the milliner and I the mantua-maker, stay-maker and workwoman.’ ‘Moreover,’ she added, ‘Cornelia is universally esteemed.’ Cornelia was undoubtedly talented: she wrote verses and several learned books, including a sequel to Dr. Johnson’s Rasselas and a novel called Marcus Flaminius, on which Horace Walpole commented, ‘I do protest, I think it a wonderful performance. There is so much learning and good sense well digested, such exact knowledge of Roman characters and manners … that it is impossible not to admire the judgement and excellent understanding of the authoress.’ But he was obliged to admit that ‘as a novel … it is not very amusing’.

Miss Knight could no more have written an amusing novel than her contemporary, Miss Austen, could have produced that History of the House of Coburg requested of her by the Regent’s librarian.

After Lady Knight’s death at Palermo, Cornelia was rescued from lonely poverty by Sir William and Lady Hamilton, under whose protection she remained for several years. She was prickly in defence of her hostess’s morals. ‘I must say,’ she wrote, ‘that there was certainly at that time no impropriety in living under Lady Hamilton’s roof. Her house was the resort of the best company of all nations, and the attentions paid to Lord Nelson appeared perfectly natural.’ Innocent, earnest Miss Knight saw ‘no impropriety’ in the relationship of this classic pair.

After Nelson’s death the Hamiltons returned to England, and Cornelia decided to look for a job. She was recommended by Fanny Burney to the Queen, who was partial to literary ladies, and invited Miss Knight to become a member of her household. In December 1805, at the age of forty-nine, Cornelia became a resident at Windsor, living in Park Street in a house which belonged to the Queen, who allowed her one maid to do the housework. She was paid three hundred pounds a year. Her work at this time was not arduous: most mornings were spent at Frogmore, listening to the Queen reading aloud in French and English, and doing needlework, and she was given generous leave ‘to visit her friends’. Nevertheless, during the course of the next seven years, the strain of living in that unhappy court became more and more unbearable.

But the daughter of an Admiral who had served his country for fifty-two years was not one to desert her post, and her tall, angular figure was still to be seen among the Queen’s ladies in 1812 when Lady de Clifford resigned. After the appointment of the Duchess of Leeds and subsequent rows, a little council composed of Princess Mary, the Regent and Sir Henry Halford, the royal doctor and go-between, decided that Miss Knight was just the person to be ‘about Charlotte’.

The only problem was how to detach her from the Queen without causing trouble, and this proved to be impossible. ‘The Queen is generally very cross,’ wrote Charlotte at this time. At the very idea of Miss Knight’s leaving her the Queen shook with rage: Miss Knight, torn by her divided loyalties, lapsed into hysterics, and everybody tried to pour oil on waters which became more and more troubled. ‘Of course,’ wrote Princess Mary to the Prince, ‘we must not tell the Queen Miss Knight would like a situation about Charlotte in preference to REMAINING about the Queen, that would never do.’ But that was what the Queen chose to believe, and Miss Knight felt obliged to refuse the tempting invitation out of loyalty to her Majesty. But now the Queen decided that she did not want Miss Knight, and treated her to a very cold shoulder indeed. ‘Miss Knight is a as much her own mistress as you are your own master,’ she wrote to the Prince Regent. ‘Dismissed my service since yesterday, I do certainly not mean to offer her to come back again to me.’

Miss Knight, ill with worry, now wrote to Lord Moira giving up both situations, but Moira urged her to take courage. Two days later he brought Cornelia ‘a positive command’ from the Queen to accept the place offered her. And so, after this stormy beginning, Miss Knight went to Warwick House on January 23, 1813, to begin her life with Princess Charlotte.

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

Ellis Cornelia Knight by Angelika Kauffmann in 1793

Portrait of Ellis Cornelia Knight by Angelica Kauffmann, 1793, Manchester Art Gallery

Charlotte’s Family: Princess Mary

CHARLOTTE’S PATERNAL AUNT

Princess Mary by Sir Thomas Lawrence1

Mary (25 April 1776 – 30 April 1857) fourth daughter of George III of the United Kingdom and Charlotte of Mecklenburg – Strelitz, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh, Charlotte’s paternal aunt

Picture: Princess Mary by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c. 1817 – 1830, Royal Collection