Tag Archives: miss cornelia knight

An Unfortunate Dinner In Sandhurst

The Prince of Orange [later King William I] was delighted. He was going to be a king, and king of an enlarged kingdom as well. It was more than he could have dreamed possible.

But so far no one bothered to mention it to the future Queen of England or the Prince who might one day succeed his father as King William II of Holland.

Nevertheless there were too many whispers. Charlotte was sure that the plan was true, and she was in two minds about it. On the one hand the Hereditary Prince of Orange came from a family that her mother ‘detested’, and Charlotte would never ‘be tempted to purchase temporary ease by gratifying the Windsor & Ministerial cabals’. On the other hand, if the Prince had enough ‘qualities of the head & heart’ to make him ‘likeable and desirable’, he offered a chance to change her life for the better, even if ‘love’ was ‘out of question’.

All that was certain for the time being was that Charlotte was prepared to give the plan a chance. But her first experience of the House of Orange did not leave her with a good impression.

It was on 12 August, at the Prince Regent’s birthday party – the one to which Charlotte went without a present. The party was held at Sandhurst, the new home of the Military Academy. In the morning ‘the Great UP’, now Bishop of Salisbury, consecrated the chapel, and the Queen presented new colours to the cadets. In the evening, the entire company sat down to dinner. The royal family and the guests of honour, including the Prince of Orange, who was in England to negotiate his son’s future, sat at a table inside the house, and all the other guests sat in tents in the grounds.

According to Charlotte, the only man in the royal party who was not ‘dead drunk’ was her favourite uncle, the Duke of Brunswick. In the course of the evening the Prince Regent slid silently under the table, where he was eventually joined by the Prince of Orange, the Commander in Chief and almost all his ministers. By the time they got there, the dishevelled Prince of Orange had managed to discard his coat and waistcoat, most of the ministers were incapable of speaking and the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, was in such a state that, by his own admission, he could not remember next day where he had been or who he had been with.

The last to fall was the Commander in Chief, the Duke of York, who did so by rolling backwards out of his chair, banging his head against a wine cooler and pulling the table cloth and everything on it on top of him. He was revived by the Duke of Brunswick, who poured iced water over his head, and he was sent back to London in a post-chaise, wrapped in a greatcoat.

When the Queen left, she was kept waiting for ‘a full half hour’ while various nervous equerries searched for her host and helped him out to see her into her carriage.

In Charlotte’s opinion, the double celebration of the opening of Sandhurst and the Prince Regent’s birthday ‘began badly and ended in tragedy’. Miss Knight agreed. ‘It was a sad business. We went home very quietly in an open carriage by the lovely moonlight.’

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

Picture: Portrait of William I, King of the Netherlands by Joseph Paelinck, 1819, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

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The Chance For Freedom Is Coming

Throughout all this Charlotte spent a large part of every day nursing Mrs Gagarin. She had not been well for several months, and by the end of March it seemed likely that she would not recover.

‘While she was capable of taking airings’, wrote Cornelia Knight, ‘her Royal Highness constantly sent her out in a carriage, and when she grew so weak as to be confined to her room, visited her two or three times a day, carried her in her arms to the window, and exerted every faculty to soothe and comfort her.’

Her death was recorded in the Gentleman’s Magazine:

‘July 1. At Warwick House, Mrs Gagarin, many years an affectionate and faithful attendant of the Princess Charlotte of Wales. Her last moments were solaced by the condescending and unremitting attentions of of her Royal Highness, reflecting a lustre on the native goodness of her heart, superior to all the appendages of her exalted rank.’

Charlotte, wrote Miss Knight, ‘was very low for a long time afterwards, though she endeavoured to suppress and conceal her feelings’.

Yet amid all this sadness and frustration there was one element of happiness – the presence of Mercer Elphinstone.

Mercer came down from Scotland in the middle of March and stayed until the end of July.

When she knew her friend was coming, Charlotte wrote to her father, saying that she had heard the news from a third party and asking his permission to see her. Their correspondence had been, as Charlotte put it, ‘conducted with such secrecy & prudence’ that the Prince was convinced they had not been in touch with each other. All Charlotte’s letters were still being open by his agents at the Post Office, and there had been no sign of it. He therefore acceded to what he regarded as a reasonable request.

There were some, including Cornelia Knight, who suspected that the Prince had written to Mercer saying that he would only let her see his daughter if she promised to persuade her not to be too supportive of her mother. But Mercer, who was always wary of Charlotte’s mother, would have done that anyway if she thought it appropriate.

For more than four months Charlotte and Mercer saw each other as often as they pleased. But the Prince Regent had forbidden Mercer to stay in the same house as Charlotte. So when Charlotte was in London, Mercer came round to Warwick House from her own house in Harley Street, and when Charlotte was in Windsor at Lower Lodge, Cornelia Knight arranged for Mercer to stay nearby with a friend, Mrs Hallam.

Throughout those months there were no letters. There is therefore no record of what they discussed. But there is no doubt that one of the most important topics was the rumour that Mercer mentioned in one of her last letters from Scotland.

In her reply Charlotte wrote that she too had heard it. Perhaps, if the Princess were willing to pay it, the price of freedom would soon be available.

It was being said that the Prince Regent and his ministers were planning to arrange a marriage between Princess Charlotte and the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

[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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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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Charlotte’s Lamentable Dinner With Her Father

Charlotte, to her intense relief, was back in London. Even though Miss Knight described Warwick House as ‘miserably out of repair, and almost falling into ruins’, it was, she said ‘a seat of happiness to Princess Charlotte compared to Lower Lodge at Windsor’. The present arrangement was that she and her charge were to be one week in London and one at Lower Lodge. But Charlotte was ‘anxiously desirous’, said Miss Knight, ‘to remain in Town as much as possible.’ There, the prospect of a more entertaining life opened out: ‘when in Town we were to dine at Carlton House, to go to the Play and Opera, and to have a party at Warwick House, besides balls and great parties at Carlton House.’ And indeed, this gay life seemed to be beginning when Miss Knight, two days after her arrival, was invited to accompany the young Princess to dinner with her father.

‘We went at 7, and I was presented to the Regent in form.’ But she was surprised to find no ladies present, only Miss Goldsworthy, the Princesses’ governess, now very old, very deaf, and inclined to drop asleep over her dinner. However, there were three Royal Dukes, York, Cumberland and Cambridge, and Miss Knight’s feelings, so easily upset, were appeased by their princely graciousness. She could find no fault with the meal or with the surroundings; the rooms were ‘fitted up with great splendour and elegance’, though far too hot.

But she could not approve of her host’s manner to his daughter. He hardly spoke to her, and showed her no affection. ‘His greatest attentions,’ she wrote, ‘were for Miss Goldsworthy,’ to whom he evidently chose to show more favour than the daughter of Sir Joseph Knight. Her conclusion was that ‘every consideration was to be sacrificed to the plan of keeping the Princess Charlotte as long as possible a child; and consequently, whoever belonged to her was to be thought a nurse or preceptress, inferior, of course, to the nurses and preceptresses of the Princesses her aunts’. Although inclined to be huffy on her own account, Miss Knight was far more concerned on Charlotte’s, now that she had seen her vis-a-vis her father.

When they returned to Windsor, Cornelia found this opinion confirmed. The Duchess of Leeds’s daughter was considered by the Queen to be a suitable companion for Charlotte, and parties were to be given of ‘young ladies not present’ – or, as Miss Knight put it scornfully, ‘children’s balls’. She was as indignant as Charlotte, whom she described as having ‘in understanding, penetration and stature…become a woman’.

It must also be remembered that Charlotte had already had a love affair, was attractive to men, and enjoyed their company. The Prince was aware of this, and warned Miss Knight in the course of an evening party that she must see that there was no nonsense with the Duke of Gloucester. The Duke, who was known as Silly Billy, was thirty-seven and a gift to the caricaturists, but he was kind and friendly: perhaps, though, from later events, the Prince’s instincts were right, for the time came when Charlotte was quite ready to accept her goggle-eyed cousin Gloucester as a suitor.

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

2ndDukeOfGloucester

Picture: Portrait of Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh by an unknown artist, 1813-22

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Charlotte Has To Bear The Duchess Of Leeds And Her Daughter

The Duchess of Leeds took up her post of governess. It was inevitable that Charlotte should resent her: she also disliked her heartily, considering her ignorant and ill-mannered, totally unfit to teach anything. Moreover, she was boring, and told long-winded dull stories. She fussed over her own health, took shower-baths and sucked calomel, but was almost always ill: ‘no creature ever had such bad health.’ Socially Charlotte considered her an upstart: even the riding school where she took exercise on an old, quiet horse was second-rate. She had been a Miss Anguish, her father Accountant-General to the Court of Chancery. Now, as the second wife of a Duke, she put on airs; but ‘what can be expected of a low woman who has been pushed up & never found her level?’

There was another reason to resent the Duchess: she brought with her her daughter, Lady Catherine Osborne. ‘Her girl is in the house,’ wrote Charlotte angrily, describing her as ‘stif, no companion to me’, and besides, she was only fourteen. She danced well, conceded the Princess, and they danced together, but there would be no question, on Charlotte’s side, of friendship.

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

‘Depend upon it, as long as I live you shall never have an establishment, unless you marry.’

The Prince Regent did not always mean what he said, but Princess Charlotte knew all too well that he had been serious when he said that. For her, marriage was the price of freedom. If that was not enough of an incentive to marry the first man who asked her, the regime of the Duchess of Leeds was another.

It was not that the Duchess was in any way strict. On the contrary, she was easy-going and avoided every kind of conflict. She concurred with ‘the Great UP’ at every opportunity. When Charlotte was in London, she only came to Warwick House between 2 and 5 p.m., which gave the Princess the evenings to herself. But she was a boring, graceless, self-important hypochondriac. She was forever telling ‘stories of an hour’s length’ and taking cold showers to wash away her latest ailment. Worst of all, in Charlotte’s eyes, she was ‘a violent Tory‘.

The daughter of the Accountant-General to the Court of Chancery, the Duchess had won her Duke’s heart on the basis of her beauty alone, and her exalted new rank had gone to her head. To Charlotte’s embarrassment, she often ‘overacted’ her part and was patronising with people whom she regarded as inferiors.

Even so, the Duchess’s ‘disagreeable’ company might have been worth suffering if her easy-going nature had allowed Charlotte to meet and correspond with anyone she pleased. But protecting the Princess from undesirable influences was the one duty that she tried to take seriously. She was always, as Charlotte put it, ‘keeping close’ to her in public, and, with an air of innocence, the Duchess introduced her fifteen-year-old daughter, Lady Catherine Osborne, into Charlotte’s household.

To everyone outside that household, it seemed ideal that the Princess should have a companion closer to her own age. It does not seem to have occurred to any of them that a fifteen-year-old girl who danced well had nothing in common with a sophisticated seventeen-year-old Princess who looked and behaved as though she were at least twenty. But the people who were actually members of that household were very soon suspicious of Lady Catherine. She asked too many questions, and she was all too often found alone in Charlotte’s room without a good reason for being there. As Charlotte wrote to Mercer, ‘That odious Lady Catherine is a convenient spie upon everybody in the house, with her long nose of bad omen, & her flippant way of walking so lightly that one never hears her.’

Things were not as bad as they could have been, however. The tedious Duchess and her prying daughter were effectively thwarted by the conspiratorial loyalty of Miss Cornelia Knight.

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

KATHARINE, FIFTH DUCHESS OF LEEDS

The Duchess of Leeds, picture from

http://www.hellenicaworld.com/Art/Literature/JJFoster/en/ChatsOnOldMiniatures.html