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