Tag Archives: miss cornelia knight

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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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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