Tag Archives: miss cornelia knight

Princess On The Run

Charlotte lost her head. As Miss Knight left her to go to the Prince, she rushed up to her bedroom, seized a bonnet, ran down the back stairs, out of the house and – swollen knee forgotten – full-tilt into the street. Here she ran hither and thither, uncertain which way to go, until, by one account, a kindly young man, the nephew of a Pall Mall picture dealer, saw her from a window and came to her aid. Breathlessly, she begged him to call her a hackney cab, which – having no idea – who she was – he did, and she offered the driver a guinea to drive her – ‘towards Oxford Street’. She may have been careful not to betray her destination: on the other hand, never having been out by herself before, she may have been a little uncertain of the way to her mother’s house in Bayswater, which was where she planned to go. The jarvey, whose name was Higgins, obediently took her to the top of Regent Street, and by this time she had recovered her confidence enough to tell him to drive on to Connaught Place, the Princess of Wales’s house – and to drive faster.

It is not known just when the cabby tumbled to the identity of his fare, but no doubt he was he was suitably surprised and obsequious when the young Princess, arrived on her mother’s doorstep, handed him three guineas.
The excitement of her flight was slightly damped when she learned that her mother was not at home,having gone to Blackheath ‘on business’. A groom was sent off post-haste to bring her back, and Charlotte was left to cool her heels. All that she could think of to do was to order dinner; and she then decided to send for her uncle Sussex, and despatched a messenger with a scribbled note. She also summoned Mr. Brougham. As it happened, both were dining out and had to be run to earth, which caused a further delay.

At about nine o’clock the Princess of Wales arrived, accompanied by Lady Charlotte Lindsay. She had been met on the road by the galloping groom, and had hurried back, only stopping at the House of Commons to try and find Mr. Whitbread, who was not there.

She now heard the whole story. Charlotte threw herself upon her mother’s protection and announced that she wished to live with her always. To this the Princess of Wales was non-committal, and it is noticeable in Brougham’s account of what followed that she is oddly silent: Charlotte’s proposal did not entirely accord with her plans.

Brougham, who had been up all the night before on a legal case, was desperately tired when the summons reached him, and fell asleep in the carriage that was sent to fetch him to Connaught Place. Thinking that he was sent for by the Princess of Wales, he dreaded the effort that lay before him as he ‘stumbled upstairs, still half asleep, to the drawing-room’. Here, to his astonishment, he found Princess Charlotte, who rushed forward and seized both his hands, saying how impatient she had been at the delay. ‘I have run off,’ she announced. She was radiant, and brushed aside his questions, declaring, ‘Oh it is too long to tell now.’

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

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Restrictions Are Imposed

But he [The Prince Regent] was by no means satisfied with her [Miss Knight’s] apology for Charlotte’s absence at this interview. He would expect to see her to see her the following day, between two and three, he said, unless Dr. Baillie came and said that she was absolutely incapable of walking from Warwick House.

That night Charlotte sent a note to Mercer, begging her to come ‘as early as possible tome tomorrow’. Her friend had been with her when Miss Knight returned from the Regent, and knew of Charlotte’s reluctance to go to Carlton House next day. The doctors, wrote Charlotte, were to meet, ‘if possible to prevent my going’. She explained that far from avoiding a meeting with her father, she was most anxious to see him: but she was convinced that if once she set foot in Carlton House she would be kept there. The plan, she said, ‘is to be a sudden one, when once there to keep me, and not to allow my return’. She had heard rumours, through the Duke of Sussex, and later through Lady Jersey, of the Prince’s plans, which – tinged though they are with the melodrama of Gothic fiction – were frightening enough to put her on her guard against every move of the Regent and his ministers.

‘Whatever is done is to be sudden,’ she wrote. ‘Tomorrow may probably be my last day, God knows, in this house.’

She knew now that Cornelia would be removed from her and that in itself was misery, for ‘no letters perhaps will reach’ – no letters from Prince August, sent to Warwick House under cover to Miss Knight. She knew that there were to be new ladies, both elderly: one of these, Lady Ilchester, ‘appointed for certain’, had been the Queen’s Lady of the Bedchamber; and Mrs. Campbell, who had been Charlotte’s sub-governess, was to return. Charlotte did not like her. The very air of Warwick House was heavy with rumours, and the Princess, tormented by the pain in her knee, dreading the materialization of her fears, felt herself dogged and haunted by sorrows which she could not escape. ‘I dread everything & I know not why I fancy horrors in every one and thing round me.’

The next day, though Dr. Baillie said that she was perfectly capable of walking up to Carlton House, she felt too ill and wretched to go, and wrote to her father, begging that he would come to her. He kept her waiting till six in the evening, when he arrived, attended by the Bishop, whom he left with Miss Knight while he interviewed Charlotte alone. After three quarters of an hour the Bishop was summoned, and Cornelia waited on tenterhooks for the session to end. After another fifteen minutes, the door burst open. Charlotte rushed out ‘in the greatest agony’. She had but one instant, she said, to speak to Cornelia, the Prince had asked for her and was waiting. She then broke the news, which was as bad as she could have imagined. The ‘new ladies’ – Lady Ilchester, Lady Rosslyn and Mrs. Campbell – were already in the house. Miss Knight was to be dismissed, she said, and so were all the servants. Warwick House was to be given up, and Charlotte was to be kept for five days at Carlton House, after which she was to be taken to Cranbourne Lodge in the middle of Windsor Forest, where she would see nobody except the Queen once a week. Growing even more frantic, she added that if she did not go immediately to Carlton House, as she had been commanded, the Prince would sleep that night at Warwick House, as well as the ladies. In other words, Princess Charlotte was a prisoner.

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

The Prince Regent Is Annoyed

Just before 5 p.m. on the evening of Monday, 11 July 1814, Cornelia Knight walked over from Warwick House for a meeting with the Prince Regent at Carlton House. Princess Charlotte had been summoned as well, but she had stayed behind, claiming that a sore knee prevented her from walking.

Miss Knight was anxious, the more so for being left to face the Regent on her own. A few days earlier her friend Lady Rolle had warned her that the Prince was planning changes, and had reassured her that, if she suddenly needed somewhere to stay, she would always be welcome at the Rolles London house. Since then she had learned that the Duchess of Leeds had been asked to resign. Naturally the lady companion now feared for her own position as well.

The Regent was ‘very cold, very bitter, and very silent’. He had heard that a German prince had been paying court to his daughter.

Miss Knight reassured him that Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was an honourable man. He had called only once at Warwick House and had behaved impeccably, and both she and the Duchess had been present throughout his visit.

The Regent did not disagree. He knew that Prince Leopold had behaved entirely properly. He had just received a long letter from the young Prince assuring him that his intentions were honourable and that he had only gone to Warwick House at the invitation of the Princess. The Prince about whom he complained was Prince August of Prussia.

When Miss Knight had delivered a similar but slightly less honest defence of Prince August, the Regent dismissed her and warned, that if his daughter did not come next day to explain herself, he would go to her.

Back at Warwick House, where Mercer was waiting with Charlotte, Miss Knight reported all that had been said. Charlotte and Mercer were disappointed. They had hoped that Prince Leopold was romantic enough to keep his courting a secret, and Miss Knight was dismayed to have discovered that Prince August’s courting was even less of a secret.

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

Dark Clouds Are Gathering Over Charlotte’s Head

The Bishop of Salisbury now turned up again, like a bird of ill omen. He gently let fall in the course of a chat with Charlotte that he had heard from the Prime Minister and Lord Eldon that unless she were to write a submissive letter to her father, promising to reconsider her decision in a few months and marry the Prince of Orange, ‘arrangements would be made by no means agreeable to her inclinations’. This last phrase bore the stamp of her enemy, Eldon, who had once said that if she were his daughter he would have her locked up. On that occasion, she burst into tears: now she was past crying.

The sinister threat was received with dismay at Warwick House. Miss Knight believed that one of the ‘arrangement’ would be her dismissal: the Duchess of Leeds had already been asked to resign. It looked as if Warwick House and its entire household were about to be given up. That day Charlotte told one of her pages that she expected all the servants would be sent away; but she promised that she would never forget them, and would take them back whenever it was in her power. (Two years later, after her marriage, she honoured this promise.)

She wrote to her father an affectionate, if not a submissive letter. She had not written before, she said, for fear of an unfavourable reception; but she found it impossible to remain silent any longer without letting him know how she dreaded having angered him and forfeited his affection.

She had hoped, she went on, to have had a chance to talk to him, and to justify ‘any part of my conduct that may have displeased you’. She told him that her health was troubling her: for weeks she had suffered from a painful and swollen knee, and the doctors now advised sea air to restore her. She knew how important it was for her to be well, but she assured him that she could never make ‘a perfect recovery’ unless she knew herself forgiven and restored to favour.

The Regent did not answer.

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

Charlotte Meets Leopold For The First Time

Charlotte and Cornelia Knight went round to the Pulteney Hotel to join the throng of others who had gone to say goodbye to the Tsar and his sister. When at last they reached the Grand Duchess Catherine’s apartment, she led Charlotte into an anteroom and came out leaving her alone with the Tsar. Miss Knight insisted that this was improper and that she must join them. When she entered, the Tsar was trying in vain to make Charlotte reconsider her marriage. The Hereditary Prince of Orange was in the building. She had only to find him and tell him that she had changed her mind. He went up to a newspaper lying on a table and pointed at a paragraph, as he spoke. She was ‘giving up an excellent marriage, one essential to the interests of her country, and all to be praised by a Mr Whitbread’.

The Tsar accepted defeat and took his leave. Charlotte came out of the anteroom agitated. If she left now she was bound to meet the Hereditary Prince in the waiting room or on the stairs or in the hall. The Grand Duchess led her to a small door, opened it and pointed to the back stairs. She kissed Princess Charlotte, and then, to the great delight of the lady companion, she kissed Cornelia Knight.

Charlotte and Miss Knight beat their undignified retreat down the back stairs, which led into a little hall beside the main hall. Several people had come into it to avoid the crush in the main hall, and one of them, at the foot of the stairs with his back to them, was a tall, dark, handsome officer wearing the all-white uniform of the Russian heavy cavalry.

The officer turned. He was not more than twenty-four years old, but his badges signified that he was already a Lieutenant-General. He asked if he could help the ladies. Miss Knight explained that this was the Princess Charlotte of Wales and that they would be grateful if he would see them to her carriage.

The officer escorted the ladies through the throng, found the carriage and handed them into it.

Charlotte thanked him and asked his name.

When she learned he was a prince, she scolded him for not having called on her like most of the other princes.

The Prince begged her forgiveness and asked to be allowed to make up for his omission.

Charlotte consented.

The carriage drove away.

The Prince walked back up the steps to the hotel.

He was the General Officer Commanding the Heavy Cavalry of the Tsar, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

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

Picture: Portrait of Leopold I of Belgium by George Dawe, the Royal Collection

Charlotte Meets Prince August

Among the numerous foreign princes who danced and clicked their heels in the victory celebrations was one who appeared to Charlotte’s inexperienced eyes quite perfect. He was thirty-five, but that did not trouble her. He had been invited to London on account of his bravery at the Battle of Leipzig, and throughout the French campaign. Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich August von Preussen, to give him his full name, was the son of Prince Ferdinand*, the youngest brother of Frederick the Great. In compliment to their valiant uncle all Prince Ferdinand’s children were baptized Frederick or Frederica, which must have caused some confusion in the nursery, but later the first name was dropped. Charlotte adds to the confusion by referring to her prince as ‘F’ in her letters, for there were crops of Fredericks all over Europe, and this one was generally known as August.

He was a distinguished soldier; handsome in a conventional military way, tall, and with a figure that looked its best in uniform. Poor Dutch William must have looked plain and shrimp-like beside him. An experienced philanderer, he had little difficulty in winning Charlotte’s vulnerable heart. He probably saw her for the first time at Carlton House when, as William had noted, she was ‘in great beauty’; and after this they met clandestinely and often. It would not have been difficult for Prince August to capture her imagination with stories of his glamorous career.

‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her, that she did pity them.’

But did he? Charlotte, deluded as she was, believed their passion to be mutual, and for ever. She hung upon his every word: they exchanged rings. He swore that when he returned to Prussia he would write. And romantic, misguided, idiotic Miss Knight, enthusiastically encouraging what she believed was to be a grande passion, offered to receive and pass on his letters.

She could hardly have back a less suitable horse. Prince August was a notorious womanizer, and had begotten several children in Prussia. In 1807 he fell violently in love with the famous beauty, Madame Récamier, whom he met at Madame de Staël’s house, the Château de Coppet. She had been married for fourteen years to a banker Jacques Récamier, who was impotent; at Prince August’s request she wrote to her husband, begging him to release her. His reply, imploring her not to leave him, touched her heart, and Prince August was obliged to give her up, which he did with some bitterness and in indifferent French, ‘Je vous prie de ne plus m’écrire: vos lettres me font trop de mal. Adieu pour le dernière fois.’ He never forgot her. He had his portrait painted with her picture by Gerard in the background, and he is said to have spent hours gazing at her reclining, semi-nude beauty.

However, according to his biographer, Friedrich von Oppeln-Bronikows[k]i (Liebesgeschichten am Preussischen Hofe, Berlin 1928) he did not despair because of that unfulfilled love, but had one affair after another, or sometimes several at a time. ‘His harem,’ it was said, ‘was the talk of the town.’

No one, at this stage, murmured a word of warning to Charlotte, till one day when Mercer arrived unexpectedly at Warwick House and was met by an agitated Miss Knight. Charlotte, she whispered, was alone with Prince August in her room. Mercer insisted that this tête à tête must be broken up at once, and, as Cornelia demurred, did so herself. ‘She evidently,’ said Greville, ‘had no mind that anybody should conduct such an affair for the Princess but herself.’ Although, a month or two later she was lending a sympathetic ear to Charlotte’s outpourings on the subject of ‘F’, she saw at once that in her present precarious situation the affair must at all costs be kept quiet: Miss Knight must be mad to encourage it.

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

* He was the Louis Ferdinand who, Princess Caroline preposterously claimed, was the father of Wilikin. [In reality he was Prince Louis Ferdinand’s brother, not son. They were both the sons of Prince Augustus Ferdinand of Prussia. For more details see Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Augustus_Ferdinand_of_Prussia#Marriage_and_children ]

Suddenly Another Suitor Appears

On 10 June, while her father and most of his guests were at Ascot at the races, Charlotte signed her marriage contract and sent it round to Carlton House. In the evening she learned that her ‘Slender Billy’ had been made drunk at Ascot by Prince Paul of Wurtemberg and sent back to London like a day-tripper on top of a stagecoach. It was not the first time she had heard about her prince getting drunk – it was said that he got drunk on a visit back to Oxford – and it was not to be the last.

Two days later Charlotte attended the great banquet which her father gave for all his visitors at Carlton House. It was the only state occasion that she was allowed to attend. She had never seen anything like it. The house was full of young princes and officers. Next to most of these, her own Prince of Orange, who was a little bit drunk again, did not look like much of a catch.

By common consent, the handsomest of all was a tall, very dark young officer wearing the striking all-white uniform of the Russian heavy cavalry. When Charlotte noticed him he was at the other end of the crimson drawing room talking earnestly to a young lady. According to one of the friends who were with her, Charlotte turned to them and ‘observed how strange it was that the young lady did not seem more gratified by his attention’.

Charlotte did not get a chance to be introduced to this officer. But during the evening she was introduced to another, who was very charming, distinguished, almost as handsome and about ten years older than the hero in white. He was Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich August von Preussen, a nephew of Frederick the Great. In the course of the next month, with the giddy assistance of Cornelia Knight, this Prince was to be calling recklessly often at Warwick House.

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

Picture: Prince Augustus of Prussia by Franz Krüger, circa 1817, Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin