Tag Archives: sir thomas lawrence

Family Politics

The year 1812 started propitiously for Charlotte. On January 7, her sixteenth birthday was handsomely acknowledged by the Family, and the Prince not only gave her, for the first time, a birthday present, but held a dinner party for her at Carlton House. ‘I think you will say, wonders never end,’ she said, reporting this to Mercer. The party consisted of her uncles York, Clarence and Cumberland, the Queen, a brace of princesses, Augusta and Mary (the Regent’s favourites), and was presided over by the Regent, ‘in so good a humour that they spoke of it with surprise’.

Before dinner their gracious host conducted them over ‘the whole of Carlton House’ showing off his latest acquisitions of paintings and furniture; and then they sat down amid ‘much joking and good humour’ to a splendid repast. Unfortunately Charlotte had to dine with her mother at Blackheath immediately afterwards, and so was unable to do full justice to the vast and delectable meal, at the end of which the Prince, oozing with amiability, toasted his mother in a large bumper. He does not appear to have toasted his daughter, whose birthday it was, but ‘I am never so happy,’ he said, ‘as when in the bosom of my family. I trust we may very often meet again in this way…and that your Majesty will do me the honour of frequently presiding at this board…’

‘I was thunderstruck,’ said Charlotte. But she found this excessive affection for his mother a disconcerting portent. Every change of mood, each wind that blew within the Royal Family, had its meaning: Charlotte was by now familiar with the signs. There were reasons, she felt certain, for this sudden attack of filial piety. ‘The Queen has quite got master of the Prince,’ she had observed a week earlier, and now she endorsed it, adding, ‘I know [it] is not a good sign with regard to his measures in Government&politics.’ ‘The Prince,’ she told Mercer, ‘is quite governed by his mother and the Manchester Square folks.’ These were the Hertfords, staunch Tories. Charlotte was not alone in her fears. ‘From now on,’ wrote Lord Holland, ‘the Prince was charged by the Whigs with ingratitude and perfidy. We all encouraged every species of satire against him and his mistress.’ The cartoonists licked their pencils: the print shops, said Charlotte, were full of ‘scurrilous caricatures’.

The Royal Family were beginning to regard Princess Charlotte as someone to be reckoned with: she held strong views and aired them freely. ‘Fortunately’, wrote Princess Mary in 1812, ‘Charlotte is not at all afraid of the Queen, as she runs on from subject to subject and into all her jokes with the Q., just as she does with us, and stands over Queen’s chair & yesterday afternoon kept the Queen laughing from eight o’clock until 10.’ Though they were to cross the swords in the future, the time came when Queen Charlotte developed a respect for her granddaughter and namesake and became her champion.

The young Princess was critical of what she called the Royal Menagerie, and commented shrewdly, if not always kindly, upon their characters. ‘No family,’ she asserted, ‘was ever composed of such odd people: and there have happened such extraordinary things, that in any other family…are never herd of before.’

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

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Picture: Portrait of Queen Charlotte by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1789, National Gallery

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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 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

Charlotte’s Family: Princess Mary

CHARLOTTE’S PATERNAL AUNT

Princess Mary by Sir Thomas Lawrence1

Mary (25 April 1776 – 30 April 1857) fourth daughter of George III of the United Kingdom and Charlotte of Mecklenburg – Strelitz, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh, Charlotte’s paternal aunt

Picture: Princess Mary by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c. 1817 – 1830, Royal Collection

Charlotte And Her Family

‘In her childhood, Charlotte abounded in good health and ebullient high spirits. She was a beautiful little girl, as may be seen from Lawrence’s portrait of her. Not yet aware of the brooding bitterness and hatred which divided her parents, she found herself the centre of a benevolent world, where her every word received attention, and her pretty ways were greeted with rapture. As we have seen, at one and a half she was already acknowledging the cheers of the crowd and joining in their shouts of ‘Huzza’. When, from a window overlooking the Mall, she saw Canning ride past and raise his hat, she tried to imitate his gesture and tore her muslin cap. The impression one gets from all the early recorded stories of Charlotte is of a happy recklessness, and a warm heart. From the first she singled out her grandpapa as the person she was fondest of: it was a rather touching relationship, doomed to end abruptly with the King’s final withdrawal into the darkness of disease in 1811.

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Royal Nursery: Miss Hayman

‘After Lady Elgin had been with the Princess for six months, Miss Garth was replaced by Miss Hayman, who was described as “rough in manner, right in principle, blunt in speech, tender in heart”. She arrived at Carlton House on June 1, 1797, and is the first person to give us a description of Princess Charlotte.

“My little charge was playing about. I took no notice of her at first, except to admire her great beauty and great likeness to the Prince. She soon began to notice me; showed all her treasures and played all her little antics, which are numerous. She is the merriest little thing I ever saw – pepper – hot too: if contradicted she kicks her little feet about in a great rage, but the cry ends in a laugh before you know well which it is”.’

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

Picture: a detail from the portrait by Thomas Lawrence

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