Tag Archives: miss cornelia knight

Charlotte Is Trying To Make The Best Of The Situation

‘Out of spirits & agitated terribly,’ Charlotte described herself, and evidently she appeared so to Miss Knight. Yet to Mercer next day she wrote that she was quite won over by by the Prince of Orange, and was touched by his kindness and anxiety to please her. ‘He was desirous … that those I had about me for ladies should be agreeable to me & friends of mine’, and when he took his leave, ‘it was in the most affectionate manner, all warmth & openness of heart & feeling with me’.

Two days later she was writing, ‘I will fairly tell you that the little I have seen him I am delighted. Our tempers & minds I think will perfectly suit.’ She fairly poured out his praises to Mercer, adding, as the highest honour of all, ‘I tell you what I really think, wh. is that when you see & know him, you will like him too.’

She even began to become reconciled to the idea of visiting Holland from time to time, as the Prince of Orange had suggested that she might take some of her particular friends to keep her company. Loyal, jealous Miss Knight, though she disapproved of the hasty betrothal, was determined to offer some comfort, and offered herself, ‘which,’ said Cornelia, ‘she accepted with great feeling and pleasure.’

Mercer was puzzled by Charlotte’s attitude. She had described herself as ‘delighted’ with the Prince of Orange, and was apparently trying to reconcile herself to the Dutch visits. Why then was she still unhappy? Charlotte told her. She was bitterly hurt by the way in which her father had cheated her. The whole thing, his kindness, his displays of affection, which had made her so happy before her meeting with the Prince of Orange – the whole thing had been a fraud, a careful plan to win her consent to the marriage. It was ‘a trick’, she said angrily, ‘to catch me’. The question of living abroad, she now knew, was to have been kept from her till it was too late to retract.

Miss Knight too felt that Charlotte had been tricked into giving her consent. On December 21 she wrote to Mercer Elphinstone, with whom she was now on the best of terms, deploring the ‘manoeuvres’ employed by the Prince to weaken Charlotte’s resistance. The Duke and Duchess of York, said Cornelia, had done a great deal, ‘not appearing in it themselves, but by others’; indeed, from her account, Charlotte must have been surrounded by people hoping to benefit by the match. Miss Knight particularly blamed Lady Anne Smith, the Duchess of York’s lady-in-waiting, and her daughters, Anne and Georgiana Fitzroy, who, she said, ‘have worked most cautiously but unceasingly – and have persuaded the young P[rince] to ask that Georgiana may belong to* Pss Ch’. It may be remembered Georgiana Fitzroy, after waltzing with the young Prince at Oatlands, sent Charlotte an account of him, in which she raved about his waltzing but deprecated his plainness and his thinness. Georgiana was the Duke of Wellington’s niece, which no doubt commended her to the Orange prince: and three months later she was trying to make up for the unattractive picture she had given of him by emphasizing to Charlotte what a good figure he had, what good teeth and what good manners.

Miss Knight, who had observed all this going on, felt that Charlotte had been taken advantage of. Moreover, she said, ‘I know that on all hands it has been represented to him [the Prince of Orange] that she is dying to be married …’

‘She thinks, or at least says,’ Miss Knight told Mercer, ‘no one has influenced her and that it is entirely her own choice and determination!!!’

‘It remains now to make the best of it – to undeceive her as to the free agency which she thinks she has exercised, to make her gain his confidence and he hers, and if possible to prevent their governed by all these artful people …’

* In other words, be one of her Household, after her marriage.

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

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Problems Arise Right After The Engagement

Cornelia Knight was waiting up for her when Charlotte returned to Warwick House. The Princess told her everything. She was now engaged to the young Prince of Orange. Miss Knight was astonished. ‘I could only remark’, she wrote years later, ‘that she had gained a great victory over herself’.

But Charlotte was already coming to terms with what had happened. ‘No, you would not say so if you were to see him’, she said. ‘He is by no means as disagreeable as I expected.’

Next day Miss Knight did get to see him. He came to call accompanied by Lord Bathurst. She was not over-impressed. ‘I thought him particularly plain and sickly in his look, his figure very slender, his manner rather hearty and boyish, but not unpleasant in a young soldier.’

On the day after that the young Prince came again, this time accompanied by Charlotte’s father. Tactfully, the Regent allowed the young couple to be alone together, although, for the sake of propriety, he and Miss Knight sat by the fire in the next room with the door open, so that they could see them.

The Regent told ‘the Chevalier’ that for the time being the betrothal was to be kept secret, and he then began to describe his plans for the marriage.

Suddenly they were both brought to their feet by the sound of Charlotte bursting into ‘a violent fit of sobs and hysterical tears’.

The Regent had no idea what was happening. ‘What!’ he said. ‘Is he taking his leave?’

‘Not yet’, said Charlotte, and then added that she was going to her room.

Tactful again, the Regent told the ladies that he and the Hereditary Prince were now late for a banquet and then hurriedly led him away.

When they were gone, Miss Knight asked Charlotte what was wrong, and she was not too surprised by the answer.

The Dutch Prince had just told the Princess that, when they were married, she would have to spend two or three months of every year in Holland.

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

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An Unexpected Engagement Announcement

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

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

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

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

Charlotte hesitated.

‘Then it will not do?’ he said.

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

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

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

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

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The Prince Of Orange Must Visit His Frogs Solo

Charlotte’s letters to Mercer take on a happier note at this point. ‘I have agreed without any demur or hesitation to see young P. when he comes,’ she wrote on December 8. She had received more accounts of him ‘from those who know him personally’, and felt that he could not, after all, be so bad: for one thing, ‘he is lively & likes fun & amusement’. A print of him was sent to Carlton House, and that evening, at a family party, it was placed upon a chair to be looked at, and ‘Princess Charlotte thought it not ugly,’ wrote Miss Knight.

At this party, attended by the Queen and two princesses, the Regent was ‘mighty busy & good-humoured’, she said. He was wearing a belt studded with rose-diamonds, to which he added a diamond clasp. It had been given to him by the Grand Seigneur of Turkey, he said, with a magnificent scimitar, but he did not greatly car for it. The ladies gathered round him, cooing with admiration, and Ladies Castlereagh and Hertford agreed with Charlotte that the diamonds would make beautiful ornaments; whereupon he undid the clasp, with a heave unwound the glittering thing from his well-corseted paunch, ‘and in the most amiable manner,’ said Charlotte, ‘gave it to me.’ She was in high favour. She dined at Carlton House two evenings in succession, and the Prince, she said, ‘was exceedingly kind & gracious … He has talked to me both days more than he has done for ages’.

On the second evening, December 9, a great many distinguished foreigners were present, including Madame de Staël, for whom Charlotte had a great admiration both as a writer and raconteur. She was accompanied by her husband and daughter, Albertine (good-humoured but silly, said Charlotte), and was ‘very pleasant’. ‘I think nothing could be more brilliant than the appearance of everything,’ wrote Charlotte, who was only just beginning to learn what Carlton House entertainment could be. Her letter to Mercer the next day bubbles with excitement and delight. ‘As to whether I was in beauty last night, I cannot answer,’ she began … ‘except by assuring you that I did not feel out of hea[l]th, or out of humour. Indeed no.’ She had blossomed under the Prince’s kindness, and had felt herself to be a success with his guests. She was happy, and even the news that she was going to Windsor for Christmas did not spoil her happiness.

Four days later, on December 13, her tone is still light-hearted, as she replies to a letter from Mercer, giving a favourable report of the Prince of Orange on his arrival at Plymouth. ‘I really admire the victory a single glimpse of his form has had upon you,’ Charlotte wrote, ‘& give my permission to your being in love with him for my sake according to the old proverb, “Love me, love my dog.”‘

This is quite a startling change of attitude, and shows how strong still was Mercer’s influence. Princess Mary, Sir Henry Halford, any member of ‘Government persons’ and even the Regent himself might try in vain to persuade her to consider the Orange alliance, but a word from Mercer in favour of the Prince, a suggestion that Charlotte should stop opposing the match, was enough to bring about a complete change of attitude. She had already agreed to see him: now she would even try to like him. She had had other good accounts of him – he was adored in the army: not only Lord Wellington, but all his brother officers spoke highly of him. Mercer’s letter had ‘eased me of 100,000 worrys’, she said.

All the same, she had her reservations. She agreed that the match would smooth out some of the problems now facing the Regent ‘with regard to the arrangement of the Netherlands’. Austria was demanding a bigger slice of Holland than had been planned and there was ‘an awkwardness … which requires much delicacy to remove’. The Netherlands rulers, the House of Orange, clearly needed British backing; but Charlotte was determined on one point: however much the young Prince might wish for the support of an English wife, nothing would induce her at any time to leave her native land. ‘As heiress presumptive to the Crown it is certain that I could not quit this country, as Queen of England still less.’ The Prince of Orange, said Charlotte firmly, must visit his frogs solo.’

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

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‘A Violent Orange Attack’

As her eighteenth birthday approached, Charlotte was hoping that Parliament would grant her freedom from governesses, and her own Establishment and income. But she feared the worst. ‘I am sure,’ she wrote, ‘there will be a tight business about my establishment as the P said that I had more liberty than any of his sisters & had more liberty to do what I pleased with my own time than any girl had. If these are the liberal plans he intends going upon, it will be charming, certainly…’

Sir Henry Halford had told her that it was hoped that she would choose a husband before any Establishment was appointed; this way, he indicated delicately, two birds could be killed with one stone. Grey’s advice, on the other hand, was to wait ’till your R.H.’s establishment shall have been fixed, till you shall have the advantage of such intercourse with society as your R.H.’s exalted station may with propriety allow’: in short, till she had gained some experience of the world, and was more sure of her own tastes and inclinations. This was what Charlotte wanted. ‘I have not the smallest inclination at present to marry, as I have seen so little, &, I may add, nothing of the world as yet, & I have so much before me in prospects that for a year or two it would not come into my head.’ She hoped that she would have the courage and determination to hold out for this; and it seemed at first that she might be successful. ‘I trust,’ she wrote to Mercer, ‘I have gained two points at least. One is that the Orange business is now quite out of the question, & quite given up; and the other is that the Prince has positively given me his promise that I should never be persuaded or forced into any alliance I did not like.’ Her father said that he would invite eligible princes to this country so that she might see them and make her own choice. This sounded like a fairy tale-and, indeed, so it was. Only just over a month later, Charlotte, now back in London, wrote to Mercer: ‘My torments and plagues are again beginning in spite of all promises made at Windsor. I have had a violent orange attack this morning…’

It was the ‘little Doctor’ who delivered it; and he was not long in dropping his bombshell. There was to be a great dinner, he told her, for the young Prince of Orange, who had been invited to England again, to be introduced to Charlotte. After the Prince solemn promise that the match should be given up, this came as a shock. Sir Henry then began use ‘every argument of seduction’ to try and interest Charlotte in the young Prince. He dangled before her everything that she would gain from this marriage: power, riches, freedom, pleasure-finally pointing out that it was ‘the general wish of the nation’ and would give ‘universal delight’. ‘The grand object now was to keep Holland affixed to this island,’ he said, and the marriage would accomplish this.

He then proceeded to knock down all criticisms of the young man’s looks: ‘that if he was too thin, he would fill out, if he had bad teeth that might be remedied, & that as to his being fair that had nothing to do with his manlyness…’ ‘He then,’ wrote Charlotte, added language I do assure you I never had herd before from anyone & certainly never expected to have done, except perhaps seeing something of the kind in a book.’ She made it clear that she was not amused, and the doctor quickly ‘turned it off with a laugh & assured me that could he find me an angel he should not think it too good.’

Charlotte decided to treat the impudent doctor to a display of ‘excessive pride&haughtiness’, and to make it clear that she was unmoved by his arguments. This match, she said, was beneath her notice: if she ever married, it should be with a person of the highest rank possible. She was in no hurry to be married, she told him, and ‘considered that 3 or 4 years hence would be quite time enough to think about such a thing’.

The next time Sir Henry called at Warwick House, Charlotte was engaged. He was confronted by Miss Knight, who said that the Princess was ‘certainly annoyed’ at what he had told her, especially after her father’s promises that she should not be forced into marriage against her will. She indicated that he had spoken without authority, which put him ‘quite out of countenance’. Indeed, faced by Cornelia’s fearless integrity, he seems to have wilted. He had not, he said, been authorized by the Prince to say ‘anything positively‘ to the Princess, only to ‘throw in some points of advice’ whenever he had an opportunity. The Prince, he said, was now ‘so pressed on all sides, particularly by his ministers, as the marriage would be so helpful to their policy’, that he ‘felt himself in an awkward predicament’ and did not at all wish to influence his daughter in her decision.

And so, after attempting to justify himself, the little doctor went away.

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

Sir Henry Halford, 1st Baronet, by Sir William Beechey, unknown date, National Portrait Gallery

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Charlotte Loses Patience

[In a letter to Mercer Elphinstone] Charlotte was sure that the Prince [of Orange] had been summoned to meet her, and in support of this she recounted a conversation that had taken place between her and ‘a Government person’ at Windsor. According to this unnamed minister, it was being said that Charlotte had ‘persistently refused’ to consider her planned marriage to the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

Charlotte was incensed by his impertinence and infuriated to learn that she was already being blamed for her response to a plan that had not yet even been put to her. So she decided to tease the minister and add a red herring to his rumour. Without denying what he had said, she told him that she much preferred the Duke of Gloucester.

‘Good God’, said he. ‘I can hardly believe you are serious.’
When he then reminded her that she could not marry without her father’s permission, Charlotte answered that ‘nothing was so easy as to make a publick declaration that I never would marry anyone else.’
The trick worked. The ‘Government person’ was clearly ‘both surprised & frightened’.
‘I was rather amused I confess’, wrote Charlotte, and she ‘laughed heartily’ after he was gone.

But in reality she felt threatened. Even the government was gossiping. She went on the defensive. She declined to attend every event at which she thought the Hereditary Prince of Orange might be present. But she was curious enough to ask about him, and she learned a bit from one of his dancing partners, Georgiana Fitzroy. The Hereditary Prince was apparently ‘very gentlemanlike’, well informed & pleasant’ and he was ‘the best waltzer that ever was’. But he was also ‘excessively plain’ and ‘thin as a needle’. Georgiana thought that Charlotte would find him ‘frightful’.

Had Charlotte but known it, the Hereditary Prince was as apprehensive as she was. It was a relief to both of them when he went back Spain after less than a month without being introduced to her. But she still felt that the plan was brewing, and she knew that she was being watched more closely than ever. Lady Catherine Osborne was everywhere. For a while Charlotte and Miss Knight had avoided being understood by her by talking to each other in German. But Lady Catherine, who had her own governess, had learned enough German to make out what they were saying. So now they were talking to each other in Italian, and Lady Catherine was busy learning that from a music master.

One night, when Charlotte found ‘her little Ladyship’ loitering yet again in a dark passage, she lost patience, pushed her into the water closet, locked the door and kept her there for a quarter of an hour. ‘It did for a good laugh to Miss K & me’, she told Mercer, ‘as the young ladies dismay was not small, & her assurances thro’ the door very amusing‘.

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

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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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