On Monday, when the labourers returned to work on the ‘improvements’ in the park, Charlotte drove down with Leopold to inspect their progress on the home farm and the ‘Gothick Temple’.
At around seven o’clock in the evening, the contractions began. As Charlotte climbed into the big bed that stood between the windows beneath a tall chintz canopy, she made a promise to Mrs Griffiths. ‘I will neither bawl nor shreik.’
Horses were saddled and grooms stood ready to ride off and summon the Privy Councillors who were required to be present as ‘witnesses’ at a royal birth.
The contractions continued: sharp, soft, painful, but not yet effective. Sir Richard Croft and Mrs Griffiths stood by the bed. Leopold was there as well.
At midnight Charlotte began to feel nauseous. At 3.30 Croft decided that it was time to send for the witnesses. One groom galloped across to Virginia Water to fetch Dr Baillie. The others headed off into the dark towards London.
A 5.15 the first to arrive was the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, who lived in Putney. The next, at 5.45, was the Home Secretary, who lived in Richmond. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who was staying with the Bishop of London in Fulham, because it was closer than Lambeth, arrived at six o’clock. The last were the two who lived in central London: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who arrived at 7.30, and the Lord Chancellor, who arrived a quarter of an hour later.
Dr Baillie, despite living at Virginia Water, no further away than Richmond, only just made it before the Lord Chancellor.
The witnesses and Dr Baillie assembled in the breakfast room, which stood beside the bedroom and led into it through a large, thick door on the other side from Leopold’s dressing room. There was nothing to report, and there was nothing to be heard. Apart from their own whispers, the only sounds were the discontented chattering and occasional squawk from Coco, Charlotte’s parrot, whose stand was in the corner.
Down in the village, the gentlemen of the press, who had heard the news from the witnesses’ servants, began to assemble at the Beat.
[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]