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Charlotte’s Funeral

In a nation still sunk in economic depression, the focus for hope had been taken away. But for the time being the people were still united, although it was only grief that united them. Public buildings were draped in black. Everyone who could afford it was dressed in black. Even the most destitute unemployed labourers were wearing ragged black armbands. Every place of worship, whatever the religion, prepared to hold a memorial service. Shops, most of which still displayed the portraits of Charlotte and Leopold that had been put there for their wedding, closed for business and they, when they opened again, filled their windows with mementoes – glass, pottery, porcelain, pewter, all engraved or crudely painted with Charlotte rising through an escort of angels to take her place in the heavenly palace. A fund was established to pay for a fitting marble memorial, and the poor were as eager to contribute as the rich: among the long list of ‘subscribers’ there is an unnamed child who gave sixpence. The national grief and sentimental melancholy were unprecedented. No monarch, no minister, no national hero had ever been so deeply mourned as ‘the Beloved Princess’.

(…)

On 15 November Charlotte’s heavy state coffin was delivered to Claremont. It was made of mahogany, studded in gold and covered in crimson velvet. The little Prince’s coffin was smaller, with silver studs instead of gold. The simple inner coffins were placed inside them. The urn containing the child’s heart was wrapped in velvet.

In the early evening of 18 November a black carriage drawn by six black horses set off down the drive for Windsor carrying the little Prince and his heart. Charlotte followed in a hearse drawn by eight black horses with tall black plumes. Leopold rode in the carriage behind, accompanied only by Dr Short.

They were escorted by a squadron of the 10th Hussars. At Egham the Hussars were relieved, and the escort for the rest of the journey was provided by the Royal Horse Guards. It was late and dark when they arrived in Windsor. While Charlotte was installed in Lower Lodge, her son was laid in his temporary resting place in the Royal Vault in St George’s Chapel. When the short service was over, Leopold went down to the lodge and spent the rest of the night, as usual, sitting beside Charlotte.

Next day Charlotte lay in state at Lower Lodge. At eight o’clock in the evening her heavy coffin was carried up to St George’s Chapel by eight Yeomen of the Guard, one of whom injured his spine under the strain and died soon afterwards. Leopold walked behind them, his solemn face streaked with tears. Behind Leopold came the Royal Dukes of York, Clarence, Cumberland and Sussex. Behind the Dukes came the Cabinet, then the Archbishops, the Bishops, the officers of state and all the members of the royal households. On either side, in front of huge silent crowds, their path was lined by foot guards and lit by the burning torches that were carried by every fourth guardsman instead of a reversed musket.

The Prince Regent was not there. Nor was the Queen. He was moping in Carlton House, and she and her sobbing daughters were in her apartments nearby in the castle, listening to the bells and the muffled drums.

The service, which was disrupted at the outset by a few squabbles over seating, lasted until eleven o’clock. When it was over, Leopold waited in the deanery until the congregation had dispersed. Then he went down with Dr Short and stayed praying for a long time in the Royal Vault, where his wife and son were to remain until the tomb and the memorial that the people were buying for them were ready.

In the weeks that followed, Leopold lived alone and inconsolable at Claremont. On 16 December Sir Thomas Lawrence came down to deliver the finished portrait of Charlotte. When they saw it, the entire household burst into tears. Leopold, said Lawrence, ‘was greatly affected’ and spoke to him in ‘that low subdued voice that you know to be the effort at composure’.

In his precise English accent, the Prince lamented:

Two generations gone. Gone in a moment! I have felt for myself, but I have felt for the Prince Regent. My Charlotte is gone from this country – it has lost her. She was good, she was an admirable woman. None could know my Charlotte as I did know her! It was my happiness, my duty to know her character, but it was my delight!

Meanwhile, public sorrow evolved into recrimination. The press blamed the Queen and the Prince Regent for not being with Charlotte when she died, although, had they known it, Charlotte had said that she did not want them at birth. They blamed the doctors, and some of the doctors blamed themselves. Sir Richard Croft, who may already have been contemplating suicide, wrote to Stockmar, ‘May God grant that neither you nor any connected with you may suffer what I do at this moment.’*

*He indeed committed suicide three months after Charlotte’s death.

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

Painting: The Apotheosis of Princess Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales (1796-1817) by Henry Howard, RA, 1818, Petworth House and Park, West Sussex, London and South East, National Trust http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/486162

Charlotte’s Death

Just after midnight, Charlotte felt sick. Her pulse was racing and there was ringing in her ears. She vomited and brought up the camphor julep with the broth. Then she quietened for a few minutes and her pulse-rate lowered. And then she clutched her stomach and cried out, ‘Oh, what a pain! It is all here!’

Mrs Griffiths rushed into the dressing room and woke Sir Richard Croft. When he reached Charlotte moments later Croft found that she was very cold and breathing with difficulty, and she was bleeding again. But, although the accepted and often successful treatment for a post-partum haemorrhage such as this was the application of cold water, Croft decided to warm the patient up by applying hot water bottles and blankets to her abdomen. The bleeding continued.

Croft then sent a footman to bring Baillie and Sims. Baillie decided that what the Princess needed was a good dose of wine and brandy. While he was administering them, Croft went off in search of Stockmar.

Stockmar woke to find Croft holding his hand. The Princess was in danger. The Prince must be told.

Stockmar dressed and went to wake Leopold, but the Prince was so deeply asleep that it took time to wake him, and then he was so drowsy that he barely understood what was being said.

After about a quarter of an hour a footman came. Dr Baillie wanted Dr Stockmar to see the Princess. For a moment Stockmar hesitated. He was reluctant to get involved. Then he went.

When he entered the bedroom, Baillie was still trying to administer wine. The Princess was tossing from side to side, breathing heavily and obviously in great pain.

‘Here comes an old friend of yours’, said Baillie.

Charlotte stretched out her left hand, grabbed Stockmar’s and pressed it ‘vehemently’. ‘They have made me tipsy’, she said.

While he held her hand, Stockmar surreptitiously took her pulse. ‘It was very quick; the beats now full, now weak, now intermittent.’

After another quarter of an hour there was a rattle in Charlotte’s throat. Stockmar went off to get Leopold. But as he crossed the breakfast room he heard Charlotte shouting beyond the closed door behind him: ‘Stocky! Stocky!’

Stockmar went back. Charlotte did not see him. She turned on her face, drew up her knees to her chest and fell silent. Stockmar took her cold hand and searched for a pulse. There was none. ‘The flower of Brunswick’ had faded. ‘The Daughter of England’ was dead.

Stockmar went to break the news to Leopold but, when at last he had woken him, he did it, by his own admission, ‘in no very definite words’.

Leopold was still very drowsy. As he and Stockmar made their way to the bedroom, he sank into a chair in the breakfast room. He still thought Charlotte was alive. He asked Stockmar to go in and see how she was. Stockmar humoured him and went. Then he was blunt. ‘I came back and told him it was all over.’

Leopold went into the bedroom and knelt by the bed. He took Charlotte’s cold hands in his and kissed them – ‘those beautiful hands which at last while she was talking to others seemed always to be reaching out for mine’.

For a while he stayed there. Then Lieutenant-General the Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, who had sat impassive in the saddle through half a dozen military engagements, who had led a cavalry charge in one of the largest and longest battles in the history of Europe, stood up, turned, put his arms round Stockmar and whispered, ‘I am now quite desolate. Promise me to stay with me always.’

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

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]

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]

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