Tag Archives: sir john douglas

The Princess of Wales Has Friends in High Places

‘The Prince of Wales was bitterly disappointed. His father’s ministers had let him down. Their disapproval was not enough. They had found him no grounds for divorce.His wife, on the other hand, was self – righteously triumphant. During the “Delicate Investigation” the King had not visited her, and he had not invited her to visit him. But now that she had been acquitted by his arbitrary tribunal, she felt that it was his duty to acknowledge her innocence publicly by inviting her to court again. She wrote to the King asking him to receive her, but the King was not so sure that he should. There was much in the report that could not be condoned. So the Princess of Wales decided to write to him again. Since she had not been allowed to present her defence to the committee in Downing Street, she would present it to the King in Windsor instead.With the best but biased legal advice from Spencer Perceval, who had recently resigned the office of Attorney General after the death of Pitt, she laid out her detailed rebuttal of every charge that the Dougleses had brought against her. Her letter, dated 2 October, was so long that it became known sarcastically as “The Book”.

Nine weeks later, when she had received no reply, not even an acknowledgement, the Princess wrote to the King again begging for him to receive her and restore her reputation. At the same time, however, in a barely veiled threat, she arranged to have copies of “The Book” printed.

Nevertheless, it was another seven weeks before the Lord Chancellor’s office informed the Princess that, despite his reservations, the King was now ready to receive her. But week after week went by without any invitation arriving.

Eventually, on 5 March 1807, five months after her first letter, the Princess of Wales lifted the veil from her threat. If she did not receive an invitation within the next week, she would publish “The Book”.’

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

‘”I am a real Brunswick, and do not know what fear is,” the Princess had told Lady Douglas, and now she was fearless in her determination to be accepted once more by the Royal Family. She had her supporters and sympathizers, and some powerful political friends. Lord Eldon, the ex-Lord Chancellor, and Spencer Perceval, later to become Tory Prime Minister, were her advisers, and with their assistance she drew up a document giving a detailed defence of her
conduct, which, under the title of “The Book”, she threatened to publish. On May 18, 1807, it was reported that the Princess of Wales had appeared at the Opera and at the Queen’s Drawing Room. Although greeted with marked frigidity by Queen Charlotte, the Princess had a riotous reception at Covent Garden. She felt that she had won. The Book was withdrawn.’

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

‘By then the gossips in London society had exhausted their imaginations speculating about what “The Delicate Investigation” had discovered and about what might be in “The Book”. To the press and the general public, who knew very little about the Princess of Wales and a great deal that they did not like about her husband, she was a wronged woman who deserved their support. The reputation of the royal family sank even further.

Spencer Perceval believed, and indeed hoped, that publication of “The Book” would bring down the government that had treated the Princess so shoddily. But, as it turned out, there was never any need for publication. A few days later, the coalition government destroyed itself. The Cabinet resigned, bitterly divided over whether or not Roman Catholics should be allowed to sit in Parliament and hold commissions in the army.

The Tories were returned to the office. George Canning became Foreign Secretary and Spencer Perceval became Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Princess of Wales had friends in high places.

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

caroline and spencer perceval

Picture: Caroline of Brunswick and Spencer Perceval

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The Princess’ Servants Keep Gossiping

‘On 31 May, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Solicitor General assembled at Number 10 Downing Street. In the course of that session and the many that followed, they examined the Douglases, several doctors, all the servants who now worked for the Princess and most of those who had ever worked for her.

Their evidence was not as helpful as the Prince had hoped, however. They could not corroborate the story that his wife was the mother of William Astin. Apart from anything else, there was a Mrs Astin who called herself his mother and came over regularly from Deptford to visit him.

As far for the men named in the rumours and the “written declarations”, there was no hard evidence that any of them had actually committed treasonable adultery with the Princess. George Canning was just one of her many visitors. Although she had been seen kissing Captain Manby and sitting very close to Sir Sidney on a sofa, no one had caught her with either of them in any more compromising circumstances. Although Sir Thomas had twice stayed at the house, he had remained in his room all night.’

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

‘Servants’ gossip was the chief material of this far from delicate investigation. Some had said that the Princess was in the family way, others thought not, though “she grew lusty and appeared large behind”; but her page, Thomas Stikeman, who had been with her since her marriage, stated that “from her shape it is difficult to judge when she is with child…When she was with child of the Pss Charlotte,” he added, “I should not have known it when she was far advanced in her time, if I had not been told it.”

The Inquiry was interested to find out whether or no the Princess had committed adultery with any of the gentlemen who were in the habit of visiting her. Among these was a Captain Thomas Manby, R.N., who was in constant attendance when his ship the Africaine was in dock, and who apparently turned up in a boat when the Princess went to stay at Southend and Margate. Needless to say, the servants named him as Caroline’s lover, and there were stories of their being discovered together in compromising attitudes, all of which Captain Manby, when questioned, firmly denied.

Sir Thomas Lawrence, commissioned by the King to paint the Princess and her daughter, was also accused by the servants of unconventional behaviour. It was alleged that several times he slept in the house. This he firmly admitted, as it had been “for the greater convenience of executing his painting”. “I have likewise,” he declared, “been graciously admitted to her Royal Highness’s presence in the evenings, and remained there till twelve, one, and two o’clock.” But, lest anyone should misunderstand this statement, he quickly added that he had never been alone with the Princess.

Admiral Sir Sidney Smith, safely at sea, made no attempt to defend himself against the accusations of pages and footmen, including one William Cole, whose evidence cannot have been entirely reliable. The Princess dismissed him from her service in 1802, but Cole kept in close touch with the staff at Montague House, and now stated confidently that “Mr. Bidgood’s wife has lately told him, that Fanny Lloyd told her, that Mary Wilson had told Lloyd, that one day, when she went into the Princess’s room, she found the Princess and Sir Sidney in the fact; that she [Wilson] immediately left the room, and fainted at the door”.’

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

Princess Caroline by Thomas Lawrence, 1804, National Portrait Gallery

Portrait: Caroline of Brunswick by Thomas Lawrence, 1804, National Portrait Gallery

The Delicate Investigation Begins

‘The Prince took the Douglases’ ‘written declarations’ to the Lord Chancellor, who felt that in the light of the last allegations there had to be some sort of enquiry. So the Lord Chancellor went to the Prime Minister, and then, to the further delight of the Prince, the Prime Minister went to the King.

At first King George was reluctant to do anything. He was fond of the Princess of Wales. Despite her estrangement from his son, he still visited her often at Blackheath. But eventually he was persuaded and gave orders for what became known as “The Delicate Investigation”.’

king george and prince of wales

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

Sir John and Lady Douglas Talk To The Prince of Wales

‘Sir John Douglas, after distinguished service in the Marines, had been appointed Equerry to the Duke of Sussex. (…) His wife was handsome in a flashy, gipsy way, and was the last person who should have been favoured with Princess Caroline’s confidences. She lapped up every word that was poured out so lavishly and indiscreetly by her friend, observing her with her hard black eyes all that went on at Montague House, where numerous gentlemen dined and spent the evening (and sometimes, it was rumoured, the night), and where, in the day-time, babies were allowed to take possession of the downstairs rooms.’
[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]

 

For a few years Sir John and Lady Douglas had been the closest of friends with the Princess of Wales. But she had rejected them so completely and cruelly that they were determined to have their revenge. They were now prepared to reveal everything they knew, or claimed to know, about her, and in the course of several long sessions with the Prince and his advisers, they told it all in great detail.

All the stories of lovers were true, they said. The Princess was insatiable. She had even embarrassed the beautiful but vulgar Lady Douglas by regularly making intimate advances to her. Worst of all, they claimed, they could confirm that she had indeed given birth to a child.

Among the seven or eight poor children whom the eccentric Princess had adopted informally and then farmed out to live with friends, there was one favourite, William Austin, whom she kept in her household. According to the Douglases, the Princess had told them that the boy was her own son. Furthermore she had told both of them and others that the father was none other than the Prince of Wales. The child had been conceived, she said, during an attempted reconciliation on her last visit to Carlton House.

If the last part of that story had been true, it would have had devastating implications. It would have meant that little “Willikin” and not Charlotte was second in line to the throne of England. But the Prince of Wales knew better than anyone that it was not true, although, to his delight, he could not be so sure about the rest of the story, or indeed about any of the others.

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

caroline lady douglas and george

Whose Child is Willikin?

‘The child which she claimed to be her own eventually made its appearance – a puny little creature named William Austin, who was said to be the son of a Deptford dock labourer and his wife. This may have been true; but years later Caroline swore that this baby was the bastard son of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who was smuggled into England and exchanged for the docker’s son. Prince Louis Ferdinand had been her lover, she said, when she was a girl, and she brought up the boy for his sake. Certainly Willikin, as she called him, was her favourite child, invariably given pride of place, pampered and spoiled, though by all accounts he displayed neither charm nor intelligence. “A sickly looking child with fair hair and blue eyes,” was Charlotte’s description of him.

There was also a girl, whom the Princess named Edwardina Kent: there was no question of the Duke of Kent having fathered her; she was probably the illegitimate child of Admiral Sir Sidney Smith,* who was one of Caroline’s courtiers at Blackheath, and who was an intimate friend of the Douglases.

* But the Princess had another story: Edwardina, she said, was the child of Irish parents “of the upper class” who, being forced to flee from their home, had left the infant with “a poor old peasant woman who lives at Blackheath.’

NPG D38618; William Austin by W. Nicholls, published by  Hassell & Co, after  John Raphael Smith

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

Picture: William Austin

The Rumours Are Spreading About Princess Caroline…

‘His daughter’s will was not the only family business with which the Prince of Wales burdened his father’s ministers in the spring of 1806.

Like everyone in London society, the Prince had heard scores of lurid stories about the life his wife was leading in Blackheath. It was said that her dinner parties often ended in unseemly games of blind man’s buff, that she was in the habit of leaving the room with gentlemen guests and not returning for more than an hour, that she had given birth to a child and that she had had dozen of lovers, among them the treasurer of the navy, George Canning, two naval officers, the dashing Captain Sir Sidney Smith and Captain Thomas Manby, and the painter Sir Thomas Lawrence, who was known to have slept in her house while painting her portrait.

If the Prince could prove the worst of these stories, there was a chance that might be allowed to bring an action for divorce against his wife; towards the end of 1805 he was approached by a Lieutenant – Colonel of marines, Sir John Douglas, with what looked like all the proof he needed.’

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

Henry Pierce Bone, George IV, 1840

Picture: George IV by Henry Pierce Bone from http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/the-collectors/george-iv