[In a letter to Mercer Elphinstone] Charlotte was sure that the Prince [of Orange] had been summoned to meet her, and in support of this she recounted a conversation that had taken place between her and ‘a Government person’ at Windsor. According to this unnamed minister, it was being said that Charlotte had ‘persistently refused’ to consider her planned marriage to the Hereditary Prince of Orange.
Charlotte was incensed by his impertinence and infuriated to learn that she was already being blamed for her response to a plan that had not yet even been put to her. So she decided to tease the minister and add a red herring to his rumour. Without denying what he had said, she told him that she much preferred the Duke of Gloucester.
‘Good God’, said he. ‘I can hardly believe you are serious.’
When he then reminded her that she could not marry without her father’s permission, Charlotte answered that ‘nothing was so easy as to make a publick declaration that I never would marry anyone else.’
The trick worked. The ‘Government person’ was clearly ‘both surprised & frightened’.
‘I was rather amused I confess’, wrote Charlotte, and she ‘laughed heartily’ after he was gone.
But in reality she felt threatened. Even the government was gossiping. She went on the defensive. She declined to attend every event at which she thought the Hereditary Prince of Orange might be present. But she was curious enough to ask about him, and she learned a bit from one of his dancing partners, Georgiana Fitzroy. The Hereditary Prince was apparently ‘very gentlemanlike’, well informed & pleasant’ and he was ‘the best waltzer that ever was’. But he was also ‘excessively plain’ and ‘thin as a needle’. Georgiana thought that Charlotte would find him ‘frightful’.
Had Charlotte but known it, the Hereditary Prince was as apprehensive as she was. It was a relief to both of them when he went back Spain after less than a month without being introduced to her. But she still felt that the plan was brewing, and she knew that she was being watched more closely than ever. Lady Catherine Osborne was everywhere. For a while Charlotte and Miss Knight had avoided being understood by her by talking to each other in German. But Lady Catherine, who had her own governess, had learned enough German to make out what they were saying. So now they were talking to each other in Italian, and Lady Catherine was busy learning that from a music master.
One night, when Charlotte found ‘her little Ladyship’ loitering yet again in a dark passage, she lost patience, pushed her into the water closet, locked the door and kept her there for a quarter of an hour. ‘It did for a good laugh to Miss K & me’, she told Mercer, ‘as the young ladies dismay was not small, & her assurances thro’ the door very amusing‘.
[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]