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Suddenly Another Suitor Appears

On 10 June, while her father and most of his guests were at Ascot at the races, Charlotte signed her marriage contract and sent it round to Carlton House. In the evening she learned that her ‘Slender Billy’ had been made drunk at Ascot by Prince Paul of Wurtemberg and sent back to London like a day-tripper on top of a stagecoach. It was not the first time she had heard about her prince getting drunk – it was said that he got drunk on a visit back to Oxford – and it was not to be the last.

Two days later Charlotte attended the great banquet which her father gave for all his visitors at Carlton House. It was the only state occasion that she was allowed to attend. She had never seen anything like it. The house was full of young princes and officers. Next to most of these, her own Prince of Orange, who was a little bit drunk again, did not look like much of a catch.

By common consent, the handsomest of all was a tall, very dark young officer wearing the striking all-white uniform of the Russian heavy cavalry. When Charlotte noticed him he was at the other end of the crimson drawing room talking earnestly to a young lady. According to one of the friends who were with her, Charlotte turned to them and ‘observed how strange it was that the young lady did not seem more gratified by his attention’.

Charlotte did not get a chance to be introduced to this officer. But during the evening she was introduced to another, who was very charming, distinguished, almost as handsome and about ten years older than the hero in white. He was Prince Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich August von Preussen, a nephew of Frederick the Great. In the course of the next month, with the giddy assistance of Cornelia Knight, this Prince was to be calling recklessly often at Warwick House.

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

Picture: Prince Augustus of Prussia by Franz Krüger, circa 1817, Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin

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An Unexpected Visit

As soon as the Regent came back from Dover after seeing the King and his family off, he sent for Miss Knight. There was more Russian trouble. He now knew that Tatischeff, their Ambassador to Madrid, was on his way to join the Russian Emperor in Paris. Charlotte had become intimate with Madame Tatischeff. She was Polish, and undesirable, a low moral character. Nevertheless, Charlotte had taken a fancy to her, and at the Pulteney Hotel had given her a letter to take to France: and this, he believed, was no less than a commission to the Ambassador to arrange a marriage between herself and one of the Tsar’s brothers. Miss Knight indignantly denied this. ‘I assured him her Royal Highness had written no letters to Madame Tatischeff; that I had written one to that lady when she was at Brighton, and several notes in town’, and, in short, that the ‘principal intercourse was with respect to bonnets and gowns’.

Cornelia believed that this mischievous story had originated with Princess Lieven, ‘who hated Madame Tatischeff, and was hated in return’; but according to Lady Charlotte Bury, the Grand Duchess, in fostering the break-up of the Dutch marriage, showed Charlotte a portrait of the Grand Duke Nicholas, which made her declare that she would go no further with Slender Billy till she had seen the Tsar’s brother. Whether or not this was true, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, took the situation seriously enough to send a formal request that the Russian Grand Dukes should not join their brother the Tsar in London.

Another ministerial move to frustrate the knavish tricks of the Russians followed soon after.

Miss Knight was called downstairs early one morning, to see a Captain St. George, who has just arrived from Holland.

‘I found,’ she said, ‘that it was the Hereditary Prince of Orange …’

Charlotte was in bed when the Prince of Orange presented himself. According to Miss Knight, she was ‘greatly annoyed’ by this sudden unheralded arrival, and refused to see him. He asked for pen and paper. ‘Dearest Charlotte,’ he wrote, ‘I am extremely disturbed at your not wishing to see me; but I ask it once it once more as a particular favour that you will allow me to wait till you are up … I am most desirous and anxious to be able to speak to you freely.’ His persistence prevailed, and when Charlotte saw him again he appeared so friendly and frank that she was disarmed. She poured out all her grievances, and in particular her fears because there were no plans being made for a residence in England. He showed concern, even promising a little wildly that if a house were not provided for them here he would rent one. He seemed resolved to reassure her and allay her fears. Indeed at this point it is difficult not to feel sympathy for the young man, who was doing his best to ease the situation, and who must have found trying to soothe Charlotte as difficult as handling a bucking colt. He was desperately anxious to please her. For her sake, he said, he had agreed to come to England incognito and without his father’s permission. He had not see the Prince Regent yet: he had come straight to Charlotte; but he would go at once to Carlton House and see him. A couple of hours later he came hurrying back. The Regent, he said, wished them both to go over immediately, and said that all would be forgiven.

Charlotte refused. She ‘most earnestly entreated’ to be left alone for the rest of the day, and accordingly Prince William took himself off, to find out what arrangements had been made for his accommodation. As it happened, none had.

London was seething with plans for the reception of the Allied Sovereigns and their appendages, and the accommodation usually assigned to visiting Royalties was all booked. The Prince of Orange found lodging with his tailor, in Clifford Street.

As soon as Charlotte had had time to think, she felt certain that this visit was part of a new plot to coerce her into marriage. She was unsure how Slender Billy had been summoned, but she guessed that the Duke of York, acting for the Regent, was behind this move. Instructed as she now was by Brougham, she displayed the utmost caution, and wrote to the young Prince insisting that they should not meet again until the terms of the marriage contract were altered to suit her wishes. She was determined, she said, never to leave England except when she herself chose, and for as long as she chose.

He put up very amiably with this treatment, and appeared daily at Warwick House for a talk with Miss Knight, till at last a letter from his father seemed encouraging enough to warrant an interview with Charlotte. The terms of the contract were being altered. After this, they met frequently and on friendly terms.

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

Picture: Portrait of Julija Alexandrowna Tatischtschewa (François Gérard, 1814)

The Visit of the Grand Duchess Catherine

As soon as they were rid of Napoleon, all the European sovereigns were planning to come to England to celebrate their victory, and as a vanguard, or perhaps a reconnaissance, the Tsar’s favourite sister, the Grand Duchess Catherine, arrived while Napoleon was still at large.

The clever and cultured Grand Duchess Catherine was dark and dignified with slavonic, slightly Mongolian features. At the age of twenty-five she was already a widow. After nursing her husband, Prince George of Oldenberg, through his long, fatal illness, she went to neighbouring Holland, where she met Charlotte’s uncle William, the Duke of Clarence, who was there on a goodwill visit, and who was soon besotted with her.

(…) When the Grand Duchess arrived in London, the Prince Regent went round to the hotel to welcome her. But he went much too early. She was still changing to receive him when a footman came to announce his arrival. The meeting was more embarrassing than cordial.

That evening, when she dined at Carlton House, the Grand Duchess confirmed the opinion that she had formed earlier. She did not like the Prince Regent. But she liked very much his daughter, who was also present. In a letter to her brother the Tsar she described Charlotte as ‘the most interesting member of the family… She is blonde, has a handsome nose, a delicious mouth and fine teeth…She is full of spirit and positive in character. She seems to have an iron will in the smallest things…’ But ‘her manners’, wrote the Grand Duchess, ‘are so extraordinary that they take one’s breath away… She walks up to any man, young or old, especially to the older men, takes them by the hand, and shakes it with all her strength… She looks like a boy, or rather a ragamuffin. I really am telling you nothing but the strictest truth. She is ravishing, and it is a crime to have allowed her to acquire such habits.’

After that dinner the Grand Duchess Catherine and Princess Charlotte visited each other often at the Pulteney Hotel and Warwick House – so often in fact that the Prince Regent sent Sir Henry Halford to Warwick House with an order for Miss Knight. She was to do all that she could to reduce the frequency of these meetings. It was an order that Miss Knight had neither the power nor the will to obey. She could cut down on Charlotte’s visits to the Pulteney Hotel, but she could do nothing to prevent the Grand Duchess from coming round to Warwick House – which was fortunate. Since the Regent was preventing his daughter from appearing anywhere in society other than at Carlton House, these visits were almost the only occasions on which the Princess and the Grand Duchess were able to meet.

One evening at the dinner party given by Lord and Lady Liverpool, the Prince Regent sat with the Grand Duchess Catherine on his right and the Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian Ambassador, on his left. In the course of dinner the Grand Duchess turned to him.
‘Why, your Royal Highness, do you keep your daughter under lock and key?’ she asked. ‘Why does she appear nowhere?’
‘My daughter is too young, Madame, to appear in society’, said the Prince.
‘She is not too young for you to have chosen her a husband.’
The Prince was clearly uncomfortable. ‘She will not be married for another two years’, he said.
‘When she is married’, said the Grand Duchess, ‘I hope she will know how to make up for her present imprisonment.’
The Prince snapped back at her. ‘When she is married, Madame, she will do her husband’s will, just as at present she is doing mine.’
The Grand Duchess smiled and spoke very sweetly. ‘Ah, yes. Your Royal Highness is right. Between husband and wife there can only be one will.’
So far the conversation had been conducted in French. But now the Prince turned to the Princess Lieven and spoke in English, in rage, and loudly enough for everyone at the table to hear him.
‘This is intolerable!’

The Grand Duchess Catherine and Charlotte continued to meet, and the Grand Duchess was always as blunt with Charlotte as she had been with her father. She told her that she thought the Prince Regent was ‘a voluptuary’. And as for the Duke of Clarence, he was positively ‘vulgar’. While they were in Holland he had actually been so presumptuous as to propose to her.

It was at one of these meetings, on 5 April, that Lord Bathurst called to inform Princess Charlotte that the allies had entered Paris. Four days later news came that Napoleon had abdicated.

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

Picture: Ekaterina Pavlovna of Russia by anonymous (19 c., Hermitage)

The Marriage Negotiations Begin

So for the next two months Charlotte lived in Warwick House in dull and dignified isolation. The only notable events were the various stages in the protracted negotiations over one small clause in her marriage contract.

Lords Liverpool and Castlereagh, who were drawing up the contract, were aware of most people’s reservations. They knew that no one wanted to see the crowns of England and Holland united. So they stipulated that, if Charlotte and William had more than one child, the eldest son would inherit England and the next Holland. If they had only one child, that child would inherit England and the Dutch crown would go to German branch of the House of Orange. But, out of deference to the Dutch, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary both felt that Princess Charlotte ought to be required to spend at least some time each year in Holland.

Among the Whigs there were some, such as the Duke of Sussex and Earl Grey, who approved of the proposed marriage but felt that Charlotte should never be required to leave the country against her will. But there were many others, among them Brougham and Whitbread, who were passionately opposed to the marriage. As a matter of principle they objected to turning the Dutch Republic into a monarchy, and they felt that Britain would be taking on the huge additional expense of providing for the defence of Holland, sometimes in circumstances where Britain itself was not threatened.

As a first step towards changing Charlotte’s mind, Brougham tried to persuade her that her father wanted to get her out of the country because he envied her popularity.

Charlotte was susceptible to that. She was learning not to trust her father. That was one reason why the negotiations were taking so long. She insisted that everything must be in writing – partly to prevent her father from subsequently denying anything that suited him, and partly because she was sending everything to Grey and Brougham, so that they could tell her what to write in reply.

Naturally Mercer was also consulted, first by letter and then in person. She came to town in the middle of February, and after that the most reliable of all secret messengers carried the letters between Charlotte and her Whig advisers.

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

Picture: Henry Brougham by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1825, National Portrait Gallery

Problems Arise Right After The Engagement

Cornelia Knight was waiting up for her when Charlotte returned to Warwick House. The Princess told her everything. She was now engaged to the young Prince of Orange. Miss Knight was astonished. ‘I could only remark’, she wrote years later, ‘that she had gained a great victory over herself’.

But Charlotte was already coming to terms with what had happened. ‘No, you would not say so if you were to see him’, she said. ‘He is by no means as disagreeable as I expected.’

Next day Miss Knight did get to see him. He came to call accompanied by Lord Bathurst. She was not over-impressed. ‘I thought him particularly plain and sickly in his look, his figure very slender, his manner rather hearty and boyish, but not unpleasant in a young soldier.’

On the day after that the young Prince came again, this time accompanied by Charlotte’s father. Tactfully, the Regent allowed the young couple to be alone together, although, for the sake of propriety, he and Miss Knight sat by the fire in the next room with the door open, so that they could see them.

The Regent told ‘the Chevalier’ that for the time being the betrothal was to be kept secret, and he then began to describe his plans for the marriage.

Suddenly they were both brought to their feet by the sound of Charlotte bursting into ‘a violent fit of sobs and hysterical tears’.

The Regent had no idea what was happening. ‘What!’ he said. ‘Is he taking his leave?’

‘Not yet’, said Charlotte, and then added that she was going to her room.

Tactful again, the Regent told the ladies that he and the Hereditary Prince were now late for a banquet and then hurriedly led him away.

When they were gone, Miss Knight asked Charlotte what was wrong, and she was not too surprised by the answer.

The Dutch Prince had just told the Princess that, when they were married, she would have to spend two or three months of every year in Holland.

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

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An Unexpected Engagement Announcement

But the relief was short-lived. Next day, the day when Charlotte and the Prince were due to meet, her father came round in the morning to Warwick House and put the pressure on again. He assured Charlotte that there was nothing to be nervous about. The dinner party was to be informal and as small as possible. She was to be accompanied only by the Duchess of Leeds. But, ‘he exacted a promise’. Charlotte must make up her mind that evening. After dinner she was to give him her answer ‘one way or the other’.

When Charlotte set out for the dinner, dressed in ‘violet satin, trimmed with black lace’, she was, in Miss Knight’s words, ‘pale and agitated’, and she went, in her own words ‘with trepidation’.

Yet, as far as it could be, the evening was a success. The young Prince who would one day be King William II of the Netherlands sat on Princess Charlotte’s right, with Lady Liverpool on his other side. ‘He struck me as very plain’, wrote Charlotte to Mercer, ‘but he was so lively & animated that it quite went off… It is really singular how much we agreed together in allmost everything.’

After dinner, when many other guests arrived, the young couple walked up and down among them in the state apartments for a while. Then the Prince Regent came over, led Charlotte away to another room and asked her what she thought of the Prince.

Charlotte hesitated.

‘Then it will not do?’ he said.

‘I do not say that’, said Charlotte. ‘I like his manner very well, as much as I have seen of it.’

It was hardly a firm answer ‘one way or the other’, but it was enough for the the Prince Regent. He became as over-emotional as only he knew how. ‘You make me the happiest person in the world’, he said.

He called over the Prime Minister and Lady Liverpool and gave them the good news. While they congratulated the Princess, he summoned the ‘quite awestruck’ Prince. Then he joined the Prince’s hand with his daughter’s and gave them both his royal blessing. There was to be no going back now. Not if he could help it.

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

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The Chance For Freedom Is Coming

Throughout all this Charlotte spent a large part of every day nursing Mrs Gagarin. She had not been well for several months, and by the end of March it seemed likely that she would not recover.

‘While she was capable of taking airings’, wrote Cornelia Knight, ‘her Royal Highness constantly sent her out in a carriage, and when she grew so weak as to be confined to her room, visited her two or three times a day, carried her in her arms to the window, and exerted every faculty to soothe and comfort her.’

Her death was recorded in the Gentleman’s Magazine:

‘July 1. At Warwick House, Mrs Gagarin, many years an affectionate and faithful attendant of the Princess Charlotte of Wales. Her last moments were solaced by the condescending and unremitting attentions of of her Royal Highness, reflecting a lustre on the native goodness of her heart, superior to all the appendages of her exalted rank.’

Charlotte, wrote Miss Knight, ‘was very low for a long time afterwards, though she endeavoured to suppress and conceal her feelings’.

Yet amid all this sadness and frustration there was one element of happiness – the presence of Mercer Elphinstone.

Mercer came down from Scotland in the middle of March and stayed until the end of July.

When she knew her friend was coming, Charlotte wrote to her father, saying that she had heard the news from a third party and asking his permission to see her. Their correspondence had been, as Charlotte put it, ‘conducted with such secrecy & prudence’ that the Prince was convinced they had not been in touch with each other. All Charlotte’s letters were still being open by his agents at the Post Office, and there had been no sign of it. He therefore acceded to what he regarded as a reasonable request.

There were some, including Cornelia Knight, who suspected that the Prince had written to Mercer saying that he would only let her see his daughter if she promised to persuade her not to be too supportive of her mother. But Mercer, who was always wary of Charlotte’s mother, would have done that anyway if she thought it appropriate.

For more than four months Charlotte and Mercer saw each other as often as they pleased. But the Prince Regent had forbidden Mercer to stay in the same house as Charlotte. So when Charlotte was in London, Mercer came round to Warwick House from her own house in Harley Street, and when Charlotte was in Windsor at Lower Lodge, Cornelia Knight arranged for Mercer to stay nearby with a friend, Mrs Hallam.

Throughout those months there were no letters. There is therefore no record of what they discussed. But there is no doubt that one of the most important topics was the rumour that Mercer mentioned in one of her last letters from Scotland.

In her reply Charlotte wrote that she too had heard it. Perhaps, if the Princess were willing to pay it, the price of freedom would soon be available.

It was being said that the Prince Regent and his ministers were planning to arrange a marriage between Princess Charlotte and the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

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

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