Tag Archives: the hon.margaret mercer elphinstone

Charlotte Is Pregnant

From this highly-dramatic atmosphere the calm of Claremont seemed far removed. Charlotte, who from time to time received a hint of her mother’s way of life, tried to obtain first-hand news of her. She begged Lady Charlotte Bury, who kept up with the Princess, to ask her to write. That she wrote herself is certain: and, surprisingly, Leopold approved of her doing so. ‘I heard from my daughter de oder day,’ the Princess of Wales is quoted as writing (the spelling is Lady Charlotte’s). ‘She expect to be confined in November.’ From this announcement, the letter must have been written in the spring or early summer of 1817.

On April 30, 1817, Prince Leopold arrived in his travelling carriage at Carlton House. For once, he was without Princess Charlotte, because she was in an interesting condition, and he was come to bring the happy news to the Prince Regent.

Charlotte was in radiant health, and all through the summer was able to keep up her social activities. On May 2, the anniversary of their wedding, the Coburgs gave a party, to which they invited the Duke and Duchess of York, the Castlereaghs and Lievens, the celebrated Marquis of Anglesey who had lost a leg at Waterloo – and Miss Mercer Elphinstone. Alas, the friendship had foundered. Mercer’s politics, since her intimacy with the Comte de Flahaut, were alarmingly Jacobinical, and she was now affronted because, on arrival at Claremont, she was not shown straight into Charlotte’s presence, as of old, but was obliged to wait with other guests to be received by their host and hostess together. Two days later, Prince Leopold wrote to tell the Regent that Charlotte had failed to persuade Miss Mercer to give her back, or to destroy, all her letters.*

* It is, for the biographer, a very great blessing that she did fail. Charlotte’s inimitable letters remained firmly in Mercer’s hands, were inherited by her daughter who married the Fourth Marquees of Lansdowne, and eventually reached the Lansdowne family archives at Bowood, where they are today.

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

The Princess of Wales Is Making Troubles Again

There had been further rumours of a divorce. At the end of 1815 Charlotte had been ‘in despair’ at what Mercer had told her of the Princess’ alleged intimacy with her courier, Bartolomeo Pergami. ‘Surely, surely, my dear Marguerite, there can be nothing there, a low common servant …!’ But in July 1816 Miss Knight learnt from the Duke of Sussex that the Regent was ‘moving everything’ to get a divorce.

A month later, Charlotte was relieved to hear through Brougham that attempts to prove adultery with this man, whom the Princess had now made her Chamberlain, had been abandoned, ‘as they could get nothing but foreign witnesses’. ‘Thank God,’ she wrote, ‘my mind on that rubbish is now quite at rest.’

But it could not be at rest for long. The exploits of the Princess of Wales were not allowed to pass unnoticed, and rumours were constantly reaching England of her extraordinary behaviour in different parts of Europe. She was continually on the move, and English visitors who encountered raised hands and eyes to heaven and stored up their impressions to be passed on to their friends. Her appearance was embarrassingly odd: she had a passion for appearing ‘en Vénus’ and, like Nell Gwynn, sat for her portrait naked to the waist. ‘I cannot tell you how sorry and ashamed I felt as an Englishwoman,’ wrote Lady Bessborough, after seeing Caroline dancing at a ball. She did not recognize her: for one thing, the Princess was wearing a black wig. Her first impression was of ‘a short, very fat elderly woman, with an extremely red face (owing I suppose to the heat) in a girl’s white frock-looking dress, back and neck quite low (disgustingly so) down to the middle of her stomach; very black hair and eyebrows, which gave her a fierce look, and a wreath of light pink roses on her head’. ‘I was staring at her,’ continued Lady Bessborough, ‘from the oddity of her appearance, when suddenly she nodded and smiled at me, and not recollecting her, I was convinced she was mad, till William Bentinck* pushed me and said, “Do you not see the Princess of Wales nodding to you?” ‘

By this time, nearly all Caroline’s English companions had left her. The last to go was Henry Holland, her doctor, who returned to England in April 1815, unable to last the pace any longer.** She was waited upon, after this, by a motley collection of Germans, Italians and French, Arabs and Turks, but nobody seemed to stay long. ‘I was taken three German footmen from Brunswick,’ she recounted later, ‘which had formerly been soldiers in my brother’s regiment but one of them was so drunken that I was obliged to send him back to Brunswick, & I desired Mr. Pergami to find another in his place.’ Later her German maid had to be left behind, for ‘bad conduct’; a French maid was sent back to her parents for ‘very bad conduct’; her courier, Sacchini, robbed her of 200 Napoleons and was instantly sacked, and so was Restal, her piquer, or outrider, who was caught stealing the horses’ food. Mr. Pergami must have had his hands full keeping the staff in some sort of order.

*The British envoy.

** He later became Physician to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and was made a Baronet.

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

Picture: James Lonsdale, Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), circa 1820, National Portrait Gallery

Charlotte And Leopold Are Supporting Local Community

On January 7, 1817, the Prince Regent gave a Grand Ball at Brighton to celebrate Charlotte’s twenty-first birthday; but Charlotte herself was not there. ‘They mean to keep the day themselves at Clermont,’ he told the Queen. At the beginning of December they had paid a dutiful visit to Brighton, celebrating with the rest of the family the Regent’s recovery with illness; but it seemed that they preferred the soft cool air of their own grounds to the bracing ozone of the Steyne, and accordingly, on Charlotte’s birthday, the village of Esher was hung with garlands and streamers, the bells pealed, a band played, and as it grew dusk Claremont house and grounds were illuminated. The humble dwellings of the poor, we are told, were also lit up with candles, in gratitude for the ‘distinguished munificence of their Royal benefactors’. The shopkeepers, who also had reason for gratitude – Mr. Carter, Linendraper and Haberdasher, Mr. Loveridge, Grocer, Mr. Alder, Butcher, and Mr. Judd, Saddler – vied with one another in displays of crowns, stars and transparencies. The whole village shared in the happiness of the Royal Pair.

‘We are doing a great deal to improve the place,’ Charlotte told Mercer, ‘which employs a vast many poor labouring people who would otherwise be quite out of work and probably starving for want of it … We are in the middle now of … new paling entirely round the Park.’

It was so pleasant to write ‘we’, as she now did all the time. ‘We’ had only one meaning, Leopold and Charlotte. She was protected, she believed, from all the ills of her youth by this one word; and she was no longer tormented by what her father might decide or what her mother might do. She wished that she could have been some help to her mother, but their correspondence had languished, and she agreed with Leopold that there was no means of changing the unhappy situation.

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

Picture: Claremont Park, Esher, Surrey, 19th Century

Day Of The Wedding (Part 3)

But Charlotte did not forget her beloved Margaret. ‘To show you how constantly you occupy my thoughts,’ she wrote two days later, ‘my last word was with [Princess] Lieven to intreat her to give you a faithful account, & to my maid just as I drove off to go & tell you how I looked & was …’

‘I promised you,’ she reminded Mercer, ‘I promised you to behave well … and everyone complimented me upon the composure & dignity of my manner, & the audible way in which I answered the responses.’ It was observed that Prince Leopold, on the other hand, ‘was not heard so distinctly, and exhibited rather more than common diffidence’.

It was also observed that the wedding ring, chosen by Charlotte, was ‘stronger and larger than those usually worn’. Twenty-nine years afterwards, Leopold told Queen Victoria that Charlotte ‘was particularly determined to be a good and obedient wife’, and this would perhaps account for Huish’s impression of her going through the ceremony ‘with a chastened joy’.

The service, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, lasted exactly twenty-five minutes, and after all was over and healths drunk, Charlotte embraced her father, shook hands with her uncles York, Clarence and Kent (the other three were not there), kissed the Queen’s hand and her aunts’ tear-stained faces, and hurried away to change. Guns boomed from the Tower and St. James’s and as if by tacit agreement, the young couple did not appear again till they were ready to set out for their honeymoon. ‘The Princess did not take leave of the company, and avoided all compliments and congratulations by slipping down the private stairs from the state apartments to the ground floor.’ As she stepped into the new green travelling carriage, she must have looked captivating, in a white pelisse bordered with ermine, and a white satin hat, trimmed with blond lace and a nodding plume of ostrich feathers.

Leopold followed her, and, as the carriage was about to set off, the Queen, who had been all graciousness and kindness throughout the day, suddenly decided that it would be shocking for them to travel together at this late hour, unchaperoned, and ordered Charlotte’s lady, Mrs. Campbell, to join them. Mrs. Campbell, a determined Scotswoman, refused, and before anything more could be said, the coach, with Charlotte’s team of greys, ornamented with white favours, drove off at high speed, heading for Oatlands, near Weybridge, the Yorks’ country residence, which the Coburgs had been lent for their honeymoon. Charlotte was free.

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

Picture: Charlotte’s wedding dress, picture by Royal Collection Trust

Day Of The Wedding (Part 2)

Just before nine o’clock, Charlotte came out of Buckingham House, climbed into an open carriage and drove the short distance down the Mall with the Queen sitting beside her and her aunts Augusta and Elizabeth sitting opposite. ‘Bless me, what a crowd’, she said. She had seen the crowds that came to see the Tsar or the opening of Parliament, but she had never seen anything like the mass that had come to watch the wedding of their future Queen.

One of the guests waiting at Carlton House was Admiral Lord Keith, who was there in his official capacity as Deputy Earl Marshal. But he was not accompanied by his daughter. Before leaving Buckingham House, Charlotte sent one of her maids up to Harley Street to tell Mercer how she looked; and after the service she asked one of her guests, Princess Lieven, to do the same. But Mercer was not there to see for herself. It was said that she was not feeling well – and it may have been true. There were five bridesmaids, and the uneven number left a gap and spoiled the symmetry of the bridal procession. Perhaps there were meant to be six.

The reports that Mercer received from the maid and the Princess are not difficult to imagine. Charlotte’s dress cost over £ 10, 000. It was a white and silver slip, covered with transparent silk net embroidered in silver lame with shells and flowers. The sleeves were trimmed with Brussels lace, and the train, which was six feet long, wad made of the same material as the slip and fastened like a cloak with a diamond clasp. She wore a wreath of diamond leaves and roses, a diamond necklace and diamond earrings, both of which had been given to her by her father, and a diamond bracelet that had been given to her by Leopold.

Leopold also wore diamonds. He was dressed for the first time in his scarlet British uniform and he carried a jewel-encrusted sword that had been given to him by the Queen. Not to be outdone, the Prince Regent was dressed in the uniform of a field marshal smothered in the badges of all the honours and orders that he had had the gall to give himself.

The ceremony was short and dignified – except for Charlotte’s slight giggle when Leopold promised to endow her with all his wordly goods. When it was over, Charlotte and Leopold stayed only long enough for the guests to drink their health. Then they left to change. Church bells pealed. Bonfires were lit. Field guns cracked their salute in St James’s Park, and far down river the cannons at the Tower of London boomed.

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

Picture: NPG D16053, ‘Marriage of the Princess Charlotte of Wales to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg, in the Crimson Saloon, at Carleton House, May 2 1816; after Robert Hicks; Nuttall, Fisher & Dixon; William Marshall Craig,print,published April 1818

Leopold Causes a Split Between Charlotte and Mercer

There was no question of the young couple getting to know each other better before their marriage: they were firmly kept apart. They wrote to each other, he at Brighton, she at Cranbourne Lodge. The Regent was determined that there should be no repetition of the Orange fiasco, and accordingly, while Charlotte was at Brighton for a few days, in March, he arranged that they should never meet, except at dinner, and were never to be left alone together. When they met, the Queen or the Regent was always in the room; but their conversations, said Charlotte, was not restricted. As they murmured together in low voices, no doubt taking care not to be overheard, Charlotte managed, with an effort, to introduce the thorny subject of Hesse, on which the Regent had insisted that she should unburden herself. She did so, ‘after much difficulty’, and was profoundly relieved by Leopold’s acceptance of her story. ‘He took it uncommonly well,’ she told Mercer, ‘and was v. kind as he saw me so distressed.’ But he could not hide his horrified dismay at the part played in the affair by the Princess of Wales. ‘We did not say much about my mother,’ said Charlotte, but the Prince indicated delicately that he was well aware of her vagaries, and pitied Charlotte’s situation, torn as she was between loyalty to her mother and duty to her father. No wonder that she was emotional and excitable: but he would do all in his power, he promised, to soothe and calm her. She was profoundly grateful to Leopold. ‘Take him altogether he is a very dear creature.’

(…)

There was the question of money to be settled in Parliament: the Heiress Presumptive and her husband were treated with generosity by Lords Castlereagh and Liverpool, who proposed an income of of £ 50,000, with an extra £ 10,000 to be assigned to Princess Charlotte ‘for her separate and personal expences’. They were also to receive the capital sum of £ 10,000 for jewels, £ 10,000 for personal equipment and £ 40,000 for furniture, plate, &c.

It seemed that they would be comfortably off. But Charlotte considered that their Establishment, which was being arranged by the Regent on the lines of his own, was far too large and expensive. ‘I fear the P.R. … does not consider how far £ 50,000 will go, as they talk of tacking us on a quantity of people wh. will be too much, and must be reduced afterwards.’ And she added proudly that Coburg had a horror of ‘getting into debt & so on’. ‘I have insisted vehemently,’ she announced, ‘upon no extravagance, waste, or debts.’ Eight footmen, she thought, was too many: six would be quite enough, if they were going to afford ‘town & country carriages, riding coachmen &c.’ She was going to give up riding herself, she said. She had not ridden for some time, ‘and don’t much care about it’. But clearly the real reason was that ‘he does not very much like a ladies riding; he thinks it too violent an exercise’.

The younger Charlotte, whose chief pleasure had been to gallop through Windsor Park at top speed, would not have submitted so meekly to this curb: already Leopold’s influence was apparent. It was felt, too, in a slight coolness between Charlotte and Mercer. It was inevitable that the coming of Coburg should alter their relationship, that Charlotte’s devotion to her ‘beloved Marguerite’ should suffer a shock, and the first tremor was felt immediately. At the end of Charlotte’s letter describing ecstatically her first meeting with the prince, she wrote:

‘I must not forget to tell you that I am desired by him to scold you for your intimacy with Flahaud. He knows him personally, & disapproves highly of him, & thinks his acquaintance is likely to do you no good …’

This warning was not well received. The Comte de Flahault had been Napoleon’s aide-de-camp, and later became French Ambassador in London: he was ostracized by Lady Hertford and her set, but admired by Mercer, who eventually, to her father’s great grief, married him. Leopold’s warning may have been well-intentioned and timely, but it angered Miss Elphinstone. Charlotte made repeated efforts to appease her. ‘You know I must love you always just as much & just the same … For God sake do not fancy I ever was or am in the least angry with your intimacy with Flahaud … You know how much I love you, & that I can ill bear anything like an interruption to an intimacy that has constituted so many years of my happiness.’

In her anxiety to repair the broken friendship, Charlotte went too far. She even sent Mercer copies of Leopold’s letters. ‘I have had another very wise letter from him wh. I will send, but for God in Heaven’s sake never let it be known or suspected I ever showed you any of his or else I know he would not like it & would be angry probably.’

But in spite of all Charlotte’s efforts to revive it, the long intimacy would never be quite the same: there was a subtle difference created by the presence, even at a distance, of Leopold, and the Regent, who had never liked Mercer, was quick to take advantage of the situation.

‘Coburg,’ wrote Charlotte, ‘has a great horror of appearing ungrateful & insensible to you & your kindness, but yet I see the P. R. has been putting him on his guard, & putting into his head about female friends … & of my having more confidence in & being more guided by them than by him.’

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

Charlotte and Leopold Meet Again

It was not till the 26th, five days later, that he did see her. The Princess, with her grandmother and aunts, drove down to Brighton at the Regent’s command, and in the evening the young couple met.

Charlotte’s letter to Mercer, written that night before she retired, is almost incoherent with joy. ‘I find him charming,’ she said, ‘and go to bed happier than I have ever done yet in my life.’ She was entranced to find that they could converse so freely – ‘long conversation on different subjects interesting to our future plans of life &c.’ ‘I am certainly a most fortunate creature,’ she continued, ‘& have to bless God. A Princess never, I believe, set out in life (or married) with such prospects of happiness, real domestic ones like other people.’

The rumour which Miss Knight had heard of Charlotte’s being obliged to live in Hanover with Prince Leopold was dismissed as ‘all a humbug‘, started, she believed, by her mischievous uncle Cumberland. And to her delight an article was inserted into the marriage agreement ‘without even my asking for it’, to the effect that she would never be obliged to leave England against her inclinations. She began to feel that – as she had always hoped – the advent of Prince Leopold had smoothed away all the anxieties and terrors which had plagued her for so long. Even the Regent, wheeling himself dexterously through the overheated rooms at the Pavilion in his merlin chair,* was ‘in high spirits, good looks & humour’. He was much thinner, said Charlotte, and his legs, which had been swollen with gout, were considerably reduced.

The Queen, at this auspicious party, refused to play cards, preferring to sit and talk. ‘I never saw her so happy,’ said Charlotte, ‘or so gracious as she is, delighted at my marriage, & with him.’

At last the engagement was made public, and Charlotte could tell her friends what most of them already knew. ‘I shall fire off in all directions my letters to announce an event that everybody has been in such profound ignorance of.’

There was some uncertainty as to where Prince Leopold should stay. Weymouth was talked of, and in the meantime, when Charlotte returned to Cranbourne Lodge, he remained in Brighton.

* An early form of wheeled invalid chair, invented by a Belgian instrument maker named Merlin, who introduced roller skating into England. The Regent’s chair remained in the passage outside his bedroom till 1846 when Queen Victoria had it removed during alterations.

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