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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]

All The Problems Are Resolved

But as December came and went there was still no sign of it (…) She spent Christmas Day there [in Weymouth] without a single member of her family for company, and it was not until New Year’s Day that she and her ladies climbed into their carriages to ride back to Windsor and Cranbourne Lodge.

On 6 January Charlotte drove down to Brighton with the Queen and two of her aunts. The next day was her twentieth birthday, and the Prince Regent was giving a party for her at his pavilion. In the course of the evening she made ‘another push’ on behalf of Prince Leopold, and this time her father made no objection.

Knowing that the Regent could remember things as he wanted them to be rather than as they were, Charlotte wrote to him as soon as she returned to Cranbourne Lodge, repeating on paper exactly what had been said in Brighton. Her excuse was that her shyness often prevented her from expressing herself clearly, and ‘in the present instance’ she therefore felt that it was essential ‘to have recourse to writing’. After reminding her father that he had once told her he would leave the choice to her, she went on. ‘Thus encouraged I no longer hesitate in declaring my partiality for the Prince of Coburg – assuring you that no one will be more steady and consistent in their present & last engagement than myself.’

But there was no need to worry. The Duke of York had indeed known something. At the end of the previous year the Regent had been making enquiries. He consulted Lord Castlereagh, who had been impressed by Leopold at the Vienna Congress, and Lord Lauderdale, who had got to know him better than anyone else when he was last in England. Both agreed that he was a man of the highest principles and an ideal husband for their future queen, and furthermore Lauderdale could confirm that he was ‘partial to the young lady’.

The answer to Charlotte’s letter was the news that he father had written to Leopold summoning him to England, and that his letter was accompanied by a letter from Castlereagh explaining to Leopold that the Regent intended to offer him his daughter’s hand in marriage.

All that was needed now was for the courier to find Leopold. He was no longer in Paris, but he had not, as some said, gone to Russia. When the courier reached Coburg he was told that Leopold had gone to Berlin, and it was there that he found him, in the middle of February.

By then Charlotte was exasperated with waiting. On 21 February she wrote to Mercer. ‘By accurate calculation & measurement of the distance between Berlin & Coburg I find no reason (except the bad roads) for his not being here now.’

Charlotte’s calculation was correct. The day on which she wrote that letter was also the day on which Leopold landed at Dover and drove to London. This time there was no need to take rooms above a grocer’s shop in Marylebone High Street. This time the Prince Regent was paying. Leopold checked in at the Clarendon Hotel in Bond Street, where a suite had been reserved for him.

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

Charles Hesse Reappears

November came. It was the month when Parliament was sitting again, the month in which the Duke of York advised Charlotte to make ‘another push’. But Mercer heard nothing from Leopold, and while Charlotte waited in Weymouth she underwent what she described as an alarming adventure.

On Friday, 10 November, between four and five o’clock in the evening, the Princess was looking out of her dressing room window when she saw a young gentleman with his right arm in a leather sling walking on the esplanade. He looked exactly like Charles Hesse. Charlotte took out her telescope and had another look at him as he walked back. It was Charles Hesse.

As Charlotte told Mercer, ‘What to do was the next question.’ Was he there because he knew Charlotte was there? What would happen if the Prince Regent found out he had been there, even if he and Charlotte never met?

Charlotte went to General Garth and told him all that he needed to know. The old General went out, found the young Captain and sat down with him on a bench. Garth asked why Hesse was in Weymouth. The answer was that, while still recovering from his wound, Hesse was on his way to stay with friends in Cornwall. He had stopped off for the night in Weymouth because he had never seen it before. Garth then asked him if he knew that Princess Charlotte was staying in Weymouth. Hesse said that he did not. Garth believed him. I that case, said the General, it was the Captain’s duty to leave town at once. Hesse agreed. He was due to leave next day at noon, but if that was not enough he would try to find a way of leaving earlier. Garth said it was enough.

Next day Charlotte watched as Charles Hesse walked past Gloucester Lodge to join the Exeter coach. That evening, to guard against any future accusation of subterfuge, she wrote to the Duke of York and told him what had happened.

(…)

The Duke of York wrote back to Charlotte. ‘I can easily conceive how unexpected and unpleasant Mr H.’s appearance at Weymouth must have been for you, and think that in the very awkward situation in which it placed you, you acted quite right in sacrificing your own feelings, however disagreeable it must have been to you in confessing to General Garth the delicacy of your situation.’

Charlotte was pleased by her uncle’s approval, but while Leopold’s silence continued, the Duke’s next letter brought even greater comfort. ‘You may be assured, dearest Charlotte, that tho’ absent you are not forgot, and that your real friends are doing everything in their power to serve you and further your wishes, and I cannot but be confident that the patience and acquiescence which you have shown in all the arrangements which have been made for you, will have a proper effect.’

‘I think, that he does know something he don’t like to say’, wrote Charlotte hopefully to Mercer.

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

Picture: Frederick Duke of York and Albany by John Jackson, unknown date, National Portrait Gallery

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]