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Leopold Is Grief-Stricken

[On November 6th] as at Charlotte’s birth, the night was filled suddenly with the sound of galloping horses. From Claremont the news was carried to London, and from there, far and wide, breaking over the country like a tidal wave ‘The Princess Charlotte is dead’. The blow was shattering. Such hopes had been placed upon her and her child, such a golden prospect had seemed to lie ahead if Charlotte succeeded to the throne. ‘It really was,’ said Brougham, ‘as if every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child.’

Throughout the land, instead of the joyful peals of bells that had been expected, everywhere a melancholy tolling announced the news. The whole kingdom went into deep mourning: linen drapers ran out of supplies of black cloth; houses and shops were draped in black. Even tramps and beggars tied black rags around their sleeves.

In London, all the theatres were closed; as were the Low Courts, the Royal Exchange, and the docks. Even gambling houses decided to shut down on the day of the funeral, ‘as a proper mark of respect’.

At Claremont, Leopold mourned. Everything he saw reminded him poignantly, agonizingly, of Charlotte. Nothing in her room, he ordered, was to be moved: her bonnet and pelisse, flung down when she returned from her last walk, her boots, her watch left on the chimney-piece, all were to remain untouched. He wandered, a melancholy figure, through the grounds, visiting the places where they had sketched or botanized together, pausing to gaze at the Gothic summer-house which she had planned, which would now be finished as her mausoleum. Below it was a little garden, planted with flowers that she had chosen; it would be known always as Charlotte’s garden. Like Queen Victoria in a similar plight, he was obsessed by his memories; he could only live in the past.

It is true to say that Leopold never fully recovered. He took a mistress (because she reminded him of Charlotte), and offered her morganatic marriage. She consoled Charlotte’s neglected parrot, but she could not console Leopold for long. He married again, and had children; he became King of the Belgians and Queen Victoria’s ‘dearest Uncle’; but without Charlotte he was incomplete. It was as though he had lost his heart.

When he was an old man Stockmar wrote in his reminiscences, ‘November saw the ruin of this happy home, and the destruction at one blow of every hope and happiness of Prince Leopold. He has never recovered the feelings of happiness which had blessed his short married life.’

Charlotte’s death, unexplained and totally unexpected, may be said to have altered Leopold’s whole life: indeed, it seemed at the time that it would alter the whole future of the dynasty. But Providence, so often invoked by the Regent, in its inscrutable way rearranged the pattern, and in due course Victoria and Albert fulfilled the hopes which had been placed upon Charlotte and Leopold.

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

Picture: A marble monument by Matthew Cotes Wyatt for Princess Charlotte on her grave in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle http://en.wahooart.com/@@/8Y3MAW-Matthew-Cotes-Wyatt-Cenotaph-to-Princess-Charlotte

Silence Before The Storm

When the newspapers reported that Sir Thomas Lawrence had left Claremont and returned to London, they still expected that, as the doctors had predicted, the Princess would give birth on 19 October. But 19 October came and went and all that they could say was that the Princess was still in the best health and driving out daily in her little phaeton.

The Queen was waiting for news at Windsor, hoping to visit Charlotte and her baby as soon as possible after the birth. But she had not been well for some time and on Saturday, 2 November, she went down to take the waters at Bath.

By then the Prince Regent had gone to stay with his mistress Lady Hertford and her husband at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire.

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

The following day [November 2] was a Sunday, and Charlotte, indomitable, drove out in her pony chaise. It was a lovely day, with all the colours of autumn displayed in the sunshine. After the drive, Charlotte and Leopold went to morning service in the chapel, which was filled with as usual with attendants and staff. The Princess cannot have been tired, for after the service she drove out again, with the devoted Leopold beside her. But her long-drawn-out pregnancy was becoming very wearisome, and she did not know that she had only one more day to wait, only one more drive round the estate, one more inspection of the work on the Home Farm and the building of her Gothic summer house.

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

Charlotte Sits To Sir Thomas Lawrence

And so it was that Charlotte, without he stays, sat to Sir Thomas Lawrence at the beginning of October, only a few weeks before the birth. Lawrence, who nearly twenty years before, had painted Charlotte and her mother at Blackheath, now spent nine days at Claremont, working on the new portrait, which Charlotte intended as a birthday present for her husband. The artist, accustomed to study faces, had an opportunity to scrutinize the Princess whom he had not seen since her infancy, and his account of her and her tranquil life with Leopold is, at this point, reassuring.

‘Their mode of life,’ he said, ‘is very regular. They breakfast together alone about eleven: at half past she came in to sit for me, accompanied by Prince Leopold, who stayed great part of the time. About three she would leave the painting room to take her airing round the grounds in a low phaeton with her ponies, the Prince always walking by her side …’ At five, she sat for Lawrence again, and the whole household dined together at soon after seven. After dessert, the Prince and Princess went together into the drawing-room, where they played and sang together – ‘sitting at the pianoforte, often on the same stool …’ But when the company joined them, they broke off, and, after coffee, everybody played cards, the Prince and Princess being always partners.

There was no doubt, Leopold had tamed her. Princess Charlotte, said Lawrence, ‘had nothing of the hoyden, or of that boisterous hilarity which has been ascribed to her’, and he was charmed by her straight-forward honesty, and something about her which reminded him of ‘the good King, her grandfather’.

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

Doctors Are Chosen But Some Bad Omens Appear

The optimism of the press and the market was not always shared by those who saw Charlotte, however. Lady Holland described ‘strange abnormal symptoms’. Several people said the Princess was so large that she was likely to have twins, and the Queen, who had as much experience of pregnancy as almost anyone, said that ‘her figure was so immense (to me not natural) that I could not help being uneasy to a considerable degree’.

Before setting out on a visit to Rome, Lady Ashbrook, who had grown close to Charlotte while they were both on holiday in Weymouth, called at Claremont and strongly recommended that she should engage Sir William Knighton as ‘accoucheur’. Knighton was a highly qualified physician who had studied at Aberdeen and Edinburgh. He had been made a baronet by Charlotte’s father, whom he had attended on a number of occasions, and he was widely regarded as by far the best ‘accoucheur’ in England.

When Lady Ashbrook returned from Rome, however, she discovered to her impotent anguish that Sir William had not been appointed. Dr Baillie, who, as the King’s Physician Extraordinary, was to be in charge of Charlotte’s confinement, had chosen his own brother-in-law, Sir Richard Croft, instead.

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

Three doctors were in charge of the Princess: Sir Richard Croft, Dr. Matthew Baillie, the Royal Physician, and Dr. John Sims, who was appointed as consultant to Sir Richard, and was ready to use instruments if the birth proved difficult. According to Sir Eardley Holland, who in 1952 published a profound and detailed study of Charlotte’s case, this appointment is open to discussion. Sims was an eminent botanist as well as a physician, but ‘one wonders,’ writes Sir Eardley, ‘how much time Sims had left for midwifery’. There were, he adds, at least three skilful doctors in London who would have been better fitted for the job.

Stockmar, who was Leopold’s resident physician, resolutely refused to be appointed, or to undertake any part of the treatment, such as bleeding. He believed that if anything were to go wrong, he, as a foreigner, would be blamed.

Sir Richard Croft was fifty-five, a fashionable accoucheur, who had attended the Duchess of Devonshire at the birth of her son, the sixth Duke, who was to become Charlotte’s admirer and friend. Stockmar describes Sir Richard as ‘a long thin man, no longer very young’ (the staff at Claremont called him ‘the old gentleman’), ‘fidgetty and good-natured, and,’ he adds drily, ‘seems to have more experience than either learning or understanding’. Croft had firm theories about pre-natal treatment, and prescribed for Charlotte, who had a healthy appetite, a very plain and frugal diet. He wanted to reduce her weight: so she was blooded and purged; she was also ordered to remove her stays. ‘A cow,’ he asserted, ‘does not wear stays; why should the Princess Charlotte?’

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

Picture: Matthew Baillie (1761–1823), F.R.S., after Hoppner by Henry Bone, 1817, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Charlotte’s Pregnancy Makes Headlines

Charlotte left Claremont at least once during the summer. On 12 August she went over briefly with Leopold to Richmond to attend the party given to celebrate her father’s birthday by the grandmother of another famous cavalry commander, the Dowager Countess of Cardigan. For most of the time, however, she was content to live as she had always lived at Claremont, receiving occasional visits from friends and giving dinner parties for her neighbours.

Yet despite her seclusion, Charlotte’s name was seldom out of the newspapers. Every rumour about her condition, every anecdote, however unlikely, was seized upon gratefully and elaborated in print by every editor and commentator. It was all part of a happy, hopeful story – the only member of the royal family that anybody cared about was soon to give birth – and in 1817 it was almost the only happy story.

The rest of the news was always bad. Britain was in the middle of a post-war recession. Manufactures had reduced production and laid off some of their workers. A very bad harvest had had the same effect in the country. The Corn Law, which was passed to keep the price of corn at a profitable level for farmers and landowners, had put the price of bread beyond the pockets of even those labourers who were still employed.

Charlotte and Leopold had been doing what they could, distributing food and employing as many men as they could afford to make aesthetic ‘improvements’ to their park. But there were not too many who did the same. Bitter indignation and resentment were widespread. Riots were frequent. The Habeas Corpus Act had been suspended so that the government, which had no effective coordinated policies, could lock up suspected rabble-rousers without trial.

At the end of August, Stockmar recorded that Charlotte’s condition was even influencing the Stock Market. ‘Bets for enormous sums have been made on the sex of the expected child, and it has been already calculated on the Stock Exchange that a Princess would only raise the funds 2 1/2 per cent, whilst a Prince would send them up 6 per cent.’

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

‘The Princess is uncommonly well, and I hope will do well,’ wrote her dresser, Mrs. Louis, at the beginning of September. She was beginning now to take her daily outings in a small pony chaise, or walking slowly, leaning on her husband’s arm. ‘The Prince is so very kind to her,’ Mrs. Louis wrote; but some people considered that Charlotte should have a female friend or relation with her at this time. Her old friend Lady Ashbrook, who had kept her company at Weymouth, wrote offering to be with her at the birth, but Charlotte declined, explaining that the Queen suggested being with her, and she had refused. After this, she could not invite anyone else. But perhaps in moments of depression she wished that her mother were not so far away. ‘I have not heard from my mother for a long time,’ she wrote to Lady Charlotte Bury. ‘If you can give me any intelligence of her, I should be much obliged.’ And she added that she was ‘daily expecting to be confined’.

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

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