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The Whole World Mourns Charlotte

Leopold was never the same again. Almost fifty years later he told his niece Queen Victoria that he had ‘never recovered the feeling of happiness’ that ‘blessed’ his short life with Charlotte. He had always been renowned for his reserve, but, as anyone who had ever been to Claremont knew, there was a warmth beneath it. Now, in his grief, he seemed to be more morose than reserved, and the warmth beneath was replaced for ever by a loveless chill.

On the day of Charlotte’s funeral Stockmar wrote to one of Leopold’s former tutors in Coburg, ‘Life seems already to have lost all value for him, and he is convinced that no feeling of happiness can ever again enter his heart.’

Each day during the week that followed his bereavement, Leopold walked round and round the park in the rain with Dr Short, clutching a miniature of Charlotte in his hand. Late every evening, he went into the bedroom where Charlotte was laying and sat with her for most of the night. In Charlotte’s sitting room, her watch was found on the mantelpiece, and the cloak and bonnet that she had been wearing on her last drive were still hanging on the end of a screen. Leopold gave orders that they were to stay where she had left them.

He was inconsolable and his pain grew greater with almost every visitor. On the day after the deaths the doctors came back to carry out a post mortem, interfering with the bodies of his wife and son in a futile search for a cause of death. Worse, Sir Everard Home, Sergeant Surgeon to the King, came to take out their guts and embalm them.

When the medical men had done their work, the undertakers wrapped the child in linen and put him in a simple open coffin. His little heart, which the doctors had taken out, was put separately into an urn. Then Charlotte, also wrapped in linen, was lifted into her own coffin and covered with blue velvet. Leopold watched, and Mrs Campbell watched Leopold. She described him that evening in a letter to Lady Ilchester. ‘It was grief to look at him. He seemed so heartbroken.’

Even some of the visitors who came to comfort Leopold only added to his misery.The Duchess of York drove over from Oatlands and was so overcome with grief herself that she collapsed in the hall and had to be taken home before she saw him.

The Prince Regent came down and asked to see the bodies. He had left Warwickshire for London soon after he heard that his daughter was in labour, but the rider carrying less welcome news had somehow managed to gallop past his carriage and its escort in the dark. He was back at Carlton House and in bed when the Duke of York came to tell him that his daughter and grandson were dead. His response was uncharacteristically selfless. ‘What is to be done for the poor man?” he said, falling back onto pillow. ‘Great Heaven!’

Leopold gave the Regent a lock of Charlotte’s hair. Next day, the Regent’s sister Princess Mary, who was now Duchess of Gloucester, took the lock, entwined it with a lock from their youngest sister, Princess Amelia, who had died in 1810, and had them made into an eternity ring for him.

The Queen, accompanied by her daughter Princess Elizabeth, was dining with the Mayor and Corporation of Bath when the bad news reached her. She set out at once for Windsor. But back in the castle with her spinster daughters and her sad old husband she was overwhelmed with the sense of helplessness and bitter disappointment. Despair destroyed what was left of her health. It declined rapidly from that moment on. Within a year she was dead.

In Holland the Prince of Orange wept at the news, and out of deference to his grief his Russian Princess ordered the ladies of his court to dress in mourning.

When the news reached Italy, it was said, Lord Byron threw open the windows of his apartment in Venice and let out an anguished scream that was heard echoing down the Grand Canal.

Lady Charlotte Bury, who was also in Italy, summed up the situation precisely in her journal. ‘There is now no object of great interest in the English people, no one great rallying point round which all parties are ready to join… A greater public calamity could not have occurred to us; nor could it have happened at a more unfortunate moment..’

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

As for Caroline, who was living now in a villa on Lake Como, it appears that no one had troubled even to inform her of Charlotte’s death and Charlotte Bury was shocked to hear that the Princess had been left to learn the news ‘through the medium of a common newspaper!’ Lady Charlotte hastened to write and offer her Royal Highness sincere sympathy ‘in this her greatest affliction’ and presently received in return a ‘strangely worded but heartfelt expression of the poor mother’s grief’. ‘I have not only to lament an ever-beloved child’, wrote Caroline, ‘but one most warmly attached friend, and the only one I have had in England! But she is only gone before … and now I trust we shall soon meet in a much better world than the present one.’

[an extract from ‘Caroline&Charlotte’ by Alison Plowden]

Charlotte And Leopold Receive Guests

In January 1817 the Regent’s carriage was stoned, as he drove to open Parliament. There was desperate poverty and distress in the country, as a result of the long wars followed by a disastrous harvest in 1816. The Regent led an attempt to encourage British manufacturers, which was taken up with enthusiasm by Charlotte and Leopold. They themselves ordered £ 1, 000 worth of Spitalfields silk, some of which they planned to hang on the walls of their great gallery. Charlotte began to collect English china, and Princess Elizabeth sent her a vase to add to her collection. In return she presented her aunt with a teapot, in the spout of which was a tiny roll of paper bearing a verse.

‘Your vase, dear aunt, I have just received,
For which receive a tea-pot;
Nor shall I be, in truth, deceived,
If both should go to pot.’

The Coburgs practised economy and charity, and tried as far as possible to live like private people. Leopold insisted that the greater part of their entourage should sleep away from Claremont and only be on call when wanted. Their household shopping, Charlotte decreed, was to be done at Esher, and all bills paid on the nail (she had experienced what it was to be in debt). In spite of having a Privy Purse and a Treasurer, they liked to supervise their own household expenses, bourgeois fashion, and Miss Knight, arriving on a visit, retreated when she found them seated at a desk covered with books and papers. ‘Come in, come in!’ Charlotte called, ”tis only Mr. and Mrs. Coburg settling their accounts.’

They began to entertain, pleased to show off their fine house. As yet, the imposing gallery, with its vast carpet, was not furnished, but the drawing-room, with its walls covered in yellow Spitalfields silk stripped with satin, and chairs and sofas to match, was a pleasant setting for parties, and early in 1817 Charlotte’s new pianoforte was installed there, a Broadwood with a case of satinwood and rosewood decorated with ormolu, which was the twin to one made in the same year for Beethoven.

At first they held family parties: ‘The Glosters have just this moment left us,’ Charlotte wrote in September 1816, and was thankful that the visit had gone off so well, for they were ‘not the most agreeable people in the world’. She seemed to have forgotten her strange predilection for the Cheese, whom she now described as ‘tiresome’, but she hoped that marriage with Princess Mary would improve him. He seemed, she said, ‘very fond of Mary & to be very happy; he is certainly all attention to her, but I cannot say she looks the picture of happiness …’

No sooner had the Gloucesters gone than the Prince Regent paid them a visit, arriving on horseback from Hampton Court, and still ready for a three-hour walk round the estate.

Charlotte and Leopold were evidently too occupied entertaining their relations to fulfil an engagement in London, for on September 14 the Foundation Stone of the Royal Coburg Theatre* was laid on their behalf by an Alderman with the charming and suitable name of Goodbehere.

It was a great pleasure having the Duchess of York so near, at Oatlands. ‘We like her so much.’ ‘We are excellent neighbours & very sociable.’ And at Christmas time they were able to join in the charitable Duchess’s party. ‘Xmas eve is a great day always at Oatlands: the Duchess has a sort of fête and fair for everybody … It was the gayest and prettiest sight I ever saw I think, the numbers of children, their parents, and all the happy merry faces, the noises they make with their toys and things.’

* The Royal Coburg Theatre became The Royal Victoria Hall, and is now known as the Old Vic.

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

Picture: portraits of Charlotte and Leopold from the cover of James Chambers’ book

Charlotte And Leopold Take Up The Official Engagements

After little more than a week, Charlotte and Leopold went up to London, to Camelford House, where they began to receive a tedious series of ‘loyal addresses’ from various city councils and guilds. The first was from the Lord Mayor of London, who was received incongruously by the new bride in black because the court was in mourning for the Empress of Austria. But now that Charlotte was mistress of her own house she was in a position to receive anyone she pleased, and in the mornings, before the official engagements began, there were frequent visits from Cornelia Knight.

On 16 May they drove through huge crowds to Buckingham House, where the Queen gave a reception in their honour for over two thousand guests. Next day they received visits at Camelford House from Charlotte’s uncles the Dukes of York, Clarence and Gloucester, and then they went round to call on the Duchess of York and thank her for lending them Oatlands.

Yet, despite their inevitably crowded social calendar, Charlotte and Leopold found time to indulge their shared interests in music and, above all, theatre.

After leaving the Duchess of York, they went on to Drury Lane to see the great Edmund Kean in his latest tragedy, Bertram. The visit to the Duchess had delayed them so much that they arrived well after the performance had started. As they sat down in their box, the audience interrupted the play with hisses and shouts of ‘Stage Box!’. Leopold was taken aback: he thought they were being criticised for coming late. But Charlotte explained that this was what the audience did when they wanted a royal party to move their chairs forward so that they could see them better. So Leopold and Charlotte did as they were asked. That night and for ever afterwards, they sat well forward in their box, and the audiences were soon noticing how often the uninhibited Princess sat with her hand resting on her husband’s arm.

A week later they went to the theatre again, this time to Covent Garden to see The Jealous Wife. As they entered the Prince Regent’s box, several minutes before the performance was due to start, the curtain suddenly rose and the entire company sang the national anthem with a few additional verses which had been written hurriedly for the occasion and did not quite fit the cadence of the tune.

Long may the Noble Line,
Whence she descended, shine
In Charlotte the Bride!
Grant it perpetuate
And ever make it great;
On Leopold blessings wait
And Charlotte his Bride.

A fortnight after that, Charlotte and Leopold were due to attend a performance of Macbeth, in which the ageing Mrs Siddons had agreed to make one last appearance. But when the day came Charlotte was in bed suffering from what Dr Matthew Baillie, the King’s Physician Extraordinary, described as ‘a severe cold’, which had come on suddenly and forced her to leave in the middle of a charity concert a few days earlier.

Charlotte remained in bed for a week, although she was well enough to receive visits from the Queen and her aunts and uncles, and soon after that she was again going to the theatre and dinner parties.

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

Picture: Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold in their box at Covent Garden Theatre, 1816. The artist George Dawe was much patronised by the royal couple. This portrait was commissioned by Princess Charlotte, but Fry’s engraving was not issued until 6 April 1818 – after Princess Charlotte’s death in November 1817. Charlotte and Leopold are depicted seated in a classically ornamented box at the Covent Graden Theatre. He holds a libretto and looks at her. She is shown wearing a totally plain dress, but with a magnificent cashmere paisley shawl which is draped over one shoulder and falls over the box, showing off its exotic design; none of these costly shawls now survives. Charlotte has a wreath of roses in her hair and wears a low cut, high waisted dress of light weight material. The performance they are watching was of Henry VIII, performed for the benefit of the Theatrical Fund on Saturday 29 June 1817. The cast included Mrs Siddons as Queen Katherine. https://www.museumoflondonprints.com/image/143205/george-dawe-william-thomas-fry-princess-charlotte-and-prince-leopold-in-their-box-at-covent-garden-theatre-1816-1817

A Very Awkward Honeymoon

The honeymoon was not blissful. ‘We have none of us been well,’ said Charlotte, and blamed the weather. She found Leopold ‘the perfection of a lover’, and a very amiable companion, but she confessed that she felt shy of him, not at her ease or ‘quite comfortable yet in his society’.

They were probably suffering from reaction: they had both endured a long strain since Leopold’s arrival in England; moreover, they were still virtually strangers. Oatlands, with its spacious estate, was a pleasant, secluded place for a royal honeymoon, but unfortunately, although the Duke and Duchess of York had moved out, the Duchess’s animals had not. Charlotte considered that the air of the place was ‘quite unwholesome, as it is infected & impregnated with the smell & breath of dogs, birds and all sorts of animals’. (It is interesting to note that the Duchess of York, so sensitive to the bad breath of her cousin Prince August, must have been quite immune to the strong odours of her forty dogs and other creatures.)

But there were happy moments, and particularly a drive in the curricle to Claremont, their future home, ‘wh. is a real paradise’.

Two days after the wedding, the Prince Regent arrived on a visit – unexpected and not altogether welcome. Perhaps to ease any shyness on the part of his hosts, he settled down to entertain his son-in-law and bored daughter with a long discourse on the subject of uniforms, which interested him enormously. ‘For two hours and more I think,’ said Charlotte, ‘we had a most learned dissertation upon every regiment under the sun.’ But she was relieved by the good-humoured mood in which the lecture was delivered, and later heard from her Aunt Mary that the Regent had been ‘delighted with his visit & with both us’.

Since his arrival in England, Prince Leopold had been studying English, determined to master not only the language but the history of this country. He admired the English, but thought their manners ‘a little odd’ through their long separation from the Continent. He considered that, as husband to the Heiress Presumptive, he must educate himself for the high position he would one day occupy. Charlotte approved of these studies, and even on their honeymoon encouraged him to talk English, ‘wh. he really does surprisingly well considering how short a time and what little practice he has had’.

He was still suffering from neuralgia, which – temporarily relieved when the Regent’s dentist, Mr. Bew, pulled out one of his teeth – returned when he and Charlotte went to London: Miss Knight, on July 30, was unable to see the Princess, ‘as Prince Leopold was suffering from a pain in his face. But,’ Cornelia hastened to add, ‘she wrote me a very affectionate note afterwards to apologise.’

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

Picture: Oatlands Palace https://www.geni.com/projects/Oatlands-Palace-Surrey-England/25843

Day Of The Wedding (Part 3)

But Charlotte did not forget her beloved Margaret. ‘To show you how constantly you occupy my thoughts,’ she wrote two days later, ‘my last word was with [Princess] Lieven to intreat her to give you a faithful account, & to my maid just as I drove off to go & tell you how I looked & was …’

‘I promised you,’ she reminded Mercer, ‘I promised you to behave well … and everyone complimented me upon the composure & dignity of my manner, & the audible way in which I answered the responses.’ It was observed that Prince Leopold, on the other hand, ‘was not heard so distinctly, and exhibited rather more than common diffidence’.

It was also observed that the wedding ring, chosen by Charlotte, was ‘stronger and larger than those usually worn’. Twenty-nine years afterwards, Leopold told Queen Victoria that Charlotte ‘was particularly determined to be a good and obedient wife’, and this would perhaps account for Huish’s impression of her going through the ceremony ‘with a chastened joy’.

The service, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, lasted exactly twenty-five minutes, and after all was over and healths drunk, Charlotte embraced her father, shook hands with her uncles York, Clarence and Kent (the other three were not there), kissed the Queen’s hand and her aunts’ tear-stained faces, and hurried away to change. Guns boomed from the Tower and St. James’s and as if by tacit agreement, the young couple did not appear again till they were ready to set out for their honeymoon. ‘The Princess did not take leave of the company, and avoided all compliments and congratulations by slipping down the private stairs from the state apartments to the ground floor.’ As she stepped into the new green travelling carriage, she must have looked captivating, in a white pelisse bordered with ermine, and a white satin hat, trimmed with blond lace and a nodding plume of ostrich feathers.

Leopold followed her, and, as the carriage was about to set off, the Queen, who had been all graciousness and kindness throughout the day, suddenly decided that it would be shocking for them to travel together at this late hour, unchaperoned, and ordered Charlotte’s lady, Mrs. Campbell, to join them. Mrs. Campbell, a determined Scotswoman, refused, and before anything more could be said, the coach, with Charlotte’s team of greys, ornamented with white favours, drove off at high speed, heading for Oatlands, near Weybridge, the Yorks’ country residence, which the Coburgs had been lent for their honeymoon. Charlotte was free.

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

Picture: Charlotte’s wedding dress, picture by Royal Collection Trust

Household For Charlotte and Leopold Is Being Prepared

As soon as Leopold was naturalised as a British subject, the Prince Regent commissioned him a general in the British army and offered to raise him to the peerage as Duke of Kendal. Leopold refused the dukedom, but this was his only modest defiance. He acquiesced in everything when the marriage contract was drawn up, and he took no part in the financial discussions. That was left to the Regent and his government.

After much debate and indecision, Parliament agreed to provide the royal couple with two houses. Their London residence was to be Camelford House, a meagre brick building on the corner of Park Lane and Oxford Street, which had dark, little rooms, a narrow hall and only one staircase. The house has been the home of the second Lord Camelford, a cousin of William Pitt and a notorious duellist, who had died of a wound there twelve years earlier, after an encounter with Captain Best in Holland Park. Charlotte thought it was much too small. ‘It will do for this season’, she told Mercer, ‘but really for the next we must look out for another’.

By contrast, their home was to be Claremont near Esher in Surrey, which Charlotte thought was ‘the most beautiful house and place possible’. She had visited it twice when she first went to stay with the Duke and Duchess of York at Oatlands, and by what looked like good luck, the most recent of its many unhappy owners, Charles Rose Ellis, had put it up for sale because his beautiful wife had just died there in childbirth.

For furniture, silver, linen, china and all the other household equipment, Parliament voted a generous single payment of £ 60,000, which was almost as much as it paid for Claremont. For living expenses and the cost of their household, Leopold was to be given £ 50,000a year, and in addition Charlotte was to have £ 10,000 a year ‘pin money’ to cover the cost of her clothes and the payment of her ladies and her personal maids.

Charlotte was restrained in the composition of her new household. She settled for six footmen, not eight as her father suggested, and their state livery was to be simple green, not gaudy crimson and green like his. She was also loyal. She kept on many of the people who had been closest to her at Windsor and Warwick House. Among them, Mrs Campbell was to be lady-in-waiting, despite 279 applications for the job; Mercer’s uncle the Rev. Dr Short was to be chaplain; and Mrs Louis, of course, was to stay on as dresser.

Mrs Louis was kept busy as the wedding day approached. Charlotte’s dress, ordered by the Queen and made by Mrs Triand of Bolton Street, did not quite fit; a few subtle alterations were required. But the dress was ready in plenty of time. The ceremony was postponed more than once because of the Prince Regent’s gout.

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

Picture: Camelford and Somerset Houses (demolished), ground-floor plans in c. 1820, source https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol40/pt2/pp264-289

The Dutch Marriage Plans

In July 1813, the Prince gave ‘a magnificent breakfast’ in the gardens of Carlton House, to celebrate the Battle of Vittoria. He wrote a glowing letter to Wellington, and sent him what he had himself desired and been denied, a field-marshal’s baton. A fortnight later, after the nine days’ fighting known as the Battle of the Pyrenees, Charlotte was writing to Mercer, ‘Of course I need not tell you that a great victory has been gained by Wellington upon Soult. I write before any particulars have reached me, except that the Prince of Orange has brought the dispatches & was to be in town last night…’ ‘It was a pang,’ she continued, ‘added to the many I have to endure here [at Windsor], as I am sure my miseries will be much added to by the plagues about him…’

Charlotte, at seventeen, was aware that plans were being made for her to marry, and that the Hereditary Prince of Orange was being talked of as a likely suitor. He was at present serving on Wellington’s staff in Spain, but she believed that he had been sent to England with dispatches in order that she might meet him, which she heartily dreaded. She was not averse to the idea of marriage, but she was determined have a say in the choice of her husband: she would not be married off, as her aunt, the Princess Royal, had been – and indeed, as her mother and grandmother had been – to a foreigner whom she had never seen.

Marriage with the Prince of Orange, was, diplomatically, an excellent idea. As Europe began to free itself from the Emperor’s domination, an alliance was planned by the British Government with the liberated Holland and Belgium, under the Dutch Stadholder. A marriage between the English Princess and his son, the Hereditary Prince, would triumphantly seal this alliance.

But for Charlotte there were other considerations: a misguided marriage would, she said, be ‘worse than death’. She wanted to know what the young man was like. Her friend Georgiana Fitzroy told her that the Hereditary Prince was ‘amiable, very agreeable and sensible, adored Lord Wellington, had excellent manners but was not good looking’. This was interesting, but not enough. A month later, Miss Fitzroy, who had walzed with the young man at Oatlands, wrote that he was the best waltzer that ever was, but ‘excessively plain’ and ‘as thin as a needle’. His hair, she said, was ‘excessively plain’ and his teeth, though good, stuck out excessively in front.

Perhaps it would have been better for all concerned if Charlotte had waited for a description from her older and more tactful friend, Mercer Elphinstone.

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

Picture: Portrait of William II of the Netherlands by Nicolaas Pieneman, 1849, current location unknown

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