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A State Prisoner

Two days after her capture, Charlotte, with the aid of her drawing master Mr. Starkey, succeeded in smuggling a pencilled letter to Mercer out of Carlton House. She was allowed neither pen, ink nor paper, but she had stolen ‘these few sheets’, and intended, she said, to pass the letter through milk, to preserve the pencil. She was writing to her uncle Sussex in the same way.

‘You have no idea of my situation,’ she wrote to Mercer. ‘Oh, God, it ought to be remedied indeed, for it is wretched, and enough to send anyone wild … I am complete prisoner, not a letter or thing could get to me except by some merciful private hand.’ Even the Bishop was a welcome visitor in her desolation: he had promised to try and see Mercer, to beg her to get permission to visit Charlotte.

‘Shall you venture,’ she enquires of her friend, ‘upon asking leave to come and see me? … Oh, I wish you would … pray, pray do it.’ She is filled with self-reproach: ‘It is I who by my mad conduct brought all this upon you’ – and she reminds herself yet again of their heartbroken parting when ‘I could not utter one single word because you could not’. The following Monday she is to be moved to Cranbourne Lodge, in Windsor Forest, where she will be even more isolated. Her new ladies, she says, ‘are stupider and duller than anything’. She did not even attempt to talk, and meals were a misery – ‘so forlorn and prisonish’ – and she thinks of the cheerful dinners at Warwick House when Mercer was with her.

She was never alone, even at night, and the atmosphere of watching and suspicion was intolerable. ‘Louis went to Warwick House for some things for me, but … Lady Ilchester went over with her and followed her everywhere she went … and told her there must be no talking or messages with the servants.’

In spite of inflicting this heavy punishment upon his daughter, the Regent was all charm when they met. ‘I heartily begged his pardon for my rash act,’ she said, and he told her that he had forgiven her.”He cried a vast deal,’ she said, ‘did not know what to do for me, but would try & not make my life miserable.’ But the mention of Mercer, she said, drew from her ‘a violent shower of tears’. Altogether, it was a tearful scene, but hardly a constructive one for Charlotte’s future.

On July 18 the Princess moved from Carlton House to Cranbourne Lodge. To her surprise she found the house ‘very cheerful & very good, the view lovely’. She felt it was ‘an honourable retreat … and very far superior to Lower Lodge’. But there was no lessening of restrictions, and she could not shake off her wardresses. ‘Lady Ilchester is best,’ she wrote, ‘I don’t like Campbell at all.’ A week later she changed her mind: Mrs. Campbell was trying to please her and displayed ‘diffidence and delicacy’. But Lady Rosslyn she could never abide: she nicknamed her ‘Famine’ and ‘Vixen’, and her two dim nieces, the Misses Coates, were dubbed ‘the Consequences’. ‘The old one’ (Lady Rosslyn), she wrote, ‘is as detestable an old lump of bones as ever was, never seems good-humoured or pleased, & is always listening to what is going on … ‘

On receiving Charlotte’s pencilled note from Carlton House, the Duke of Sussex composed a letter to the Prime Minister. Princess Charlotte, he said, was being treated as a State Prisoner. Her health was suffering, and her doctors had prescribed sea bathing as vitally important to her recovery. He demanded permission to visit her.

Two days later, on July 19, having received no reply, he got up in the House of Lords, and put five questions, devised by Brougham, to Lord Liverpool. He wished to know, he said, if the Princess is allowed to receive her friends as usual; if she is able to write and receive letters. Is she actually under the restraint of imprisonment? Did not her doctors, a year ago, prescribe a yearly visit to the seaside as necessary to her health? And lastly, now that she passed the age when by Law she is fit to govern, what steps have been taken towards providing her with an Establishment suitable to her rank, and to the part she will soon have to perform?

The questions were pertinent, and embarrassing.

Lord Liverpool refused to answer, on the grounds that the points raised by the Duke ‘would bear by implication a disagreeable appearance as uninvited as it was unnecessary’.

‘Old Bags’, the Lord Chancellor, who was largely responsible for the Regent’s restrictions on Charlotte, ‘administered a rebuke.’ But Sussex, undeterred, said that he would raise the subject again. Before he finally sat down he begged to address the Woolsack, quoting Bacon – he believed it was Bacon – on the importance to man of reading, writing and conversation, and pointing out that ‘retirement, coercion and seclusion were not the means to instruct and give Princess Charlotte of Wales the most favorable idea of the beauty and advantages of the glorious constitution of this country, over which she was one day, please God, to rule’.

Perhaps it is not surprising that after this the Regent refused to meet his brother Sussex again.

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

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Drama Continues

Only the Duke of Sussex, ‘not having been sent by the Regent’, was asked to step upstairs.

He had come in answer to a second summons, sent by Brougham. Charlotte’s note, said her uncle, was such an illegible scrawl that he had put it into his pocket unread. Brougham had been wondering how the Duke would be received, for the Princess of Wales had not spoken time for nine years, ever since he had delivered to the Prince the charges made by Lady Douglas which had led to the Delicate Investigation. But they fell into each other’s arms: ‘no one,’ said Brougham, ‘could have supposed there was the least dryness between them, to see how warmly they embraced.’

Brougham was presented, as the Princess’s legal adviser. ‘Pray, sir,’ said the Duke in his direct way, ‘supposing the Prince Regent, acting in the name and on behalf of His Majesty, were to send a sufficient force to break down the doors of this house and carry away the Princess, would any resistance in such case be lawful?’
‘It would not.’
‘Then, my dear,’ said Sussex to Charlotte, ‘you hear what the law is. I can only advise you to return with as much speed and as little noise as possible.’

Charlotte did not care for this advice, which bore no relation to her own plans. While her uncle settled down to a lively conversation in German with the Princess of Wales, Charlotte took Brougham aside, and tried to explain to him just why she had run away. The whole story came tumbling out: the quarrel with her father over the broken engagement, the dismissal of Miss Knight and of all her household, the arbitrary introduction of new ladies, her forced separation from her mother and from Mercer. She became more and more worked up: all the gaiety she had displayed at dinner had vanished, choked now by the vision of what might be done to her; Brougham noticed that she kept harking back to her terror of being forced into the Dutch marriage. He assured her that ‘without her consent freely given, it could never take place’: but she remained unconvinced. ‘They may wear me out by ill-treatment, & may represent that I have changed my mind & consented.’ She again announced her intention of living with her mother if the Regent would not agree to her terms. Brougham betrayed no sign of approval or disapproval, and she demanded at last what he advised her to do. His direction came instantly.

‘Return to Warwick House or Carlton House, and on no account pass a night out of your own house.’ At this, Charlotte broke down and sobbed: this was not the advice she had hoped for from Brougham. She accused him of turning against her: then she found that he was supported in this view by all the others – by Mercer, by the Duke of Sussex, and even, alas, by her mother. Her rebellious tears turned to despair, as Brougham, seizing his advantage, continued to assure her that this was her only course – she must return. Charlotte was appalled: after the desperate unhappiness of her plight at Warwick House she had felt that here she would be among friends. Yet now these friends were forcing her to go back, to face imprisonment and isolation, surrounded by a female bodyguard chosen without consulting her. Worst of all, she thought in this moment of agony, she would be cut off from Miss Knight, and so from her secret means of communication with Prince August. This was the most cruel deprivation of all, and hardened her in her determination not to give in.

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

Messengers Come And Go

The party was upstairs in the drawing room when Mercer arrived accompanied by ‘the Great UP’. After Charlotte’s flight, when the Prince Regent went off to join a card party at the Duke of York’s apartments, Mercer and the Bishop had agreed to go up to Connaught House and try to persuade Charlotte to come home, and Cornelia Knight had refused to come with them because she could no longer bring herself to set foot in a house that belonged to the Princess of Wales.

Mercer was invited up to the drawing room, while the Bishop was shown into the dining room. It was a pattern of precedence that was to be maintained throughout the night. Partisans of the Princess were brought straight upstairs: representatives of the Regent were at best shown into the dining room and in most cases not even admitted to the house.

The Bishop did not have to wait too long, however. He was soon sent back to find the Regent with a note from Charlotte, in which she promised to return to Warwick House provided she was allowed to see Mercer as often as she wished, and provided Miss Knight and Mrs Louis were allowed to remain members of her household.

He had not been long gone when a series of coaches and carriages arrived carrying the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the other law officers, advisers and privy councillors who had been summoned and sent out by the Regent. To Brougham’s much amused embarrassment, Charlotte merrily instructed the servants to tell them all to wait in their carriages.

Then Cornelia Knight arrived. As soon as Mercer and the Bishop had left the Warwick House she had become so anxious about Charlotte that she changed her mind. She would have come after them then and there if she could. She had sent a note to Lady Salisbury explaining the emergency and asking if she could borrow her carriage. But the carriage had not been available until after it had dropped Lady Salisbury at the opera house.

In her memoir, Cornelia Knight wrote that once she was in the drawing room she gave Charlotte her royal seal, a key and a letter that had arrived after her departure. But she did not say who it was from.

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

Restrictions Are Imposed

But he [The Prince Regent] was by no means satisfied with her [Miss Knight’s] apology for Charlotte’s absence at this interview. He would expect to see her to see her the following day, between two and three, he said, unless Dr. Baillie came and said that she was absolutely incapable of walking from Warwick House.

That night Charlotte sent a note to Mercer, begging her to come ‘as early as possible to me tomorrow’. Her friend had been with her when Miss Knight returned from the Regent, and knew of Charlotte’s reluctance to go to Carlton House next day. The doctors, wrote Charlotte, were to meet, ‘if possible to prevent my going’. She explained that far from avoiding a meeting with her father, she was most anxious to see him: but she was convinced that if once she set foot in Carlton House she would be kept there. The plan, she said, ‘is to be a sudden one, when once there to keep me, and not to allow my return’. She had heard rumours, through the Duke of Sussex, and later through Lady Jersey, of the Prince’s plans, which – tinged though they are with the melodrama of Gothic fiction – were frightening enough to put her on her guard against every move of the Regent and his ministers.

‘Whatever is done is to be sudden,’ she wrote. ‘Tomorrow may probably be my last day, God knows, in this house.’

She knew now that Cornelia would be removed from her and that in itself was misery, for ‘no letters perhaps will reach’ – no letters from Prince August, sent to Warwick House under cover to Miss Knight. She knew that there were to be new ladies, both elderly: one of these, Lady Ilchester, ‘appointed for certain’, had been the Queen’s Lady of the Bedchamber; and Mrs. Campbell, who had been Charlotte’s sub-governess, was to return. Charlotte did not like her. The very air of Warwick House was heavy with rumours, and the Princess, tormented by the pain in her knee, dreading the materialization of her fears, felt herself dogged and haunted by sorrows which she could not escape. ‘I dread everything & I know not why I fancy horrors in every one and thing round me.’

The next day, though Dr. Baillie said that she was perfectly capable of walking up to Carlton House, she felt too ill and wretched to go, and wrote to her father, begging that he would come to her. He kept her waiting till six in the evening, when he arrived, attended by the Bishop, whom he left with Miss Knight while he interviewed Charlotte alone. After three quarters of an hour the Bishop was summoned, and Cornelia waited on tenterhooks for the session to end. After another fifteen minutes, the door burst open. Charlotte rushed out ‘in the greatest agony’. She had but one instant, she said, to speak to Cornelia, the Prince had asked for her and was waiting. She then broke the news, which was as bad as she could have imagined. The ‘new ladies’ – Lady Ilchester, Lady Rosslyn and Mrs. Campbell – were already in the house. Miss Knight was to be dismissed, she said, and so were all the servants. Warwick House was to be given up, and Charlotte was to be kept for five days at Carlton House, after which she was to be taken to Cranbourne Lodge in the middle of Windsor Forest, where she would see nobody except the Queen once a week. Growing even more frantic, she added that if she did not go immediately to Carlton House, as she had been commanded, the Prince would sleep that night at Warwick House, as well as the ladies. In other words, Princess Charlotte was a prisoner.

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

The Prince Regent Is Annoyed

Just before 5 p.m. on the evening of Monday, 11 July 1814, Cornelia Knight walked over from Warwick House for a meeting with the Prince Regent at Carlton House. Princess Charlotte had been summoned as well, but she had stayed behind, claiming that a sore knee prevented her from walking.

Miss Knight was anxious, the more so for being left to face the Regent on her own. A few days earlier her friend Lady Rolle had warned her that the Prince was planning changes, and had reassured her that, if she suddenly needed somewhere to stay, she would always be welcome at the Rolles London house. Since then she had learned that the Duchess of Leeds had been asked to resign. Naturally the lady companion now feared for her own position as well.

The Regent was ‘very cold, very bitter, and very silent’. He had heard that a German prince had been paying court to his daughter.

Miss Knight reassured him that Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was an honourable man. He had called only once at Warwick House and had behaved impeccably, and both she and the Duchess had been present throughout his visit.

The Regent did not disagree. He knew that Prince Leopold had behaved entirely properly. He had just received a long letter from the young Prince assuring him that his intentions were honourable and that he had only gone to Warwick House at the invitation of the Princess. The Prince about whom he complained was Prince August of Prussia.

When Miss Knight had delivered a similar but slightly less honest defence of Prince August, the Regent dismissed her and warned, that if his daughter did not come next day to explain herself, he would go to her.

Back at Warwick House, where Mercer was waiting with Charlotte, Miss Knight reported all that had been said. Charlotte and Mercer were disappointed. They had hoped that Prince Leopold was romantic enough to keep his courting a secret, and Miss Knight was dismayed to have discovered that Prince August’s courting was even less of a secret.

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

Dark Clouds Are Gathering Over Charlotte’s Head

The Bishop of Salisbury now turned up again, like a bird of ill omen. He gently let fall in the course of a chat with Charlotte that he had heard from the Prime Minister and Lord Eldon that unless she were to write a submissive letter to her father, promising to reconsider her decision in a few months and marry the Prince of Orange, ‘arrangements would be made by no means agreeable to her inclinations’. This last phrase bore the stamp of her enemy, Eldon, who had once said that if she were his daughter he would have her locked up. On that occasion, she burst into tears: now she was past crying.

The sinister threat was received with dismay at Warwick House. Miss Knight believed that one of the ‘arrangement’ would be her dismissal: the Duchess of Leeds had already been asked to resign. It looked as if Warwick House and its entire household were about to be given up. That day Charlotte told one of her pages that she expected all the servants would be sent away; but she promised that she would never forget them, and would take them back whenever it was in her power. (Two years later, after her marriage, she honoured this promise.)

She wrote to her father an affectionate, if not a submissive letter. She had not written before, she said, for fear of an unfavourable reception; but she found it impossible to remain silent any longer without letting him know how she dreaded having angered him and forfeited his affection.

She had hoped, she went on, to have had a chance to talk to him, and to justify ‘any part of my conduct that may have displeased you’. She told him that her health was troubling her: for weeks she had suffered from a painful and swollen knee, and the doctors now advised sea air to restore her. She knew how important it was for her to be well, but she assured him that she could never make ‘a perfect recovery’ unless she knew herself forgiven and restored to favour.

The Regent did not answer.

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

Charlotte Breaks Off The Engagement

On 16 June Charlotte had a meeting with William at Warwick House and told him that she could only marry him if he would accept that her mother would always be welcome in their home. When he said that he would never be allowed to agree to that, she told him that she could not marry him. The Hereditary Prince could not believe it. He asked her to think again and then left, offended and crestfallen.

Charlotte thought again and wrote to him that evening, with words, grammar and spelling that sounded more like the voice of Brougham than her own.

After reconsidering according to your wishes the conversation that passed between us this morning, I am still of the opinion that the duties and affection that naturally bind us to our respective countries render our marriage incompatible… From recent circumstances that have occurred I am fully convinced my interest is materially connected with that of my mother… After what has passed upon this subject this morning between us (which was much too conclusive to require further explanation) I must consider our engagement from this moment to be totally and for ever at an end. I leave the explanation of this affair to be made by you to the Prince…

She then ended with her sincere concern for causing him pain and asked him to accept her best wishes for his happiness.

Two days later she received a brief reply. ‘I found the night before last your letter, and have lost no time to acquaint my family with its contents, but cannot comply with your wish by doing the same with regard to the Regent… Hoping that you shall never feel any cause to repent of the step you have now taken, I remain… etc.’

‘Good English he writes’, said Charlotte sarcastically.

Since Charlotte was the one who had broken off the engagement, it was reasonable to say that she was the one who should tell her father, but Charlotte thought it was cowardly. When she wrote to her father herself that day, she made out that it was the Prince who had broken off the engagement. ‘He told me that our duties were divided, that our respective interests were in our different countries… Such an avowal was sufficient at once to prove to me Domestick happiness was out of the question.’

The Prince Regent received the news ‘with astonishment, grief and concern’. When it got out, as it was bound to do, the Radical Whigs and the Princess of Wales were jubilant. But the Regent and his advisers bided their time. His imperial and royal guests were about to leave. Since they were all sympathetic to Charlotte, it would be wiser to let them go before starting any family rows.

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