Tag Archives: the assembly rooms

Charlotte Enjoys Her Holidays

Gradually, Charlotte began to relax, and allow the tranquil air of Weymouth to calm and invigorate her. She had not been there since she was a child; now she enjoyed visits to curious and ancient places like any other tripper: she was fascinated by Portland and Chesil Beach, and her interest in old buildings – chiefly derived from the reading of Gothic romance – was stimulated by a visit to Corfe Castle.

The town of Weymouth provided her with plenty of entertainment, and she was excited to discover a smuggler who was selling ‘the most delightful French silks at 5 shillings a yard. I am going to be after him,’ she vowed. Weymouth was harbouring a vast amount of French merchandise, and she saw French women, selling prints from Bordeaux. ‘You never saw such odd looking people.’

‘The visit of Princess Charlotte renders this place a continued scene of splendour and gaiety,’ wrote the Salisbury & Winchester Gazette; ‘the sands are every day crowded with rank, beauty and fashion.’ Charlotte’s friends from Windsor, Lord and Lady Ashbrook, arrived to stay at Russell’s Royal Hotel, in company with other noble personages, and the Solicitor General. The Princess began to entertain at Gloucester Lodge, inviting ‘a select party’ to hear Signor Rivolta, ‘the celebrated Italian minstrel’ who gave a most unusual concert, playing on eight instruments at once. Charlotte, we are told, was ‘highly gratified’, so perhaps Signor Rivolta was gifted as well as ingenious.

On the anniversary of her grandfather’s Jubilee, she gave a party which was distinguished by a fireworks display, culminating in a ‘set piece’ in the form of an illuminated portrait of the King. The party was followed by a ball at the Assembly Rooms, ‘attended by all the rank and fashion here’.

Day after day, in spite of the time of year, she bathed in the sea before breakfast and, like her grandfather, benefited from it. She soon felt well enough to go sailing, and H.M.S. Zephyr, sloop of war, was at her service. On what the newspaper correspondent described as ‘a most heavenly day’ the Princess and her suite were conveyed in the royal barge to the Zephyr, which was commanded by Captain Creyke. ‘A royal salute was fired, the yards manned, the royal standard hoisted and every other complimentary honour was shown to her Royal Highness.’ The party sailed along the coast as far as St. Alban’s Point, ‘and we were happy to find out that the Princess experienced no unpleasant effects’. On the contrary she enjoyed herself, and wanted to go again. Sailing became her favourite pastime, and she loved watching all the pageantry of the Naval vessels exercising in the Channel.

The Bishop felt it incumbent upon him to send a report of Charlotte’s health to Windsor. It was very greatly improved, he said. ‘Her spirits are uniformly good & her mind appears to be in a tranquil state. I am strongly inclined to think that she is really happy here.’

Alas, poor Bishop, he knew nothing of his Princess’s true state of mind. Nor did Mrs. Campbell, who Charlotte now decided was well meaning and kind-hearted but who irritated her by talking of her ‘happiness’. How could she be happy? But ‘I must say,’ said Charlotte, ‘that I get every day more ignimatical to myself, & if so must be doubly so to them.’

Dr. Baillie had said that she should stay on at Weymouth as long as possible, and now she found that she wanted to. ‘I have no objection to remain here, as I certainly amuse myself infinitely better, & am more comfortable than at Cranbourne.’ Away from Windsor and family politics, her anxieties seemed less overwhelming. Nevertheless, the smiling face which she showed to the Weymouth crowds was not expressive of her inmost feelings. The turquoise heart was lost for good, and so, she began to believe, was Prince August.

She could not stop loving him; she invented reasons for his neglect of her. Nobody will ever know what was the attraction which drew her to this vain and heartless Prussian officer, but it was strong, and she could not free herself. ‘I think & think about how it will be, & how it will all turn out,’ she said. Sometimes she felt cheerful and confident, at others she was cast down to the depths of despair, and felt that the whole thing was hopeless. In her letters to Mercer she returned again and again to what she called ‘the constant subject of my thoughts’.

It seems likely that Mercer never favoured Prince August, and was working against him. She certainly broke up a tete a tete between the Prince and Charlotte when Miss Knight was encouraging the affair; and later the Princess told her, ‘I never heard one piece of good news about F from you since the business began.’ Perhaps Mercer was trying to spare Charlotte pain, knowing that the frail romance was bound to break up: certainly there is every indication that she discouraged it.

(…)

It became imperative to know how things stood with F. He must be made to write. Mercer had been sent extracts copied from his letters, to prove that he did still love Charlotte: she was now asked to draft a sort of ultimatum to him, for the Princess to send. ‘It is impossible,’ Charlotte told her, ‘to put it better or more forcibly than you do.’

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

Picture: Ruins of Corfe Castle from the outer bailey, source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corfe_Castle#/media/File:Corfe_Castle,_Dorset.jpg

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A Bad Omen

Gloucester Lodge, a handsome red brick building on the Esplanade, stands still, commanding a fine view of Weymouth Bay.* It was built in 1780 by the Duke of Gloucester, ‘Silly Billy’s’ father, and was lent by him to King George III as a summer residence. Year after year till his final collapse, the King with his family enjoyed the benefits of Weymouth’s air and sea water, and made the little town’s fortune.

‘Weymouth was a gay place in those days [1805-6],’ wrote the Hon. Amelia Murray. ‘Two Royal yachts and three frigates in the bay; a picturesque camp of sharpshooters on the look-out; Hanoverian cavalry careering on the sands, and singing their fine musical choruses as they passed along the road; an infantry regiment, with its lively band; beautiful girls and charming children on the Esplenade; the King, Queen and Royal Family walking among their subjects …’

It was still, in 1814, a fashionable watering place, with its Theatre Royal, and its Assembly Rooms, where balls were held, and strict rules of etiquette were laid down. Gentlemen might not appear in boots, or ladies in riding habits. No one would be permitted to dance in coloured gloves. Gentlemen were requested to leave their swords st the door, and – very reasonably – no dogs would be admitted.

When the King came to Weymouth, the countryside for miles round was stirred up by his arrival, and, as Thomas Hardy describes in The Trumpet Major, numbers of people made their way up to the top of the downs, to wait half through the night for the passing of the royal carriages. ‘Thank God, I have seen my King!’ exclaimed a loyal subject after the great post-chariot, drawn by four horses, had dashed by in the light of dawn; but all she had seen, in point of fact, was ‘a profile reminding her of the current coin of the realm’.

Princess Charlotte decided that the people should see more of her than a profile, and ‘with plenty of cloaks & such like good things’ drove in an open barouche. When she arrived in Weymouth it was a little after eight, and starlight. The esplanade was filled with people, and the troops of the 17th Hussars were lined up to greet her, with the band playing ‘God Save the King’, accompanied by cheers.

It was a heartening and auspicious arrival, or so it seemed: and she was pleased with her bedroom, which had been the Queen’s, and had big windows looking over the sea. So had the drawing-room, ‘which is a very large comfortable room with large sophas at each end of it’. On one of these ‘sophas’, soon after her arrival, she sat with her feet up to rest her knee, and played ‘bagammon’ with General Garth. There was no quarrel this time, but for Charlotte the discovery of a disaster which cast a cloud over her first days in Weymouth. A little turquoise heart had fallen out of the ring which she had been given by Prince August. ‘Thank God the ring is safe on my finger,’ she said, but the stone could nowhere be found. She knew that she had had it when she arrived, ‘so that I still have a hope the maid may find it when she sweeps the room in the mg …’ Pathetically, she demanded of Mercer ‘whether you think it is unlucky&promises any ill luck, or will bring any’.

The turquoise heart was never found, and Charlotte, who had vowed that she would never remove the ring from her finger, continued vainly searching. A heart made of turquoise, the cheapest of stones, could easily have been replaced: but ‘you know,’ she wrote, ‘what a treasure it is to me, and what an inestimable value I set on it.’

It was a sad beginning to her holiday, and the silence from ‘F’** himself nagged at her constantly, so that she did not benefit from the amenities of Weymouth as quickly as she might have done. ‘I had such a horror of coming to this place,’ she wrote, ‘that I cannot but think it will bring no good to the F business.’

*It is now a hotel.
**Prince August

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

picture source