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Leopold Causes a Split Between Charlotte and Mercer

There was no question of the young couple getting to know each other better before their marriage: they were firmly kept apart. They wrote to each other, he at Brighton, she at Cranbourne Lodge. The Regent was determined that there should be no repetition of the Orange fiasco, and accordingly, while Charlotte was at Brighton for a few days, in March, he arranged that they should never meet, except at dinner, and were never to be left alone together. When they met, the Queen or the Regent was always in the room; but their conversations, said Charlotte, was not restricted. As they murmured together in low voices, no doubt taking care not to be overheard, Charlotte managed, with an effort, to introduce the thorny subject of Hesse, on which the Regent had insisted that she should unburden herself. She did so, ‘after much difficulty’, and was profoundly relieved by Leopold’s acceptance of her story. ‘He took it uncommonly well,’ she told Mercer, ‘and was v. kind as he saw me so distressed.’ But he could not hide his horrified dismay at the part played in the affair by the Princess of Wales. ‘We did not say much about my mother,’ said Charlotte, but the Prince indicated delicately that he was well aware of her vagaries, and pitied Charlotte’s situation, torn as she was between loyalty to her mother and duty to her father. No wonder that she was emotional and excitable: but he would do all in his power, he promised, to soothe and calm her. She was profoundly grateful to Leopold. ‘Take him altogether he is a very dear creature.’

(…)

There was the question of money to be settled in Parliament: the Heiress Presumptive and her husband were treated with generosity by Lords Castlereagh and Liverpool, who proposed an income of of £ 50,000, with an extra £ 10,000 to be assigned to Princess Charlotte ‘for her separate and personal expences’. They were also to receive the capital sum of £ 10,000 for jewels, £ 10,000 for personal equipment and £ 40,000 for furniture, plate, &c.

It seemed that they would be comfortably off. But Charlotte considered that their Establishment, which was being arranged by the Regent on the lines of his own, was far too large and expensive. ‘I fear the P.R. … does not consider how far £ 50,000 will go, as they talk of tacking us on a quantity of people wh. will be too much, and must be reduced afterwards.’ And she added proudly that Coburg had a horror of ‘getting into debt & so on’. ‘I have insisted vehemently,’ she announced, ‘upon no extravagance, waste, or debts.’ Eight footmen, she thought, was too many: six would be quite enough, if they were going to afford ‘town & country carriages, riding coachmen &c.’ She was going to give up riding herself, she said. She had not ridden for some time, ‘and don’t much care about it’. But clearly the real reason was that ‘he does not very much like a ladies riding; he thinks it too violent an exercise’.

The younger Charlotte, whose chief pleasure had been to gallop through Windsor Park at top speed, would not have submitted so meekly to this curb: already Leopold’s influence was apparent. It was felt, too, in a slight coolness between Charlotte and Mercer. It was inevitable that the coming of Coburg should alter their relationship, that Charlotte’s devotion to her ‘beloved Marguerite’ should suffer a shock, and the first tremor was felt immediately. At the end of Charlotte’s letter describing ecstatically her first meeting with the prince, she wrote:

‘I must not forget to tell you that I am desired by him to scold you for your intimacy with Flahaud. He knows him personally, & disapproves highly of him, & thinks his acquaintance is likely to do you no good …’

This warning was not well received. The Comte de Flahault had been Napoleon’s aide-de-camp, and later became French Ambassador in London: he was ostracized by Lady Hertford and her set, but admired by Mercer, who eventually, to her father’s great grief, married him. Leopold’s warning may have been well-intentioned and timely, but it angered Miss Elphinstone. Charlotte made repeated efforts to appease her. ‘You know I must love you always just as much & just the same … For God sake do not fancy I ever was or am in the least angry with your intimacy with Flahaud … You know how much I love you, & that I can ill bear anything like an interruption to an intimacy that has constituted so many years of my happiness.’

In her anxiety to repair the broken friendship, Charlotte went too far. She even sent Mercer copies of Leopold’s letters. ‘I have had another very wise letter from him wh. I will send, but for God in Heaven’s sake never let it be known or suspected I ever showed you any of his or else I know he would not like it & would be angry probably.’

But in spite of all Charlotte’s efforts to revive it, the long intimacy would never be quite the same: there was a subtle difference created by the presence, even at a distance, of Leopold, and the Regent, who had never liked Mercer, was quick to take advantage of the situation.

‘Coburg,’ wrote Charlotte, ‘has a great horror of appearing ungrateful & insensible to you & your kindness, but yet I see the P. R. has been putting him on his guard, & putting into his head about female friends … & of my having more confidence in & being more guided by them than by him.’

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

Charlotte Is Writing To The Prime Minister

At Warwick House, the news [about the battle of Waterloo] was, for the most part, a relief. Napoleon had decided to strike at the right flank and try to take on the allies one at time. So the Russians were too far away to be engaged – Leopold was safe. Wellington and Blücher were the only commanders who had been able to combine, and theirs were the armies that suffered casualties. Among these, Charlotte learned, both Charles Hesse and the Hereditary Prince of Orange had been wounded, although neither so severely that his life was in danger. But there was also a loss, and it was a loss that brought back the gloom that Warwick House had not seen since the death of Mrs Gagarin.

Two days before the battle of Waterloo, in an attempt to halt the French advance, the Duke of Brunswick had been killed leading his black cavalry in a charge at Quatre Bras. The little duchy had lost another duke to Napoleon.

(…)

Grief did not, however, distract Charlotte from what was now her only important objective. By the time she wrote that letter [to her mother], she had written to the Prime Minister asking him to represent her formally with her father and request him to offer her hand in marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. If he did not agree, she warned, she would remain a spinster and refuse all other suitors.

This time the Prince Regent’s excuse was ‘the state of the Continent and the negotiations’ that followed the exile of Napoleon to St Helena. This, he said, was not the moment to consider such a proposal. In his report to Charlotte, Lord Liverpool told her that for the time being he felt there was no more he could do; the matter would have to be ‘postponed for his Royal Highness’s further consideration’.

When the Duke of York heard what had happened he agreed with the Prime Minister and advised Charlotte to be patient. He was in touch with Leopold and knew he was about to join the allied army in Paris. Duty might well prevent him from coming to England for a few months anyway, and meanwhile Charlotte was about to be sent away for another seaside exile in Weymouth. The Duke’s advice was to wait until November, when Parliament would be sitting again, and then ‘make another push’.

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

Picture: Portrait of the 2nd Earl of Liverpool by Thomas Lawrence, before 1827, National Portrait Gallery

Napoleon Returns To France

And then came the news that brought all negotiations in Brighton, Windsor, London, Vienna and anywhere else in Europe to a standstill. On 1 March Napoleon had escaped from the island of Elba. He had landed in France. His old army was rallying round him.

The Congress of Vienna broke up. The nations of Northern Europe made ready to go back to war.

Amid the anxiety on every other front, the emergency brought one relief to Charlotte. Captain Hesse came home to rejoin his regiment. Mercer and her father found and confronted him. He convinced them that all letters had been burned. The trunk that contained them was empty. With but two exceptions, every present that he had ever received from Charlotte was returned to Mercer. One exception was a turquoise ring, which he first said was still in his baggage and then said had been lost when he was wearing it round his plume in battle. The other was the watch. But Charlotte did not think that either of these was significant enough to be incriminating. The matter was at an end. The little hussar was no longer a threat.

On 14 May Mercer received a letter from Leopold. It was the answer to the one she had sent him much earlier, but it had taken a long time to reach her. It had been written in Vienna on 28 April. Leopold had little hope of going back to England now. He was about to rejoin the Russian army and take up his old command. But if Mercer could assure him that he would be welcome to the Princess, he would do all that he could come.

Mercer wrote back. She did not dare to give him that assurance. Making suggestions was as much as she could risk. If she was caught negotiating a royal marriage, she would never be allowed to see Charlotte again.

But on 2 June, before her letter reached him, Leopold wrote another to Mercer. After thinking about it, he had decided not to risk coming to England uninvited. If he did, he might offend the Regent, and without the Regent’s goodwill, his dream could never be fulfilled.

But by then Leopold would not have been able to come to England anyway. Napoleon had assembled 125,000 men in northern France. Further north, along the border, the allies were waiting. In another two weeks they would be fully prepared for a combined invasion. Meanwhile, if Napoleon struck first, they were almost ready to receive him. The Austrians were to the east of Strasbourg, in a long line between Basle and Worms. The Russians were in the centre, north-west of Frankfort. The Prussians were south-west of them, below Namur and Liege. The British, Dutch, Hanoverians and Brunswickers were to the west between Brussels and the sea.

And most of the men who had played leading parts in Charlotte’s short life were with them. Leopold was with the Russians in the centre; August was with Blücher’s Prussians; Charles Hesse, George FitzClarence, the Prince of Orange and the Duke of Brunswick were with Wellington beyond Brussels.

No matter what route Napoleon chose, at least one of them would be in harm’s way.

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

Who Is Leopold? (Part 4)

Leopold left Erfurt and went back to Coburg. Four years later Napoleon summoned the princes of the German Confederation to Dresden. He was preparing to invade Russia. Leopold, now twenty-one years old, decided not to attend. Technically his loyalties were divided. He was a citizen in Napoleon’s empire, but he was an officer in the Tsar’s army. Yet while his conscience was telling him his loyalties lay with Russia, his common sense was to wait and see what happened.

Common sense prevailed. Leopold went to Italy and waited. The French army reached Moscow and then retreated from its ruins. By the time it crossed the border, it had been almost annihilated by the Russian winter and relentless Cossacks.

On 28 February 1813, when the Russian and Prussian leaders met at Kalish to form alliance against Napoleon, Leopold was there. When he reported for duty, he was given the real rank of colonel and attached to the staff of the Imperial Guard.

In his first battle, the allies’ defeat at Lutzen, Leopold commanded a brigade of cavalry. It may still have been an honorary command, with other officers making the decisions, but in the Russian army, which was notorious in those days for the ineptitude of its officers, it was not difficult for an able man to get noticed. Three weeks later, at Bautzen, Leopold took charge of the brigade himself. He led it out in front of the advancing French and covered the allied retreat into Silesia.

After that Leopold was a cavalry commander. He played a key role in the victory at Kulm, where he was decorated in the field with the Cross of St George. He led a charge at the great battle of Leipzig and was decorated again, this time with the Cross of Maria Theresa. At the end of the campaign, he led the Russian heavy cavalry on its westward advance from Switzerland towards Paris, engaging the enemy at Brienne, Fere-Champenoise and Bellville.

On 31 March 1814, riding at the head of his cuirassiers, and wearing the well-earned insignia of a Lieutenant-General, Leopold escorted the Tsar of Russia and the King of Prussia into the French capital.

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

Who Is Leopold? (Part 3)

In October Leopold went to Erfurt where Napoleon, the Tsar and many of the leading rulers in the Confederation of the Rhine had assembled for a conference. In reality it was more of a celebration than a conference. There were more balls, banquets and parades than meetings. But amid these Leopold managed to obtain an audience with the Emperor, at which he repeated his brother’s request for more land and his own for a position on the imperial staff. The answer to the former was more encouraging and more specific than before. Napoleon agreed to add parts of Bayreuth and Bamberg to Coburg. But the answer to the latter was still non-committal.

In later life Leopold always denied that he had asked for a position. He said that it was Napoleon who offered him a job and that he had turned it down. But Napoleon told a different story, and Napoleon was the one who had no reason to disguise the truth. During his exile on St Helena, he told the Comte de las Cases, ‘This Prince Leopold might have been my aide-de-camp; he begged it of me; I don’t know what prevented his appointment. It is very lucky for him he did not succeed.’

In 1808 Leopold could not have felt that he was doing anything dishonourable or disloyal. His homeland was part of the French Empire, and he had been granted an honorary commission by the Tsar, who was then Napoleon’s ally. Like so many other princes, he simply sought advancement in the entourage of his new commander. After Napoleon’s defeat, however, it was unlikely that others would see it that way. To have asked for such a job would not have looked good in England, and to have succeeded in obtaining it would have made Leopold ineligible for almost all the honours and offices that were subsequently offered to him.

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

Who Is Leopold? (Part 2)

Two years later, when Napoleon advanced against the armies of Austria and Russia, intrepid, fourteen-year-old Leopold set out to turn his honorary commission into a real one. But he arrived too late. Two days after he reached the Russian headquarters, news came that the allies had been crushed at Austerlitz.

Leopold went home. In the following year, when Napoleon went to war with Prussia, Coburg was overrun and plundered by the French. There was no resistance. Leopold’s father, the Duke, was already on his deathbed; his eldest brother, the heir, who had gone to join the Prussian army, was also in bed, immobilised by typhoid fever.

The Duke died. The French took over the government of his duchy and incorporated it into the Confederation of Rhine. Coburg became the part of the French Empire.

Since the new Duke was still in bed a hundred and fifty miles away, his formidable mother took up his cause. She demanded an audience with Napoleon. When he refused, she turned to the Tsar, who was then in the process of changing sides and was about to become Napoleon’s ally. The Tsar agreed to help. One of the terms of the treaty that he signed with Napoleon in Tilsit, on 7 July 1807, was that Coburg, while remaining pert of the Confederation, was to be restored to the rule of young Duke Ernest.

As soon as he recovered from his fever, Ernest went to thank Napoleon at his headquarters in Dresden. He was received warmly. The Emperor even promised to increase the size of his duchy by adding a large part of Bayreuth to it. But within weeks of his homecoming, Ernest was on the edge of bankruptcy. Even with the additional income from Gotha, which he had acquired through his wife, his ruined estates in Coburg and Saalfeld were incapable of providing enough revenue to pay for all the soldiers that Napoleon was demanding for his army. So Ernest decided to follow the Emperor to Paris and remind him of his promise and, knowing that good looks and charm were advantages diplomatically as well as socially, he took his brother Leopold with him.

They arrived in Paris on 14 October. Napoleon was not there. The Palace of the Tuileries was occupied by no one but guards and servants. While they waited, however, the brothers were received out at Malmaison by the Empress Josephine, and it was there that Leopold was introduced to her beautiful daughter Hortense.

Leopold was then two months short of his seventeenth birthday, and Hortense was twenty-four. She was married to Napoleon’s brother Louis, the King of Holland, but she had left him and come back to live with her mother, and she was still in mourning for a baby son who had died suddenly five months earlier. Over the next few days, the unhappy Queen of Holland consoled herself by seducing the handsome Prince from Coburg.

Meanwhile Ernest had met a famous Greek beauty, Pauline Panam. For almost six months, Ernest and Leopold stayed in Paris with nothing to do but enjoy the company of Pauline and Hortense.

At last, in March 1808, the French Emperor returned to his capital. Before setting out again for Spain, he granted a brief audience to the brothers from Coburg. It was not a success. Napoleon remembered his promise to Ernest but did nothing to fulfil it, and when Leopold asked to be taken onto his staff as an aide-de-camp, he declined to decide one way or the other. There were, however, dozens of young princes looking for jobs on the Emperor’s staff in 1808, and at least Leopold was one of the few who left an impression on him. In Napoleon’s opinion, Prince Leopold was the handsomeest man who ever set foot in the Tuileries.

In terms of position and wordly wealth, the brothers left Paris empty-handed. But they were both the richer in experience, and Ernest had something to show for it as well. He was accompanied by Pauline Panam, ‘la belle Greque’. To avoid any chance of scandal, she travelled dressed as a man. When they reached the city of Coburg, she was set up discreetly on a farm nearby, where, a few months later, she give birth to a child.

to be continued …

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

The Allies Arrive In London

Dutch William seems at this point to have been in love with Charlotte: her attitude to him was friendly, but guarded. Her attitude to the marriage fluctuated. On June 4 she told her mother that ‘everything was fixed for her marriage; that she did not love the Prince of Orange, but that she must be married’. Yet at a previous meeting between mother and daughter only a couple of weeks before, Charlotte had declared that nothing would induce her to marry ‘young Frog’. ‘I think him so ugly that I am sometimes obliged to turn my head away in disgust when he is speaking to me.’

Much as she longed to be married and free from restraint, she insisted that she had not made up her mind. It was true she had bought herself jewels with some of the money sent from Holland for that purpose; it was true she had formally given her consent to the offer of marriage brought by the Dutch envoy; but she did not consider herself committed by what she called these ‘preliminary matters’, which were, she said airily, ‘of very small importance’. She was aware that a number of interesting and personable young princes would be coming to London in the wake of the Allied Sovereigns; and she considered that she should be allowed to have a look round, so to speak, before committing herself.

Fortunately for Charlotte, with the arrival, early in June, of the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia and Prince Metternich representing the Emperor of Austria, every domestic problem, including her marriage, was swept aside in the whirlwind of excitement and triumph which took possession of the country. The victory over Napoleon – falsely believed to be total – was an event to be celebrated by all. Doves of peace and patriotic sentiments adorned public buildings, flags and streamers by day and flares and transparencies by night informed the world that the long war was won. Pulteney’s Hotel sported a banner which announced piously ‘Thanks be to God’, while across the front of Devonshire House the young Duke spelled out the one eloquent word, ‘Peace’.

(…)

It had been planned that the Regent should meet and welcome the Emperor of Russia at Shooter’s Hill, Woolwich, and conduct him to St. James’s Palace after a triumphal drive through the City. But the Tsar upset all these plans. He did not want to stay at St.James’s Palace; he preferred to join his sister at Pulteney’s Hotel, and after his meeting with the Prince Regent he jumped into Count Lieven’s carriage and drove through the waiting crowds without being recognized. The Regent went back to Carlton House, and sent a message to Pulteney’s Hotel, saying he would visit the Emperor there. But as in all his encounters with the Russians, the Regent’s welcome to his victorious Ally was a disaster. The Emperor Alexander and his sister waited for two hours, when another message arrived from the Prince. ‘His Royal Highness has been threatened with annoyance in the street if he shows himself; it is therefore impossible for him to come and see the Emperor.’

It was a lamentable situation. The Russian Emperor drove in Count Lieven’s carriage to Carlton House, where he held a short conversation with his cross, flustered host. It was to be their only private interview. The Tsar, already prejudiced by his sister’s account of the Regent, now found his Ally quite insufferable. ‘A poor prince,’ he commented to Lieven as they drove away.

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

Picture: Tsar Alexander I by George Dawe, 1824, Peterhof