Tag Archives: william II of the netherlands (hereditary prince of orange)

The Whole World Mourns Charlotte

Leopold was never the same again. Almost fifty years later he told his niece Queen Victoria that he had ‘never recovered the feeling of happiness’ that ‘blessed’ his short life with Charlotte. He had always been renowned for his reserve, but, as anyone who had ever been to Claremont knew, there was a warmth beneath it. Now, in his grief, he seemed to be more morose than reserved, and the warmth beneath was replaced for ever by a loveless chill.

On the day of Charlotte’s funeral Stockmar wrote to one of Leopold’s former tutors in Coburg, ‘Life seems already to have lost all value for him, and he is convinced that no feeling of happiness can ever again enter his heart.’

Each day during the week that followed his bereavement, Leopold walked round and round the park in the rain with Dr Short, clutching a miniature of Charlotte in his hand. Late every evening, he went into the bedroom where Charlotte was laying and sat with her for most of the night. In Charlotte’s sitting room, her watch was found on the mantelpiece, and the cloak and bonnet that she had been wearing on her last drive were still hanging on the end of a screen. Leopold gave orders that they were to stay where she had left them.

He was inconsolable and his pain grew greater with almost every visitor. On the day after the deaths the doctors came back to carry out a post mortem, interfering with the bodies of his wife and son in a futile search for a cause of death. Worse, Sir Everard Home, Sergeant Surgeon to the King, came to take out their guts and embalm them.

When the medical men had done their work, the undertakers wrapped the child in linen and put him in a simple open coffin. His little heart, which the doctors had taken out, was put separately into an urn. Then Charlotte, also wrapped in linen, was lifted into her own coffin and covered with blue velvet. Leopold watched, and Mrs Campbell watched Leopold. She described him that evening in a letter to Lady Ilchester. ‘It was grief to look at him. He seemed so heartbroken.’

Even some of the visitors who came to comfort Leopold only added to his misery.The Duchess of York drove over from Oatlands and was so overcome with grief herself that she collapsed in the hall and had to be taken home before she saw him.

The Prince Regent came down and asked to see the bodies. He had left Warwickshire for London soon after he heard that his daughter was in labour, but the rider carrying less welcome news had somehow managed to gallop past his carriage and its escort in the dark. He was back at Carlton House and in bed when the Duke of York came to tell him that his daughter and grandson were dead. His response was uncharacteristically selfless. ‘What is to be done for the poor man?” he said, falling back onto pillow. ‘Great Heaven!’

Leopold gave the Regent a lock of Charlotte’s hair. Next day, the Regent’s sister Princess Mary, who was now Duchess of Gloucester, took the lock, entwined it with a lock from their youngest sister, Princess Amelia, who had died in 1810, and had them made into an eternity ring for him.

The Queen, accompanied by her daughter Princess Elizabeth, was dining with the Mayor and Corporation of Bath when the bad news reached her. She set out at once for Windsor. But back in the castle with her spinster daughters and her sad old husband she was overwhelmed with the sense of helplessness and bitter disappointment. Despair destroyed what was left of her health. It declined rapidly from that moment on. Within a year she was dead.

In Holland the Prince of Orange wept at the news, and out of deference to his grief his Russian Princess ordered the ladies of his court to dress in mourning.

When the news reached Italy, it was said, Lord Byron threw open the windows of his apartment in Venice and let out an anguished scream that was heard echoing down the Grand Canal.

Lady Charlotte Bury, who was also in Italy, summed up the situation precisely in her journal. ‘There is now no object of great interest in the English people, no one great rallying point round which all parties are ready to join… A greater public calamity could not have occurred to us; nor could it have happened at a more unfortunate moment..’

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

As for Caroline, who was living now in a villa on Lake Como, it appears that no one had troubled even to inform her of Charlotte’s death and Charlotte Bury was shocked to hear that the Princess had been left to learn the news ‘through the medium of a common newspaper!’ Lady Charlotte hastened to write and offer her Royal Highness sincere sympathy ‘in this her greatest affliction’ and presently received in return a ‘strangely worded but heartfelt expression of the poor mother’s grief’. ‘I have not only to lament an ever-beloved child’, wrote Caroline, ‘but one most warmly attached friend, and the only one I have had in England! But she is only gone before … and now I trust we shall soon meet in a much better world than the present one.’

[an extract from ‘Caroline&Charlotte’ by Alison Plowden]

Leopold Arrives In London

On April 29 Prince Leopold and his suite left Windsor in two of the Regent’s travelling carriages and drove to Smallberry Green, near Hounslow, the home of Sir Joseph Banks, the wealthy botanist, who provided ‘a most sumptuous repast’. As soon as this was eaten, the Prince, unable to linger and be shown Sir Joseph’s exotic plants, stepped smartly into one of the Regent’s dress carriages, drawn by six magnificent bays, preceded by the Regent’s state coachman on horseback, and followed by a second carriage containing his gentlemen.

This cavalcade set out for London, a splendid sight, with coachmen, postillions, footmen and outriders in their scarlet liveries, and the inhabitants of Brentford, Hammersmith and Kensington ran and jostled to get a chance to see it. The Coburg Prince may well have been feeling nervous at what lay ahead, but he presented a calm and confident appearance, and charmed his beholders by his friendly acknowledgement of their cheers.

At 3.30 he arrived at Clarence House, where he was to remain till after the wedding. Crowds were gathered in the Mall, and had already cheered themselves hoarse when Princess Charlotte, attended by the Countess of Ilchester and Colonel Addenbrook, arrived, at 1:30, at Carlton House. They now turned their attention to Clarence House, and during the next forty-eight hours, whenever he was at home, his Serene Highness Prince Leopold was obliged to show himself over and over again on the first-floor balcony, bowing politely and kindly to the milling and ecstatic populace.

His future father-in-law had made him a general in the British army, which entitled him to a new and splendid uniform for his marriage; but presumably it was in his Russian dress uniform that he drove to a reception at Carlton House, decorated with ‘a very brilliant Austrian order on a light blue ribbon’. Charlotte, who was present, had to leave soon after Leopold’s arrival, to go to the Queen’s Court at Buckingham House. Her dress, we are told, was purple silk, and it seems odd that she should have chosen this funereal colour, the colour which she also chose for her ill-fated first meeting with the Prince of Orange.

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

Charlotte Returns to Weymouth

At first Charlotte found it easy enough to follow the advice to be patient with her father. But it was not so easy to be patient with Leopold. As soon as she reached Weymouth, she wrote to Mercer telling her that ‘the Leo’ was in Paris, and begging her to write to him, although she added, ‘Preach up prudence. A false step now I feel would ruin all.’

In the weeks and then months that followed, Mercer wrote encouraging letters to Leopold, Leopold wrote back to Mercer, Mercer passed on what he had said to Charlotte, and in her answers Charlotte became more and more eager and less and less inclined to go on writing.

On 21 August, late at night, she wrote:

Your account of him constantly at Lady Castlereagh’s stupid suppers does not astonish me… Oh why should he not come over, it is so near & it is but a run over of a few hours. I quite languish for his arrival. He is really wrong in keeping back as he does. Having got your letter what more can he wish for to bring him? Don’t you know an old proverb wh. says, ‘Hope long delayed maketh the heart sick’. What does he mean about a crisis? I see & hear of nothing that is like it.

Just over a week later, after Mercer had induced Leopold to share his feelings with her, Charlotte wrote, ‘I will tell you candidly that I am delighted, not to say charmed & flattered at what Leo writes about his sentiments and feelings for me, & the way in wh. he expresses himself is peculiarly pleasing.’

After another month she was beginning to hope that Leopold had decided to come over, and yet at the same time both she and Mercer were worried that someone was advising him against it – it was possible that ‘hints might have reached him through the Prussians’ about Prince August, or that somebody had told him about Charles Hesse. If he did come, Charlotte wanted Mercer to meet him and explain.

If you see him long enough to have such confidential & various conversation with him, I allow you…to clear all that up to him in the best manner you please, & even if think it necessary, to hint also at Hesse’s affair since I was quite clear (that unless he is well prepared & armed against all the lies & different things that will be told him) he will not know what to believe, who to credit, or how to act.

A week later, still hoping that Leopold was coming soon, Charlotte was in a mood to be devious. She told Mercer, ‘I give you carte blanche if you see him, to say & do all that circumstances will allow & require. Don’t send him any of his letters, let me see them when we meet, that you may honorably be able to keep to saying you never forwarded any letters to me.

Yet amid all the frustration and disappointment, the news that raised Charlotte’s hopes the highest was not about Leopold but about ‘Slender Billy’. It was announced in Holland that the Hereditary Prince of Orange was engaged to marry the Tsar’s younger sister, the Grand Duchess Anne.

The Dutch fleet was to be united with the Russian fleet. For those who were inclined to suspect a conspiracy, and who did not know how much Charlotte detested the young Prince of Orange, it looked as though the scheming Grand Duchess Catherine had brought about the breach between them as part of a long-term Russian plan. But for Charlotte the news was nothing more than a merciful release. Her father no longer had a pet plan to promote above any other.

But then she heard that several other eligible princes had been seen in London and at Windsor. On 14 October she wrote, ‘I have such a dread of all foreign Princes, the sight as well as the name of them alarm me from the idea of some intrigue or other going on for my marrying someone of them.’

By then it was a while since Mercer had heard from Leopold, and a week later Charlotte began to despair. ‘His silence to you is now what surprises & occupies me the most for you ought to have heard long before this.’

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

Charlotte Is Writing To The Prime Minister

At Warwick House, the news [about the battle of Waterloo] was, for the most part, a relief. Napoleon had decided to strike at the right flank and try to take on the allies one at time. So the Russians were too far away to be engaged – Leopold was safe. Wellington and Blücher were the only commanders who had been able to combine, and theirs were the armies that suffered casualties. Among these, Charlotte learned, both Charles Hesse and the Hereditary Prince of Orange had been wounded, although neither so severely that his life was in danger. But there was also a loss, and it was a loss that brought back the gloom that Warwick House had not seen since the death of Mrs Gagarin.

Two days before the battle of Waterloo, in an attempt to halt the French advance, the Duke of Brunswick had been killed leading his black cavalry in a charge at Quatre Bras. The little duchy had lost another duke to Napoleon.

(…)

Grief did not, however, distract Charlotte from what was now her only important objective. By the time she wrote that letter [to her mother], she had written to the Prime Minister asking him to represent her formally with her father and request him to offer her hand in marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. If he did not agree, she warned, she would remain a spinster and refuse all other suitors.

This time the Prince Regent’s excuse was ‘the state of the Continent and the negotiations’ that followed the exile of Napoleon to St Helena. This, he said, was not the moment to consider such a proposal. In his report to Charlotte, Lord Liverpool told her that for the time being he felt there was no more he could do; the matter would have to be ‘postponed for his Royal Highness’s further consideration’.

When the Duke of York heard what had happened he agreed with the Prime Minister and advised Charlotte to be patient. He was in touch with Leopold and knew he was about to join the allied army in Paris. Duty might well prevent him from coming to England for a few months anyway, and meanwhile Charlotte was about to be sent away for another seaside exile in Weymouth. The Duke’s advice was to wait until November, when Parliament would be sitting again, and then ‘make another push’.

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

Picture: Portrait of the 2nd Earl of Liverpool by Thomas Lawrence, before 1827, National Portrait Gallery

Napoleon Returns To France

And then came the news that brought all negotiations in Brighton, Windsor, London, Vienna and anywhere else in Europe to a standstill. On 1 March Napoleon had escaped from the island of Elba. He had landed in France. His old army was rallying round him.

The Congress of Vienna broke up. The nations of Northern Europe made ready to go back to war.

Amid the anxiety on every other front, the emergency brought one relief to Charlotte. Captain Hesse came home to rejoin his regiment. Mercer and her father found and confronted him. He convinced them that all letters had been burned. The trunk that contained them was empty. With but two exceptions, every present that he had ever received from Charlotte was returned to Mercer. One exception was a turquoise ring, which he first said was still in his baggage and then said had been lost when he was wearing it round his plume in battle. The other was the watch. But Charlotte did not think that either of these was significant enough to be incriminating. The matter was at an end. The little hussar was no longer a threat.

On 14 May Mercer received a letter from Leopold. It was the answer to the one she had sent him much earlier, but it had taken a long time to reach her. It had been written in Vienna on 28 April. Leopold had little hope of going back to England now. He was about to rejoin the Russian army and take up his old command. But if Mercer could assure him that he would be welcome to the Princess, he would do all that he could come.

Mercer wrote back. She did not dare to give him that assurance. Making suggestions was as much as she could risk. If she was caught negotiating a royal marriage, she would never be allowed to see Charlotte again.

But on 2 June, before her letter reached him, Leopold wrote another to Mercer. After thinking about it, he had decided not to risk coming to England uninvited. If he did, he might offend the Regent, and without the Regent’s goodwill, his dream could never be fulfilled.

But by then Leopold would not have been able to come to England anyway. Napoleon had assembled 125,000 men in northern France. Further north, along the border, the allies were waiting. In another two weeks they would be fully prepared for a combined invasion. Meanwhile, if Napoleon struck first, they were almost ready to receive him. The Austrians were to the east of Strasbourg, in a long line between Basle and Worms. The Russians were in the centre, north-west of Frankfort. The Prussians were south-west of them, below Namur and Liege. The British, Dutch, Hanoverians and Brunswickers were to the west between Brussels and the sea.

And most of the men who had played leading parts in Charlotte’s short life were with them. Leopold was with the Russians in the centre; August was with Blücher’s Prussians; Charles Hesse, George FitzClarence, the Prince of Orange and the Duke of Brunswick were with Wellington beyond Brussels.

No matter what route Napoleon chose, at least one of them would be in harm’s way.

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

Charlotte Is Writing To Her Father

It is difficult to understand why the Regent was so stubborn in his determination to marry Charlotte to the Dutch prince. Certainly it was a good alliance for the country; but there was more behind his uncompromising support of the match than the country’s future: he believed that his enemies were responsible for Charlotte’s change of heart, that Lady Jersey in particular had insinuated herself into the affair, gaining Charlotte’s confidence and working upon her to defy her father. He also suspected the arch-enemy, the Princess of Wales: she it was who had planned the Hesse affair, resolved to compromise her daughter, in the hopes of insinuating William Austin as claimant to the Throne. If she were to succeed in this nefarious – but possibly imaginary – plot, not only the Dutch marriage, but any royal marriage for Charlotte, would be scotched. In his way, he allowed his imagination to take hold of him, and to override every other consideration including his daughter’s feelings.

When Charlotte decided to appeal to her father to put an end, once and for all, to the possibility of her marriage with the Prince of Orange, he wrote her a letter which threw her into the depths of despair. It is a cruel letter because the Regent is playing cat-and-mouse with his daughter, allowing her to think that he is a loving father, planning everything for her happiness; and at the same time cold as steel in his unswerving attitude to the Dutch marriage, reminding Charlotte, falsely, that she had ‘earnestly and ardently begged him to betrothe her to the Hereditary Prince’. ‘Nothing has happened (to my knowledge),’ he said, ‘… to account for this change of heart.’ He blames the advice of ‘mischievous, false and wicked persons’, for raising ‘these unreasonable and groundless doubts in her mind’; and he thanks heaven that she is now withdrawn from all communication with such counsellors, ‘and justly rely upon me, as your best friend, and most anxious and dispassionate adviser’.

He goes on to remind her of ‘the melancholy and frightful disclosures’ she had made to him on Christmas Day, and her mother’s attempts to place her in a compromising situation, in which – unless adopting the advice of those who have her real interest at heart – she must feel the effects for the rest of her life.

The Princess of Wales has only ‘to make known the documents so unfortunately in her possession’, to ruin Charlotte’s chances of marriage, ‘not only with the Prince of Orange, but with any Prince of character, power and respectability’. After this frightful threat, based upon what turned out to be a false premise (it was later disclosed by Captain Hesse that he had destroyed all the letters that he had received from Charlotte), he draws to a close, assuring Charlotte that the earnestness and interest which he has expressed need not alarm her: he has taken no steps to renew the union with the Prince of Orange; and that however much he might wish for a revival, it can only come ‘from the parties themselves’.

All that night Charlotte lay awake, turning over what she could say in reply to her father’s letter. ‘I find the answering of it more painful even than the perusal,’ she told him. The Regent had suggested that she discuss his views with ‘a friend … who may be already acquainted with … your story’. By this he clearly meant Mercer, whom he thought he had won over to his point of view. ‘I feel quite confident,’ he said, ‘that your friend’s advice will not differ even in a shadow from mine.’ He was mistaken; or Mercer had not, in her long interview with him at Brighton, spoken up as ‘impudently’ as she said she did.

Charlotte regretted terribly Mercer’s absence at this juncture. Nobody at Windsor could advise her: she could only stand by her determination. ‘I remain firm and unshaken, & no arguments, no threats, shall ever bend me to marry this detested Dutchman.’

She decided to show the Prince’s letter to the Queen, who, she said, ‘was all eagerness …’ to know what the Regent had written, but ‘when I told her it was not quite what I could have wished or hoped for, she instantly said, “That is very bad indeed,” & then followed a dead silence of 10 minutes.’ When, after dinner, Charlotte read the letter to her grandmother, the Queen, she said, was ‘deeply overcome & she wept, wh. is very uncommon for her. She was very affectionate tome, implored me on her knees not to marry ever a man I did not like.’ The Queen urged her to answer at once, ‘as the less he thought I was hesitating or wavering the better’. The whole conference, said Charlotte, seemed to have upset the Queen very much.

The Princess’s reply to her father, written without advice, was brilliant. She was gentle and affectionate, but made it clear that she was resolute in her decision. And she pointed out that it was by no one’s advice that she had broken off her marriage. ‘On the contrary, it was against the advice of many.’ ‘Believe me,’ she went on, ‘my reputation is as dear to me as any woman’s … but when I know … that I am now going to be placed under your more immediate care & attention I feel no longer any anxiety upon the score. Indeed,’ she added confidently ‘were the whole known to the world very little blame could attach to me considering how very young I was.’

She made no reference to marriage, beyond saying that the union with the Prince of Orange was ‘quite impossible’. The Prince could only complain, in reply, at the speed with which she had answered, allowing herself no time for thought. This, he said, had given him no inconsiderable degree of pain. And thus, on a note of sorrow rather than anger, he dropped the subject, which he was obliged, for one reason and another to do anyway.

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

Not the Orange Match Again …

Charlotte knew that she had at least two allies in the royal family. A week earlier, when it had not mattered so much, Princess Mary had abandoned her enigmatic attitude and ‘launched forth vehemently’ in praise of Leopold, partly because of his reputation as a man of the highest character, and partly because he came from a very old family. Then the Duke of York revealed himself as an ally, although, like Mercer, he advised Charlotte to keep quiet for the time being.

It was good advice. No proposal was likely to succeed with the Regent if it contradicted one of his own. But now that she had made up her mind, Charlotte did not feel inclined to wait. She persuaded Mercer that it would do no harm if ‘the Leo’, as she now called him, were to come over uninvited, and on 3 February she wrote to Mercer asking her to make it happen.

Before you named it I was hourly going to propose to you what certainly nothing could have authorised me or prompted me to have done, but our long intimacy & your kind affection for me. It was this, whether you thought you could by any means send him a hint that his presence at this moment in England would be of service to his views if they were the same as 6 months ago.

Next day, as if in justification, she wrote:

As I care for no man in the world now, I don’t see what it signifies as to my marrying one day sooner or later except for escaping the present evils that surround me. I don’t see what there is against my connecting myself with the most calm & perfect indifference to a man who, I know, has the highest & best character possible in every way, & is extremely prepossessing in his figure and appearance & who certainly did like me.

A few days later, however, the Prince Regent revealed his hand, proving not only that Mercer and the Duke of York were giving good advice but also that Mercer and Earl Grey had been justified in their suspicions after Christmas.

The Prince summoned Mercer and her father to Brighton, ostensibly to discuss their attempts to recover Charlotte’s letters from Captain Hesse. If those letters were to fall into the wrong hands, particularly her mother’s, he said, she would be ruined. He therefore appointed Lord Keith officially as his representative with instructions to interview Captain Hesse and find the letters.

After that the Prince turned abruptly to the possibility of a marriage with the Hereditary Prince of Orange. For Charlotte, he said, this was now ‘the only means of saving her reputation, getting out of her mother’s hands, and making herself quite happy’.

Mercer answered without a hint of respect. ‘It is not actually necessary to marry one man’, she said, ‘to apologise for writing love letters to another’.

The Prince said nothing. Emboldened by her own impatient impudence, Mercer went on, ‘The last time Princess Charlotte talked to me about it, she said that so far from repenting the step she had taken, she would rather continue to suffer all the restraint and privations she had these last six months than marry the Prince of Orange.’

The Prince did not seem to be convinced, or else he did not want to be. Mercer left the meeting frustrated. No matter what anyone thought or said, the Regent was clearly determined to have his own way.

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