Tag Archives: miss cornelia knight

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

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An Unexpected Visit

As soon as the Regent came back from Dover after seeing the King and his family off, he sent for Miss Knight. There was more Russian trouble. He now knew that Tatischeff, their Ambassador to Madrid, was on his way to join the Russian Emperor in Paris. Charlotte had become intimate with Madame Tatischeff. She was Polish, and undesirable, a low moral character. Nevertheless, Charlotte had taken a fancy to her, and at the Pulteney Hotel had given her a letter to take to France: and this, he believed, was no less than a commission to the Ambassador to arrange a marriage between herself and one of the Tsar’s brothers. Miss Knight indignantly denied this. ‘I assured him her Royal Highness had written no letters to Madame Tatischeff; that I had written one to that lady when she was at Brighton, and several notes in town’, and, in short, that the ‘principal intercourse was with respect to bonnets and gowns’.

Cornelia believed that this mischievous story had originated with Princess Lieven, ‘who hated Madame Tatischeff, and was hated in return’; but according to Lady Charlotte Bury, the Grand Duchess, in fostering the break-up of the Dutch marriage, showed Charlotte a portrait of the Grand Duke Nicholas, which made her declare that she would go no further with Slender Billy till she had seen the Tsar’s brother. Whether or not this was true, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, took the situation seriously enough to send a formal request that the Russian Grand Dukes should not join their brother the Tsar in London.

Another ministerial move to frustrate the knavish tricks of the Russians followed soon after.

Miss Knight was called downstairs early one morning, to see a Captain St. George, who has just arrived from Holland.

‘I found,’ she said, ‘that it was the Hereditary Prince of Orange …’

Charlotte was in bed when the Prince of Orange presented himself. According to Miss Knight, she was ‘greatly annoyed’ by this sudden unheralded arrival, and refused to see him. He asked for pen and paper. ‘Dearest Charlotte,’ he wrote, ‘I am extremely disturbed at your not wishing to see me; but I ask it once it once more as a particular favour that you will allow me to wait till you are up … I am most desirous and anxious to be able to speak to you freely.’ His persistence prevailed, and when Charlotte saw him again he appeared so friendly and frank that she was disarmed. She poured out all her grievances, and in particular her fears because there were no plans being made for a residence in England. He showed concern, even promising a little wildly that if a house were not provided for them here he would rent one. He seemed resolved to reassure her and allay her fears. Indeed at this point it is difficult not to feel sympathy for the young man, who was doing his best to ease the situation, and who must have found trying to soothe Charlotte as difficult as handling a bucking colt. He was desperately anxious to please her. For her sake, he said, he had agreed to come to England incognito and without his father’s permission. He had not see the Prince Regent yet: he had come straight to Charlotte; but he would go at once to Carlton House and see him. A couple of hours later he came hurrying back. The Regent, he said, wished them both to go over immediately, and said that all would be forgiven.

Charlotte refused. She ‘most earnestly entreated’ to be left alone for the rest of the day, and accordingly Prince William took himself off, to find out what arrangements had been made for his accommodation. As it happened, none had.

London was seething with plans for the reception of the Allied Sovereigns and their appendages, and the accommodation usually assigned to visiting Royalties was all booked. The Prince of Orange found lodging with his tailor, in Clifford Street.

As soon as Charlotte had had time to think, she felt certain that this visit was part of a new plot to coerce her into marriage. She was unsure how Slender Billy had been summoned, but she guessed that the Duke of York, acting for the Regent, was behind this move. Instructed as she now was by Brougham, she displayed the utmost caution, and wrote to the young Prince insisting that they should not meet again until the terms of the marriage contract were altered to suit her wishes. She was determined, she said, never to leave England except when she herself chose, and for as long as she chose.

He put up very amiably with this treatment, and appeared daily at Warwick House for a talk with Miss Knight, till at last a letter from his father seemed encouraging enough to warrant an interview with Charlotte. The terms of the contract were being altered. After this, they met frequently and on friendly terms.

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

Picture: Portrait of Julija Alexandrowna Tatischtschewa (François Gérard, 1814)

The Visit of the Grand Duchess Catherine

As soon as they were rid of Napoleon, all the European sovereigns were planning to come to England to celebrate their victory, and as a vanguard, or perhaps a reconnaissance, the Tsar’s favourite sister, the Grand Duchess Catherine, arrived while Napoleon was still at large.

The clever and cultured Grand Duchess Catherine was dark and dignified with slavonic, slightly Mongolian features. At the age of twenty-five she was already a widow. After nursing her husband, Prince George of Oldenberg, through his long, fatal illness, she went to neighbouring Holland, where she met Charlotte’s uncle William, the Duke of Clarence, who was there on a goodwill visit, and who was soon besotted with her.

(…) When the Grand Duchess arrived in London, the Prince Regent went round to the hotel to welcome her. But he went much too early. She was still changing to receive him when a footman came to announce his arrival. The meeting was more embarrassing than cordial.

That evening, when she dined at Carlton House, the Grand Duchess confirmed the opinion that she had formed earlier. She did not like the Prince Regent. But she liked very much his daughter, who was also present. In a letter to her brother the Tsar she described Charlotte as ‘the most interesting member of the family… She is blonde, has a handsome nose, a delicious mouth and fine teeth…She is full of spirit and positive in character. She seems to have an iron will in the smallest things…’ But ‘her manners’, wrote the Grand Duchess, ‘are so extraordinary that they take one’s breath away… She walks up to any man, young or old, especially to the older men, takes them by the hand, and shakes it with all her strength… She looks like a boy, or rather a ragamuffin. I really am telling you nothing but the strictest truth. She is ravishing, and it is a crime to have allowed her to acquire such habits.’

After that dinner the Grand Duchess Catherine and Princess Charlotte visited each other often at the Pulteney Hotel and Warwick House – so often in fact that the Prince Regent sent Sir Henry Halford to Warwick House with an order for Miss Knight. She was to do all that she could to reduce the frequency of these meetings. It was an order that Miss Knight had neither the power nor the will to obey. She could cut down on Charlotte’s visits to the Pulteney Hotel, but she could do nothing to prevent the Grand Duchess from coming round to Warwick House – which was fortunate. Since the Regent was preventing his daughter from appearing anywhere in society other than at Carlton House, these visits were almost the only occasions on which the Princess and the Grand Duchess were able to meet.

One evening at the dinner party given by Lord and Lady Liverpool, the Prince Regent sat with the Grand Duchess Catherine on his right and the Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian Ambassador, on his left. In the course of dinner the Grand Duchess turned to him.
‘Why, your Royal Highness, do you keep your daughter under lock and key?’ she asked. ‘Why does she appear nowhere?’
‘My daughter is too young, Madame, to appear in society’, said the Prince.
‘She is not too young for you to have chosen her a husband.’
The Prince was clearly uncomfortable. ‘She will not be married for another two years’, he said.
‘When she is married’, said the Grand Duchess, ‘I hope she will know how to make up for her present imprisonment.’
The Prince snapped back at her. ‘When she is married, Madame, she will do her husband’s will, just as at present she is doing mine.’
The Grand Duchess smiled and spoke very sweetly. ‘Ah, yes. Your Royal Highness is right. Between husband and wife there can only be one will.’
So far the conversation had been conducted in French. But now the Prince turned to the Princess Lieven and spoke in English, in rage, and loudly enough for everyone at the table to hear him.
‘This is intolerable!’

The Grand Duchess Catherine and Charlotte continued to meet, and the Grand Duchess was always as blunt with Charlotte as she had been with her father. She told her that she thought the Prince Regent was ‘a voluptuary’. And as for the Duke of Clarence, he was positively ‘vulgar’. While they were in Holland he had actually been so presumptuous as to propose to her.

It was at one of these meetings, on 5 April, that Lord Bathurst called to inform Princess Charlotte that the allies had entered Paris. Four days later news came that Napoleon had abdicated.

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

Picture: Ekaterina Pavlovna of Russia by anonymous (19 c., Hermitage)

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]

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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