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The Anniversary Of Leopold’s Death

Forty-eight years after Charlotte’s passing, Leopold died at Laeken on 10 December 1865. Let me quote the description of his last moments as quoted in ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers.

Knowing that he was dying, he asked that his body be taken to England and buried in Windsor with his first wife and their son. He even wrote to Victoria, who agreed to it. His ministers, however, would not allow it. He was the King of the Belgians. He must be buried among his people. But they could only control his earthly remains. Gathered around the bed in accordance with tradition to witness the last moments of their king, they must have known that his heart and mind were in England, when they heard him whisper as life left him, ‘Charlotte… Charlotte.’

Picture: Portrait of Leopold I, King of the Belgians, Nicaise de Keyser, 1856, Antwerp City Hall

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

The Whole World Mourns Charlotte

Leopold was never the same again. Almost fifty years later he told his niece Queen Victoria that he had ‘never recovered the feeling of happiness’ that ‘blessed’ his short life with Charlotte. He had always been renowned for his reserve, but, as anyone who had ever been to Claremont knew, there was a warmth beneath it. Now, in his grief, he seemed to be more morose than reserved, and the warmth beneath was replaced for ever by a loveless chill.

On the day of Charlotte’s funeral Stockmar wrote to one of Leopold’s former tutors in Coburg, ‘Life seems already to have lost all value for him, and he is convinced that no feeling of happiness can ever again enter his heart.’

Each day during the week that followed his bereavement, Leopold walked round and round the park in the rain with Dr Short, clutching a miniature of Charlotte in his hand. Late every evening, he went into the bedroom where Charlotte was laying and sat with her for most of the night. In Charlotte’s sitting room, her watch was found on the mantelpiece, and the cloak and bonnet that she had been wearing on her last drive were still hanging on the end of a screen. Leopold gave orders that they were to stay where she had left them.

He was inconsolable and his pain grew greater with almost every visitor. On the day after the deaths the doctors came back to carry out a post mortem, interfering with the bodies of his wife and son in a futile search for a cause of death. Worse, Sir Everard Home, Sergeant Surgeon to the King, came to take out their guts and embalm them.

When the medical men had done their work, the undertakers wrapped the child in linen and put him in a simple open coffin. His little heart, which the doctors had taken out, was put separately into an urn. Then Charlotte, also wrapped in linen, was lifted into her own coffin and covered with blue velvet. Leopold watched, and Mrs Campbell watched Leopold. She described him that evening in a letter to Lady Ilchester. ‘It was grief to look at him. He seemed so heartbroken.’

Even some of the visitors who came to comfort Leopold only added to his misery.The Duchess of York drove over from Oatlands and was so overcome with grief herself that she collapsed in the hall and had to be taken home before she saw him.

The Prince Regent came down and asked to see the bodies. He had left Warwickshire for London soon after he heard that his daughter was in labour, but the rider carrying less welcome news had somehow managed to gallop past his carriage and its escort in the dark. He was back at Carlton House and in bed when the Duke of York came to tell him that his daughter and grandson were dead. His response was uncharacteristically selfless. ‘What is to be done for the poor man?” he said, falling back onto pillow. ‘Great Heaven!’

Leopold gave the Regent a lock of Charlotte’s hair. Next day, the Regent’s sister Princess Mary, who was now Duchess of Gloucester, took the lock, entwined it with a lock from their youngest sister, Princess Amelia, who had died in 1810, and had them made into an eternity ring for him.

The Queen, accompanied by her daughter Princess Elizabeth, was dining with the Mayor and Corporation of Bath when the bad news reached her. She set out at once for Windsor. But back in the castle with her spinster daughters and her sad old husband she was overwhelmed with the sense of helplessness and bitter disappointment. Despair destroyed what was left of her health. It declined rapidly from that moment on. Within a year she was dead.

In Holland the Prince of Orange wept at the news, and out of deference to his grief his Russian Princess ordered the ladies of his court to dress in mourning.

When the news reached Italy, it was said, Lord Byron threw open the windows of his apartment in Venice and let out an anguished scream that was heard echoing down the Grand Canal.

Lady Charlotte Bury, who was also in Italy, summed up the situation precisely in her journal. ‘There is now no object of great interest in the English people, no one great rallying point round which all parties are ready to join… A greater public calamity could not have occurred to us; nor could it have happened at a more unfortunate moment..’

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

As for Caroline, who was living now in a villa on Lake Como, it appears that no one had troubled even to inform her of Charlotte’s death and Charlotte Bury was shocked to hear that the Princess had been left to learn the news ‘through the medium of a common newspaper!’ Lady Charlotte hastened to write and offer her Royal Highness sincere sympathy ‘in this her greatest affliction’ and presently received in return a ‘strangely worded but heartfelt expression of the poor mother’s grief’. ‘I have not only to lament an ever-beloved child’, wrote Caroline, ‘but one most warmly attached friend, and the only one I have had in England! But she is only gone before … and now I trust we shall soon meet in a much better world than the present one.’

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

Dr Stockmar Appears

Nevertheless, in the planning and preparation for their life together, there was much to keep them busy. In Brighton Leopold spent several hours each day learning English, at which his vocabulary and grammar were soon much better than his pronunciation. But he was still unwell. Meeting up with Charlotte had not, as he hoped, cured everything, and nor had the hot baths which the Regent’s doctor had told him to take every other day. Within a fortnight of his arrival in Brighton he had written to Coburg to ask his personal physician, Dr Christian Stockmar, to join him.

Perceptive, practical and good-humoured, little Dr Stockmar was a highly qualified young physician who had taken over the military hospital in Coburg on the outbreak of hostilities with France. He had then served as a regimental surgeon with the Prussian army, and since the end of the war he had formed a close friendship with Leopold. Within days of his arrival in Brighton he had superseded Leopold’s equerry, Baron Hardenbroek, as his closest adviser. When Leopold and Charlotte assembled their own staff, Stockmar became the Prince’s Secretary, Comptroller of his Household and Keeper of his Privy Purse; he remained his confidant until, many years later, Leopold sent him back from Brussels to London to become mentor to his niece Victoria.

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

Picture: Baron Stockmar from the portrait by John Partridge, Arthur Christopher Benson; Viscount Esher (1907). The Letters of Queen Victoria. Volume 2. p. 272.

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]

Charlotte Is Visiting HMS Leviathan

For a girl of eighteen, it was a dull sort of holiday. Her attendants were old or elderly; she was unable to ride, which was her chief delight, because she was suffering from a painful swollen knee, and she was deprived of her phaeton and ponies which she enjoyed driving at Windsor. But as time went on she began to fall under the gentle spell of Weymouth, finding pleasure in sailing, which was something new to her. Her health improved, and she went away hoping to return the following year.

It was during this visit, in the year of Waterloo, that her first biographer, Robert Huish, describes the seafaring princess, in an account which was probably picked up from eye-witness.

‘Her Royal Highness,’ writes Huish, ‘was one day at sea in her yacht, when the Leviathan of 74 guns, being under sail, brought to and fired a salute to the royal standard flying from the yacht. * The Leviathan was a magnificent man-of-war, which had shared in the capture of two Spanish ships at Cadiz, and had fought at Trafalgar. As the vessels approached each other, Leviathan’s commander, Captain Nixon, ordered his barge to be launched, and hurried abroad the yacht to pay his respects to the Princess. She was accompanied by two ladies-in-waiting and the Bishop of Salisbury, who for ten years had been supervising her education. After greeting the Captain, Princess Charlotte, said Huish, ‘expressed herself highly pleased with the appearance of the man-of-war, and intimated a wish to go abroad.’ The Bishop demurred, ‘fearful that her Father might express his displeasure at her going upon the open sea, which was then in a rough state, in an open boat’. But the Princess was determined, and the Bishop knew her well enough to give in, no doubt breathing a silent prayer as the sailors gripped their oars. The waves broke over the bows of the barge, splashing the faces of the party, but Charlotte, laughing, assured her agonized preceptor that she was only doing what Queen Elizabeth had done. ‘She had no fear of going in an open boat to board a man-of-war, so why should I?’

As the barge drew alongside the tall battleship, the order was given for all her yards to be manned, and a chair of state was let down to hoist the Princess on board. But this did not suit Her Royal Highness, who wished to make her way up the ship’s side by rope ladder, as a sailor would; and, asking Captain Nixon to follow and take care of her skirts, she proceeded to climb up with an agility and fearlessness which entranced the ship’s company.

The ship’s officers were now presented to the Princess, who greeted each with a hearty, mannish handshake, unexpected from this blonde feminine creature. She then proceeded to look about her. Standing, as was her way, with feet apart and hands clasped behind her back, she exclaimed at the spaciousness and strength of the great oaken vessel, and gazed, fascinated, at the high masts with their complicated rigging. ‘No wonder,’ she said, ‘that these ships are called the wooden walls of England.’ She asked to be allowed to see every part of the ship, not just the state rooms, but the men’s quarters and the gallery, and further down still in the heart of the vessel, the cockpit, and powder magazine, and the holds.

‘Now,’ she said, as she climbed back on the deck, ‘I have a good idea of what life on a man-of-war is like,’ and she told the Captain that this was one of the most interesting experiences of her life. She then presented him with a purse of money to be used for the benefit of his crew, ‘as a sign of my respect.’ And with that she proceeded to climb down the ship’s side as she had climbed up, to the accompaniment of loud and hearty British cheers.

* In July 1833, William IV, outraged by the salutes accorded by ships in the Solent to the Duchess of Kent and her daughter, the future Queen Victoria, decreed that in future the Royal Standard would only be saluted when the King or Queen was aboard.

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

Picture: Attack on convoy of eighteen French merchant ships at Laigrelia, 1812 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Leviathan_(1790)#/media/File:Attack_on_convoy_of_eighteen_French_merchant_ships_at_Laigrelia.jpg

A Freed Bird Is Forced To Come Back To Its Cage

In a flash of inspiration he [Brougham] made a sudden, dramatic move. It was now dawn, and he took her to the window, which looked eastwards, towards the City of Westminster. On the day which was now beginning an election was about to take place there. ‘In a few hours, all the streets and the park, now empty, will be crowded with tens of thousands,’ he said. ‘I have only to … show you to the multitude, and tell them your grievances, and they will all rise on your behalf.’ There would be violence and bloodshed. ‘Carlton House,’ he continued, ‘will be attacked – perhaps pulled down; the soldiers will be ordered out; and if your Royal Highness were to live a hundred years, it never would be forgotten that your running away from your father’s house was the cause of the mischief: and you may depend upon it, such is the English people’s horror of bloodshed, you never would get over it.’

Rhetoric won that day. Charlotte’s defences crumbled; and she gave in. She agreed to see her uncle York, and to return with him. She had only one stipulation to make: she would go back in a royal carriage.

With head high she walked downstairs to the dining-room, where the Duke of York – the Regent’s representative – was waiting, and told him she would go with him as soon as a carriage arrived from Carlton House. Then she turned to Brougham, and with astonishing firmness and assurance asked him to write down that she was determined never to marry the Prince of Orange: ‘that if ever there should be an announcement of such a match, it must be understood to be without her consent and against her will.’ Six copies were made and signed, wrote Brougham, ‘and one given to each person present’. The declaration was to be made public by the signatories in the event of the Dutch marriage being ever again on the cards. The knowledge of this astute move, probably inspired by Brougham, must have eased Charlotte’s mind as she prepared to to go into exile. Brougham himself was filled with admiration for the young Princess: ‘she showed much firmness, but the greatest sensibility and good feeling,’ he said. ‘I had no idea of her having so much good in her.’

It was only when Mercer came to say good-bye that Charlotte’s control broke down. The two girls clung to each other, unable to speak, believing in this moment of agony that they were being torn apart forever.

Poor Miss Knight was also facing the realization that her life with Charlotte was over – and over for good. Stricken as she was, she could not face going down to say good-bye: she was alone upstairs, she tells us, in hysterics.

The Duke of York handed Charlotte into the royal carriage, but made a fuss when Mrs. Louis, still carrying the Princess’s night things, attempted to follow her. It was only with great difficulty that the Princess of Wales persuaded him that Charlotte must have her maid with her, and Mrs. Louis was grudgingly permitted to perch on the edge of the seat facing the Princess. One wonders when she became dresser to the young Queen Victoria, if amongst her other reminiscences, Mrs. Louis told her about this grim early morning drive from Bayswater to Carlton House. The Princess sat, pale and silent, beside her uncle York, who still held in one hand the folded paper which he had brought to Connaught Place, the warrant to take Charlotte by force. Fortunately, he had not needed it.

At Carlton House the carriage was kept waiting in the courtyard for more than half an hour, because nobody had been told how the Princess Charlotte was to be received, and the new ladies had to be hastily assembled. Eventually, Lady Ilchester, Lady Rosslyn and Mrs. Campbell were ready, and, the bodyguard being formed, the Princess was permitted to enter her father’s house.

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