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Charlotte Returns to Weymouth

At first Charlotte found it easy enough to follow the advice to be patient with her father. But it was not so easy to be patient with Leopold. As soon as she reached Weymouth, she wrote to Mercer telling her that ‘the Leo’ was in Paris, and begging her to write to him, although she added, ‘Preach up prudence. A false step now I feel would ruin all.’

In the weeks and then months that followed, Mercer wrote encouraging letters to Leopold, Leopold wrote back to Mercer, Mercer passed on what he had said to Charlotte, and in her answers Charlotte became more and more eager and less and less inclined to go on writing.

On 21 August, late at night, she wrote:

Your account of him constantly at Lady Castlereagh’s stupid suppers does not astonish me… Oh why should he not come over, it is so near & it is but a run over of a few hours. I quite languish for his arrival. He is really wrong in keeping back as he does. Having got your letter what more can he wish for to bring him? Don’t you know an old proverb wh. says, ‘Hope long delayed maketh the heart sick’. What does he mean about a crisis? I see & hear of nothing that is like it.

Just over a week later, after Mercer had induced Leopold to share his feelings with her, Charlotte wrote, ‘I will tell you candidly that I am delighted, not to say charmed & flattered at what Leo writes about his sentiments and feelings for me, & the way in wh. he expresses himself is peculiarly pleasing.’

After another month she was beginning to hope that Leopold had decided to come over, and yet at the same time both she and Mercer were worried that someone was advising him against it – it was possible that ‘hints might have reached him through the Prussians’ about Prince August, or that somebody had told him about Charles Hesse. If he did come, Charlotte wanted Mercer to meet him and explain.

If you see him long enough to have such confidential & various conversation with him, I allow you…to clear all that up to him in the best manner you please, & even if think it necessary, to hint also at Hesse’s affair since I was quite clear (that unless he is well prepared & armed against all the lies & different things that will be told him) he will not know what to believe, who to credit, or how to act.

A week later, still hoping that Leopold was coming soon, Charlotte was in a mood to be devious. She told Mercer, ‘I give you carte blanche if you see him, to say & do all that circumstances will allow & require. Don’t send him any of his letters, let me see them when we meet, that you may honorably be able to keep to saying you never forwarded any letters to me.

Yet amid all the frustration and disappointment, the news that raised Charlotte’s hopes the highest was not about Leopold but about ‘Slender Billy’. It was announced in Holland that the Hereditary Prince of Orange was engaged to marry the Tsar’s younger sister, the Grand Duchess Anne.

The Dutch fleet was to be united with the Russian fleet. For those who were inclined to suspect a conspiracy, and who did not know how much Charlotte detested the young Prince of Orange, it looked as though the scheming Grand Duchess Catherine had brought about the breach between them as part of a long-term Russian plan. But for Charlotte the news was nothing more than a merciful release. Her father no longer had a pet plan to promote above any other.

But then she heard that several other eligible princes had been seen in London and at Windsor. On 14 October she wrote, ‘I have such a dread of all foreign Princes, the sight as well as the name of them alarm me from the idea of some intrigue or other going on for my marrying someone of them.’

By then it was a while since Mercer had heard from Leopold, and a week later Charlotte began to despair. ‘His silence to you is now what surprises & occupies me the most for you ought to have heard long before this.’

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

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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]

Leopold Is Writing To The Prince Regent

It was ‘en grande uniforme’ that he called upon Princess Charlotte at Warwick House: he greatly admired her, was well aware of her exalted position as Heiress Presumptive to the throne of England, and wished to make the best possible impression. When she drove out in the Park, he would follow her, ride near her open carriage, and ‘endeavour to be noticed’. He was already acquainted with Miss Mercer, and it was under her banner that he presented himself at Warwick House. Here, according to Miss Knight, he showered the Princess with compliments; but ‘there were reasons’, she added mysteriously, ‘why this matter was by no means agreeable to Princess Charlotte’. Those reasons, needles to say, were Charlotte’s feelings for Prince August of Prussia, which Miss Knight so vehemently condoned, thereby causing her own downfall. It may be remembered that poor Miss Knight, during a stormy interview with the Prince Regent just before her dismissal, blurted out a defence of the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, whom she was using as a red herring. The Regent saw what she was up to and waved aside her excuses: Prince Leopold, he said, was a most honourable young man: and had written him a letter which perfectly justified his conduct.

The Regent’s letter from Prince Leopold had obviously been composed with a great deal of thought, and in the carefully-worded phrases of a seasoned diplomat, assured the Prince Regent that Leopold regretted any indiscretion he may have committed by visiting (at her invitation) the Princess Charlotte at Warwick House. He recounted enthusiastically his first meeting with the Princess, on the back stairs of Pulteney’s Hotel, where he was hanging about waiting for an audience to bid farewell to the Tsar. (Here he put in a tactful word to the effect that his parting from the Regent’s detested Grand Duchess was not very tender, since she had jilted his brother, Prince Ernest.) ‘Princess Charlotte,’ he said-returning to the encounter on the back stairs, ‘condescended to take my arm, and to allow me to escort her to her carriage; and she told me that I had not been at all polite, not having called upon her… She hoped that if I made a longer stay I should be more polite in the future.’

It was this invitation that he had responded, cutting short a visit to the Opera to pay his respects at Warwick House, where Charlotte had received him, in the presence of the Duchess of Leeds, with ‘beaucoup de bienveillance’. He stayed, he said, for about three-quarters of an hour, and then, perceiving that the Princess was unwell, he took his leave.

But afterwards he began to think that he had made a faux pas: the Dutch engagement had so very recently been broken off, and alone in his Marylebone lodgings he wondered if perhaps he had been too bold, too precipitate. He saw now that it was not the time for what he called ‘les plus petits mots de plus’. All he wished to do, at this stage, was to leave a good impression, and a word (to Count Münster*) to the effect that, when the time came, he would be ready, if summoned, to return.

It was a curiously pompous, fussy letter from a young man of twenty-four, but it worked wonders with the Regent, leaving a favourable impression which had not faded when, early in 1815, Mercer reported from Brighton that the Prince had spoken highly to Lord Keith of the ‘P of S-C’. Charlotte was overjoyed. ‘Il me fait un plaisir aimable the P.R. having named & done justice in so handsome a way … to P. S-C’s name & conduct, too.’ She was convinced that before he left England this prince had offered himself to the Regent as her suitor, and had been refused, because it was stupid time to do it, ‘when common sence & prudence ought to have told him that he or any man that tried would be rejected’. But she considered that he should have chanced his luck with her first. ‘If however he continues in favour with the P.R., it is not impossible he may still succeed.’ In fact, she had made up her mind to marry him.

‘I have perfectly decided & made up my mind to marry,’ she announced, ‘and the person I have as decidedly fixed on is Prince Leopold.’ She was convinced, she said, that he would make her tolerably comfortable & happy, which she had never felt when engaged to the Prince of Orange. She was encouraged by the attitude of the Royal Family, who all, in the absence at Brighton of the Regent, supported her in her choice. The Queen was all graciousness and good humour; and Charlotte learned that she was ‘monstrously provoked with the Prince for ‘thinking any more of the P.O. business’. He was spending far too much time at Brighton, said his mother, without doing any business. He lingered there with Lady Hertford, and prohibited his Ministers from coming to him, though there were two important matters to be settled at once, the Corn Bill** and the Income Tax***.

* Hanoverian Minister of State – now resident in England.
** Prohibiting importation of corn while the price at home was below 80s. a quarter.
*** It was reduced from two shillings in the pound to one shilling.

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

Leopold Is Becoming A Serious Candidate For Charlotte’s Husband

Charlotte, in spite of her father’s silence on the subject, was still uneasy about the Orange match, and feared that the Regent was only biding his time before bringing it up again. Determined as she was never again to have anything to do with ‘that nasty, ugly spider-legged little Dutchman’, she unburdened herself to her grandmother, who assured her that the whole affair was over: ‘it not only cannot but should not even be thought of with any propriety.’ The Queen believed that a veil should be drawn over the whole episode, for ‘nothing can be said or done, nothing ought’.

The Duchess of York, in more forcible terms, said the same thing, adding that she really wished him (the Prince of Orange) married and out of the way, and the Duke emphatically agreed. The ‘little Duchess’ was wholeheartedly Charlotte’s friend and ally, and so it now seemed was the Duke, while the Queen talked of her, said the Duchess, ‘with the greatest possible interest and good nature’.

Nevertheless, the beginning of 1815 found Charlotte depressed and anxious. She still had moments of bitter regret for her lost lover, and, in spite of efforts to shake off her illusions, she was still writing, at the end of the month, ‘I think I get less cured of my unfortunate passion, I think than ever.’

But it is this very defeat of her hopes, she admits, that makes her lose no time in turning elsewhere for a husband. She is only waiting for the Duke of York to say the moment is propitious, to bring up the name of her next candidate. And to her Aunt Mary, in private, she is ready to confess that though ‘not the least in the world’ in love with Prince Leopold, she has ‘a very good opinion of him, and would rather marry him than any other pince for that reason’.

Princess Mary seemed now to have cast aside all thoughts of the Saxe-Coburg prince for herself (after all, he was only twenty-four), and launched forth vehemently in his praises as a suitable husband for Charlotte. No-one’s character, she said, stood higher, and he was of a very old House.

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

Charlotte’s Heart Is Broken

Perhaps it was, after all, a good thing that she was going back to Cranbourne Lodge. The season was over at Weymouth and the place had lost its summer charm. It was too windy for sailing, and she spent far too much time by herself. She admitted that her health was better: even though her heart was broken, she looked well, and she told Lady Ashbrook that she had been trying to ride again, ‘and really it goes off better than I could have hoped, which I know you will be glad to hear’. But she went on to tell this kind friend that she had been ‘very uneasy & unhappy upon certain subjects’, and to excuse herself from writing further as she was ‘out of spirits’.

On December 16, she and her ladies set out of for Windsor. She described the journey as sad and uncomfortable. Lady Rosslyn, ‘old Cross Bones’, who always got on her nerves, sat opposite her in the carriage, ‘& really her eternal fidgets & frights nearly drove me distracted’. In any case, Charlotte was hardly in the mood to enjoy herself: two days before, she had written, ‘My hear has had a very sudden & great shock.’ On her return, a letter from Mercer awaited her, which confirmed what she had already heard: Prince August was to marry an Englishwoman, a Miss Rumbolt.

At last, quite suddenly, the wretched, pathetic dream was shattered, the bright bubble of hope vanished into thin air. Charlotte accepted that F had played her false. Her feeling, she said, was not anger or resentment, ‘it is too deep … to allow of anything else but grief’.

At the Castle, she learned a little more about her faithless lover, to whom she now always refers as Prince Augustus. ‘The Duke of Kent told me that P. Augustus was the only black sheep in the family, & que sa main gauche a était offert a tous les jolies femmes en Allemagne.’ But the black sheep’s cousin, the Duchess of York, whether or no she knew anything of Charlotte’s infatuation, gave an even more daunting account of him. His breath, she said uncompromisingly, stank. ‘Handsome as he was, there was no going near him or bearing his approaching, for that it was worse than anything ever was, & at the opera she was obliged really to get one of her brothers to change places with her for fear of being sick.’

It seems strange that this unfortunate defect was not noticed by all the jolie femmes to whom he made love; even stranger that it should have passed unnoticed by the exquisite Madame Récamier. But nothing could have been more precisely aimed to disillusion a lovesick girl.

‘I feel quite convinced,’ wrote Charlotte, ‘that regrets are of no avail … As faith was broken, confidence is gone for ever.’

Throughout the F affair the assiduous Miss Knight – banished and living with friends – had linked the lovers by receiving and forwarding letters. Charlotte dreaded that Notte (as she now always called her) would make things worse for her by reproaching the Prussian prince for his faithlessness. However, she misjudged her. Cornelia managed to smuggle Charlotte’s picture and a ring, returned by F, and wrote calmly and sadly, enclosing a letter – ‘an easy, cool, familiar, friendly letter’ in which Prince August regretfully brings the correspondence to an end. ‘If anything was further wanted to decide the affair,’ said Charlotte, ‘this does it.’

The Duchess of York, having dropped one highly-charged bombshell, followed it up with further disclosures: that, as well as having ‘horrible’ breath – was he, perhaps, too fond of garlic? – he had at least two mistresses. ‘He is not a general favourite,’ she assured her niece; in fact, nobody really liked him except his mother. If the Duchess had set out to finish the affair she could hardly have done so more efficiently. ‘Have I not echappé belle?’ Charlotte demanded of Mercer, and in the next breath went on to discuss the Prince of Saxe-Coburg.

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

Charlotte Enjoys Her Holidays

Gradually, Charlotte began to relax, and allow the tranquil air of Weymouth to calm and invigorate her. She had not been there since she was a child; now she enjoyed visits to curious and ancient places like any other tripper: she was fascinated by Portland and Chesil Beach, and her interest in old buildings – chiefly derived from the reading of Gothic romance – was stimulated by a visit to Corfe Castle.

The town of Weymouth provided her with plenty of entertainment, and she was excited to discover a smuggler who was selling ‘the most delightful French silks at 5 shillings a yard. I am going to be after him,’ she vowed. Weymouth was harbouring a vast amount of French merchandise, and she saw French women, selling prints from Bordeaux. ‘You never saw such odd looking people.’

‘The visit of Princess Charlotte renders this place a continued scene of splendour and gaiety,’ wrote the Salisbury & Winchester Gazette; ‘the sands are every day crowded with rank, beauty and fashion.’ Charlotte’s friends from Windsor, Lord and Lady Ashbrook, arrived to stay at Russell’s Royal Hotel, in company with other noble personages, and the Solicitor General. The Princess began to entertain at Gloucester Lodge, inviting ‘a select party’ to hear Signor Rivolta, ‘the celebrated Italian minstrel’ who gave a most unusual concert, playing on eight instruments at once. Charlotte, we are told, was ‘highly gratified’, so perhaps Signor Rivolta was gifted as well as ingenious.

On the anniversary of her grandfather’s Jubilee, she gave a party which was distinguished by a fireworks display, culminating in a ‘set piece’ in the form of an illuminated portrait of the King. The party was followed by a ball at the Assembly Rooms, ‘attended by all the rank and fashion here’.

Day after day, in spite of the time of year, she bathed in the sea before breakfast and, like her grandfather, benefited from it. She soon felt well enough to go sailing, and H.M.S. Zephyr, sloop of war, was at her service. On what the newspaper correspondent described as ‘a most heavenly day’ the Princess and her suite were conveyed in the royal barge to the Zephyr, which was commanded by Captain Creyke. ‘A royal salute was fired, the yards manned, the royal standard hoisted and every other complimentary honour was shown to her Royal Highness.’ The party sailed along the coast as far as St. Alban’s Point, ‘and we were happy to find out that the Princess experienced no unpleasant effects’. On the contrary she enjoyed herself, and wanted to go again. Sailing became her favourite pastime, and she loved watching all the pageantry of the Naval vessels exercising in the Channel.

The Bishop felt it incumbent upon him to send a report of Charlotte’s health to Windsor. It was very greatly improved, he said. ‘Her spirits are uniformly good & her mind appears to be in a tranquil state. I am strongly inclined to think that she is really happy here.’

Alas, poor Bishop, he knew nothing of his Princess’s true state of mind. Nor did Mrs. Campbell, who Charlotte now decided was well meaning and kind-hearted but who irritated her by talking of her ‘happiness’. How could she be happy? But ‘I must say,’ said Charlotte, ‘that I get every day more ignimatical to myself, & if so must be doubly so to them.’

Dr. Baillie had said that she should stay on at Weymouth as long as possible, and now she found that she wanted to. ‘I have no objection to remain here, as I certainly amuse myself infinitely better, & am more comfortable than at Cranbourne.’ Away from Windsor and family politics, her anxieties seemed less overwhelming. Nevertheless, the smiling face which she showed to the Weymouth crowds was not expressive of her inmost feelings. The turquoise heart was lost for good, and so, she began to believe, was Prince August.

She could not stop loving him; she invented reasons for his neglect of her. Nobody will ever know what was the attraction which drew her to this vain and heartless Prussian officer, but it was strong, and she could not free herself. ‘I think & think about how it will be, & how it will all turn out,’ she said. Sometimes she felt cheerful and confident, at others she was cast down to the depths of despair, and felt that the whole thing was hopeless. In her letters to Mercer she returned again and again to what she called ‘the constant subject of my thoughts’.

It seems likely that Mercer never favoured Prince August, and was working against him. She certainly broke up a tete a tete between the Prince and Charlotte when Miss Knight was encouraging the affair; and later the Princess told her, ‘I never heard one piece of good news about F from you since the business began.’ Perhaps Mercer was trying to spare Charlotte pain, knowing that the frail romance was bound to break up: certainly there is every indication that she discouraged it.

(…)

It became imperative to know how things stood with F. He must be made to write. Mercer had been sent extracts copied from his letters, to prove that he did still love Charlotte: she was now asked to draft a sort of ultimatum to him, for the Princess to send. ‘It is impossible,’ Charlotte told her, ‘to put it better or more forcibly than you do.’

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

Picture: Ruins of Corfe Castle from the outer bailey, source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corfe_Castle#/media/File:Corfe_Castle,_Dorset.jpg

Charlotte Is Hesitating

She had not had a letter from August since he left England, and she could not read the old ones because she had burned them. The only news of him came from Mercer, and most of that consisted of rumours that were soon contradicted. It was not true that he had secretly married a Miss Rumbold. Nor was true that he had been appointed Governor of Saxony, which was also good news because, if he had been, he would never have been able to live in England.

Throughout the holiday Charlotte could only fantasise. She imagined August coming over and making a proposal to her father; and then she made herself anxious because she knew her father would refuse him. He would have to come over while Parliament was sitting. An appeal to Parliament would lead to a debate; a debate would be reported in the papers, and when the people read them they would be bound to support her against her father. If only August would make up his mind.

In one of her long outpourings to Mercer, however, Charlotte admitted that she was so miserable she might marry almost anyone. She would rather it was August. But if August did disappoint her, ‘The P. of S-C decidedly would be accepted by me in preference to any other Prince I have seen.’

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