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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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Charlotte Is Visiting A Monastery

Yet Charlotte was determined to enjoy her holiday and put on a brave face for all the ‘good people’ who came to look at her. For much of the time her mood was not far from the slightly hysterical merriment with which she greeted the law officers of the Crown during the melodrama at her mother’s house.

She went to performances at the Theatre Royal and the occasional ball at the Assembly Rooms; she was allowed to give dinner parties, to which she invited some of the aristocracy and gentry who came to stay in rented houses or at Ressell’s Royal Hotel. Like the General, one of the constant guests at these dinners was ‘the Great UP’, who took a house for his family on the seafront.

On one Sunday Charlotte went to church and heard the ‘Bish-UP’ preach a sermon for the very first time. ‘I never heard so weak a voice & so bad a delivery’, she wrote to Mercer. ‘It is enough to spoil the very best sermon that ever was composed.’ But this was nothing compared with the sermon preached on another Sunday by the apparently famous Dr Dupré. This preacher went on for forty-five minutes without notes with so many ‘blunders’ and ‘repetitions’ that he ‘kept the whole pew in a titter’. Fortunately Charlotte was able to turn her head and hide her giggles inside one of the large bonnets made fashionable by Grand Duchess Catherine.

There were expeditions to places of interest, such as Lulworth Castle and the monastery nearby. The monastery had been taken over by some Trappist monks who had been expelled from France during the Revolution. Charlotte rang the bell and asked to be shown round, but the porter, who was the only monk who was allowed to speak, explained that women were not allowed into the monastery. Charlotte insisted. The porter went away and spoke to the Abbot. The Abbot remembered that their rule, which excluded women, allowed the admission of royalty.

So while all the other ladies waited outside, the brightly dressed Princess was taken in among the black and white habits, shown round the monastery and its gardens and given a humble meal of milk, brown bread, vegetables and rice, which was served in wooden cups and bowls.

When she was not sailing, Charlotte’s lunch was usually whatever was available at an inn, or a picnic on a beach. At one of these picnics, on the pebbled beach between Portland and Bridport, some children climbed up from the water’s edge to the high bank above the beach, so that they could get a good look at the Princess. With each step they dislodged showers of pebbles which tumbled down towards the royal party.

Charlotte called up to them. ‘Hallo, there! Princess Charlotte is made of ginger-bread. If you do that you’ll break her.’

But Charlotte’s favourite picnics were those that were served on deck when she was sailing, at which, according to one guest, she consumed large quantities of ‘roast beef…with plenty of mustard!’

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

Picture: Monastery Farm, in the foreground, as viewed from Flower’s Barrow © Copyright Mike Searle and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence source: http://eastlulworth.org.uk/old/east_lulworth_monastery_farml.html

Charlotte Is Hesitating

She had not had a letter from August since he left England, and she could not read the old ones because she had burned them. The only news of him came from Mercer, and most of that consisted of rumours that were soon contradicted. It was not true that he had secretly married a Miss Rumbold. Nor was true that he had been appointed Governor of Saxony, which was also good news because, if he had been, he would never have been able to live in England.

Throughout the holiday Charlotte could only fantasise. She imagined August coming over and making a proposal to her father; and then she made herself anxious because she knew her father would refuse him. He would have to come over while Parliament was sitting. An appeal to Parliament would lead to a debate; a debate would be reported in the papers, and when the people read them they would be bound to support her against her father. If only August would make up his mind.

In one of her long outpourings to Mercer, however, Charlotte admitted that she was so miserable she might marry almost anyone. She would rather it was August. But if August did disappoint her, ‘The P. of S-C decidedly would be accepted by me in preference to any other Prince I have seen.’

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

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

Skeletons Falling From The Closet

Charlotte, her ladies and her servants set out from Windsor for the town of Weymouth in a column of coaches on Friday, 9 September.

If she had forgotten the warmth of the crowd’s reception on the day when her father opened Parliament, she was soon reminded. She was still the most popular member of the royal family. ‘Wherever I changed horses’, she told Mercer, ‘there were people assembled to see me, & they all looked good humoured and took off their hats’. She stopped in Andover for an early dinner and then drove on to spend the night at the Antelope Inn in Salisbury, where, she was delighted to report, the ‘Bish-UP’, as usual, was not in residence. She had to press through the crowd to get from her carriage to the inn, and in answer to their calls, she stood at her bedroom window for a long time with a candle held up so that they could see her.

Next day the party drove on through crowded towns and villages towards Weymouth. They stopped for dinner at Puddletown, where General Garth*, who had gone ahead of them, had rented a house for himself. There was a young boy running around in the house, and the General, who said he was his adopted nephew Tom, told Charlotte after dinner that the boy would be ‘much mortified’ if she did not take notice of him. ‘A heart of steel could not have refused that’, wrote Charlotte, ‘for a more lovely boy was never beheld’.

Skinny old Lady Rosslyn and her nieces, whom Charlotte was now calling ‘Famine and the Consequences’, were no longer in the room by then, but Lady Ilchester and Mrs Campbell were still there, and they were both shocked that the General had introduced the boy to the Princess.

If not also shocked, Charlotte was at least taken aback when she was told his true identity. Tom’s mother was her favourite aunt, Princess Sophia, and General Garth was his father.

In the course of the next week all the ladies were surprised by the extent to which the strict old General spoiled the boy. He even allowed him to stay on for a few days after the new term had started at Harrow. But now that Charlotte knew who he was – and the General clearly knew that she knew – it was embarrassing for her to have him around. Everyone in Weymouth seemed to know who he was as well. People even gathered to have a look at him when he was taken into town to have his hair cut. As she told Mercer, Charlotte suspected that the General was making her uncomfortable on purpose, probably because it was an indirect way of getting his own back on her aunt for having spurned both him and their son. It was not Tom’s fault, but Charlotte was relieved when he did at last go back to school.

* General Thomas Garth (1744–1829) was a British Army officer and chief equerry to King George III. He was added to Charlotte’s entourage when she moved in to Cranbourne Lodge.

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

Picture: Princess Sophia by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1825, Royal Collection

Charlotte Is Allowed To Go For Holiday

For the rest of that month the principal preoccupation at the isolation lodge was the holiday that the Duke of Sussex mentioned in his questions to the Prime Minister. Charlotte, as the Duke knew, was longing for a holiday by the sea, and her doctors were all in favour of it. She really did have a sore, swollen knee, which was now so bad that they told her to stop riding, and since her arrival at Cranbourne Lodge she had been displaying symptoms of depression. The sea air, in their view, would be ideal for both. But, to everybody’s exasperation, the Prince Regent prevaricated. As Earl Grey put it in one of his letters to Mercer, ‘All the best season will be wasted before she gets to the sea-side.’

Charlotte wanted to take Mercer with her, but the Regent said no. He claimed that Mercer’s father would not allow it. Lord Keith, he said, did not want his daughter to spend too much time in isolation with Charlotte, where there would be no chance of her meeting a suitable husband.

Charlotte wanted to go to fashionable Brighton, but the Regent said no to that as well. He wanted Brighton to himself. Eventually he asked the Queen if they could borrow Gloucester Lodge, a house that she and the King owned far away in Dorset, in no longer quite so fashionable Weymouth. The Queen took her time and then said yes, reluctantly. And so, at last, with September approaching, Weymouth was chosen as the setting for Charlotte’s seaside holiday.

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

picture: Gloucester Lodge in Weymouth, source Wikipedia

Princess Mary Becomes Charlotte’s Adviser

Before she left England, the Princess of Wales, with what Grey called her ‘utter want of all sense of delicacy and propriety’, wrote suggesting that Charlotte might marry Prince Frederick of Orange, Slender Billy’s younger and brighter brother, who was just then in England with his regiment. In August he was at Windsor, and took part in a review of troops by the Duke of Wellington, within sight of Cranbourne Lodge – ‘a thin young man, & rode a fine prancing horse’, said General Garth, who had been to look; but Charlotte was in a rage. ‘Can you conceive anything so indelicate,’ she demanded, ‘as bringing him down close to my house after all that has passed?’ All the same, she had climbed, ‘covered with a few pelisses’, up to the roof-top, and watched what she could see of the review through a telescope.

The papers began to hint that the younger Orange prince had been sent to woo Charlotte. ‘The newspapers are very insufferable with their nonsense about me,’ she exclaimed angrily, adding that she would never again look at anything ‘in the shape of an Orange’. Again, she inveighed against the Duke of Wellington’s indelicacy ‘in bringing him down into my neighbourhood’, and she declared, ‘The only effect this Orange siege will have upon me is that I shall become very savage at last … ‘

However, Prince Frederick showed no sign of following up his dashing equestrian exploits with a visit to Cranbourne Lodge, and Charlotte’s dull life went on as before.

One consequence of the move to Windsor was that she saw more of her grandmother and aunts, and though, as she said later, ‘they all pull different ways & I go mine’, her references to the family are for the most part more tolerant. Her unheard-of behaviour in breaking off the engagement and defying her father had caused a flutter in the Castle dovecote; and when she arrived at Cranbourne Lodge she was much on the defensive and too miserable to want to see anyone. She had no desire to confide in any of the family; but in order to clear the air on the Orange question, she decided to have a talk with Princess Mary, and hoped thus to communicate her point of view, wrapped in Mary’s careful diplomacy, to the Prince.

Her aunt received her eagerly, only too delighted to have what she called a conference upon Charlotte’s recent troubles. Cat-like, with carefully-hidden claws, Princess Mary gently drew from her niece the whole story of the broken engagement, the scene with the Regent at Warwick House and finally Charlotte’s flight, seeming impressed by her niece’s firmness and intrepidity. But she was shocked, she said, to learn that she had run away ‘from desperation’; and with a sudden volte-face declared that it was all the Prince Regent’s fault. After the engagement had been broken he should have gone to see Charlotte at once, particularly when she wrote that she was ill. Then all this would never have happened.

Before the interview ended there were one or two sharp scratches from the aunt. She hinted that politically Charlotte’s behaviour had been disastrous: the Prussians, she said,were furious with her for endangering the Dutch alliance, and the King of Prussia had declared that he would not go to say good-bye to her. But ‘I confounded her,’ said the niece, ‘by saying he had sent me his Chamberlain with a very gracious & civil message.’ Princess Mary made a quick recovery, and went on to warn Charlotte to keep away from the Duchess of York, who was still excessively angry with her.* ‘We parted after this,’ said Charlotte, who nevertheless persuaded herself that the result of this conversation was ‘really favorable’. She felt that she had made it clear that she would never, in any circumstances, be talked into a renewal of the Orange match.

Princess Mary had evidently decided to play the part of Charlotte’s friend and adviser. Unfortunately, the overplayed it, and now wrote rather patronizingly, justifying the Regent’s ‘cool and reserved manner’, and indicating that Charlotte was largely to blame. ‘Though your father is desirous of showing you all the kindness he feels towards you, you must meet him half way and be sencible [sic] your own steady conduct alone can make him place confidence in you.’ This put Charlotte’s back up. ‘I am trying to conciliate the P.R. by all good means,’ she complained to Mercer, and in a thoroughly irritable condition prepared herself to go to a fête at Frogmore. This was her first appearance in public since her flight and banishment, and she was nervous.

‘We go in two carriages,’ she said. ‘I shall take Lady Ilchester in one, and let the others go in the other.’ She wished to make her entrance alone, untrammelled by the ‘whole train of nasty ugly women’, as she rudely described her ladies.

At this party she met the Duchess of York, who, contrary to Princess Mary’s dark warnings, ‘was perfect in her manner of meeting & conducting herself towards me; nothing could be better’. The Duke of York, conscious of their last encounter, was ‘awkward in manner but not unkind’; and the Regent, whom she had dreaded meeting, ‘just spoke, & good-naturedly, (the few words he did utter)’. He was closeted with ministers most of the evening, but when he left ‘he wished me good-bye & added a my dear to it’. She hoped that she was forgiven.

By degrees she was succeeding in calming her affronted relations. The Queen, to her surprise, was ‘remarkably good-humoured & gracious’; and indeed, now that the Princess of Wales had removed herself from the scene, Queen Charlotte’s attitude to her granddaughter underwent a change, and she began to act independently of the Prince, even to the point of standing up to him in defence of Charlotte’s rights.

[…]

Towards the end of August, at ‘a very seemly little musick party’ at Frogmore, Charlotte again had a tête à tête with her Aunt Mary, who was at her most amiable. She professed herself ‘all anxiety’ for her niece to marry. ‘I see no chance for you of comfort … without your marrying,’ she said. ‘All your family should be glad if there was anything that would do …’ But it seemed, when they discussed it further, that there was nothing that would do. Charlotte ‘joked’ about Prince Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who had been the Queen’s candidate. ‘Oh God, no,’ cried Princess Mary, and added, ‘I would be the last now to recommend … anyone in particular.’ But when Charlotte, apparently joking again, mentioned Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, her aunt ‘colored not a little’ and admitted, ‘I think from what I saw of him he is a very good looking & very gentlemanlike young man.’ ‘I don’t like him,’ said Charlotte, ‘for he does not suit my taste.’ At this her aunt ‘thought a little’ and then said quietly , ‘You don’t, you don’t.’ ‘She seemed quite satisfied & cheerful again,’ said Charlotte, ‘so that I suspect there is something there with her.’ It looks as if Princess Mary, trying to pick a husband for her niece, was in fact going through the list on her own behalf as well.

A few days later, evidently in answer to an enquiry on the subject from Mercer, Charlotte declared that she had no idea whether her Aunt Mary thought of the Prince of Coburg ‘in any particular way’, but her manner seemed to show that there was ‘something or other’. Princess Sophia, questioned about this by her niece, denied all knowledge of it, but said that Leopold could never be ‘worked’ as a husband for Charlotte, as ‘he had not a shilling’.

* The Hereditary Prince of Orange was her nephew.

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