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

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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The Allies Arrive In London

Dutch William seems at this point to have been in love with Charlotte: her attitude to him was friendly, but guarded. Her attitude to the marriage fluctuated. On June 4 she told her mother that ‘everything was fixed for her marriage; that she did not love the Prince of Orange, but that she must be married’. Yet at a previous meeting between mother and daughter only a couple of weeks before, Charlotte had declared that nothing would induce her to marry ‘young Frog’. ‘I think him so ugly that I am sometimes obliged to turn my head away in disgust when he is speaking to me.’

Much as she longed to be married and free from restraint, she insisted that she had not made up her mind. It was true she had bought herself jewels with some of the money sent from Holland for that purpose; it was true she had formally given her consent to the offer of marriage brought by the Dutch envoy; but she did not consider herself committed by what she called these ‘preliminary matters’, which were, she said airily, ‘of very small importance’. She was aware that a number of interesting and personable young princes would be coming to London in the wake of the Allied Sovereigns; and she considered that she should be allowed to have a look round, so to speak, before committing herself.

Fortunately for Charlotte, with the arrival, early in June, of the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia and Prince Metternich representing the Emperor of Austria, every domestic problem, including her marriage, was swept aside in the whirlwind of excitement and triumph which took possession of the country. The victory over Napoleon – falsely believed to be total – was an event to be celebrated by all. Doves of peace and patriotic sentiments adorned public buildings, flags and streamers by day and flares and transparencies by night informed the world that the long war was won. Pulteney’s Hotel sported a banner which announced piously ‘Thanks be to God’, while across the front of Devonshire House the young Duke spelled out the one eloquent word, ‘Peace’.

(…)

It had been planned that the Regent should meet and welcome the Emperor of Russia at Shooter’s Hill, Woolwich, and conduct him to St. James’s Palace after a triumphal drive through the City. But the Tsar upset all these plans. He did not want to stay at St.James’s Palace; he preferred to join his sister at Pulteney’s Hotel, and after his meeting with the Prince Regent he jumped into Count Lieven’s carriage and drove through the waiting crowds without being recognized. The Regent went back to Carlton House, and sent a message to Pulteney’s Hotel, saying he would visit the Emperor there. But as in all his encounters with the Russians, the Regent’s welcome to his victorious Ally was a disaster. The Emperor Alexander and his sister waited for two hours, when another message arrived from the Prince. ‘His Royal Highness has been threatened with annoyance in the street if he shows himself; it is therefore impossible for him to come and see the Emperor.’

It was a lamentable situation. The Russian Emperor drove in Count Lieven’s carriage to Carlton House, where he held a short conversation with his cross, flustered host. It was to be their only private interview. The Tsar, already prejudiced by his sister’s account of the Regent, now found his Ally quite insufferable. ‘A poor prince,’ he commented to Lieven as they drove away.

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

Picture: Tsar Alexander I by George Dawe, 1824, Peterhof

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 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

Charlotte Is Trying To Make The Best Of The Situation

‘Out of spirits & agitated terribly,’ Charlotte described herself, and evidently she appeared so to Miss Knight. Yet to Mercer next day she wrote that she was quite won over by by the Prince of Orange, and was touched by his kindness and anxiety to please her. ‘He was desirous … that those I had about me for ladies should be agreeable to me & friends of mine’, and when he took his leave, ‘it was in the most affectionate manner, all warmth & openness of heart & feeling with me’.

Two days later she was writing, ‘I will fairly tell you that the little I have seen him I am delighted. Our tempers & minds I think will perfectly suit.’ She fairly poured out his praises to Mercer, adding, as the highest honour of all, ‘I tell you what I really think, wh. is that when you see & know him, you will like him too.’

She even began to become reconciled to the idea of visiting Holland from time to time, as the Prince of Orange had suggested that she might take some of her particular friends to keep her company. Loyal, jealous Miss Knight, though she disapproved of the hasty betrothal, was determined to offer some comfort, and offered herself, ‘which,’ said Cornelia, ‘she accepted with great feeling and pleasure.’

Mercer was puzzled by Charlotte’s attitude. She had described herself as ‘delighted’ with the Prince of Orange, and was apparently trying to reconcile herself to the Dutch visits. Why then was she still unhappy? Charlotte told her. She was bitterly hurt by the way in which her father had cheated her. The whole thing, his kindness, his displays of affection, which had made her so happy before her meeting with the Prince of Orange – the whole thing had been a fraud, a careful plan to win her consent to the marriage. It was ‘a trick’, she said angrily, ‘to catch me’. The question of living abroad, she now knew, was to have been kept from her till it was too late to retract.

Miss Knight too felt that Charlotte had been tricked into giving her consent. On December 21 she wrote to Mercer Elphinstone, with whom she was now on the best of terms, deploring the ‘manoeuvres’ employed by the Prince to weaken Charlotte’s resistance. The Duke and Duchess of York, said Cornelia, had done a great deal, ‘not appearing in it themselves, but by others’; indeed, from her account, Charlotte must have been surrounded by people hoping to benefit by the match. Miss Knight particularly blamed Lady Anne Smith, the Duchess of York’s lady-in-waiting, and her daughters, Anne and Georgiana Fitzroy, who, she said, ‘have worked most cautiously but unceasingly – and have persuaded the young P[rince] to ask that Georgiana may belong to* Pss Ch’. It may be remembered Georgiana Fitzroy, after waltzing with the young Prince at Oatlands, sent Charlotte an account of him, in which she raved about his waltzing but deprecated his plainness and his thinness. Georgiana was the Duke of Wellington’s niece, which no doubt commended her to the Orange prince: and three months later she was trying to make up for the unattractive picture she had given of him by emphasizing to Charlotte what a good figure he had, what good teeth and what good manners.

Miss Knight, who had observed all this going on, felt that Charlotte had been taken advantage of. Moreover, she said, ‘I know that on all hands it has been represented to him [the Prince of Orange] that she is dying to be married …’

‘She thinks, or at least says,’ Miss Knight told Mercer, ‘no one has influenced her and that it is entirely her own choice and determination!!!’

‘It remains now to make the best of it – to undeceive her as to the free agency which she thinks she has exercised, to make her gain his confidence and he hers, and if possible to prevent their governed by all these artful people …’

* In other words, be one of her Household, after her marriage.

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

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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