Tag Archives: prince leopold of saxe-coburg-gotha (later king of the belgians)

Who Is Leopold? (Part 1)

Prince Leopold George Christian Frederick, the youngest child of Duke Francis of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, was born on 16 December 1790. His family was descended from the eleventh-century Margraves of Meissen and Lausitz, but in the seven hundred years since then few of his ancestors had made a mark on the pages of European history […] Like most of the younger sons of the many German rulers, Leopold was educated to make his own way in the world as a soldier or a diplomat. He learned Christian ethics, Latin, Russian, French and English. He was taught to draw, to play the piano, to ride and to fence. But he was also taught to be ambitious – and for that there were plenty of role models in his family. Unlike their ancestors, the latest generations of the House of Coburg were hungry for power, position and wealth.

During the first few years of Leopold’s life his uncle Frederick was commanding an Austrian army in the Netherlands. His eldest brother Ernest, who succeeded their father as Duke, became a general in the Russian army and married an eccentric German heiress, who added the neighbouring estates of Gotha to Coburg and Saalfeld. His other brother, Ferdinand, served in the Austrian army and married even richer Hungarian princess.

The only one of his four sisters who married for love was Sophia, the eldest. Her husband was one of the many refugees who fled to Germany from France on the outbreak of the Revolution. He was only a count, but he was a rich count who had managed to bring most of his money with him, and he was a good friend to Leopold.

The other sisters married for position. Antoinette married Duke Alexander of Wurtemberg, Victoria married Prince Emich Charles of Leningen; and Julia did best of all. She married the brother of the Tsar, the Grand Duke Constantine.

With such a sister, it was not difficult for a beautiful boy to find favour and patronage at the Russian court. Leopold was enlisted as a cadet in the Imperial Guard when he was only five, soon after his sister’s wedding. In the following year he was given the honorary commission of captain. Next year he was made a colonel.

After that Julie grew tired of her husband’s cruelty and went home to Coburg. But Leopold remained a favourite with the Grand Duke and the Tsar. On 15 May 1803, when he was still only twelve, they made him a general.

to be continued …

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

Picture: Leopold I of Belgium by George Dawe, 19th century, Royal Collection.

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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 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]

Princess Mary Becomes Charlotte’s Adviser

Before she left England, the Princess of Wales, with what Grey called her ‘utter want of all sense of delicacy and propriety’, wrote suggesting that Charlotte might marry Prince Frederick of Orange, Slender Billy’s younger and brighter brother, who was just then in England with his regiment. In August he was at Windsor, and took part in a review of troops by the Duke of Wellington, within sight of Cranbourne Lodge – ‘a thin young man, & rode a fine prancing horse’, said General Garth, who had been to look; but Charlotte was in a rage. ‘Can you conceive anything so indelicate,’ she demanded, ‘as bringing him down close to my house after all that has passed?’ All the same, she had climbed, ‘covered with a few pelisses’, up to the roof-top, and watched what she could see of the review through a telescope.

The papers began to hint that the younger Orange prince had been sent to woo Charlotte. ‘The newspapers are very insufferable with their nonsense about me,’ she exclaimed angrily, adding that she would never again look at anything ‘in the shape of an Orange’. Again, she inveighed against the Duke of Wellington’s indelicacy ‘in bringing him down into my neighbourhood’, and she declared, ‘The only effect this Orange siege will have upon me is that I shall become very savage at last … ‘

However, Prince Frederick showed no sign of following up his dashing equestrian exploits with a visit to Cranbourne Lodge, and Charlotte’s dull life went on as before.

One consequence of the move to Windsor was that she saw more of her grandmother and aunts, and though, as she said later, ‘they all pull different ways & I go mine’, her references to the family are for the most part more tolerant. Her unheard-of behaviour in breaking off the engagement and defying her father had caused a flutter in the Castle dovecote; and when she arrived at Cranbourne Lodge she was much on the defensive and too miserable to want to see anyone. She had no desire to confide in any of the family; but in order to clear the air on the Orange question, she decided to have a talk with Princess Mary, and hoped thus to communicate her point of view, wrapped in Mary’s careful diplomacy, to the Prince.

Her aunt received her eagerly, only too delighted to have what she called a conference upon Charlotte’s recent troubles. Cat-like, with carefully-hidden claws, Princess Mary gently drew from her niece the whole story of the broken engagement, the scene with the Regent at Warwick House and finally Charlotte’s flight, seeming impressed by her niece’s firmness and intrepidity. But she was shocked, she said, to learn that she had run away ‘from desperation’; and with a sudden volte-face declared that it was all the Prince Regent’s fault. After the engagement had been broken he should have gone to see Charlotte at once, particularly when she wrote that she was ill. Then all this would never have happened.

Before the interview ended there were one or two sharp scratches from the aunt. She hinted that politically Charlotte’s behaviour had been disastrous: the Prussians, she said,were furious with her for endangering the Dutch alliance, and the King of Prussia had declared that he would not go to say good-bye to her. But ‘I confounded her,’ said the niece, ‘by saying he had sent me his Chamberlain with a very gracious & civil message.’ Princess Mary made a quick recovery, and went on to warn Charlotte to keep away from the Duchess of York, who was still excessively angry with her.* ‘We parted after this,’ said Charlotte, who nevertheless persuaded herself that the result of this conversation was ‘really favorable’. She felt that she had made it clear that she would never, in any circumstances, be talked into a renewal of the Orange match.

Princess Mary had evidently decided to play the part of Charlotte’s friend and adviser. Unfortunately, the overplayed it, and now wrote rather patronizingly, justifying the Regent’s ‘cool and reserved manner’, and indicating that Charlotte was largely to blame. ‘Though your father is desirous of showing you all the kindness he feels towards you, you must meet him half way and be sencible [sic] your own steady conduct alone can make him place confidence in you.’ This put Charlotte’s back up. ‘I am trying to conciliate the P.R. by all good means,’ she complained to Mercer, and in a thoroughly irritable condition prepared herself to go to a fête at Frogmore. This was her first appearance in public since her flight and banishment, and she was nervous.

‘We go in two carriages,’ she said. ‘I shall take Lady Ilchester in one, and let the others go in the other.’ She wished to make her entrance alone, untrammelled by the ‘whole train of nasty ugly women’, as she rudely described her ladies.

At this party she met the Duchess of York, who, contrary to Princess Mary’s dark warnings, ‘was perfect in her manner of meeting & conducting herself towards me; nothing could be better’. The Duke of York, conscious of their last encounter, was ‘awkward in manner but not unkind’; and the Regent, whom she had dreaded meeting, ‘just spoke, & good-naturedly, (the few words he did utter)’. He was closeted with ministers most of the evening, but when he left ‘he wished me good-bye & added a my dear to it’. She hoped that she was forgiven.

By degrees she was succeeding in calming her affronted relations. The Queen, to her surprise, was ‘remarkably good-humoured & gracious’; and indeed, now that the Princess of Wales had removed herself from the scene, Queen Charlotte’s attitude to her granddaughter underwent a change, and she began to act independently of the Prince, even to the point of standing up to him in defence of Charlotte’s rights.

[…]

Towards the end of August, at ‘a very seemly little musick party’ at Frogmore, Charlotte again had a tête à tête with her Aunt Mary, who was at her most amiable. She professed herself ‘all anxiety’ for her niece to marry. ‘I see no chance for you of comfort … without your marrying,’ she said. ‘All your family should be glad if there was anything that would do …’ But it seemed, when they discussed it further, that there was nothing that would do. Charlotte ‘joked’ about Prince Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who had been the Queen’s candidate. ‘Oh God, no,’ cried Princess Mary, and added, ‘I would be the last now to recommend … anyone in particular.’ But when Charlotte, apparently joking again, mentioned Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, her aunt ‘colored not a little’ and admitted, ‘I think from what I saw of him he is a very good looking & very gentlemanlike young man.’ ‘I don’t like him,’ said Charlotte, ‘for he does not suit my taste.’ At this her aunt ‘thought a little’ and then said quietly , ‘You don’t, you don’t.’ ‘She seemed quite satisfied & cheerful again,’ said Charlotte, ‘so that I suspect there is something there with her.’ It looks as if Princess Mary, trying to pick a husband for her niece, was in fact going through the list on her own behalf as well.

A few days later, evidently in answer to an enquiry on the subject from Mercer, Charlotte declared that she had no idea whether her Aunt Mary thought of the Prince of Coburg ‘in any particular way’, but her manner seemed to show that there was ‘something or other’. Princess Sophia, questioned about this by her niece, denied all knowledge of it, but said that Leopold could never be ‘worked’ as a husband for Charlotte, as ‘he had not a shilling’.

* The Hereditary Prince of Orange was her nephew.

[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]

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