Tag Archives: the hon.margaret mercer elphinstone

The Dutch Marriage Plans

In July 1813, the Prince gave ‘a magnificent breakfast’ in the gardens of Carlton House, to celebrate the Battle of Vittoria. He wrote a glowing letter to Wellington, and sent him what he had himself desired and been denied, a field-marshal’s baton. A fortnight later, after the nine days’ fighting known as the Battle of the Pyrenees, Charlotte was writing to Mercer, ‘Of course I need not tell you that a great victory has been gained by Wellington upon Soult. I write before any particulars have reached me, except that the Prince of Orange has brought the dispatches & was to be in town last night…’ ‘It was a pang,’ she continued, ‘added to the many I have to endure here [at Windsor], as I am sure my miseries will be much added to by the plagues about him…’

Charlotte, at seventeen, was aware that plans were being made for her to marry, and that the Hereditary Prince of Orange was being talked of as a likely suitor. He was at present serving on Wellington’s staff in Spain, but she believed that he had been sent to England with dispatches in order that she might meet him, which she heartily dreaded. She was not averse to the idea of marriage, but she was determined have a say in the choice of her husband: she would not be married off, as her aunt, the Princess Royal, had been – and indeed, as her mother and grandmother had been – to a foreigner whom she had never seen.

Marriage with the Prince of Orange, was, diplomatically, an excellent idea. As Europe began to free itself from the Emperor’s domination, an alliance was planned by the British Government with the liberated Holland and Belgium, under the Dutch Stadholder. A marriage between the English Princess and his son, the Hereditary Prince, would triumphantly seal this alliance.

But for Charlotte there were other considerations: a misguided marriage would, she said, be ‘worse than death’. She wanted to know what the young man was like. Her friend Georgiana Fitzroy told her that the Hereditary Prince was ‘amiable, very agreeable and sensible, adored Lord Wellington, had excellent manners but was not good looking’. This was interesting, but not enough. A month later, Miss Fitzroy, who had walzed with the young man at Oatlands, wrote that he was the best waltzer that ever was, but ‘excessively plain’ and ‘as thin as a needle’. His hair, she said, was ‘excessively plain’ and his teeth, though good, stuck out excessively in front.

Perhaps it would have been better for all concerned if Charlotte had waited for a description from her older and more tactful friend, Mercer Elphinstone.

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

Picture: Portrait of William II of the Netherlands by Nicolaas Pieneman, 1849, current location unknown

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The Chance For Freedom Is Coming

Throughout all this Charlotte spent a large part of every day nursing Mrs Gagarin. She had not been well for several months, and by the end of March it seemed likely that she would not recover.

‘While she was capable of taking airings’, wrote Cornelia Knight, ‘her Royal Highness constantly sent her out in a carriage, and when she grew so weak as to be confined to her room, visited her two or three times a day, carried her in her arms to the window, and exerted every faculty to soothe and comfort her.’

Her death was recorded in the Gentleman’s Magazine:

‘July 1. At Warwick House, Mrs Gagarin, many years an affectionate and faithful attendant of the Princess Charlotte of Wales. Her last moments were solaced by the condescending and unremitting attentions of of her Royal Highness, reflecting a lustre on the native goodness of her heart, superior to all the appendages of her exalted rank.’

Charlotte, wrote Miss Knight, ‘was very low for a long time afterwards, though she endeavoured to suppress and conceal her feelings’.

Yet amid all this sadness and frustration there was one element of happiness – the presence of Mercer Elphinstone.

Mercer came down from Scotland in the middle of March and stayed until the end of July.

When she knew her friend was coming, Charlotte wrote to her father, saying that she had heard the news from a third party and asking his permission to see her. Their correspondence had been, as Charlotte put it, ‘conducted with such secrecy & prudence’ that the Prince was convinced they had not been in touch with each other. All Charlotte’s letters were still being open by his agents at the Post Office, and there had been no sign of it. He therefore acceded to what he regarded as a reasonable request.

There were some, including Cornelia Knight, who suspected that the Prince had written to Mercer saying that he would only let her see his daughter if she promised to persuade her not to be too supportive of her mother. But Mercer, who was always wary of Charlotte’s mother, would have done that anyway if she thought it appropriate.

For more than four months Charlotte and Mercer saw each other as often as they pleased. But the Prince Regent had forbidden Mercer to stay in the same house as Charlotte. So when Charlotte was in London, Mercer came round to Warwick House from her own house in Harley Street, and when Charlotte was in Windsor at Lower Lodge, Cornelia Knight arranged for Mercer to stay nearby with a friend, Mrs Hallam.

Throughout those months there were no letters. There is therefore no record of what they discussed. But there is no doubt that one of the most important topics was the rumour that Mercer mentioned in one of her last letters from Scotland.

In her reply Charlotte wrote that she too had heard it. Perhaps, if the Princess were willing to pay it, the price of freedom would soon be available.

It was being said that the Prince Regent and his ministers were planning to arrange a marriage between Princess Charlotte and the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

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

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The Prince Regent Is Becoming More And More Suspicious

For Charlotte the spring and summer of 1813 were for the most part dreary and sad. The only balls that she attended were in the houses of her father or her uncles, and at all of them the Prince Regent was as paranoid as ever.

At one ball, given by the Duke and Duchess of York, the Prince saw that his daughter was again sitting on a sofa talking to the Duke of Gloucester, for whom, if he only knew it, she did not have ‘the smallest partiality’. He instructed Lady Liverpool to go over and tell her to change places with Lady Bathurst, who was sitting on the other side of her. Instead of obeying, Charlotte stood up and strode out of the room. Later she went back and apologised to the Duke, and she went home, in the words of Cornelia Knight, ‘indignant and hurt at having been watched and worried’.

The Prince was equally suspicious of the Duke of Devonshire, who was certainly very attentive to Charlotte. But, as she told Mercer, he would bestow his attentions somewhere else, where they might at least be appreciated. Sir Henry Halford, who was fast becoming the Prince’s favourite messenger, was sent more than once to admonish the Duchess of Leeds and Miss Knight for not keeping a close enough watch when the Duke of Devonshire was around. And on another occasion he was sent to tell Miss Knight that the Prince was not pleased to learn that she and Charlotte had been seen out in her carriage one morning on the road to Chiswick, where the Duke was giving a breakfast party at his villa – to which Miss Knight pleaded honestly that life at Warwick House was so dull that they had simply gone out to all the fancy carriages drive by.

The Prince even forbade Charlotte to continue sitting for the painter George Sanders at his studio, because while she was there she was exposed to the bad influence of such visitors as Lady Jersey. Both the Duchess of Leeds and Miss Knight insisted defiantly that the pious painter and his studio were beyond reproach. Charlotte was having her portrait painted as a birthday present for her father, and the visitors were only there to see how it was coming on, sometimes at the Prince’s request. But it was to no avail, and since Sanders refused to paint at Warwick House, where the light was as bad as everything else, the birthday present was never finished.

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

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Picture: George Sanders, by Andrew Geddes, (c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation from the page https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/george-sanders-1774-1846/

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Charlotte’s First Ball

Despite the policy of ‘protracted childhood’, however, there was one sign that the Prince Regent might be relenting a little. Two days after the exchange in the Duke of York’s apartments, on 5 February, Charlotte was allowed to attend her first ball at Carlton House. The Duchess [of Leeds] and Miss Knight went with her. In accordance with fashion, they were ‘all in white’. The Duchess and Miss Knight wore white trimmed with gold. Charlotte wore white trimmed with silver, and for the first time, again in the height of fashion, she wore ostrich feathers in her hair.

For Charlotte, the ball was a bit of disappointment. She had been led to believe that it was being given for her, but when the time came it was Princess Mary and not Charlotte who was asked to lead off the dancing. She had hoped that she would be able to dance with the young Duke of Devonshire, but soon after she arrived she was told that he was indisposed.

The son of famously beautiful Duchess, Georgiana, the 23-year-old Duke of Devonshire was very deaf and consequently shy and silent. Charlotte had ‘liked him very much’ when she first met him. She was proud that she had put him at his ease and induced him to ‘talk a great deal’. But she was not attracted to him. As she told Mercer, ‘he is certainly very plain’.

Nevertheless, as with the Duke of Gloucester, Charlotte’s father was worried by his apparent interest in her, and particularly so in this case because the Duke of Devonshire was a leading Whig. ‘Really the Prince Regent is so excessively tiresome & absurd about everything of that sort’, she wrote to Mercer, ‘…& he is so suspicious always about my politics’. It may be therefore that the Duke was not present because the Prince had told him to stay away.

Without the young Duke, Charlotte could only dance with her uncles and other, much older, partners. As one of the other guests, Miss Mary Berry, put it, ‘all very magnificent, but such a lack of dancing young men and, indeed, women, I quite pitied the Princess Charlotte from the bottom of my heart for the dulness of the ball’.

But this, at least, was not due to any exaggerated caution on the part of the Prince Regent. There was a dearth of good dancing partners in London in 1813. Like George FitzClarence and Charles Hesse, most of the young men worth dancing with were serving with Wellington in Spain.

Cornelia Knight enjoyed the ball even less than the Princess. In the course of the evening the Prince Regent took her aside and subjected her to a long, detailed and embarrassing diatribe against his wife. At the end of it he ‘even accused her of threatening to declare that Princess Charlotte was not his daughter’.

Miss Knight was ‘horrified’. ‘I really knew not what to answer.’

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

alfred-edward-chalon

Picture: Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796-1817), Princess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld by Alfred Edward Chalon, c.1817-19, Royal Collection Trust

https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/405449/princess-charlotte-of-wales-1796-1817-princess-of-saxe-coburg-saalfeld

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Charlotte’s First Opening Of The Parliament

In December 1812, Princess Charlotte was invited to be present for the first time at the Opening of Parliament. This event, which should have been a happy and auspicious one for her, turned out to be a sore disappointment. Ignored by her father on her arrival at the House of Lords (she did not know that he had just had a carriage accident, and may have been a little ruffled), she was ordered to fall back in the procession: her three aunts, by the Prince Regent’s orders, were to go first: ‘so I,’ said the Heiress Presumptive, ‘went into the House the last.’

She refused to show that she minded: according to Lady Charlotte Bury, she talked and laughed animatedly, ‘turned her back often upon papa’, and during the Speech from the Throne, made no effort to conceal her dislike of the Tory complacency which it displayed. ‘I did not admire any of it, I may say,’ she told Mercer.

The Prince, said Lady Charlotte Bury, ‘was much displeased at her manner’, and he was probably even more displeased at her reception by the crowds on the return drive. Charlotte, in the second carriage with the Duke of Cumberland, observed with some satisfaction that her father, gorgeously dressed in the Regimentals of the 10th Hussars, was received in total silence; but ‘they were civil and good-humoured to me,’ she wrote, ‘&cheered as I past, shouting my name.’

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

george and charlotte1

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Charlotte In The Eyes of Contemporary People

Charlotte, at seventeen, was attractive, but too fat. She had been aware of this disadvantage for some time, and had made jokes about it, describing herself packing up for the sea-side, ‘Figure to yourself my quizzical figure puffing over a trunk this hot weather.’ In winter, it was worse, when the weather was too bad to go out riding. ‘I really am afraid you will be shocked to see me grown so fat,’ she wrote to Mercer in 1811, confessing that it was entirely due to lack of exercise. She hated walking for walking’s sake (so did Queen Victoria as a girl); she had ‘no one to waltz with to play at billiards, or any of the gymnastic games wh. I should much delight in’. Evidently her circulation suffered too. ‘I feel the cold most amazingly,’ she said, ‘& begin to think that a warm pelisse would not be a disagreeable thing.’ In the winter of 1812-13 she had a heavy cold and cough, and lost her ‘apitite’. ‘Sir Henry’s prescriptions do not make me thin,’ she said crossly, ‘and do me no good.’

After her dismal sojourn at Lower Lodge she described herself as being ‘a great deal thinner’, but this did not last. Lady Charlotte Bury, who had been a beauty and was critical, said that her figure was ‘of that full round shape which is now in its prime’, but added that the princess disfigured herself by having her bodices cut so short, which made her look as if she had no waist. Her legs and feet, she admitted, were very pretty; but ‘her Royal Highness knows that they are so, and wears extremely short petticoats’.

This critical lady gave it as her opinion a few months later that ‘her figure is already gone, and will soon be precisely like her mother’s: in short, it is the very picture of her, and not in miniature.

This was unkind, and inaccurate. While the Princess of Wales had a large head, a short neck and a protuberant bosom, her daughter’s head was small and her neck long and graceful: she was broad-shouldered and full-breasted, but the upper part of her body was well-proportioned.

Evidently, from another critical description, she was too broad in the beam. This account, written a year later by Catherine, Grand-Duchess of Oldenberg to her brother the Tsar, gives a very clear portrait of the young princess, whom she calls the most interesting member of the family.

‘A little smaller than myself (the Grand-Duchess was tall) ‘well covered, especially-and too much-about the hips; white, fresh and appetising as possible, with fine arms, pretty feet, large light blue lively eyes, altho’ upon occasion they get the fixed stare of the House of Brunswick. She is blonde, has a handsome nose, a delicious mouth and fine teeth; a few tiny marks of the small pox, but scarcely visible…’

But the Duchess could not get over Charlotte’s manners. ‘So extraordinary that they take one’s breath away. I assure you I’m not exaggerating. She walks up to any man, young or old, especially to the older men, takes them by the hand, and shakes it with all her strength, and she seems to have plenty to spare. When she walks, she bounces, and steps with such vigour that one does not know where to look because her clothes are so tight-fitting and do not come down below the thick of the calf, so that at every motion it seems as tho’ she were going to show her knee. She looks like a boy, or rather a ragamuffin. I really am telling you nothing but the strictest truth. She is ravishing, and it is a crime to have allowed her to acquire such habits.

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

charlotte augusta by joseph lee 1814

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Charlotte’s Loyalty To Mercer Elphinstone

The Prince was now Regent with Unrestricted Powers, and finally abandoned his Whig friends: the moderate Whigs, Grey and Grenville, had refused his invitation to join the Government and form a coalition; and Spencer Perceval remained the leader of a Tory administration*. Charlotte, strongly in favour of reform, Catholic Emancipation and all that the Whigs stood for, was learning not to discuss politics in the family, but she felt very bitterly her father’s desertion of the party, and, according to Lord Glenbervie, wept when she heard the news. The Regent was aware of her attitude, and believed her to be strongly influenced by Mercer. He determined to break the friendship(…)

The doors of Carlton House were closed to members of the Opposition, and Mercer Elphinstone was asked to cease her correspondence with Princess Charlotte. Meanwhile, the Queen had taken up the cudgels on her son’s behalf, and summoned her granddaughter for a little talk on the subject of Royalty and Politics.

Queen Charlotte was sixty-eight, and beginning to grow enormous from dropsy. She had courage, and a sense of humour, but suffering had hardened and stiffened her: she had not give vent to her feelings, but lapsed into cold, violent anger when she was thwarted. She visited her husband regularly and conscientiously, taking always a daughter with her. According to Princess Mary, the Queen’s unfortunate manner made these interviews even more painful than they need have been. She ruled her daughters with an iron rod, which she now tried to exercise upon her granddaughter.

She began by assuring her that she should look upon her father as ‘the only source of her happiness’ (news which must have struck a chill into Charlotte’s heart), and that she must be ready to accept his judgement in all things, ‘as her father must of course, not only by right but by experience, know better what was for her good’. She went on to warn Charlotte against forming particular friendships: although she should be civil to everyone, she should be careful to show no partiality for one person, and especially she should avoid any form of political friendship, which could never be depended upon. Having dropped these heavy hints, the Queen added a further warning: ‘That any member of the Royal Family taking a part against the Crown was lowering it most essentially.’

The Queen felt that she had made an impression, and Lady de Clifford told her later that Charlotte was ‘much pleased’ with the conversation, which seems hard to believe. Her father’s dictum forbidding her to correspond with Mercer came as no surprise, but the blow was overwhelming. Mercer was her best friend, the only person to whom she could confide her problems, her happiness and her misery; and who gave her wise advice. To be cut off from her was to be cut off from everything that made life bearable, and Charlotte, now spending all her time at Lower Lodge, Windsor, grew listless and wretched.

For six months she endured; but by the end of August she felt that she could bear it no longer. She decided to break the promise extracted from her by her father, and to find some means of communicating secretly with Mercer. Lady Charlotte Lindsay, her mother’s lady-in-waiting, offered to act as go-between, and on August 24 she broke the long silence.

‘I detest everything that bears the name of clandestine,’she wrote, ‘but I call this not so. I hold myself absolved from the promise that was extorted from me, not to hold any communication whatever with you. It is an unjust&cruel requisition.’

The letter was an outpouring of all her woes, which seemed almost to have unhinged her. She invests the Lower Lodge with a kind of Gothic gloom, describing it as ‘a perfect prison’, where she is surrounded by spies; and though there is something of her father’s love of drama in her description of her plight -‘a regular system of persecution seems to be the thing’- Mercer cannot have failed to feel pity and anger as she read it. Charlotte was being made to suffer cruelly in ‘this infernal dwelling’ as she called it, and it looked as if her health was affected. The house was damp, or more probably suffered from bad drains, and the relaxing air of Windsor did not agree with her. ‘None of my household have been well. I sleep but little, or suffer from severe headaches or colds… I think,’ she concludes, ‘could you see me, you would finde me very much altered, grown very serious and thoughtful at times.’

This serious, thoughtful Charlotte was devoting herself to ‘studdy’, which she described as her greatest resource, as it passed away hours of ennui. Drawing and music occupied most of her time; it was true she went for rides, but these were ‘far from agreable, as always in the compagny with the Princesses’.

‘I will not deny to you that I am far far from being happy.’

* On May 11th 1812 Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of House of Commons by John Bellingham. Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool has succeeded him as the Prime Minister.

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

charlotte-and-mercer

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