Tag Archives: william’willikin’austin

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persons’, for raising ‘these unreasonable and groundless doubts in her mind’; and he thanks heaven that she is now withdrawn from all communication with such counsellors, ‘and justly rely upon me, as your best friend, and most anxious and dispassionate adviser’.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]

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The Princess of Wales Is Leaving

Towards the end of July she [Charlotte] received a visit from the Prince: he seemed to be in a good mood, but not effusive. After a little he dismissed the ladies, and told Charlotte ‘what he supposed I already know of’ – that the Princess of Wales had asked permission to leave the country. Charlotte said that ‘some time back’ her mother had mentioned that she might go, but that she had not said a word about it since. Now apparently, it was all settled: the Princess was to sail from Worthing in about ten days’ time, and even the vessel in which she was to travel had been decided upon.

As always with her father, Charlotte fought not to show her feelings; but this news came as a shattering blow. She had an affection for her mother, if only because she was her mother; and in her present forlorn state the loss of this supporter – however raffish and unreliable – was almost more than she could bear.

Her father was cheerful: it was the wisest act of the Princess’s whole life, he said. ‘He could only wish her to be happy wherever she was, & if it made her more so travelling on the Continent, he could not but agree.’ In fact, Charlotte concluded, ‘he was most perfectly satisfied‘.

She was baffled by her mother’s sudden decision. ‘I really am so hurt about it that I am very low.’ She was allowed to pay a farewell visit to Connaught Place, guarded by her two she-dragons: but the Princess’s attitude dismayed her. She said good-bye to her daughter calmly and unemotionally: their parting, said Charlotte, ‘was little like her going to leave the country altogether’. ‘I must say,’ she wrote later, ‘what goes most to my heart … is the indifferent manner of taking leave of me … I feel so hurt at that being a leave taking (for God knows how long, or what events may occur before we meet again, or if ever she will return) …

Brougham stepped in, in a last-minute attempt to persuade the Princess to change her mind. He wrote a clever letter, full of warnings. ‘Depend upon it, Madam, there are many persons who now begin to see a chance of divorcing your Royal Highness from the Prince …’ At home, he told her, she was protected against the mischief of her enemies: abroad she was defenceless. She would lose the support of the British people, and her daughter’s succession to the Throne would become doubtful. Sending a draft of this letter to Grey, he remarked, ‘It is a strong dose, but necessary.’

Unfortunately it had no effect whatsoever. Lady Charlotte Lindsay wrote, ‘Nothing can stop her. I never saw so fixed a determination.”The only good circumstance,’ she added, ‘is her keeping her apartments at Kensington.’

On August 9, the Princess of Wales, dressed in the military style that was now fashionable – a dark cloth pelisse with large gold clasps, and a velvet and satin Hussar’s cap trimmed with a bright green feather – drove along the Steyne at Worthing, accompanied by Lady Charlotte Linsday and the child Wilikin.

A large crowd watched her, curious and silent, afraid to cheer. On her arrival in England nearly twenty years before, she had been kept waiting for her escort; now as she left she was obliged to wait for the Jason’s Captain, who was late meeting her in his barge. To get away from the crowds she decided to drive on to Lancing two miles along the coast, and here she embarked. It was a quiet departure, watched only by those who could ride or drive from Worthing. The ladies on shore waved their handkerchiefs: the Princess, aboard the barge, waved gaily and kissed her hand. She was no longer Princess of Wales, she announced to her attendants, but Caroline, a happy, merry soul. But as the barge drew away from the shores of England, we are told that she fainted.

Charlotte never saw her mother again.

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

The Delicate Investigation Finds Nothing Significant

‘While this sordid and trivial collection of of evidence slowly piled up at the Prime Minister’s house in Downing Street, the Princess was forbidden to see her daughter. Charlotte, now ten, had already before the Investigation, been debarred from playing with Willikin; and though she can hardly have minded, or at the time have known why, she must have had some idea of what was going on. Her acceptance of the situation, when it came, was clear-eyed, for in 1815 she told the Prince Regent and her aunt, Princess Mary, as if she had always known it, that Captain Manby was the father of William Astin, and that Edwardina Kent, the Princess’s “foundling” daughter, was her child by Sir Sidney Smith. She seems to have had no doubt.

The Inquiry, however, after careful consideration of all the statements, found that there was no proof of the Princess Caroline’s guilt. William Austin was, as she claimed, the son of a dock labourer, and the child’s mother, Sophia Austin, had appeared at Downing Street to confirm this. The Commissioners reported to the King that from the evidence there was no foundation for believing the Princess to have given birth to an illegitimate child in 1802. Nevertheless, they continued, other particulars respecting the conduct of Her Royal Highness “must, especially considering her exalted rank and station, necessairly give rise to very unfavourable interpretations”.’

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

 Caroline Princess of Wales by Sir Thomas Lawrence

The Princess’ Servants Keep Gossiping

‘On 31 May, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the Solicitor General assembled at Number 10 Downing Street. In the course of that session and the many that followed, they examined the Douglases, several doctors, all the servants who now worked for the Princess and most of those who had ever worked for her.

Their evidence was not as helpful as the Prince had hoped, however. They could not corroborate the story that his wife was the mother of William Astin. Apart from anything else, there was a Mrs Astin who called herself his mother and came over regularly from Deptford to visit him.

As far for the men named in the rumours and the “written declarations”, there was no hard evidence that any of them had actually committed treasonable adultery with the Princess. George Canning was just one of her many visitors. Although she had been seen kissing Captain Manby and sitting very close to Sir Sidney on a sofa, no one had caught her with either of them in any more compromising circumstances. Although Sir Thomas had twice stayed at the house, he had remained in his room all night.’

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

‘Servants’ gossip was the chief material of this far from delicate investigation. Some had said that the Princess was in the family way, others thought not, though “she grew lusty and appeared large behind”; but her page, Thomas Stikeman, who had been with her since her marriage, stated that “from her shape it is difficult to judge when she is with child…When she was with child of the Pss Charlotte,” he added, “I should not have known it when she was far advanced in her time, if I had not been told it.”

The Inquiry was interested to find out whether or no the Princess had committed adultery with any of the gentlemen who were in the habit of visiting her. Among these was a Captain Thomas Manby, R.N., who was in constant attendance when his ship the Africaine was in dock, and who apparently turned up in a boat when the Princess went to stay at Southend and Margate. Needless to say, the servants named him as Caroline’s lover, and there were stories of their being discovered together in compromising attitudes, all of which Captain Manby, when questioned, firmly denied.

Sir Thomas Lawrence, commissioned by the King to paint the Princess and her daughter, was also accused by the servants of unconventional behaviour. It was alleged that several times he slept in the house. This he firmly admitted, as it had been “for the greater convenience of executing his painting”. “I have likewise,” he declared, “been graciously admitted to her Royal Highness’s presence in the evenings, and remained there till twelve, one, and two o’clock.” But, lest anyone should misunderstand this statement, he quickly added that he had never been alone with the Princess.

Admiral Sir Sidney Smith, safely at sea, made no attempt to defend himself against the accusations of pages and footmen, including one William Cole, whose evidence cannot have been entirely reliable. The Princess dismissed him from her service in 1802, but Cole kept in close touch with the staff at Montague House, and now stated confidently that “Mr. Bidgood’s wife has lately told him, that Fanny Lloyd told her, that Mary Wilson had told Lloyd, that one day, when she went into the Princess’s room, she found the Princess and Sir Sidney in the fact; that she [Wilson] immediately left the room, and fainted at the door”.’

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

Princess Caroline by Thomas Lawrence, 1804, National Portrait Gallery

Portrait: Caroline of Brunswick by Thomas Lawrence, 1804, National Portrait Gallery

Sir John and Lady Douglas Talk To The Prince of Wales

‘Sir John Douglas, after distinguished service in the Marines, had been appointed Equerry to the Duke of Sussex. (…) His wife was handsome in a flashy, gipsy way, and was the last person who should have been favoured with Princess Caroline’s confidences. She lapped up every word that was poured out so lavishly and indiscreetly by her friend, observing her with her hard black eyes all that went on at Montague House, where numerous gentlemen dined and spent the evening (and sometimes, it was rumoured, the night), and where, in the day-time, babies were allowed to take possession of the downstairs rooms.’
[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]

 

For a few years Sir John and Lady Douglas had been the closest of friends with the Princess of Wales. But she had rejected them so completely and cruelly that they were determined to have their revenge. They were now prepared to reveal everything they knew, or claimed to know, about her, and in the course of several long sessions with the Prince and his advisers, they told it all in great detail.

All the stories of lovers were true, they said. The Princess was insatiable. She had even embarrassed the beautiful but vulgar Lady Douglas by regularly making intimate advances to her. Worst of all, they claimed, they could confirm that she had indeed given birth to a child.

Among the seven or eight poor children whom the eccentric Princess had adopted informally and then farmed out to live with friends, there was one favourite, William Austin, whom she kept in her household. According to the Douglases, the Princess had told them that the boy was her own son. Furthermore she had told both of them and others that the father was none other than the Prince of Wales. The child had been conceived, she said, during an attempted reconciliation on her last visit to Carlton House.

If the last part of that story had been true, it would have had devastating implications. It would have meant that little “Willikin” and not Charlotte was second in line to the throne of England. But the Prince of Wales knew better than anyone that it was not true, although, to his delight, he could not be so sure about the rest of the story, or indeed about any of the others.

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

caroline lady douglas and george

Whose Child is Willikin?

‘The child which she claimed to be her own eventually made its appearance – a puny little creature named William Austin, who was said to be the son of a Deptford dock labourer and his wife. This may have been true; but years later Caroline swore that this baby was the bastard son of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who was smuggled into England and exchanged for the docker’s son. Prince Louis Ferdinand had been her lover, she said, when she was a girl, and she brought up the boy for his sake. Certainly Willikin, as she called him, was her favourite child, invariably given pride of place, pampered and spoiled, though by all accounts he displayed neither charm nor intelligence. “A sickly looking child with fair hair and blue eyes,” was Charlotte’s description of him.

There was also a girl, whom the Princess named Edwardina Kent: there was no question of the Duke of Kent having fathered her; she was probably the illegitimate child of Admiral Sir Sidney Smith,* who was one of Caroline’s courtiers at Blackheath, and who was an intimate friend of the Douglases.

* But the Princess had another story: Edwardina, she said, was the child of Irish parents “of the upper class” who, being forced to flee from their home, had left the infant with “a poor old peasant woman who lives at Blackheath.’

NPG D38618; William Austin by W. Nicholls, published by  Hassell & Co, after  John Raphael Smith

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

Picture: William Austin