Tag Archives: princess charlotte of wales

Between One Tragedy and Another

Charlotte was still bleeding. Her uterus had not fully contracted after the birth. It was now shaped like an hour-glass, and it looked as though it was not going to contract any further. Rather than wait for the placenta to be expelled naturally, Croft and Sims decided to remove it by hand. When that was done, apparently successfully, the bleeding stopped.

At last Charlotte was given some nourishment – chicken broth and toast washed down with barley water. She was also given camphor julep to stimulate her heart, and soon afterwards she became animated and began to chatter a little hysterically.

Mrs Griffiths, who had been awake and in the same dress for three days and two nights, went away to wash and change.

‘How smart you are, Griffiths’, said Charlotte merrily when she returned. ‘Why did you not put on the silk gown, my favourite?’

Two hours later, when they had been reassured that the Princess was doing well, the sad and weary witnesses went home. Leaving Charlotte to sleep and Mrs Griffiths to watch over her, everyone else in the house went to bed.

Leopold went first to his study, to write a note telling his father-in-law what had happened. Then he went to a bedroom, lay down fully clothed and fell into a very deep sleep. He was miserable, but he was also exhausted, and it seems likely that Stockmar had given him a sedative.

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

The Child Is Stillborn

In the bedroom at Claremont, Charlotte’s sporadic contractions continued ineffectively throughout the day. By seven o’clock in the evening she was tired and hungry. She had had no sleep for thirty-six hours and nothing to eat for twenty-four. But pain and Sir Richard would allow her neither. Sometimes she walked up and down in front of the fire, leaning on Leopold’s arm. Sometimes she lay on the bed. Sometimes Leopold lay beside her. And sometimes she reached out and absent-mindedly played with his hair, as though no one else was there.

In the breakfast room, Dr Baillie, who had not yet been allowed to see the patient, received regular reports, reassuring him that all was going well. But at ten o’clock Croft came out, took him into the bedroom and told him that he might need to use forceps.

A groom was sent galloping up to London to fetch Dr Sims. He arrived at 2 a.m. on the following morning.

At 8.15 Croft and Sims came into the breakfast room and informed the witnesses that the Princess was making good but gradual progress and that they now hoped it would not be necessary to risk the use of forceps.

The hours went by. By now Charlotte was always in bed.

At around six o’clock in the evening, meconium, a child’s first faeces, which usually appear after birth, oozed out onto the sheets. It was the first sign that the baby was in distress.

In the course of the next three hours Charlotte gave birth to a boy. He was, as suspected, dead. The doctor and the accoucheur tried every trick they knew to revive him. They plunged him in a bath of warm water. They rubbed him with mustard. They rubbed him with salt. But it was to no avail.

Charlotte had kept her promise. She had neither bawled nor shrieked, and now, heartbroken and exhausted after fifty hours of labour, she kept it still. She bore it all, said Baillie, ‘with a Brunswick heart’. While Mrs Griffiths and the maids around her wept, it was Charlotte who tried to comfort them.

At 9 p.m. the witnesses were informed that Her Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte had been delivered of a still-born son. In keeping with custom, Mrs Griffiths carried in the little corpse for their inspection.

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

The Labour Begins

On Monday, when the labourers returned to work on the ‘improvements’ in the park, Charlotte drove down with Leopold to inspect their progress on the home farm and the ‘Gothick Temple’.

At around seven o’clock in the evening, the contractions began. As Charlotte climbed into the big bed that stood between the windows beneath a tall chintz canopy, she made a promise to Mrs Griffiths. ‘I will neither bawl nor shreik.’

Horses were saddled and grooms stood ready to ride off and summon the Privy Councillors who were required to be present as ‘witnesses’ at a royal birth.

The contractions continued: sharp, soft, painful, but not yet effective. Sir Richard Croft and Mrs Griffiths stood by the bed. Leopold was there as well.

At midnight Charlotte began to feel nauseous. At 3.30 Croft decided that it was time to send for the witnesses. One groom galloped across to Virginia Water to fetch Dr Baillie. The others headed off into the dark towards London.

A 5.15 the first to arrive was the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, who lived in Putney. The next, at 5.45, was the Home Secretary, who lived in Richmond. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was staying with the Bishop of London in Fulham, because it was closer than Lambeth, arrived at six o’clock. The last were the two who lived in central London: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who arrived at 7.30, and the Lord Chancellor, who arrived a quarter of an hour later.

Dr Baillie, despite living at Virginia Water, no further away than Richmond, only just made it before the Lord Chancellor.

The witnesses and Dr Baillie assembled in the breakfast room, which stood beside the bedroom and led into it through a large, thick door on the other side from Leopold’s dressing room. There was nothing to report, and there was nothing to be heard. Apart from their own whispers, the only sounds were the discontented chattering and occasional squawk from Coco, Charlotte’s parrot, whose stand was in the corner.

Down in the village, the gentlemen of the press, who had heard the news from the witnesses’ servants, began to assemble at the Beat.

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

Silence Before The Storm

When the newspapers reported that Sir Thomas Lawrence had left Claremont and returned to London, they still expected that, as the doctors had predicted, the Princess would give birth on 19 October. But 19 October came and went and all that they could say was that the Princess was still in the best health and driving out daily in her little phaeton.

The Queen was waiting for news at Windsor, hoping to visit Charlotte and her baby as soon as possible after the birth. But she had not been well for some time and on Saturday, 2 November, she went down to take the waters at Bath.

By then the Prince Regent had gone to stay with his mistress Lady Hertford and her husband at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire.

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

The following day [November 2] was a Sunday, and Charlotte, indomitable, drove out in her pony chaise. It was a lovely day, with all the colours of autumn displayed in the sunshine. After the drive, Charlotte and Leopold went to morning service in the chapel, which was filled with as usual with attendants and staff. The Princess cannot have been tired, for after the service she drove out again, with the devoted Leopold beside her. But her long-drawn-out pregnancy was becoming very wearisome, and she did not know that she had only one more day to wait, only one more drive round the estate, one more inspection of the work on the Home Farm and the building of her Gothic summer house.

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

A Prelude To Tragedy

Baillie and Croft had estimated that the Princess would give birth on 19 October, and at the end of August preparations began with the arrival of Mrs Griffiths [the nurse who had thirty years’ experience of midwifery]. When she was introduced to Charlotte and Leopold, they came into the room as they always did, arm-in-arm, and stood talking to her ‘in the most affable manner for half an hour’ without ever letting go of each other.

Mrs Griffiths was given a room on the top floor, and Leopold’s dressing room, which led off the bedroom, was equipped with a small bed for Sir Richard Croft, so that he would be close at hand when he was needed. As yet no arrangements had been made for Dr Sims. That could be done later if he had to be called. And there was no need to provide accommodation for Dr Baillie. Since he lived nearby at Virginia Water, he could drive over every day, and he could come quickly enough in the night if he was summoned.

Sir Richard Croft arrived two weeks after Mrs Griffiths and at once subjected Charlotte to a strict regime which, among other things, was designed to reduce her weight. The accoucheur replaced her usual and favourite luncheon, a mutton chop and a glass of port, with no more than tea and toast. He gave her purges. He bled her regularly.

Dr Stockmar was amazed and appalled. This ‘lowering treatment’ might still be fashionable in England, but it was no longer regarded as even sensible in Europe. ‘I gave the Prince a long lecture’, he wrote, ‘and intreated him to make my observations known to the physicians of the Princess’. But whether Leopold did or not has not been recorded.

As Charlotte grew weaker with the regime, she began to have little bouts of gloom. She told Leopold that she thought she might die, and she did not want to see the new clothes that had been made for her baby. She had chosen them eagerly from patterns and samples, but when they arrived she had them put away without looking at them. It was as though she thought it might be bad luck if she did, and it was not something that the experienced Mrs Griffiths had ever seen a mother do before.

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

Charlotte Sits To Sir Thomas Lawrence

And so it was that Charlotte, without he stays, sat to Sir Thomas Lawrence at the beginning of October, only a few weeks before the birth. Lawrence, who nearly twenty years before, had painted Charlotte and her mother at Blackheath, now spent nine days at Claremont, working on the new portrait, which Charlotte intended as a birthday present for her husband. The artist, accustomed to study faces, had an opportunity to scrutinize the Princess whom he had not seen since her infancy, and his account of her and her tranquil life with Leopold is, at this point, reassuring.

‘Their mode of life,’ he said, ‘is very regular. They breakfast together alone about eleven: at half past she came in to sit for me, accompanied by Prince Leopold, who stayed great part of the time. About three she would leave the painting room to take her airing round the grounds in a low phaeton with her ponies, the Prince always walking by her side …’ At five, she sat for Lawrence again, and the whole household dined together at soon after seven. After dessert, the Prince and Princess went together into the drawing-room, where they played and sang together – ‘sitting at the pianoforte, often on the same stool …’ But when the company joined them, they broke off, and, after coffee, everybody played cards, the Prince and Princess being always partners.

There was no doubt, Leopold had tamed her. Princess Charlotte, said Lawrence, ‘had nothing of the hoyden, or of that boisterous hilarity which has been ascribed to her’, and he was charmed by her straight-forward honesty, and something about her which reminded him of ‘the good King, her grandfather’.

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

Doctors Are Chosen But Some Bad Omens Appear

The optimism of the press and the market was not always shared by those who saw Charlotte, however. Lady Holland described ‘strange abnormal symptoms’. Several people said the Princess was so large that she was likely to have twins, and the Queen, who had as much experience of pregnancy as almost anyone, said that ‘her figure was so immense (to me not natural) that I could not help being uneasy to a considerable degree’.

Before setting out on a visit to Rome, Lady Ashbrook, who had grown close to Charlotte while they were both on holiday in Weymouth, called at Claremont and strongly recommended that she should engage Sir William Knighton as ‘accoucheur’. Knighton was a highly qualified physician who had studied at Aberdeen and Edinburgh. He had been made a baronet by Charlotte’s father, whom he had attended on a number of occasions, and he was widely regarded as by far the best ‘accoucheur’ in England.

When Lady Ashbrook returned from Rome, however, she discovered to her impotent anguish that Sir William had not been appointed. Dr Baillie, who, as the King’s Physician Extraordinary, was to be in charge of Charlotte’s confinement, had chosen his own brother-in-law, Sir Richard Croft, instead.

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

Three doctors were in charge of the Princess: Sir Richard Croft, Dr. Matthew Baillie, the Royal Physician, and Dr. John Sims, who was appointed as consultant to Sir Richard, and was ready to use instruments if the birth proved difficult. According to Sir Eardley Holland, who in 1952 published a profound and detailed study of Charlotte’s case, this appointment is open to discussion. Sims was an eminent botanist as well as a physician, but ‘one wonders,’ writes Sir Eardley, ‘how much time Sims had left for midwifery’. There were, he adds, at least three skilful doctors in London who would have been better fitted for the job.

Stockmar, who was Leopold’s resident physician, resolutely refused to be appointed, or to undertake any part of the treatment, such as bleeding. He believed that if anything were to go wrong, he, as a foreigner, would be blamed.

Sir Richard Croft was fifty-five, a fashionable accoucheur, who had attended the Duchess of Devonshire at the birth of her son, the sixth Duke, who was to become Charlotte’s admirer and friend. Stockmar describes Sir Richard as ‘a long thin man, no longer very young’ (the staff at Claremont called him ‘the old gentleman’), ‘fidgetty and good-natured, and,’ he adds drily, ‘seems to have more experience than either learning or understanding’. Croft had firm theories about pre-natal treatment, and prescribed for Charlotte, who had a healthy appetite, a very plain and frugal diet. He wanted to reduce her weight: so she was blooded and purged; she was also ordered to remove her stays. ‘A cow,’ he asserted, ‘does not wear stays; why should the Princess Charlotte?’

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

Picture: Matthew Baillie (1761–1823), F.R.S., after Hoppner by Henry Bone, 1817, Metropolitan Museum of Art