Tag Archives: weymouth

‘Those Dreaded Letters’

Nevertheless, Charlotte’s decision to confess all to her father was the climax of a long-drawn-out period of anxiety on her part, a terror of discovery, and a dread of what her mother might in some unguarded moment say or write of the affair, which now assumed an importance quite out of proportion to its seriousness. Her first object was to recover her letters – all those regrettable cris de coeur, written without a thought but of pleasing the recipient, but now, with the fear of what might happen if they fell into the wrong hands, having a sinister importance. Even Hesse himself might betray her: she feared that he had not kept the mutual agreement to burn all letters – ‘which I did, most strictly, for certainly they were much too full of professions of nonsense not to have got him into into a desperate scrape if ever seen’. The correspondence had continued when Hesse moved away with his regiment to Portsmouth and Lewes, before finally crossingthe Channel to join the war. As far as Charlotte knew, her letters went with him, and so did her portrait, pressed upon ‘l’aimable sujet’ by the Princess of Wales. There were a ring and ‘several trinkets’, which Charlotte asked to have returned when she decided to end the correspondence. She gives the date for this decision as March 1813, but nearly a year later, in January 1814, after reading the casualties in the papers, she told her confidante, Mercer Elphinstone, ‘Were anything to happen to our friend I should feel it excessively, as it is impossible not to do for a person one has been so intimate with.’ The affair has certainly left its mark, and she describes it herself, ‘still out of spirits, still smarting for my own folly’. Nevertheless, ‘I beg to assure you,’ she told Mercer, ‘the little Lieutenant does not occupy a thought of mine further than wishing him well.’

The little Lieutenant had by no means disappeared from her life, however. Whether he was at home or abroad the thought of him haunted her, together with the missing packet of her letters – ‘those dreaded letters’ – which never turned up. In October 1814 she was dismayed to learn that Hesse had joined her mother’s party abroad,* and admitted to feeling hurt that the Princess should be encouraging the man she still regarded as hers. But, as she said later to her father, she could never make out whether Hesse was her lover or her mother’s. Now she was torn between hope that her mother would recover her letters, and terror of what she would do with them. ‘She is quite equal, I am sure, to produce any letters of mine that that might make a breach between the Prince Regent and me…’

Fortunately for Charlotte, who had worked herself up into a fever of anxiety, she now had an ally who was ready to give her comfort and advice, and to act as intermediary in a bid to get the letters back(…) In her firm, efficient way, Mercer wrote to Hesse, now abroad with his regiment, and persisted till she received an answer. Captain Hesse (as he now was) mentioned ‘those articles I have WITH me’ and promised that ‘should I be killed, they shall be sent to you, without being seen by any person’.

But this plan was not good enough for Miss Mercer. ‘Nonsense,’ she calls it, ‘as it is very uncertain whether or not the contents might be destroyed, or into whose hands they might fall;’ and as for the things he confessed to having with him, she firmly rejected his offer. ‘I am sure,’ she told Charlotte, ‘there is a greater chance of their being conveyed to me safely before his death than after it.’ ‘I must confess,’ she adds, ‘the shuffling letter does not make me more lenient with respect to his conduct throughout the whole affair,’ and she wrote again to Hesse, asking him briskly to ‘return, without loss of time, all the letters or presents you may now have with you’.

Captain Hesse must by his time have begun to regret that he had ever met Princess Charlotte. Mercer’s father, Viscount Keith, who knew all about the correspondence, now wrote himself repeating his daughter’s demands, and summoning Hesse to an interview when he was next in London. Hesse duly presented himself, but no letters, no box of trinkets were forthcoming. He told Lord Keith that the letters were not in existence. ‘I had given my word, that they were to be destroyed immediately after being read, and I have kept my word…’

Lord Keith now decided to present Hesse with a questionnaire, in which with Scottish thoroughness he put twenty-six searching questions to the young man, regarding his relationship with Princess Charlotte, the part played in the affair by the Princess of Wales, and the whereabouts of letters and trinkets not contained in the ‘paquet’ presented to Mercer the previous day. Hesse answered carefully and plausibly. Everything, he said, had been returned, except the letters ‘burned so soon as I received them’, and one ring, which ‘Mr. Hesse unfortunately lost, by wearing it round his feather in the field. The ring,’ he said, ‘was a small blue one.’ And so the love story ends, as did a later love story of Charlotte’s, with the loss of a small blue ring.

In July 1815, Charlotte learned from the Duke of York that Hesse had lost an arm at Waterloo-‘or lost the use of it from a very bad sword cut’. The latter seems to have been the truth, for on his last entrance into Charlotte’s life, at Weymouth in November of the same year, Hesse is described as having his arm in a leather sling. Charlotte was angry with him for being there, supposing, wrongly, that he knew of her presence; nevertheless she was interested enough to peer out of her window at him as he strolled on the promenade. ‘I watched him thro’ my teliscope,’ she wrote; ‘it was identically himself.’ Hesse perhaps not surprisingly, took himself off when he learned that his former love was in Weymouth. He applied to Lord Keith for a passage in a frigate sailing to the Mediterranean: ‘Effrontery,’ said Charlotte, by this time thoroughly disillusioned. ‘I should not wonder that he was not going again out and after my mother to tell all his griefs to her.’ She considered that the best thing that could be done ‘as he will be perpetually coming in my way’ would be to exchange him into a foreign regiment, ‘by which he would gain rank and be got rid of’. But she relented to add that ‘he really deserves something for his good behaviour towards me formely, wh. ought never to be forgot by whose who are most violent towards him…’

The last we hear of the Little Hussar is disappointing. He amused himself on the Continent, making love to a number of ladies, including the Queen of Naples, from whose vicinity he had to be forcibly expelled. After this adventure he became involved in several affairs of honour, and finally met his death in a duel with Count Leon, bastard son of Napoleon.

* On August 9, 1814, the Princess sailed to the Continent in the frigate Jason.

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

Admiral_George_Keith_Elphinstone_1st_Viscount_Keith_by_George_Sanders

Portrait: Portrait of Admiral George Keith Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith (1746-1823) by George Sanders, after 1815, the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

The King Falls Into Madness Again

It became a cloak and dagger situation. The Prince consulted Charles James Fox, who wrote a few days later of “the desperate attempt that is making to take the Princess from your Royal Highness”, and advised the Prince to remove his daughter immediately from Woolwich to Carlton House. “Where she is now,” he continues, “she cannot be safe. For God’s sake, Sir, let no one persuade you that this is not a matter of the highest importance to you.”

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Elton*, intervened. He advised the Prince to wait till the King returned from Weymouth before taking further action. He warned him of the effect that any drastic measure might have upon the King’s mind. Now, three years after his last illness, the King was giving unmistakable signs that his mind was unbalanced. Although able to dictate letters and deal with state affairs, in his private life he behaved oddly, buying houses and giving extravagant presents. His family watched him with growing alarm. They viewed his increasing kindness to the Princess of Wales with dismay. He conferred upon her the Rangership of Greenwich, and offered to give her Greenwich Park, which she refused. The Prince’s secretary and spy, Colonel McMahon, reported that he received her at Kew because at Windsor “he knew that the Queen and Princesses would be rude to her”. He treated his daughter – in – law with the greatest kindness and affection, but, sadly, his attitude to the Queen worsened, as illness warped his mind. He reverted to the idea which had possessed him in 1788, that his true Queen was the Countess of Pembroke – ‘Queen Esther’. He would like to live with her, he said, in the Great Lodge in Windsor Park; but if she declined his offer, he would transfer it to the Duchess of Rutland. With one or other of these ladies he would “live snug at the Lodge’ while the Queen went to London to hold weekly Drawing Rooms.

It was hoped that sea bathing at Weymouth would restore the King, and although he had to be restrained from riding his horse into church, he seems to have presented his usual benign and friendly countenance to the world, and The Times correspondent, comparing the respectability of Weymouth with the vulgarity of Brighton, reported that ‘the piety, the morality, the decorum of a virtuous Court shed their influence around…”

But on their return from Weymouth, the King and the Queen, at her instigation, began to live apart: she was frightened of him. Whether at Windsor or at Buckingham Palace, she made sure that there would be no question of their sleeping together, and locked the door against her husband. Her temper suffered under the strain: she bullied her daughters and snapped at the King. She sided with the Prince in royal rows.

The King’s position cannot have been happy. He was beginning to go blind, and could not recognize people across a room; yet, to outsiders at least, he appeared in excellent health.

“Our good King,” wrote Lord Henley, who often saw him at Windsor, “continues mind and body, the sight excepted, better than I have seen him for years…This morning I met him in the Park at ten o’clock and rode with him until a quarter past one. He was cheerful, and we had more than one of his hearty laughs, which I have not heard before for some time.”

This was, indeed, the general impression. At the King’s request “that horrible doctor* had been dismissed, and he believed himself, at sixty – six, fit and well.

*Dr. Samuel Foart Simmons, Physician to St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics.He was called in in 1804 when the King refused to see Dr. Willis; brought his assistants and put the King in a strait – jacket. He was with difficulty persuaded to go, at the insistence of the Prince of Wales.

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

220px-George_III_Zoffany

 * Correct spelling: ‘Eldon’. More about him here.

An Unexpected Invitation To The Windsor Castle

‘”The formation of character” in Hannah More’s opinion, “is the grand object to be accomplished,” and here Lady Elgin would have agreed: the character of her “dear precious charge” was her constant preoccupation. Charlotte was emotional, affectionate, but strong – willed; moreover, she was highly strung and we hear of her being “nervous from the weather”. As Lady Elgin knew, she was also affected by the circumstances of her life; in particular, the highly charged atmosphere in which the Princess of Wales lived. In August 1804, Lady Elgin wrote from Shrewsbury Lodge, where she and Charlotte were staying for the summer, describing an unexpected visit from the Princess of Wales.

“On Sunday [August 19] her Royal Highness arrived in great spirits here calling from her carriage that she had great news to tell us, & desired us to guess what would give us the greatest pleasure. Princess Charlotte immediately exclaimed, <<Going to Windsor.>> <<Not just that,>> reply’d her Royal Highness, <<but you are going to Kew, to see their Majesties, &the King has wrote me to desire I would tell you to come in order to take leave of you and me>> (addressing Princess Charlotte) <<before he goes to Weymouth.>>”

“The Princess”, said Lady Elgin, “continued in high spirits and staid to luncheon.” But the Dowager grew more and more uneasy. It was very odd, this verbal message from the King, no word from the Queen, or from one of the princesses. She had never taken Charlotte to see her grandparents without a written invitation; and she began to fear that for some reason the Queen was angry with her.

The Princess offered to take them in her carriage, but Lady Elgin insisted that they should go separately, as Charlotte had better be kept quiet: she was already “agitated from her joy”. When they arrived, “the dear good King” received them with the greatest kindness, and took them into the dining – room. “I was quite stupefied,” wrote the poor worried lady, “when his Majesty said he was alone, and that he came merely to see the Princess of Wales and the dear little girl before he went to Weymouth.” The Princess of Wales the arrived, and the King took her into another room, leaving Lady Elgin trembling with agitation at the appalling breach of etiquette – to visit the King without the Queen’s command, or even knowledge. “I really never was in such a state,” she said; but she revived a little when the party sat down to dinner. The King ate heartily of pudding and dumpling, and insisted upon making the coffee himself.

As Lady Elgin was aware, the King had been seriously ill in 1801, another bout of the strange and frightening malady that affected his mind. This time the illness had been short – lived, but although his bodily health was good, he continued to become quickly excited or depressed, or to indulge in freakish impulses.

She felt now that there was something strange and unnatural in this summons. “I have got you, all to myself,” he said to Charlotte, embracing her fervently and, turning ti Lady Elgin, he added, “The Prince has given up the child to me, but it is not settled.” So nervous was she of the possible consequences of this unauthorized visit that she immediately wrote a full account of it to the Prince. He had been trying to negotiate a reconciliation with his father; but now he forgot everything in the drama of the moment. The King was planning to capture Princess Charlotte and return her to her mother, he believed. The Princess of Wales was trying to insinuate herself into the King’s favour, and must at all costs be thwarted. He told Lady Elgin to keep a close guard on Princess Charlotte; not to part with her “on any account or under any pretence whatsoever”.


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

charlotte caroline lady elgin and the king

Lady Elgin Doesn’t Like Princess of Wales And Charlotte Loves Performing

‘Charlotte, aged two, paid regular visits to her mother in Blackheath, but spent most of her time at Carlton House, where she occasionally saw her father. In March, she went to stay at Windsor, and the King gave her “a very large rocking horse”. She was overjoyed, and her aunts wished that the Prince had been there “to see her dear little countenance”. Lady Elgin, whom Charlotte called Eggy, was firm, kind and good, and tried to teach the child to love both her parents equally. This cannot have been easy, Lady Elgin did not approve of the Princess of Wales or her effect on Charlotte, and was tempted to cut short their visits to her. Lord Minto, who was often at Blackheath, wrote, “The child comes only when Lady Elgin chooses; she was there yesterday, and was led about by Lady Elgin in a leading – string; though she seems stout and able to trot without help.” He saw her again and told his wife that she was ‘one of the finest and pleasantest children I even saw…remarkably good and governable”. He may have changed his mind after his next visit. On this occasion, the Princess of Wales, giving a spirited performance of a fond mother, “romped about on the carpet” with her little girl, after which the ladies played on the pianoforte and the excited little girl danced, “which she likes as well as possible.” Charlotte, who was not yet three, then sang “God save the King”, followed by “Hearts of Oak”, and after this it is not surprising to learn that there was a scene: Charlotte screamed and stamped, and everybody scolded her. Miss Garth (who had returned on the departure of Miss Hayman) then said rather feebly, “You have been so very naughty I don’t know what we must do to you.””You must s’oot me,” said Charlotte, who had watched soldiers drilling at Weymouth.”‘
[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]

charlotte caroline and lady elgin

Charlotte And Her Family

‘In her childhood, Charlotte abounded in good health and ebullient high spirits. She was a beautiful little girl, as may be seen from Lawrence’s portrait of her. Not yet aware of the brooding bitterness and hatred which divided her parents, she found herself the centre of a benevolent world, where her every word received attention, and her pretty ways were greeted with rapture. As we have seen, at one and a half she was already acknowledging the cheers of the crowd and joining in their shouts of ‘Huzza’. When, from a window overlooking the Mall, she saw Canning ride past and raise his hat, she tried to imitate his gesture and tore her muslin cap. The impression one gets from all the early recorded stories of Charlotte is of a happy recklessness, and a warm heart. From the first she singled out her grandpapa as the person she was fondest of: it was a rather touching relationship, doomed to end abruptly with the King’s final withdrawal into the darkness of disease in 1811.

Continue reading