Tag Archives: sir sidney smith

The Delicate Investigation Finds Nothing Significant

‘While this sordid and trivial collection of of evidence slowly piled up at the Prime Minister’s house in Downing Street, the Princess was forbidden to see her daughter. Charlotte, now ten, had already before the Investigation, been debarred from playing with Willikin; and though she can hardly have minded, or at the time have known why, she must have had some idea of what was going on. Her acceptance of the situation, when it came, was clear-eyed, for in 1815 she told the Prince Regent and her aunt, Princess Mary, as if she had always known it, that Captain Manby was the father of William Astin, and that Edwardina Kent, the Princess’s “foundling” daughter, was her child by Sir Sidney Smith. She seems to have had no doubt.

The Inquiry, however, after careful consideration of all the statements, found that there was no proof of the Princess Caroline’s guilt. William Austin was, as she claimed, the son of a dock labourer, and the child’s mother, Sophia Austin, had appeared at Downing Street to confirm this. The Commissioners reported to the King that from the evidence there was no foundation for believing the Princess to have given birth to an illegitimate child in 1802. Nevertheless, they continued, other particulars respecting the conduct of Her Royal Highness “must, especially considering her exalted rank and station, necessairly give rise to very unfavourable interpretations”.’

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

 Caroline Princess of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence

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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

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

The Princess Just Wanna Have Fun

‘Montague House stood on the south – west corner of the park, in its own grounds, a pleasant country property. Caroline lived there for sixteen years, decorating it to please her rather freakish taste: one room was furnished “in the Turkish style” under the direction of Sir Sidney Smith. The Princess enjoyed entertaining, and her guests were made free of the house and the grounds. The Hon. Amelia Murray describes how her brother went to a party at Montague House, and in the garden “saw the Princess, in a gorgeous dress, which was looped up to show her petticoat, covered with stars, with silver wings on her shoulders, sitting under a tree, with a pot of porter on her knee; and as a finale to the gaiety, she had the doors opened of every room in the house, and, selecting a partner, she galloped through them, desiring all the guests to follow her example.”‘

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

NPG 244; Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Picture: Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1804, National Portrait Gallery