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Drama Continues

Only the Duke of Sussex, ‘not having been sent by the Regent’, was asked to step upstairs.

He had come in answer to a second summons, sent by Brougham. Charlotte’s note, said her uncle, was such an illegible scrawl that he had put it into his pocket unread. Brougham had been wondering how the Duke would be received, for the Princess of Wales had not spoken time for nine years, ever since he had delivered to the Prince the charges made by Lady Douglas which had led to the Delicate Investigation. But they fell into each other’s arms: ‘no one,’ said Brougham, ‘could have supposed there was the least dryness between them, to see how warmly they embraced.’

Brougham was presented, as the Princess’s legal adviser. ‘Pray, sir,’ said the Duke in his direct way, ‘supposing the Prince Regent, acting in the name and on behalf of His Majesty, were to send a sufficient force to break down the doors of this house and carry away the Princess, would any resistance in such case be lawful?’
‘It would not.’
‘Then, my dear,’ said Sussex to Charlotte, ‘you hear what the law is. I can only advise you to return with as much speed and as little noise as possible.’

Charlotte did not care for this advice, which bore no relation to her own plans. While her uncle settled down to a lively conversation in German with the Princess of Wales, Charlotte took Brougham aside, and tried to explain to him just why she had run away. The whole story came tumbling out: the quarrel with her father over the broken engagement, the dismissal of Miss Knight and of all her household, the arbitrary introduction of new ladies, her forced separation from her mother and from Mercer. She became more and more worked up: all the gaiety she had displayed at dinner had vanished, choked now by the vision of what might be done to her; Brougham noticed that she kept harking back to her terror of being forced into the Dutch marriage. He assured her that ‘without her consent freely given, it could never take place’: but she remained unconvinced. ‘They may wear me out by ill-treatment, & may represent that I have changed my mind & consented.’ She again announced her intention of living with her mother if the Regent would not agree to her terms. Brougham betrayed no sign of approval or disapproval, and she demanded at last what he advised her to do. His direction came instantly.

‘Return to Warwick House or Carlton House, and on no account pass a night out of your own house.’ At this, Charlotte broke down and sobbed: this was not the advice she had hoped for from Brougham. She accused him of turning against her: then she found that he was supported in this view by all the others – by Mercer, by the Duke of Sussex, and even, alas, by her mother. Her rebellious tears turned to despair, as Brougham, seizing his advantage, continued to assure her that this was her only course – she must return. Charlotte was appalled: after the desperate unhappiness of her plight at Warwick House she had felt that here she would be among friends. Yet now these friends were forcing her to go back, to face imprisonment and isolation, surrounded by a female bodyguard chosen without consulting her. Worst of all, she thought in this moment of agony, she would be cut off from Miss Knight, and so from her secret means of communication with Prince August. This was the most cruel deprivation of all, and hardened her in her determination not to give in.

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

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Restrictions Are Imposed

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prince Regent Is Annoyed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Whigs Are Against The Dutch Marriage

But, despite the freedom that it promised, Charlotte’s enthusiasm for her engagement was waning, and this was not just due to the attraction of Prince August, or the discovery that her betrothed was a callow, scruffy boy who could not even hold his liquor. Other forces were at work, trying to change her mind as well.

The more moderate Whigs, like Earl Grey and the Duke of Sussex, still had reservations about the cost of a close Dutch alliance, and they were still concerned that the Prince Regent had only been trying to get his daughter out of the country to induce his wife to leave as well. But the Radical Whigs, like Brougham and Whitbread, felt thwarted by the Regent’s capitulation. They were still passionately opposed to the marriage.

The restriction imposed on Charlotte’s visits to her mother and her mother’s continuing exclusion from court were political weapons that the Radicals were loath to lose. Making indignant criticisms of both or either was still their best way of embarrassing the Regent and his government. But if Charlotte got married, they would be bound to lose one. As mistress of her own household, she would be entitled to receive anyone she pleased, including her mother. And if her mother went abroad, either because Charlotte had gone or else because she disapproved of the marriage, they would lose both.

Brougham was blunt. At a secret meeting, he warned Charlotte of what he saw as the consequences of marriage. Her mother would no longer have a good reason for staying in England, and her father might even bribe her to go. Once her mother was out of the country, she would no longer be a focus for popular support. Her father would be able to divorce her quietly without too much public opposition. If that happened, he would probably get married again, and if that happened, he might well have a son. Once there was a male heir, Charlotte could no longer look forward to being Queen of England. For the time being, he said, it was Charlotte’s duty not to marry and stand by her mother.

So Charlotte had three reasons for avoiding marriage – the dismal prospect of Prince William himself; the hope that she might marry some other prince, preferably Prince August; and the duty to stand by her mother which, incidentally, would also protect her own position as heir presumptive.

Since Mercer was in London at the time, there is no written evidence of Charlotte’s real motive, but the reason that she chose as an excuse was her duty to stay loyal to her mother.

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

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