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Charlotte’s Death

Just after midnight, Charlotte felt sick. Her pulse was racing and there was ringing in her ears. She vomited and brought up the camphor julep with the broth. Then she quietened for a few minutes and her pulse-rate lowered. And then she clutched her stomach and cried out, ‘Oh, what a pain! It is all here!’

Mrs Griffiths rushed into the dressing room and woke Sir Richard Croft. When he reached Charlotte moments later Croft found that she was very cold and breathing with difficulty, and she was bleeding again. But, although the accepted and often successful treatment for a post-partum haemorrhage such as this was the application of cold water, Croft decided to warm the patient up by applying hot water bottles and blankets to her abdomen. The bleeding continued.

Croft then sent a footman to bring Baillie and Sims. Baillie decided that what the Princess needed was a good dose of wine and brandy. While he was administering them, Croft went off in search of Stockmar.

Stockmar woke to find Croft holding his hand. The Princess was in danger. The Prince must be told.

Stockmar dressed and went to wake Leopold, but the Prince was so deeply asleep that it took time to wake him, and then he was so drowsy that he barely understood what was being said.

After about a quarter of an hour a footman came. Dr Baillie wanted Dr Stockmar to see the Princess. For a moment Stockmar hesitated. He was reluctant to get involved. Then he went.

When he entered the bedroom, Baillie was still trying to administer wine. The Princess was tossing from side to side, breathing heavily and obviously in great pain.

‘Here comes an old friend of yours’, said Baillie.

Charlotte stretched out her left hand, grabbed Stockmar’s and pressed it ‘vehemently’. ‘They have made me tipsy’, she said.

While he held her hand, Stockmar surreptitiously took her pulse. ‘It was very quick; the beats now full, now weak, now intermittent.’

After another quarter of an hour there was a rattle in Charlotte’s throat. Stockmar went off to get Leopold. But as he crossed the breakfast room he heard Charlotte shouting beyond the closed door behind him: ‘Stocky! Stocky!’

Stockmar went back. Charlotte did not see him. She turned on her face, drew up her knees to her chest and fell silent. Stockmar took her cold hand and searched for a pulse. There was none. ‘The flower of Brunswick’ had faded. ‘The Daughter of England’ was dead.

Stockmar went to break the news to Leopold but, when at last he had woken him, he did it, by his own admission, ‘in no very definite words’.

Leopold was still very drowsy. As he and Stockmar made their way to the bedroom, he sank into a chair in the breakfast room. He still thought Charlotte was alive. He asked Stockmar to go in and see how she was. Stockmar humoured him and went. Then he was blunt. ‘I came back and told him it was all over.’

Leopold went into the bedroom and knelt by the bed. He took Charlotte’s cold hands in his and kissed them – ‘those beautiful hands which at last while she was talking to others seemed always to be reaching out for mine’.

For a while he stayed there. Then Lieutenant-General the Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, who had sat impassive in the saddle through half a dozen military engagements, who had led a cavalry charge in one of the largest and longest battles in the history of Europe, stood up, turned, put his arms round Stockmar and whispered, ‘I am now quite desolate. Promise me to stay with me always.’

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

The Child Is Stillborn

In the bedroom at Claremont, Charlotte’s sporadic contractions continued ineffectively throughout the day. By seven o’clock in the evening she was tired and hungry. She had had no sleep for thirty-six hours and nothing to eat for twenty-four. But pain and Sir Richard would allow her neither. Sometimes she walked up and down in front of the fire, leaning on Leopold’s arm. Sometimes she lay on the bed. Sometimes Leopold lay beside her. And sometimes she reached out and absent-mindedly played with his hair, as though no one else was there.

In the breakfast room, Dr Baillie, who had not yet been allowed to see the patient, received regular reports, reassuring him that all was going well. But at ten o’clock Croft came out, took him into the bedroom and told him that he might need to use forceps.

A groom was sent galloping up to London to fetch Dr Sims. He arrived at 2 a.m. on the following morning.

At 8.15 Croft and Sims came into the breakfast room and informed the witnesses that the Princess was making good but gradual progress and that they now hoped it would not be necessary to risk the use of forceps.

The hours went by. By now Charlotte was always in bed.

At around six o’clock in the evening, meconium, a child’s first faeces, which usually appear after birth, oozed out onto the sheets. It was the first sign that the baby was in distress.

In the course of the next three hours Charlotte gave birth to a boy. He was, as suspected, dead. The doctor and the accoucheur tried every trick they knew to revive him. They plunged him in a bath of warm water. They rubbed him with mustard. They rubbed him with salt. But it was to no avail.

Charlotte had kept her promise. She had neither bawled nor shrieked, and now, heartbroken and exhausted after fifty hours of labour, she kept it still. She bore it all, said Baillie, ‘with a Brunswick heart’. While Mrs Griffiths and the maids around her wept, it was Charlotte who tried to comfort them.

At 9 p.m. the witnesses were informed that Her Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte had been delivered of a still-born son. In keeping with custom, Mrs Griffiths carried in the little corpse for their inspection.

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

The Labour Begins

On Monday, when the labourers returned to work on the ‘improvements’ in the park, Charlotte drove down with Leopold to inspect their progress on the home farm and the ‘Gothick Temple’.

At around seven o’clock in the evening, the contractions began. As Charlotte climbed into the big bed that stood between the windows beneath a tall chintz canopy, she made a promise to Mrs Griffiths. ‘I will neither bawl nor shreik.’

Horses were saddled and grooms stood ready to ride off and summon the Privy Councillors who were required to be present as ‘witnesses’ at a royal birth.

The contractions continued: sharp, soft, painful, but not yet effective. Sir Richard Croft and Mrs Griffiths stood by the bed. Leopold was there as well.

At midnight Charlotte began to feel nauseous. At 3.30 Croft decided that it was time to send for the witnesses. One groom galloped across to Virginia Water to fetch Dr Baillie. The others headed off into the dark towards London.

A 5.15 the first to arrive was the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, who lived in Putney. The next, at 5.45, was the Home Secretary, who lived in Richmond. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was staying with the Bishop of London in Fulham, because it was closer than Lambeth, arrived at six o’clock. The last were the two who lived in central London: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who arrived at 7.30, and the Lord Chancellor, who arrived a quarter of an hour later.

Dr Baillie, despite living at Virginia Water, no further away than Richmond, only just made it before the Lord Chancellor.

The witnesses and Dr Baillie assembled in the breakfast room, which stood beside the bedroom and led into it through a large, thick door on the other side from Leopold’s dressing room. There was nothing to report, and there was nothing to be heard. Apart from their own whispers, the only sounds were the discontented chattering and occasional squawk from Coco, Charlotte’s parrot, whose stand was in the corner.

Down in the village, the gentlemen of the press, who had heard the news from the witnesses’ servants, began to assemble at the Beat.

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

A Prelude To Tragedy

Baillie and Croft had estimated that the Princess would give birth on 19 October, and at the end of August preparations began with the arrival of Mrs Griffiths [the nurse who had thirty years’ experience of midwifery]. When she was introduced to Charlotte and Leopold, they came into the room as they always did, arm-in-arm, and stood talking to her ‘in the most affable manner for half an hour’ without ever letting go of each other.

Mrs Griffiths was given a room on the top floor, and Leopold’s dressing room, which led off the bedroom, was equipped with a small bed for Sir Richard Croft, so that he would be close at hand when he was needed. As yet no arrangements had been made for Dr Sims. That could be done later if he had to be called. And there was no need to provide accommodation for Dr Baillie. Since he lived nearby at Virginia Water, he could drive over every day, and he could come quickly enough in the night if he was summoned.

Sir Richard Croft arrived two weeks after Mrs Griffiths and at once subjected Charlotte to a strict regime which, among other things, was designed to reduce her weight. The accoucheur replaced her usual and favourite luncheon, a mutton chop and a glass of port, with no more than tea and toast. He gave her purges. He bled her regularly.

Dr Stockmar was amazed and appalled. This ‘lowering treatment’ might still be fashionable in England, but it was no longer regarded as even sensible in Europe. ‘I gave the Prince a long lecture’, he wrote, ‘and intreated him to make my observations known to the physicians of the Princess’. But whether Leopold did or not has not been recorded.

As Charlotte grew weaker with the regime, she began to have little bouts of gloom. She told Leopold that she thought she might die, and she did not want to see the new clothes that had been made for her baby. She had chosen them eagerly from patterns and samples, but when they arrived she had them put away without looking at them. It was as though she thought it might be bad luck if she did, and it was not something that the experienced Mrs Griffiths had ever seen a mother do before.

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

Doctors Are Chosen But Some Bad Omens Appear

The optimism of the press and the market was not always shared by those who saw Charlotte, however. Lady Holland described ‘strange abnormal symptoms’. Several people said the Princess was so large that she was likely to have twins, and the Queen, who had as much experience of pregnancy as almost anyone, said that ‘her figure was so immense (to me not natural) that I could not help being uneasy to a considerable degree’.

Before setting out on a visit to Rome, Lady Ashbrook, who had grown close to Charlotte while they were both on holiday in Weymouth, called at Claremont and strongly recommended that she should engage Sir William Knighton as ‘accoucheur’. Knighton was a highly qualified physician who had studied at Aberdeen and Edinburgh. He had been made a baronet by Charlotte’s father, whom he had attended on a number of occasions, and he was widely regarded as by far the best ‘accoucheur’ in England.

When Lady Ashbrook returned from Rome, however, she discovered to her impotent anguish that Sir William had not been appointed. Dr Baillie, who, as the King’s Physician Extraordinary, was to be in charge of Charlotte’s confinement, had chosen his own brother-in-law, Sir Richard Croft, instead.

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

Three doctors were in charge of the Princess: Sir Richard Croft, Dr. Matthew Baillie, the Royal Physician, and Dr. John Sims, who was appointed as consultant to Sir Richard, and was ready to use instruments if the birth proved difficult. According to Sir Eardley Holland, who in 1952 published a profound and detailed study of Charlotte’s case, this appointment is open to discussion. Sims was an eminent botanist as well as a physician, but ‘one wonders,’ writes Sir Eardley, ‘how much time Sims had left for midwifery’. There were, he adds, at least three skilful doctors in London who would have been better fitted for the job.

Stockmar, who was Leopold’s resident physician, resolutely refused to be appointed, or to undertake any part of the treatment, such as bleeding. He believed that if anything were to go wrong, he, as a foreigner, would be blamed.

Sir Richard Croft was fifty-five, a fashionable accoucheur, who had attended the Duchess of Devonshire at the birth of her son, the sixth Duke, who was to become Charlotte’s admirer and friend. Stockmar describes Sir Richard as ‘a long thin man, no longer very young’ (the staff at Claremont called him ‘the old gentleman’), ‘fidgetty and good-natured, and,’ he adds drily, ‘seems to have more experience than either learning or understanding’. Croft had firm theories about pre-natal treatment, and prescribed for Charlotte, who had a healthy appetite, a very plain and frugal diet. He wanted to reduce her weight: so she was blooded and purged; she was also ordered to remove her stays. ‘A cow,’ he asserted, ‘does not wear stays; why should the Princess Charlotte?’

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

Picture: Matthew Baillie (1761–1823), F.R.S., after Hoppner by Henry Bone, 1817, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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