Tag Archives: the napoleonic wars

A Day At The Opera

As the day for the visit to the opera approached, Charlotte also agreed to dine with her father on that evening. There was no conflict in this. It was customary in these days to dine before going to the opera or the theatre; the Prince Regent, like most people, dined in the late afternoon.

There were sixteen at the dinner, among them the Duke of York, but not the Duchess, and politicians from both parties, including Sheridan and Adam. As it was bound to do, the conversation turned to politics. When too much wine had been consumed, the Prince launched into a vehement attack on the Whigs. He censured the leader of the Whig opposition, Earl Grey, for not having joined a coalition in the previous year when he was offered the opportunity, and he censured the Duke of York for corresponding with him about a possible future government.

Until he was sworn in as Regent, the Prince had been an ostentatious Whig himself. At one of his daughter’s birthday parties he has told the guests proudly that he was having her educated to espouse the ideals of Charles James Fox. Once he became Regent, therefore, the Whigs fully expected that, after a year, when he would have the power to do so, he would dismiss the government and call a general election.

By now, however, it was clear to everyone that he was never going to do any such thing. After all, it was the Tory government, now led by Spencer Perceval, that had made him Regent, and it was the Tory government that was winning the war in Spain. It was neither in his interest nor the nation’s to risk a general election at such moment.

To Charlotte her father’s conduct was nothing short of a betrayal. She was the Whig he once wanted her to be, despite the influence of Tory tutors. She could never be as fickle as he was. As a Whig she was sincere, committed and above all radical. Her letters to Mercer are full of recommendations of Whig pamphlets and journals. Shortly before the dinner she had written to her about what her father and his government were doing to suppress the Roman Catholic majority in Ireland. In a letter so passionate that her respect for grammar and syntax was even less evident than usual, she wrote:

I do indeed feel very very unhappy & uneasy about this business in Ireland; it but too too clearly shows the side he has taken. Good God, what will become of us! Of Ireland! We shall without doubt lose that, & as English people all faith & confidence in their Prince. Don’t call me a croker after all this, nor a republican for saying that the Irish will be justified in anything they do, if their long promised freedom is not granted.

As the conversation at the dinner table became more and more heated, Charlotte became more and more agitated. The Duke of York defended himself. Lord Lauderdale defended Lord Grey, who was no longer welcome at Carlton House. Eventually Charlotte burst into tears, stood up and turned to leave. Sheridan, not yet too drunk not to be chivalrous, left his seat and escorted her to the door.

Back at Warwick House Charlotte composed herself enough to make the short journey to Covent Garden. As she and the Duchess of York entered their box at the opera house, she waved over-excitedly to everyone she knew in the stalls. A few judged her behaviour a little undignified, but to most people it was charming. Then she noticed that the box opposite was occupied by Earl Grey. Here was a chance to tell the world where her political loyalties lay. Having already attracted his attention, she leaned out and, for all to see, blew kisses at the leader of the opposition.

A few days later, after the Whig gossips had spread the story of the dinner party throughout London, ‘dear Lord Byron’, whom Charlotte had been ‘seeing a great deal lately’, wrote a short poem in praise of the Princess who did not yet know how popular she was. It was entitled ‘To a Lady Weeping’.

Weep, daughter of a noble line,
A sire’s disgrace, a realm’s decay –
Ah! happy if each tear of thine
Could wash a father’s fault away!

Weep, for thy tears are virtue’s tears,
Auspicious to these suffering isles –
And be each drop, in future years,
Repaid thee of thy people’s smiles.

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

charles_grey_2nd_earl_grey_by_sir_thomas_lawrence_copy

Portrait of Charles Grey 2nd Earl Grey,  Sir Thomas Lawrence, circa 1828, National Portrait Gallery

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Charlotte Meets Her Maternal Uncle

The year 1809 had deprived thirteen-year-old Charlotte of her second ‘adopted parent’. But it also brought her two new friends. The first was a real relation, her uncle William, the new Duke of Brunswick. The bluff but dignified and patient Duke was relieved to have reached London safely, and he never seemed to tire of listening to Charlotte’s lisping chatter.

After the duchy had been overrun, he had assembled seven hundred exiled hussars and dressed them in black uniforms in permanent mourning for his father. With this resolute little corps, he had reconquered the duchy. But the French had returned in strength and driven him out again. Dodging the French whenever he could and fighting them when he had no choice, he had led his men westward to the coast, where a squadron of British warships was waiting to carry them to England. In the years to come the romantic Black Brunswickers were to be among Britain’s most formidable allies in the war against Napoleon.

Like many military men in Europe, and like very few in clean-shaven England, the Duke had a huge moustache. Charlotte adored it. After their first meeting in Blackheath, according to George Keppel, she went back to Warwick House, painted a black moustache on her face and marched up and down in a military manner barking guttural expletives, which she hoped very much sounded like German swear words.

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

Herzog_Friedrich_Wilhelm_von_Braunschweig-Oels,_der_Schwarze_Herzog

Picture: Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel by Johann Christian August Schwartz, 1809, Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_William,_Duke_of_Brunswick-Wolfenb%C3%BCttel

The Duchess of Brunswick Returns To England

‘On October 14, 1806, the Duke of Brunswick, Princess Charlotte’s grandfather, was mortally wounded at Auerstadt and his Dukedom seized by Napoleon. The Prince of Wales showed little regret at the loss of his father-in-law. “I cannot help thinking,” he wrote, “that had he survived, & had taken a review of his past political conduct, & of the very disgraceful proposals which he is supposed to have sent to the French tyrant after the complete rout of the Prussian forces under his command, he would & must have suffer’d most grieviously indeed. I cannot therefore say that his death has occasioned me either surprise or much regret.” But there was some anxiety as to the future of the widowed Duchess, Caroline’s mother, who had managed with difficulty to escape from Brunswick to Sweden. Most people thought that she would make for England, and the Duke of Clarence wrote to the Prince of Wales, “If I know the Duchess at all, she will be the least welcome visitor to her wise and virtuous daughter…”

On July 1, 1807, the Duchess of Brunswick landed in England, her native country which she had not seen for forty-three years. Her daughter, Princess Caroline, who now spent much of her time at Kensington Palace, handed over Montague House as a temporary residence for the Duchess, who was received with affection by her brother, King George. Although the Queen and her sister-in-law had always heartily detested each other, a meeting at Buckingham House, at which the Princess of Wales was present, went off successfully, and Princess Elizabeth reported to the Prince that “her reception was most cordial of my mother and they appeared mutually pleased with each other”. “She certainly is a fine old woman,” added Princess Elizabeth… ” but you see when she walks or tries to get into her carriage she is very infirm.”

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

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Portrait: Augusta of Great Britain, duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel by Johann Georg Ziesenis, third quarter of 18th century

Interrupted Journey

‘They left for England on 29 December. On orders from London, they took the shortest route, expecting to meet up with the British squadron which, they were told, would be waiting for them off the coast of Holland. But when they came close to the Dutch border Malmesbury received a letter from General Harcourt, who had replaced the Duke of York as commander of the British army. Harcourt warned himthat it was too dangerous to continue. The British were still retreating. If he tried to reach the coast now, he would have to pass through the French lines to do it. Despite the Princess’s insistence that she was a Brunswicker and not afraid, Malmesbury took her back as far as Osnabruck, where they waited eagerly for news of a reversal of fortune of the allies.

But the news, when it came, towards the end of the month, was not what they wanted to hear. The French were now in control of Holland, and they were already so sure of keeping control that they were preparing to make radical changes (…) The British army was withdrawing across the north – eastern border. Recognising that its mission was now futile, the British naval squadron that had been waiting for the Princess had turned about and sailed for home. (…) Malmesbury took Princess Caroline back to Hanover, and for the next six weeks, in the exemplary decorum of the Hanoverian court, he continued to teach her how the English expected a princess to behave.

At last, when the thaw came, they headed north, accompanied by Mrs Harcourt, the wife of the British commander, who had agreed to attend the Princess on the journey. On 28 March they boarded a frigate, HMS Jupiter, off Cuxhaven at the mouth of the river Elbe. They were safe. Britannia still ruled the waves. The waters around them were crowded with British warships. A few days earlier, twenty miles to the south, the British force had been evacuated from Bremerhaven.

When they reached Gravesend Malmesbury, Mrs Harcourt and Princess Caroline transferred from HMS Jupiter to the royal yacht, Augusta, and sailed up the Thames in her. They arrived at Greenwich, as expected, at noon on Easter Sunday.

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

‘The morning of Wednesday 1 April 1795 found the naval squadron escorting Caroline of Brunswick to England for her marriage to the Prince of Wales fogbound in the North Sea about eight leagues offshore between Orfordness and Yarmouth. It was not until the early hours of Friday 3 April – Good Friday -that the weather cleared, and Commodore Jack Payne was able to get the frigate Jupiter under way again and sail on down the coast before a brisk east – south – east wind, passing Harwich at eleven o’clock. That night was spent at anchor off the Nore, and on Saturday the flotilla entered the Thames estuary, reaching Gravesend at two in the afternoon. The river banks were lined with spectators, the day was fine and “the whole prospect most beautiful” – at least according to the account of James Harris, Earl of Malmesbury, on board the Jupiter.

Lord Malmesbury, who had had the task of fetching the bride from Germany plus the anxiety of conveying her across a corner of Europe currently under threat of attack by the conquering armies of revolutionary France, was understandably euphoric in anticipation of being able to deliver his charge safely into the arms of her groom, but the long – termprospects for the success of the union were not encouraging.’

[an extract from ‘Caroline&Charlotte’ by Alison Plowden]

Combat Naval Vaisseau Français Le Triton Contre Vaisseau Anglais Le Jupiter et la Frégate la Médée près de Lisbonne 20 octobre 1778

Picture: The Battle between French ship and English frigates ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Medusa’ near Lisobon on 20th October 1778 by Naval battle off the coast of Lisbon, 20 October 1778. The French vessel Triton against the British ships HMS Jupiter and the frigate Medea by Pierre-Julien Gilbert