Tag Archives: miss cornelia knight

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 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

Charlotte and Leopold Meet Again

It was not till the 26th, five days later, that he did see her. The Princess, with her grandmother and aunts, drove down to Brighton at the Regent’s command, and in the evening the young couple met.

Charlotte’s letter to Mercer, written that night before she retired, is almost incoherent with joy. ‘I find him charming,’ she said, ‘and go to bed happier than I have ever done yet in my life.’ She was entranced to find that they could converse so freely – ‘long conversation on different subjects interesting to our future plans of life &c.’ ‘I am certainly a most fortunate creature,’ she continued, ‘& have to bless God. A Princess never, I believe, set out in life (or married) with such prospects of happiness, real domestic ones like other people.’

The rumour which Miss Knight had heard of Charlotte’s being obliged to live in Hanover with Prince Leopold was dismissed as ‘all a humbug‘, started, she believed, by her mischievous uncle Cumberland. And to her delight an article was inserted into the marriage agreement ‘without even my asking for it’, to the effect that she would never be obliged to leave England against her inclinations. She began to feel that – as she had always hoped – the advent of Prince Leopold had smoothed away all the anxieties and terrors which had plagued her for so long. Even the Regent, wheeling himself dexterously through the overheated rooms at the Pavilion in his merlin chair,* was ‘in high spirits, good looks & humour’. He was much thinner, said Charlotte, and his legs, which had been swollen with gout, were considerably reduced.

The Queen, at this auspicious party, refused to play cards, preferring to sit and talk. ‘I never saw her so happy,’ said Charlotte, ‘or so gracious as she is, delighted at my marriage, & with him.’

At last the engagement was made public, and Charlotte could tell her friends what most of them already knew. ‘I shall fire off in all directions my letters to announce an event that everybody has been in such profound ignorance of.’

There was some uncertainty as to where Prince Leopold should stay. Weymouth was talked of, and in the meantime, when Charlotte returned to Cranbourne Lodge, he remained in Brighton.

* An early form of wheeled invalid chair, invented by a Belgian instrument maker named Merlin, who introduced roller skating into England. The Regent’s chair remained in the passage outside his bedroom till 1846 when Queen Victoria had it removed during alterations.

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

Leopold Is Writing To The Prince Regent

It was ‘en grande uniforme’ that he called upon Princess Charlotte at Warwick House: he greatly admired her, was well aware of her exalted position as Heiress Presumptive to the throne of England, and wished to make the best possible impression. When she drove out in the Park, he would follow her, ride near her open carriage, and ‘endeavour to be noticed’. He was already acquainted with Miss Mercer, and it was under her banner that he presented himself at Warwick House. Here, according to Miss Knight, he showered the Princess with compliments; but ‘there were reasons’, she added mysteriously, ‘why this matter was by no means agreeable to Princess Charlotte’. Those reasons, needles to say, were Charlotte’s feelings for Prince August of Prussia, which Miss Knight so vehemently condoned, thereby causing her own downfall. It may be remembered that poor Miss Knight, during a stormy interview with the Prince Regent just before her dismissal, blurted out a defence of the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, whom she was using as a red herring. The Regent saw what she was up to and waved aside her excuses: Prince Leopold, he said, was a most honourable young man: and had written him a letter which perfectly justified his conduct.

The Regent’s letter from Prince Leopold had obviously been composed with a great deal of thought, and in the carefully-worded phrases of a seasoned diplomat, assured the Prince Regent that Leopold regretted any indiscretion he may have committed by visiting (at her invitation) the Princess Charlotte at Warwick House. He recounted enthusiastically his first meeting with the Princess, on the back stairs of Pulteney’s Hotel, where he was hanging about waiting for an audience to bid farewell to the Tsar. (Here he put in a tactful word to the effect that his parting from the Regent’s detested Grand Duchess was not very tender, since she had jilted his brother, Prince Ernest.) ‘Princess Charlotte,’ he said-returning to the encounter on the back stairs, ‘condescended to take my arm, and to allow me to escort her to her carriage; and she told me that I had not been at all polite, not having called upon her… She hoped that if I made a longer stay I should be more polite in the future.’

It was this invitation that he had responded, cutting short a visit to the Opera to pay his respects at Warwick House, where Charlotte had received him, in the presence of the Duchess of Leeds, with ‘beaucoup de bienveillance’. He stayed, he said, for about three-quarters of an hour, and then, perceiving that the Princess was unwell, he took his leave.

But afterwards he began to think that he had made a faux pas: the Dutch engagement had so very recently been broken off, and alone in his Marylebone lodgings he wondered if perhaps he had been too bold, too precipitate. He saw now that it was not the time for what he called ‘les plus petits mots de plus’. All he wished to do, at this stage, was to leave a good impression, and a word (to Count Münster*) to the effect that, when the time came, he would be ready, if summoned, to return.

It was a curiously pompous, fussy letter from a young man of twenty-four, but it worked wonders with the Regent, leaving a favourable impression which had not faded when, early in 1815, Mercer reported from Brighton that the Prince had spoken highly to Lord Keith of the ‘P of S-C’. Charlotte was overjoyed. ‘Il me fait un plaisir aimable the P.R. having named & done justice in so handsome a way … to P. S-C’s name & conduct, too.’ She was convinced that before he left England this prince had offered himself to the Regent as her suitor, and had been refused, because it was stupid time to do it, ‘when common sence & prudence ought to have told him that he or any man that tried would be rejected’. But she considered that he should have chanced his luck with her first. ‘If however he continues in favour with the P.R., it is not impossible he may still succeed.’ In fact, she had made up her mind to marry him.

‘I have perfectly decided & made up my mind to marry,’ she announced, ‘and the person I have as decidedly fixed on is Prince Leopold.’ She was convinced, she said, that he would make her tolerably comfortable & happy, which she had never felt when engaged to the Prince of Orange. She was encouraged by the attitude of the Royal Family, who all, in the absence at Brighton of the Regent, supported her in her choice. The Queen was all graciousness and good humour; and Charlotte learned that she was ‘monstrously provoked with the Prince for ‘thinking any more of the P.O. business’. He was spending far too much time at Brighton, said his mother, without doing any business. He lingered there with Lady Hertford, and prohibited his Ministers from coming to him, though there were two important matters to be settled at once, the Corn Bill** and the Income Tax***.

* Hanoverian Minister of State – now resident in England.
** Prohibiting importation of corn while the price at home was below 80s. a quarter.
*** It was reduced from two shillings in the pound to one shilling.

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

Who Is Leopold? (Part 5)

While he was in Paris, Leopold renewed his friendship with Hortense and visited her frequently in her blue boudoir on the Rue Cerutti. On 25 April he wrote to his sister Sophia: ‘The Tsar is going to England, and I am very tempted to make the journey, because there will be a great many festivities. But it would cost too much.’

By then, however, the Tsar had been receiving letters from his sister in London. The proposed marriage between England and Holland was not in Russia’s best interest, but it was clear that England’s Princess Charlotte was more interested in marriage than in her future husband. If she could be introduced to a prince who was handsome, charming and successful, she might at least be induced to think twice about the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

The next time Leopold sat down to write to his favourite sister his plans had changed. The Tsar was taking him in his entourage to London.

Leopold borrowed a carriage from Sophia’s husband, and in return he lent him the castle in Austria which had just been given to him by the grateful Emperor. He visited the best tailors in Paris. He spent so much that when he reached crowded London the only lodgings he could afford were two rooms on the second floor of number 21 Marylebone High Street, which he rented from Mr Hole, who ran a greengrocer’s shop on the ground floor. The simple lodgings were not without advantages, however. When he was not in attendance on the Tsar or out and about in London society, Leopold spent most of his time with Mr Hole’s young housemaid, who was overwhelmed by the handsome Prince and adored the way his eyelids drooped slightly when he bowed.

In the light of all this, it may not have been a coincidence that Leopold was waiting at the foot of the back stairs when Charlotte left the Grand Duchess’s apartments after saying goodbye to her; it may be that the Tsar was only testing her when he asked her to make peace with the young Prince of Orange. Certainly his dismissive sneer at ‘a Mister Whitbread’ was disingenuous. The liberal Tsar was in sympathy with the Whigs. He had received Samuel Whitbread at the Pulteney Hotel; and he had angered the Regent by greeting him warmly at a reception.

A few days after the Tsar left London, Leopold wrote significantly to his eldest brother:

The Tsar has given me permission to stay here as long as it suits me. I only decided to do so after much hesitation, and after certain very singular events made me glimpse the possibility, even the probability, of realising the project we spoke of in Paris. My chances are, alas, very poor, because of the father’s opposition, and he will never give his consent. But I have resolved to go on to the end, and only to leave when all my hopes have been destroyed…

By then Leopold had visited Charlotte. He left a state concert before it ended and went round to Warwick House wearing his full dress uniform. While he was there, Mercer arrived. She was delighted by the surprise. She already knew the Prince and she approved of him. For her, this was much more the sort of prince who ought to be courting the future Queen of England.

After that, more often than not, when Charlotte and Miss Knight took the air in Hyde Park, Leopold just happened to be there as well. Each time the Princess acknowledged him with a nod, and each time, in response, the Prince trotted up to her carriage and rode beside her for a while.

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

Charlotte’s Heart Is Broken

Perhaps it was, after all, a good thing that she was going back to Cranbourne Lodge. The season was over at Weymouth and the place had lost its summer charm. It was too windy for sailing, and she spent far too much time by herself. She admitted that her health was better: even though her heart was broken, she looked well, and she told Lady Ashbrook that she had been trying to ride again, ‘and really it goes off better than I could have hoped, which I know you will be glad to hear’. But she went on to tell this kind friend that she had been ‘very uneasy & unhappy upon certain subjects’, and to excuse herself from writing further as she was ‘out of spirits’.

On December 16, she and her ladies set out of for Windsor. She described the journey as sad and uncomfortable. Lady Rosslyn, ‘old Cross Bones’, who always got on her nerves, sat opposite her in the carriage, ‘& really her eternal fidgets & frights nearly drove me distracted’. In any case, Charlotte was hardly in the mood to enjoy herself: two days before, she had written, ‘My hear has had a very sudden & great shock.’ On her return, a letter from Mercer awaited her, which confirmed what she had already heard: Prince August was to marry an Englishwoman, a Miss Rumbolt.

At last, quite suddenly, the wretched, pathetic dream was shattered, the bright bubble of hope vanished into thin air. Charlotte accepted that F had played her false. Her feeling, she said, was not anger or resentment, ‘it is too deep … to allow of anything else but grief’.

At the Castle, she learned a little more about her faithless lover, to whom she now always refers as Prince Augustus. ‘The Duke of Kent told me that P. Augustus was the only black sheep in the family, & que sa main gauche a était offert a tous les jolies femmes en Allemagne.’ But the black sheep’s cousin, the Duchess of York, whether or no she knew anything of Charlotte’s infatuation, gave an even more daunting account of him. His breath, she said uncompromisingly, stank. ‘Handsome as he was, there was no going near him or bearing his approaching, for that it was worse than anything ever was, & at the opera she was obliged really to get one of her brothers to change places with her for fear of being sick.’

It seems strange that this unfortunate defect was not noticed by all the jolie femmes to whom he made love; even stranger that it should have passed unnoticed by the exquisite Madame Récamier. But nothing could have been more precisely aimed to disillusion a lovesick girl.

‘I feel quite convinced,’ wrote Charlotte, ‘that regrets are of no avail … As faith was broken, confidence is gone for ever.’

Throughout the F affair the assiduous Miss Knight – banished and living with friends – had linked the lovers by receiving and forwarding letters. Charlotte dreaded that Notte (as she now always called her) would make things worse for her by reproaching the Prussian prince for his faithlessness. However, she misjudged her. Cornelia managed to smuggle Charlotte’s picture and a ring, returned by F, and wrote calmly and sadly, enclosing a letter – ‘an easy, cool, familiar, friendly letter’ in which Prince August regretfully brings the correspondence to an end. ‘If anything was further wanted to decide the affair,’ said Charlotte, ‘this does it.’

The Duchess of York, having dropped one highly-charged bombshell, followed it up with further disclosures: that, as well as having ‘horrible’ breath – was he, perhaps, too fond of garlic? – he had at least two mistresses. ‘He is not a general favourite,’ she assured her niece; in fact, nobody really liked him except his mother. If the Duchess had set out to finish the affair she could hardly have done so more efficiently. ‘Have I not echappé belle?’ Charlotte demanded of Mercer, and in the next breath went on to discuss the Prince of Saxe-Coburg.

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