Tag Archives: the napoleonic wars

Charlotte Is Writing To The Prime Minister

At Warwick House, the news [about the battle of Waterloo] was, for the most part, a relief. Napoleon had decided to strike at the right flank and try to take on the allies one at time. So the Russians were too far away to be engaged – Leopold was safe. Wellington and Blücher were the only commanders who had been able to combine, and theirs were the armies that suffered casualties. Among these, Charlotte learned, both Charles Hesse and the Hereditary Prince of Orange had been wounded, although neither so severely that his life was in danger. But there was also a loss, and it was a loss that brought back the gloom that Warwick House had not seen since the death of Mrs Gagarin.

Two days before the battle of Waterloo, in an attempt to halt the French advance, the Duke of Brunswick had been killed leading his black cavalry in a charge at Quatre Bras. The little duchy had lost another duke to Napoleon.

(…)

Grief did not, however, distract Charlotte from what was now her only important objective. By the time she wrote that letter [to her mother], she had written to the Prime Minister asking him to represent her formally with her father and request him to offer her hand in marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. If he did not agree, she warned, she would remain a spinster and refuse all other suitors.

This time the Prince Regent’s excuse was ‘the state of the Continent and the negotiations’ that followed the exile of Napoleon to St Helena. This, he said, was not the moment to consider such a proposal. In his report to Charlotte, Lord Liverpool told her that for the time being he felt there was no more he could do; the matter would have to be ‘postponed for his Royal Highness’s further consideration’.

When the Duke of York heard what had happened he agreed with the Prime Minister and advised Charlotte to be patient. He was in touch with Leopold and knew he was about to join the allied army in Paris. Duty might well prevent him from coming to England for a few months anyway, and meanwhile Charlotte was about to be sent away for another seaside exile in Weymouth. The Duke’s advice was to wait until November, when Parliament would be sitting again, and then ‘make another push’.

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

Picture: Portrait of the 2nd Earl of Liverpool by Thomas Lawrence, before 1827, National Portrait Gallery

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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]

Who Is Leopold? (Part 3)

In October Leopold went to Erfurt where Napoleon, the Tsar and many of the leading rulers in the Confederation of the Rhine had assembled for a conference. In reality it was more of a celebration than a conference. There were more balls, banquets and parades than meetings. But amid these Leopold managed to obtain an audience with the Emperor, at which he repeated his brother’s request for more land and his own for a position on the imperial staff. The answer to the former was more encouraging and more specific than before. Napoleon agreed to add parts of Bayreuth and Bamberg to Coburg. But the answer to the latter was still non-committal.

In later life Leopold always denied that he had asked for a position. He said that it was Napoleon who offered him a job and that he had turned it down. But Napoleon told a different story, and Napoleon was the one who had no reason to disguise the truth. During his exile on St Helena, he told the Comte de las Cases, ‘This Prince Leopold might have been my aide-de-camp; he begged it of me; I don’t know what prevented his appointment. It is very lucky for him he did not succeed.’

In 1808 Leopold could not have felt that he was doing anything dishonourable or disloyal. His homeland was part of the French Empire, and he had been granted an honorary commission by the Tsar, who was then Napoleon’s ally. Like so many other princes, he simply sought advancement in the entourage of his new commander. After Napoleon’s defeat, however, it was unlikely that others would see it that way. To have asked for such a job would not have looked good in England, and to have succeeded in obtaining it would have made Leopold ineligible for almost all the honours and offices that were subsequently offered to him.

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

Charlotte Meets Prince August

Among the numerous foreign princes who danced and clicked their heels in the victory celebrations was one who appeared to Charlotte’s inexperienced eyes quite perfect. He was thirty-five, but that did not trouble her. He had been invited to London on account of his bravery at the Battle of Leipzig, and throughout the French campaign. Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich August von Preussen, to give him his full name, was the son of Prince Ferdinand*, the youngest brother of Frederick the Great. In compliment to their valiant uncle all Prince Ferdinand’s children were baptized Frederick or Frederica, which must have caused some confusion in the nursery, but later the first name was dropped. Charlotte adds to the confusion by referring to her prince as ‘F’ in her letters, for there were crops of Fredericks all over Europe, and this one was generally known as August.

He was a distinguished soldier; handsome in a conventional military way, tall, and with a figure that looked its best in uniform. Poor Dutch William must have looked plain and shrimp-like beside him. An experienced philanderer, he had little difficulty in winning Charlotte’s vulnerable heart. He probably saw her for the first time at Carlton House when, as William had noted, she was ‘in great beauty’; and after this they met clandestinely and often. It would not have been difficult for Prince August to capture her imagination with stories of his glamorous career.

‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her, that she did pity them.’

But did he? Charlotte, deluded as she was, believed their passion to be mutual, and for ever. She hung upon his every word: they exchanged rings. He swore that when he returned to Prussia he would write. And romantic, misguided, idiotic Miss Knight, enthusiastically encouraging what she believed was to be a grande passion, offered to receive and pass on his letters.

She could hardly have back a less suitable horse. Prince August was a notorious womanizer, and had begotten several children in Prussia. In 1807 he fell violently in love with the famous beauty, Madame Récamier, whom he met at Madame de Staël’s house, the Château de Coppet. She had been married for fourteen years to a banker Jacques Récamier, who was impotent; at Prince August’s request she wrote to her husband, begging him to release her. His reply, imploring her not to leave him, touched her heart, and Prince August was obliged to give her up, which he did with some bitterness and in indifferent French, ‘Je vous prie de ne plus m’écrire: vos lettres me font trop de mal. Adieu pour le dernière fois.’ He never forgot her. He had his portrait painted with her picture by Gerard in the background, and he is said to have spent hours gazing at her reclining, semi-nude beauty.

However, according to his biographer, Friedrich von Oppeln-Bronikows[k]i (Liebesgeschichten am Preussischen Hofe, Berlin 1928) he did not despair because of that unfulfilled love, but had one affair after another, or sometimes several at a time. ‘His harem,’ it was said, ‘was the talk of the town.’

No one, at this stage, murmured a word of warning to Charlotte, till one day when Mercer arrived unexpectedly at Warwick House and was met by an agitated Miss Knight. Charlotte, she whispered, was alone with Prince August in her room. Mercer insisted that this tête à tête must be broken up at once, and, as Cornelia demurred, did so herself. ‘She evidently,’ said Greville, ‘had no mind that anybody should conduct such an affair for the Princess but herself.’ Although, a month or two later she was lending a sympathetic ear to Charlotte’s outpourings on the subject of ‘F’, she saw at once that in her present precarious situation the affair must at all costs be kept quiet: Miss Knight must be mad to encourage it.

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

* He was the Louis Ferdinand who, Princess Caroline preposterously claimed, was the father of Wilikin. [In reality he was Prince Louis Ferdinand’s brother, not son. They were both the sons of Prince Augustus Ferdinand of Prussia. For more details see Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Augustus_Ferdinand_of_Prussia#Marriage_and_children ]

The Allies Arrive In London

Dutch William seems at this point to have been in love with Charlotte: her attitude to him was friendly, but guarded. Her attitude to the marriage fluctuated. On June 4 she told her mother that ‘everything was fixed for her marriage; that she did not love the Prince of Orange, but that she must be married’. Yet at a previous meeting between mother and daughter only a couple of weeks before, Charlotte had declared that nothing would induce her to marry ‘young Frog’. ‘I think him so ugly that I am sometimes obliged to turn my head away in disgust when he is speaking to me.’

Much as she longed to be married and free from restraint, she insisted that she had not made up her mind. It was true she had bought herself jewels with some of the money sent from Holland for that purpose; it was true she had formally given her consent to the offer of marriage brought by the Dutch envoy; but she did not consider herself committed by what she called these ‘preliminary matters’, which were, she said airily, ‘of very small importance’. She was aware that a number of interesting and personable young princes would be coming to London in the wake of the Allied Sovereigns; and she considered that she should be allowed to have a look round, so to speak, before committing herself.

Fortunately for Charlotte, with the arrival, early in June, of the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia and Prince Metternich representing the Emperor of Austria, every domestic problem, including her marriage, was swept aside in the whirlwind of excitement and triumph which took possession of the country. The victory over Napoleon – falsely believed to be total – was an event to be celebrated by all. Doves of peace and patriotic sentiments adorned public buildings, flags and streamers by day and flares and transparencies by night informed the world that the long war was won. Pulteney’s Hotel sported a banner which announced piously ‘Thanks be to God’, while across the front of Devonshire House the young Duke spelled out the one eloquent word, ‘Peace’.

(…)

It had been planned that the Regent should meet and welcome the Emperor of Russia at Shooter’s Hill, Woolwich, and conduct him to St. James’s Palace after a triumphal drive through the City. But the Tsar upset all these plans. He did not want to stay at St.James’s Palace; he preferred to join his sister at Pulteney’s Hotel, and after his meeting with the Prince Regent he jumped into Count Lieven’s carriage and drove through the waiting crowds without being recognized. The Regent went back to Carlton House, and sent a message to Pulteney’s Hotel, saying he would visit the Emperor there. But as in all his encounters with the Russians, the Regent’s welcome to his victorious Ally was a disaster. The Emperor Alexander and his sister waited for two hours, when another message arrived from the Prince. ‘His Royal Highness has been threatened with annoyance in the street if he shows himself; it is therefore impossible for him to come and see the Emperor.’

It was a lamentable situation. The Russian Emperor drove in Count Lieven’s carriage to Carlton House, where he held a short conversation with his cross, flustered host. It was to be their only private interview. The Tsar, already prejudiced by his sister’s account of the Regent, now found his Ally quite insufferable. ‘A poor prince,’ he commented to Lieven as they drove away.

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

Picture: Tsar Alexander I by George Dawe, 1824, Peterhof

The Visit of the Grand Duchess Catherine

As soon as they were rid of Napoleon, all the European sovereigns were planning to come to England to celebrate their victory, and as a vanguard, or perhaps a reconnaissance, the Tsar’s favourite sister, the Grand Duchess Catherine, arrived while Napoleon was still at large.

The clever and cultured Grand Duchess Catherine was dark and dignified with slavonic, slightly Mongolian features. At the age of twenty-five she was already a widow. After nursing her husband, Prince George of Oldenberg, through his long, fatal illness, she went to neighbouring Holland, where she met Charlotte’s uncle William, the Duke of Clarence, who was there on a goodwill visit, and who was soon besotted with her.

(…) When the Grand Duchess arrived in London, the Prince Regent went round to the hotel to welcome her. But he went much too early. She was still changing to receive him when a footman came to announce his arrival. The meeting was more embarrassing than cordial.

That evening, when she dined at Carlton House, the Grand Duchess confirmed the opinion that she had formed earlier. She did not like the Prince Regent. But she liked very much his daughter, who was also present. In a letter to her brother the Tsar she described Charlotte as ‘the most interesting member of the family… She is blonde, has a handsome nose, a delicious mouth and fine teeth…She is full of spirit and positive in character. She seems to have an iron will in the smallest things…’ But ‘her manners’, wrote the Grand Duchess, ‘are so extraordinary that they take one’s breath away… She walks up to any man, young or old, especially to the older men, takes them by the hand, and shakes it with all her strength… She looks like a boy, or rather a ragamuffin. I really am telling you nothing but the strictest truth. She is ravishing, and it is a crime to have allowed her to acquire such habits.’

After that dinner the Grand Duchess Catherine and Princess Charlotte visited each other often at the Pulteney Hotel and Warwick House – so often in fact that the Prince Regent sent Sir Henry Halford to Warwick House with an order for Miss Knight. She was to do all that she could to reduce the frequency of these meetings. It was an order that Miss Knight had neither the power nor the will to obey. She could cut down on Charlotte’s visits to the Pulteney Hotel, but she could do nothing to prevent the Grand Duchess from coming round to Warwick House – which was fortunate. Since the Regent was preventing his daughter from appearing anywhere in society other than at Carlton House, these visits were almost the only occasions on which the Princess and the Grand Duchess were able to meet.

One evening at the dinner party given by Lord and Lady Liverpool, the Prince Regent sat with the Grand Duchess Catherine on his right and the Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian Ambassador, on his left. In the course of dinner the Grand Duchess turned to him.
‘Why, your Royal Highness, do you keep your daughter under lock and key?’ she asked. ‘Why does she appear nowhere?’
‘My daughter is too young, Madame, to appear in society’, said the Prince.
‘She is not too young for you to have chosen her a husband.’
The Prince was clearly uncomfortable. ‘She will not be married for another two years’, he said.
‘When she is married’, said the Grand Duchess, ‘I hope she will know how to make up for her present imprisonment.’
The Prince snapped back at her. ‘When she is married, Madame, she will do her husband’s will, just as at present she is doing mine.’
The Grand Duchess smiled and spoke very sweetly. ‘Ah, yes. Your Royal Highness is right. Between husband and wife there can only be one will.’
So far the conversation had been conducted in French. But now the Prince turned to the Princess Lieven and spoke in English, in rage, and loudly enough for everyone at the table to hear him.
‘This is intolerable!’

The Grand Duchess Catherine and Charlotte continued to meet, and the Grand Duchess was always as blunt with Charlotte as she had been with her father. She told her that she thought the Prince Regent was ‘a voluptuary’. And as for the Duke of Clarence, he was positively ‘vulgar’. While they were in Holland he had actually been so presumptuous as to propose to her.

It was at one of these meetings, on 5 April, that Lord Bathurst called to inform Princess Charlotte that the allies had entered Paris. Four days later news came that Napoleon had abdicated.

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

Picture: Ekaterina Pavlovna of Russia by anonymous (19 c., Hermitage)