Tag Archives: thomas erskine 1st baron erskine lord chancellor

The Delicate Investigation Finds Nothing Significant

‘While this sordid and trivial collection of of evidence slowly piled up at the Prime Minister’s house in Downing Street, the Princess was forbidden to see her daughter. Charlotte, now ten, had already before the Investigation, been debarred from playing with Willikin; and though she can hardly have minded, or at the time have known why, she must have had some idea of what was going on. Her acceptance of the situation, when it came, was clear-eyed, for in 1815 she told the Prince Regent and her aunt, Princess Mary, as if she had always known it, that Captain Manby was the father of William Astin, and that Edwardina Kent, the Princess’s “foundling” daughter, was her child by Sir Sidney Smith. She seems to have had no doubt.

The Inquiry, however, after careful consideration of all the statements, found that there was no proof of the Princess Caroline’s guilt. William Austin was, as she claimed, the son of a dock labourer, and the child’s mother, Sophia Austin, had appeared at Downing Street to confirm this. The Commissioners reported to the King that from the evidence there was no foundation for believing the Princess to have given birth to an illegitimate child in 1802. Nevertheless, they continued, other particulars respecting the conduct of Her Royal Highness “must, especially considering her exalted rank and station, necessairly give rise to very unfavourable interpretations”.’

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

 Caroline Princess of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence

The Princess’ Servants Keep Gossiping

‘On 31 May, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Solicitor General assembled at Number 10 Downing Street. In the course of that session and the many that followed, they examined the Douglases, several doctors, all the servants who now worked for the Princess and most of those who had ever worked for her.

Their evidence was not as helpful as the Prince had hoped, however. They could not corroborate the story that his wife was the mother of William Astin. Apart from anything else, there was a Mrs Astin who called herself his mother and came over regularly from Deptford to visit him.

As far for the men named in the rumours and the “written declarations”, there was no hard evidence that any of them had actually committed treasonable adultery with the Princess. George Canning was just one of her many visitors. Although she had been seen kissing Captain Manby and sitting very close to Sir Sidney on a sofa, no one had caught her with either of them in any more compromising circumstances. Although Sir Thomas had twice stayed at the house, he had remained in his room all night.’

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

‘Servants’ gossip was the chief material of this far from delicate investigation. Some had said that the Princess was in the family way, others thought not, though “she grew lusty and appeared large behind”; but her page, Thomas Stikeman, who had been with her since her marriage, stated that “from her shape it is difficult to judge when she is with child…When she was with child of the Pss Charlotte,” he added, “I should not have known it when she was far advanced in her time, if I had not been told it.”

The Inquiry was interested to find out whether or no the Princess had committed adultery with any of the gentlemen who were in the habit of visiting her. Among these was a Captain Thomas Manby, R.N., who was in constant attendance when his ship the Africaine was in dock, and who apparently turned up in a boat when the Princess went to stay at Southend and Margate. Needless to say, the servants named him as Caroline’s lover, and there were stories of their being discovered together in compromising attitudes, all of which Captain Manby, when questioned, firmly denied.

Sir Thomas Lawrence, commissioned by the King to paint the Princess and her daughter, was also accused by the servants of unconventional behaviour. It was alleged that several times he slept in the house. This he firmly admitted, as it had been “for the greater convenience of executing his painting”. “I have likewise,” he declared, “been graciously admitted to her Royal Highness’s presence in the evenings, and remained there till twelve, one, and two o’clock.” But, lest anyone should misunderstand this statement, he quickly added that he had never been alone with the Princess.

Admiral Sir Sidney Smith, safely at sea, made no attempt to defend himself against the accusations of pages and footmen, including one William Cole, whose evidence cannot have been entirely reliable. The Princess dismissed him from her service in 1802, but Cole kept in close touch with the staff at Montague House, and now stated confidently that “Mr. Bidgood’s wife has lately told him, that Fanny Lloyd told her, that Mary Wilson had told Lloyd, that one day, when she went into the Princess’s room, she found the Princess and Sir Sidney in the fact; that she [Wilson] immediately left the room, and fainted at the door”.’

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

Princess Caroline by Thomas Lawrence, 1804, National Portrait Gallery

Portrait: Caroline of Brunswick by Thomas Lawrence, 1804, National Portrait Gallery

The Delicate Investigation Begins

‘The Prince took the Douglases’ ‘written declarations’ to the Lord Chancellor, who felt that in the light of the last allegations there had to be some sort of enquiry. So the Lord Chancellor went to the Prime Minister, and then, to the further delight of the Prince, the Prime Minister went to the King.

At first King George was reluctant to do anything. He was fond of the Princess of Wales. Despite her estrangement from his son, he still visited her often at Blackheath. But eventually he was persuaded and gave orders for what became known as “The Delicate Investigation”.’

king george and prince of wales

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