Tag Archives: william’willikin’austin

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