Tag Archives: the hon.margaret mercer elphinstone

Charlotte Returns to Weymouth

At first Charlotte found it easy enough to follow the advice to be patient with her father. But it was not so easy to be patient with Leopold. As soon as she reached Weymouth, she wrote to Mercer telling her that ‘the Leo’ was in Paris, and begging her to write to him, although she added, ‘Preach up prudence. A false step now I feel would ruin all.’

In the weeks and then months that followed, Mercer wrote encouraging letters to Leopold, Leopold wrote back to Mercer, Mercer passed on what he had said to Charlotte, and in her answers Charlotte became more and more eager and less and less inclined to go on writing.

On 21 August, late at night, she wrote:

Your account of him constantly at Lady Castlereagh’s stupid suppers does not astonish me… Oh why should he not come over, it is so near & it is but a run over of a few hours. I quite languish for his arrival. He is really wrong in keeping back as he does. Having got your letter what more can he wish for to bring him? Don’t you know an old proverb wh. says, ‘Hope long delayed maketh the heart sick’. What does he mean about a crisis? I see & hear of nothing that is like it.

Just over a week later, after Mercer had induced Leopold to share his feelings with her, Charlotte wrote, ‘I will tell you candidly that I am delighted, not to say charmed & flattered at what Leo writes about his sentiments and feelings for me, & the way in wh. he expresses himself is peculiarly pleasing.’

After another month she was beginning to hope that Leopold had decided to come over, and yet at the same time both she and Mercer were worried that someone was advising him against it – it was possible that ‘hints might have reached him through the Prussians’ about Prince August, or that somebody had told him about Charles Hesse. If he did come, Charlotte wanted Mercer to meet him and explain.

If you see him long enough to have such confidential & various conversation with him, I allow you…to clear all that up to him in the best manner you please, & even if think it necessary, to hint also at Hesse’s affair since I was quite clear (that unless he is well prepared & armed against all the lies & different things that will be told him) he will not know what to believe, who to credit, or how to act.

A week later, still hoping that Leopold was coming soon, Charlotte was in a mood to be devious. She told Mercer, ‘I give you carte blanche if you see him, to say & do all that circumstances will allow & require. Don’t send him any of his letters, let me see them when we meet, that you may honorably be able to keep to saying you never forwarded any letters to me.

Yet amid all the frustration and disappointment, the news that raised Charlotte’s hopes the highest was not about Leopold but about ‘Slender Billy’. It was announced in Holland that the Hereditary Prince of Orange was engaged to marry the Tsar’s younger sister, the Grand Duchess Anne.

The Dutch fleet was to be united with the Russian fleet. For those who were inclined to suspect a conspiracy, and who did not know how much Charlotte detested the young Prince of Orange, it looked as though the scheming Grand Duchess Catherine had brought about the breach between them as part of a long-term Russian plan. But for Charlotte the news was nothing more than a merciful release. Her father no longer had a pet plan to promote above any other.

But then she heard that several other eligible princes had been seen in London and at Windsor. On 14 October she wrote, ‘I have such a dread of all foreign Princes, the sight as well as the name of them alarm me from the idea of some intrigue or other going on for my marrying someone of them.’

By then it was a while since Mercer had heard from Leopold, and a week later Charlotte began to despair. ‘His silence to you is now what surprises & occupies me the most for you ought to have heard long before this.’

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

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The Duke of Brunswick Dies

There was another cause for anxiety: the Princess of Wales had announced that she was returning to England. According to Princess Mary, the Regent flew into a rage upon hearing of it, refused to believe it, and ‘declared she could not come’. He summoned his Privy Council, and their advice was that ‘she was not to be admitted here’. Since last heard of, she had been wandering about Europe, losing the more reputable among her retinue, who, one by one, left her to return to England. In 1814 she had visited her brother at the Court of Brunswick, and had gone from there to Naples, where she wrote to Lady Charlotte Lindsay, ‘Even English person are very civil and good humour with me; even the Holland have been so to me. The King and the Queen [of Naples] are both very clever and very good-natured indeed to me, and very fond of my society.’ She adds that her only regret is hearing nothing from Princess Charlotte: ‘she never write once, so I write ever week.’

How many of these letters reached Charlotte is not known, but in May 1815 she promised the Regent ‘upon my honour never to write from this moment directly or indirectly to her, that all kind of communication shall cease & that I will abstain from seeing her when she comes to England’. Charlotte’s only request is that she may not have to tell her mother of this herself. ‘I find it would be impossible quite for me to do, as I could not pen anything harsh or disrespectful, & in giving up what I now do I have done my utmost.’*

But a month later, the news arrived that the Duke of Brunswick – ‘Brunswick’s fated chieftain’ – had been killed at Quatre Bras. Charlotte was deeply grieved: she had been devoted to this uncle, and she asked the Regent’s permission to write to her mother, ‘as my own feelings as well as a sence of propriety, & respect towards her, will not allow me to pass it over in silence’.

This was permitted; but otherwise a total silence was maintained between mother and daughter. Nevertheless, disconcerting rumours reached Charlotte from various parts of Europe: her mother was in debt, in the power of one of her entourage, living in a crazy and irresponsible way. Always there was the dread that she would provide the Prince with grounds for divorce, but Charlotte hoped that there were ‘too many difficulties on the other side to make a divorce practicable’.

* During Christmas 1814 the Prince Regent had a conversation with Charlotte about the Delicate Investigation and her mother’s reckless behaviour. Charlotte confessed that the Princess of Wales was leaving her alone in her bedroom with Captain Hesse and that she exchanged the letters with him. The Prince Regent was shocked but treated Charlotte kindly, assuring her that he would make sure that the letters would be found and destroyed (he later asked Lord Keith and Mercer to retrieve them from Captain Hesse).

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

Napoleon Returns To France

And then came the news that brought all negotiations in Brighton, Windsor, London, Vienna and anywhere else in Europe to a standstill. On 1 March Napoleon had escaped from the island of Elba. He had landed in France. His old army was rallying round him.

The Congress of Vienna broke up. The nations of Northern Europe made ready to go back to war.

Amid the anxiety on every other front, the emergency brought one relief to Charlotte. Captain Hesse came home to rejoin his regiment. Mercer and her father found and confronted him. He convinced them that all letters had been burned. The trunk that contained them was empty. With but two exceptions, every present that he had ever received from Charlotte was returned to Mercer. One exception was a turquoise ring, which he first said was still in his baggage and then said had been lost when he was wearing it round his plume in battle. The other was the watch. But Charlotte did not think that either of these was significant enough to be incriminating. The matter was at an end. The little hussar was no longer a threat.

On 14 May Mercer received a letter from Leopold. It was the answer to the one she had sent him much earlier, but it had taken a long time to reach her. It had been written in Vienna on 28 April. Leopold had little hope of going back to England now. He was about to rejoin the Russian army and take up his old command. But if Mercer could assure him that he would be welcome to the Princess, he would do all that he could come.

Mercer wrote back. She did not dare to give him that assurance. Making suggestions was as much as she could risk. If she was caught negotiating a royal marriage, she would never be allowed to see Charlotte again.

But on 2 June, before her letter reached him, Leopold wrote another to Mercer. After thinking about it, he had decided not to risk coming to England uninvited. If he did, he might offend the Regent, and without the Regent’s goodwill, his dream could never be fulfilled.

But by then Leopold would not have been able to come to England anyway. Napoleon had assembled 125,000 men in northern France. Further north, along the border, the allies were waiting. In another two weeks they would be fully prepared for a combined invasion. Meanwhile, if Napoleon struck first, they were almost ready to receive him. The Austrians were to the east of Strasbourg, in a long line between Basle and Worms. The Russians were in the centre, north-west of Frankfort. The Prussians were south-west of them, below Namur and Liege. The British, Dutch, Hanoverians and Brunswickers were to the west between Brussels and the sea.

And most of the men who had played leading parts in Charlotte’s short life were with them. Leopold was with the Russians in the centre; August was with Blücher’s Prussians; Charles Hesse, George FitzClarence, the Prince of Orange and the Duke of Brunswick were with Wellington beyond Brussels.

No matter what route Napoleon chose, at least one of them would be in harm’s way.

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

Charlotte Is Writing To Her Father

It is difficult to understand why the Regent was so stubborn in his determination to marry Charlotte to the Dutch prince. Certainly it was a good alliance for the country; but there was more behind his uncompromising support of the match than the country’s future: he believed that his enemies were responsible for Charlotte’s change of heart, that Lady Jersey in particular had insinuated herself into the affair, gaining Charlotte’s confidence and working upon her to defy her father. He also suspected the arch-enemy, the Princess of Wales: she it was who had planned the Hesse affair, resolved to compromise her daughter, in the hopes of insinuating William Austin as claimant to the Throne. If she were to succeed in this nefarious – but possibly imaginary – plot, not only the Dutch marriage, but any royal marriage for Charlotte, would be scotched. In his way, he allowed his imagination to take hold of him, and to override every other consideration including his daughter’s feelings.

When Charlotte decided to appeal to her father to put an end, once and for all, to the possibility of her marriage with the Prince of Orange, he wrote her a letter which threw her into the depths of despair. It is a cruel letter because the Regent is playing cat-and-mouse with his daughter, allowing her to think that he is a loving father, planning everything for her happiness; and at the same time cold as steel in his unswerving attitude to the Dutch marriage, reminding Charlotte, falsely, that she had ‘earnestly and ardently begged him to betrothe her to the Hereditary Prince’. ‘Nothing has happened (to my knowledge),’ he said, ‘… to account for this change of heart.’ He blames the advice of ‘mischievous, false and wicked persons’, for raising ‘these unreasonable and groundless doubts in her mind’; and he thanks heaven that she is now withdrawn from all communication with such counsellors, ‘and justly rely upon me, as your best friend, and most anxious and dispassionate adviser’.

He goes on to remind her of ‘the melancholy and frightful disclosures’ she had made to him on Christmas Day, and her mother’s attempts to place her in a compromising situation, in which – unless adopting the advice of those who have her real interest at heart – she must feel the effects for the rest of her life.

The Princess of Wales has only ‘to make known the documents so unfortunately in her possession’, to ruin Charlotte’s chances of marriage, ‘not only with the Prince of Orange, but with any Prince of character, power and respectability’. After this frightful threat, based upon what turned out to be a false premise (it was later disclosed by Captain Hesse that he had destroyed all the letters that he had received from Charlotte), he draws to a close, assuring Charlotte that the earnestness and interest which he has expressed need not alarm her: he has taken no steps to renew the union with the Prince of Orange; and that however much he might wish for a revival, it can only come ‘from the parties themselves’.

All that night Charlotte lay awake, turning over what she could say in reply to her father’s letter. ‘I find the answering of it more painful even than the perusal,’ she told him. The Regent had suggested that she discuss his views with ‘a friend … who may be already acquainted with … your story’. By this he clearly meant Mercer, whom he thought he had won over to his point of view. ‘I feel quite confident,’ he said, ‘that your friend’s advice will not differ even in a shadow from mine.’ He was mistaken; or Mercer had not, in her long interview with him at Brighton, spoken up as ‘impudently’ as she said she did.

Charlotte regretted terribly Mercer’s absence at this juncture. Nobody at Windsor could advise her: she could only stand by her determination. ‘I remain firm and unshaken, & no arguments, no threats, shall ever bend me to marry this detested Dutchman.’

She decided to show the Prince’s letter to the Queen, who, she said, ‘was all eagerness …’ to know what the Regent had written, but ‘when I told her it was not quite what I could have wished or hoped for, she instantly said, “That is very bad indeed,” & then followed a dead silence of 10 minutes.’ When, after dinner, Charlotte read the letter to her grandmother, the Queen, she said, was ‘deeply overcome & she wept, wh. is very uncommon for her. She was very affectionate tome, implored me on her knees not to marry ever a man I did not like.’ The Queen urged her to answer at once, ‘as the less he thought I was hesitating or wavering the better’. The whole conference, said Charlotte, seemed to have upset the Queen very much.

The Princess’s reply to her father, written without advice, was brilliant. She was gentle and affectionate, but made it clear that she was resolute in her decision. And she pointed out that it was by no one’s advice that she had broken off her marriage. ‘On the contrary, it was against the advice of many.’ ‘Believe me,’ she went on, ‘my reputation is as dear to me as any woman’s … but when I know … that I am now going to be placed under your more immediate care & attention I feel no longer any anxiety upon the score. Indeed,’ she added confidently ‘were the whole known to the world very little blame could attach to me considering how very young I was.’

She made no reference to marriage, beyond saying that the union with the Prince of Orange was ‘quite impossible’. The Prince could only complain, in reply, at the speed with which she had answered, allowing herself no time for thought. This, he said, had given him no inconsiderable degree of pain. And thus, on a note of sorrow rather than anger, he dropped the subject, which he was obliged, for one reason and another to do anyway.

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

Not the Orange Match Again …

Charlotte knew that she had at least two allies in the royal family. A week earlier, when it had not mattered so much, Princess Mary had abandoned her enigmatic attitude and ‘launched forth vehemently’ in praise of Leopold, partly because of his reputation as a man of the highest character, and partly because he came from a very old family. Then the Duke of York revealed himself as an ally, although, like Mercer, he advised Charlotte to keep quiet for the time being.

It was good advice. No proposal was likely to succeed with the Regent if it contradicted one of his own. But now that she had made up her mind, Charlotte did not feel inclined to wait. She persuaded Mercer that it would do no harm if ‘the Leo’, as she now called him, were to come over uninvited, and on 3 February she wrote to Mercer asking her to make it happen.

Before you named it I was hourly going to propose to you what certainly nothing could have authorised me or prompted me to have done, but our long intimacy & your kind affection for me. It was this, whether you thought you could by any means send him a hint that his presence at this moment in England would be of service to his views if they were the same as 6 months ago.

Next day, as if in justification, she wrote:

As I care for no man in the world now, I don’t see what it signifies as to my marrying one day sooner or later except for escaping the present evils that surround me. I don’t see what there is against my connecting myself with the most calm & perfect indifference to a man who, I know, has the highest & best character possible in every way, & is extremely prepossessing in his figure and appearance & who certainly did like me.

A few days later, however, the Prince Regent revealed his hand, proving not only that Mercer and the Duke of York were giving good advice but also that Mercer and Earl Grey had been justified in their suspicions after Christmas.

The Prince summoned Mercer and her father to Brighton, ostensibly to discuss their attempts to recover Charlotte’s letters from Captain Hesse. If those letters were to fall into the wrong hands, particularly her mother’s, he said, she would be ruined. He therefore appointed Lord Keith officially as his representative with instructions to interview Captain Hesse and find the letters.

After that the Prince turned abruptly to the possibility of a marriage with the Hereditary Prince of Orange. For Charlotte, he said, this was now ‘the only means of saving her reputation, getting out of her mother’s hands, and making herself quite happy’.

Mercer answered without a hint of respect. ‘It is not actually necessary to marry one man’, she said, ‘to apologise for writing love letters to another’.

The Prince said nothing. Emboldened by her own impatient impudence, Mercer went on, ‘The last time Princess Charlotte talked to me about it, she said that so far from repenting the step she had taken, she would rather continue to suffer all the restraint and privations she had these last six months than marry the Prince of Orange.’

The Prince did not seem to be convinced, or else he did not want to be. Mercer left the meeting frustrated. No matter what anyone thought or said, the Regent was clearly determined to have his own way.

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

Leopold Is Writing To The Prince Regent

It was ‘en grande uniforme’ that he called upon Princess Charlotte at Warwick House: he greatly admired her, was well aware of her exalted position as Heiress Presumptive to the throne of England, and wished to make the best possible impression. When she drove out in the Park, he would follow her, ride near her open carriage, and ‘endeavour to be noticed’. He was already acquainted with Miss Mercer, and it was under her banner that he presented himself at Warwick House. Here, according to Miss Knight, he showered the Princess with compliments; but ‘there were reasons’, she added mysteriously, ‘why this matter was by no means agreeable to Princess Charlotte’. Those reasons, needles to say, were Charlotte’s feelings for Prince August of Prussia, which Miss Knight so vehemently condoned, thereby causing her own downfall. It may be remembered that poor Miss Knight, during a stormy interview with the Prince Regent just before her dismissal, blurted out a defence of the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, whom she was using as a red herring. The Regent saw what she was up to and waved aside her excuses: Prince Leopold, he said, was a most honourable young man: and had written him a letter which perfectly justified his conduct.

The Regent’s letter from Prince Leopold had obviously been composed with a great deal of thought, and in the carefully-worded phrases of a seasoned diplomat, assured the Prince Regent that Leopold regretted any indiscretion he may have committed by visiting (at her invitation) the Princess Charlotte at Warwick House. He recounted enthusiastically his first meeting with the Princess, on the back stairs of Pulteney’s Hotel, where he was hanging about waiting for an audience to bid farewell to the Tsar. (Here he put in a tactful word to the effect that his parting from the Regent’s detested Grand Duchess was not very tender, since she had jilted his brother, Prince Ernest.) ‘Princess Charlotte,’ he said-returning to the encounter on the back stairs, ‘condescended to take my arm, and to allow me to escort her to her carriage; and she told me that I had not been at all polite, not having called upon her… She hoped that if I made a longer stay I should be more polite in the future.’

It was this invitation that he had responded, cutting short a visit to the Opera to pay his respects at Warwick House, where Charlotte had received him, in the presence of the Duchess of Leeds, with ‘beaucoup de bienveillance’. He stayed, he said, for about three-quarters of an hour, and then, perceiving that the Princess was unwell, he took his leave.

But afterwards he began to think that he had made a faux pas: the Dutch engagement had so very recently been broken off, and alone in his Marylebone lodgings he wondered if perhaps he had been too bold, too precipitate. He saw now that it was not the time for what he called ‘les plus petits mots de plus’. All he wished to do, at this stage, was to leave a good impression, and a word (to Count Münster*) to the effect that, when the time came, he would be ready, if summoned, to return.

It was a curiously pompous, fussy letter from a young man of twenty-four, but it worked wonders with the Regent, leaving a favourable impression which had not faded when, early in 1815, Mercer reported from Brighton that the Prince had spoken highly to Lord Keith of the ‘P of S-C’. Charlotte was overjoyed. ‘Il me fait un plaisir aimable the P.R. having named & done justice in so handsome a way … to P. S-C’s name & conduct, too.’ She was convinced that before he left England this prince had offered himself to the Regent as her suitor, and had been refused, because it was stupid time to do it, ‘when common sence & prudence ought to have told him that he or any man that tried would be rejected’. But she considered that he should have chanced his luck with her first. ‘If however he continues in favour with the P.R., it is not impossible he may still succeed.’ In fact, she had made up her mind to marry him.

‘I have perfectly decided & made up my mind to marry,’ she announced, ‘and the person I have as decidedly fixed on is Prince Leopold.’ She was convinced, she said, that he would make her tolerably comfortable & happy, which she had never felt when engaged to the Prince of Orange. She was encouraged by the attitude of the Royal Family, who all, in the absence at Brighton of the Regent, supported her in her choice. The Queen was all graciousness and good humour; and Charlotte learned that she was ‘monstrously provoked with the Prince for ‘thinking any more of the P.O. business’. He was spending far too much time at Brighton, said his mother, without doing any business. He lingered there with Lady Hertford, and prohibited his Ministers from coming to him, though there were two important matters to be settled at once, the Corn Bill** and the Income Tax***.

* Hanoverian Minister of State – now resident in England.
** Prohibiting importation of corn while the price at home was below 80s. a quarter.
*** It was reduced from two shillings in the pound to one shilling.

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

Who Is Leopold? (Part 5)

While he was in Paris, Leopold renewed his friendship with Hortense and visited her frequently in her blue boudoir on the Rue Cerutti. On 25 April he wrote to his sister Sophia: ‘The Tsar is going to England, and I am very tempted to make the journey, because there will be a great many festivities. But it would cost too much.’

By then, however, the Tsar had been receiving letters from his sister in London. The proposed marriage between England and Holland was not in Russia’s best interest, but it was clear that England’s Princess Charlotte was more interested in marriage than in her future husband. If she could be introduced to a prince who was handsome, charming and successful, she might at least be induced to think twice about the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

The next time Leopold sat down to write to his favourite sister his plans had changed. The Tsar was taking him in his entourage to London.

Leopold borrowed a carriage from Sophia’s husband, and in return he lent him the castle in Austria which had just been given to him by the grateful Emperor. He visited the best tailors in Paris. He spent so much that when he reached crowded London the only lodgings he could afford were two rooms on the second floor of number 21 Marylebone High Street, which he rented from Mr Hole, who ran a greengrocer’s shop on the ground floor. The simple lodgings were not without advantages, however. When he was not in attendance on the Tsar or out and about in London society, Leopold spent most of his time with Mr Hole’s young housemaid, who was overwhelmed by the handsome Prince and adored the way his eyelids drooped slightly when he bowed.

In the light of all this, it may not have been a coincidence that Leopold was waiting at the foot of the back stairs when Charlotte left the Grand Duchess’s apartments after saying goodbye to her; it may be that the Tsar was only testing her when he asked her to make peace with the young Prince of Orange. Certainly his dismissive sneer at ‘a Mister Whitbread’ was disingenuous. The liberal Tsar was in sympathy with the Whigs. He had received Samuel Whitbread at the Pulteney Hotel; and he had angered the Regent by greeting him warmly at a reception.

A few days after the Tsar left London, Leopold wrote significantly to his eldest brother:

The Tsar has given me permission to stay here as long as it suits me. I only decided to do so after much hesitation, and after certain very singular events made me glimpse the possibility, even the probability, of realising the project we spoke of in Paris. My chances are, alas, very poor, because of the father’s opposition, and he will never give his consent. But I have resolved to go on to the end, and only to leave when all my hopes have been destroyed…

By then Leopold had visited Charlotte. He left a state concert before it ended and went round to Warwick House wearing his full dress uniform. While he was there, Mercer arrived. She was delighted by the surprise. She already knew the Prince and she approved of him. For her, this was much more the sort of prince who ought to be courting the future Queen of England.

After that, more often than not, when Charlotte and Miss Knight took the air in Hyde Park, Leopold just happened to be there as well. Each time the Princess acknowledged him with a nod, and each time, in response, the Prince trotted up to her carriage and rode beside her for a while.

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