Tag Archives: miss cornelia knight

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]

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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

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]