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The Prince Of Orange Must Visit His Frogs Solo

Charlotte’s letters to Mercer take on a happier note at this point. ‘I have agreed without any demur or hesitation to see young P. when he comes,’ she wrote on December 8. She had received more accounts of him ‘from those who know him personally’, and felt that he could not, after all, be so bad: for one thing, ‘he is lively & likes fun & amusement’. A print of him was sent to Carlton House, and that evening, at a family party, it was placed upon a chair to be looked at, and ‘Princess Charlotte thought it not ugly,’ wrote Miss Knight.

At this party, attended by the Queen and two princesses, the Regent was ‘mighty busy & good-humoured’, she said. He was wearing a belt studded with rose-diamonds, to which he added a diamond clasp. It had been given to him by the Grand Seigneur of Turkey, he said, with a magnificent scimitar, but he did not greatly car for it. The ladies gathered round him, cooing with admiration, and Ladies Castlereagh and Hertford agreed with Charlotte that the diamonds would make beautiful ornaments; whereupon he undid the clasp, with a heave unwound the glittering thing from his well-corseted paunch, ‘and in the most amiable manner,’ said Charlotte, ‘gave it to me.’ She was in high favour. She dined at Carlton House two evenings in succession, and the Prince, she said, ‘was exceedingly kind & gracious … He has talked to me both days more than he has done for ages’.

On the second evening, December 9, a great many distinguished foreigners were present, including Madame de Staël, for whom Charlotte had a great admiration both as a writer and raconteur. She was accompanied by her husband and daughter, Albertine (good-humoured but silly, said Charlotte), and was ‘very pleasant’. ‘I think nothing could be more brilliant than the appearance of everything,’ wrote Charlotte, who was only just beginning to learn what Carlton House entertainment could be. Her letter to Mercer the next day bubbles with excitement and delight. ‘As to whether I was in beauty last night, I cannot answer,’ she began … ‘except by assuring you that I did not feel out of hea[l]th, or out of humour. Indeed no.’ She had blossomed under the Prince’s kindness, and had felt herself to be a success with his guests. She was happy, and even the news that she was going to Windsor for Christmas did not spoil her happiness.

Four days later, on December 13, her tone is still light-hearted, as she replies to a letter from Mercer, giving a favourable report of the Prince of Orange on his arrival at Plymouth. ‘I really admire the victory a single glimpse of his form has had upon you,’ Charlotte wrote, ‘& give my permission to your being in love with him for my sake according to the old proverb, “Love me, love my dog.”‘

This is quite a startling change of attitude, and shows how strong still was Mercer’s influence. Princess Mary, Sir Henry Halford, any member of ‘Government persons’ and even the Regent himself might try in vain to persuade her to consider the Orange alliance, but a word from Mercer in favour of the Prince, a suggestion that Charlotte should stop opposing the match, was enough to bring about a complete change of attitude. She had already agreed to see him: now she would even try to like him. She had had other good accounts of him – he was adored in the army: not only Lord Wellington, but all his brother officers spoke highly of him. Mercer’s letter had ‘eased me of 100,000 worrys’, she said.

All the same, she had her reservations. She agreed that the match would smooth out some of the problems now facing the Regent ‘with regard to the arrangement of the Netherlands’. Austria was demanding a bigger slice of Holland than had been planned and there was ‘an awkwardness … which requires much delicacy to remove’. The Netherlands rulers, the House of Orange, clearly needed British backing; but Charlotte was determined on one point: however much the young Prince might wish for the support of an English wife, nothing would induce her at any time to leave her native land. ‘As heiress presumptive to the Crown it is certain that I could not quit this country, as Queen of England still less.’ The Prince of Orange, said Charlotte firmly, must visit his frogs solo.’

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

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Charlotte Loses Patience

[In a letter to Mercer Elphinstone] Charlotte was sure that the Prince [of Orange] had been summoned to meet her, and in support of this she recounted a conversation that had taken place between her and ‘a Government person’ at Windsor. According to this unnamed minister, it was being said that Charlotte had ‘persistently refused’ to consider her planned marriage to the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

Charlotte was incensed by his impertinence and infuriated to learn that she was already being blamed for her response to a plan that had not yet even been put to her. So she decided to tease the minister and add a red herring to his rumour. Without denying what he had said, she told him that she much preferred the Duke of Gloucester.

‘Good God’, said he. ‘I can hardly believe you are serious.’
When he then reminded her that she could not marry without her father’s permission, Charlotte answered that ‘nothing was so easy as to make a publick declaration that I never would marry anyone else.’
The trick worked. The ‘Government person’ was clearly ‘both surprised & frightened’.
‘I was rather amused I confess’, wrote Charlotte, and she ‘laughed heartily’ after he was gone.

But in reality she felt threatened. Even the government was gossiping. She went on the defensive. She declined to attend every event at which she thought the Hereditary Prince of Orange might be present. But she was curious enough to ask about him, and she learned a bit from one of his dancing partners, Georgiana Fitzroy. The Hereditary Prince was apparently ‘very gentlemanlike’, well informed & pleasant’ and he was ‘the best waltzer that ever was’. But he was also ‘excessively plain’ and ‘thin as a needle’. Georgiana thought that Charlotte would find him ‘frightful’.

Had Charlotte but known it, the Hereditary Prince was as apprehensive as she was. It was a relief to both of them when he went back Spain after less than a month without being introduced to her. But she still felt that the plan was brewing, and she knew that she was being watched more closely than ever. Lady Catherine Osborne was everywhere. For a while Charlotte and Miss Knight had avoided being understood by her by talking to each other in German. But Lady Catherine, who had her own governess, had learned enough German to make out what they were saying. So now they were talking to each other in Italian, and Lady Catherine was busy learning that from a music master.

One night, when Charlotte found ‘her little Ladyship’ loitering yet again in a dark passage, she lost patience, pushed her into the water closet, locked the door and kept her there for a quarter of an hour. ‘It did for a good laugh to Miss K & me’, she told Mercer, ‘as the young ladies dismay was not small, & her assurances thro’ the door very amusing‘.

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

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Charlotte’s Conversation With Princess Mary

To Charlotte’s relief, the young Prince of Orange did not put in an appearance. ‘The little hero has as yet left me quiet,’ she wrote on August 21. She was thankful to postpone the evil hour of meeting him, though she was clearly eager to hear accounts of him from those who had. There were flutterings in the Castle dovecote: the Princesses, Charlotte told Mercer, were longing to meet their niece’s young man, and were disappointed to learn that he was about to rejoin Wellington. When the Queen decided to go to London to see him and say good-bye, all her daughters wanted to accompany her. Charlotte pitied the young prince: ‘It is very unpleasant being exposed to the observation of a set of ill-natured spinsters, who only regret not being young enough to s[e]ize upon him themselves.’ Her Aunt Mary, who remembered him as a child in arms and was full of his praises, was not invited to go: the Queen decided to take Augusta and Elizabeth (‘a brace of very ugly daughters,’ wrote Charlotte). Princess Mary told her niece that the Regent had decided not to invite the Hereditary Prince on this visit, as more preparation was needed before the young couple met. Besides which, she said, the Regent ‘knew he was not handsome…’ ‘But he might improve still,’ she quickly added, ‘tho’ he is 21.’

Charlotte doubted this. ‘If you see him, you will see what is perfectly frightful,’ she told Mercer.

In fact, she was behaving badly. But she was profoundly uneasy about the Orange business, and dreaded that the Regent would make a sudden move for which she was unprepared. She felt that, at Windsor, she was surrounded by spies; and she resolved to carry the war into the enemies’ country and talk openly to one or two of them, beginning with her Aunt Mary.

‘I formed my conversation for her to repeat,’ she told Mercer. She had never trusted this aunt, whom she described as ‘the carrier of everything back again to the Prince, whose great favourite she is’. Princess Mary, she added, was ‘a very good handle, that is all…’

Her aunt listened to her sympathetically. Charlotte said how disappointed she was that her portrait had been left unfinished: she had intended it as a birthday present for her father, and had nothing else to give him. She was worried, too, because he had not spoken to her since he arrived in Windsor. Princess Mary said that she and her sisters ‘had been so used to the King’s not speaking to them for whole days together’, that it did not seem strange to her, only a pity because Charlotte saw her father so seldom. Charlotte complained of her father’s attitude to her ladies, and defended them hotly. To be sure, agreed her aunt, ‘people could not guess by inspiration what he wished to have done…the ladies, she believed, did as well as they could’ and so on. Princess Mary was exerting herself to please her niece; but she was also trying to please the Prince. She told Charlotte that her father very much wished her to be married next year, and without mentioning the Prince of Orange she tiptoed, catlike, round and round the subject of marriage, gently insinuating the idea and leaving it with Charlotte as something greatly to be desired.

(…) Charlotte did not greatly value her aunt Mary’s advice, but she was encouraged by a note from her ally, Princess Sophia, saying that she thought the conversation had done some good: Princess Mary ‘wished she could show the Prince how much he was injuring himself & hurting & trifling with’ his daughter’s feelings.

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

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The Chance For Freedom Is Coming

Throughout all this Charlotte spent a large part of every day nursing Mrs Gagarin. She had not been well for several months, and by the end of March it seemed likely that she would not recover.

‘While she was capable of taking airings’, wrote Cornelia Knight, ‘her Royal Highness constantly sent her out in a carriage, and when she grew so weak as to be confined to her room, visited her two or three times a day, carried her in her arms to the window, and exerted every faculty to soothe and comfort her.’

Her death was recorded in the Gentleman’s Magazine:

‘July 1. At Warwick House, Mrs Gagarin, many years an affectionate and faithful attendant of the Princess Charlotte of Wales. Her last moments were solaced by the condescending and unremitting attentions of of her Royal Highness, reflecting a lustre on the native goodness of her heart, superior to all the appendages of her exalted rank.’

Charlotte, wrote Miss Knight, ‘was very low for a long time afterwards, though she endeavoured to suppress and conceal her feelings’.

Yet amid all this sadness and frustration there was one element of happiness – the presence of Mercer Elphinstone.

Mercer came down from Scotland in the middle of March and stayed until the end of July.

When she knew her friend was coming, Charlotte wrote to her father, saying that she had heard the news from a third party and asking his permission to see her. Their correspondence had been, as Charlotte put it, ‘conducted with such secrecy & prudence’ that the Prince was convinced they had not been in touch with each other. All Charlotte’s letters were still being open by his agents at the Post Office, and there had been no sign of it. He therefore acceded to what he regarded as a reasonable request.

There were some, including Cornelia Knight, who suspected that the Prince had written to Mercer saying that he would only let her see his daughter if she promised to persuade her not to be too supportive of her mother. But Mercer, who was always wary of Charlotte’s mother, would have done that anyway if she thought it appropriate.

For more than four months Charlotte and Mercer saw each other as often as they pleased. But the Prince Regent had forbidden Mercer to stay in the same house as Charlotte. So when Charlotte was in London, Mercer came round to Warwick House from her own house in Harley Street, and when Charlotte was in Windsor at Lower Lodge, Cornelia Knight arranged for Mercer to stay nearby with a friend, Mrs Hallam.

Throughout those months there were no letters. There is therefore no record of what they discussed. But there is no doubt that one of the most important topics was the rumour that Mercer mentioned in one of her last letters from Scotland.

In her reply Charlotte wrote that she too had heard it. Perhaps, if the Princess were willing to pay it, the price of freedom would soon be available.

It was being said that the Prince Regent and his ministers were planning to arrange a marriage between Princess Charlotte and the Hereditary Prince of Orange.

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

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Mother Uses Charlotte As Her Pawn

As for her [Charlotte’s] mother, the association with the Whigs was no more than expediency. When the Tories were in opposition. the Tories had been her advisers. Now that the Whigs were in opposition, her advisers were the Whigs.

The two closest of these were the brilliant but unscrupulous Scottish lawyer Henry Brougham and a rich, vulgar brewer’s son, Samuel Whitbread. Like the Tories they leaked little stories to the press, representing the Princess of Wales in the best light they could, and her husband, which was easier, in the worst; and they waited patiently for the opportunity to manipulate the relationship to their best possible advantage. It was not a long wait.

Early in October Charlotte went up from Windsor for one of her now rare visits to her mother in Kensington Palace. Since Lady de Clifford was suffering from any eye infection, she was escorted by one of the Queen’s lady companions.

Before they left the Queen gave her companion, Miss Cornelia Knight, strict instructions. ‘Do not let Princess Charlotte go out of your sight for one moment.’

She was equally firm with her granddaughter, telling her ‘not to retire at all’, to which Charlotte answered understandably that she would have to retire for dinner and that there was nothing she had to say to her mother that she was not prepared to say in front of anybody else.

But by then the Queen’s caution was no longer necessary. A few weeks earlier Lieutenant Hesse had sailed with his regiment for Spain.

In the following week the Princess of Wales wrote to the Queen demanding that her daughter should be allowed to visit her more often and threatening to come down to Windsor unannounced if she was not. On the advise of Brougham and Whitbread, who probably wrote the letter for her, she sent a copy to Charlotte.

Innocently, Charlotte told her grandmother. The Queen, who had decided to ignore the letter, was concerned to learn that there was a copy of it. She sent for the Prince Regent. The Prince Regent sent for the Prime Minister. When Charlotte was summoned she told them that she had burned the letter. Somehow, the Prime Minister managed to persuade the Prince and his mother that they were worrying about nothing, and that there was nothing they could do about it anyway.

A week later, however, when Charlotte went on her scheduled fortnightly visit to Kensington Palace, her mother persuaded her to tell her everything that had been said at the meeting. When Charlotte seemed apprehensive, her mother reassured her. ‘She did nothing without good advice.’ And then, after another week, to Charlotte’s bitter amazement, her ‘accurate’ account of the family row appeared in several newspapers.

Using Charlotte and her mother, the Whigs had succeeded in reducing the Regent still further in the eyes of the people. They had forgotten the earlier rumours about the Princess of Wales. To them she was now a thwarted mother as well as an abandoned wife, and the Prince Regent was more than ever a decadent bully.

After that, when Charlotte drove out in her carriage, she was greed with shouts of ‘Don’t desert your mother, dear!’

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

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Charlotte’s Loyalty To Mercer Elphinstone

The Prince was now Regent with Unrestricted Powers, and finally abandoned his Whig friends: the moderate Whigs, Grey and Grenville, had refused his invitation to join the Government and form a coalition; and Spencer Perceval remained the leader of a Tory administration*. Charlotte, strongly in favour of reform, Catholic Emancipation and all that the Whigs stood for, was learning not to discuss politics in the family, but she felt very bitterly her father’s desertion of the party, and, according to Lord Glenbervie, wept when she heard the news. The Regent was aware of her attitude, and believed her to be strongly influenced by Mercer. He determined to break the friendship(…)

The doors of Carlton House were closed to members of the Opposition, and Mercer Elphinstone was asked to cease her correspondence with Princess Charlotte. Meanwhile, the Queen had taken up the cudgels on her son’s behalf, and summoned her granddaughter for a little talk on the subject of Royalty and Politics.

Queen Charlotte was sixty-eight, and beginning to grow enormous from dropsy. She had courage, and a sense of humour, but suffering had hardened and stiffened her: she had not give vent to her feelings, but lapsed into cold, violent anger when she was thwarted. She visited her husband regularly and conscientiously, taking always a daughter with her. According to Princess Mary, the Queen’s unfortunate manner made these interviews even more painful than they need have been. She ruled her daughters with an iron rod, which she now tried to exercise upon her granddaughter.

She began by assuring her that she should look upon her father as ‘the only source of her happiness’ (news which must have struck a chill into Charlotte’s heart), and that she must be ready to accept his judgement in all things, ‘as her father must of course, not only by right but by experience, know better what was for her good’. She went on to warn Charlotte against forming particular friendships: although she should be civil to everyone, she should be careful to show no partiality for one person, and especially she should avoid any form of political friendship, which could never be depended upon. Having dropped these heavy hints, the Queen added a further warning: ‘That any member of the Royal Family taking a part against the Crown was lowering it most essentially.’

The Queen felt that she had made an impression, and Lady de Clifford told her later that Charlotte was ‘much pleased’ with the conversation, which seems hard to believe. Her father’s dictum forbidding her to correspond with Mercer came as no surprise, but the blow was overwhelming. Mercer was her best friend, the only person to whom she could confide her problems, her happiness and her misery; and who gave her wise advice. To be cut off from her was to be cut off from everything that made life bearable, and Charlotte, now spending all her time at Lower Lodge, Windsor, grew listless and wretched.

For six months she endured; but by the end of August she felt that she could bear it no longer. She decided to break the promise extracted from her by her father, and to find some means of communicating secretly with Mercer. Lady Charlotte Lindsay, her mother’s lady-in-waiting, offered to act as go-between, and on August 24 she broke the long silence.

‘I detest everything that bears the name of clandestine,’she wrote, ‘but I call this not so. I hold myself absolved from the promise that was extorted from me, not to hold any communication whatever with you. It is an unjust&cruel requisition.’

The letter was an outpouring of all her woes, which seemed almost to have unhinged her. She invests the Lower Lodge with a kind of Gothic gloom, describing it as ‘a perfect prison’, where she is surrounded by spies; and though there is something of her father’s love of drama in her description of her plight -‘a regular system of persecution seems to be the thing’- Mercer cannot have failed to feel pity and anger as she read it. Charlotte was being made to suffer cruelly in ‘this infernal dwelling’ as she called it, and it looked as if her health was affected. The house was damp, or more probably suffered from bad drains, and the relaxing air of Windsor did not agree with her. ‘None of my household have been well. I sleep but little, or suffer from severe headaches or colds… I think,’ she concludes, ‘could you see me, you would finde me very much altered, grown very serious and thoughtful at times.’

This serious, thoughtful Charlotte was devoting herself to ‘studdy’, which she described as her greatest resource, as it passed away hours of ennui. Drawing and music occupied most of her time; it was true she went for rides, but these were ‘far from agreable, as always in the compagny with the Princesses’.

‘I will not deny to you that I am far far from being happy.’

* On May 11th 1812 Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of House of Commons by John Bellingham. Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool has succeeded him as the Prime Minister.

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

charlotte-and-mercer

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Charlotte’s Lamentable Dinner With Her Father

Charlotte, to her intense relief, was back in London. Even though Miss Knight described Warwick House as ‘miserably out of repair, and almost falling into ruins’, it was, she said ‘a seat of happiness to Princess Charlotte compared to Lower Lodge at Windsor’. The present arrangement was that she and her charge were to be one week in London and one at Lower Lodge. But Charlotte was ‘anxiously desirous’, said Miss Knight, ‘to remain in Town as much as possible.’ There, the prospect of a more entertaining life opened out: ‘when in Town we were to dine at Carlton House, to go to the Play and Opera, and to have a party at Warwick House, besides balls and great parties at Carlton House.’ And indeed, this gay life seemed to be beginning when Miss Knight, two days after her arrival, was invited to accompany the young Princess to dinner with her father.

‘We went at 7, and I was presented to the Regent in form.’ But she was surprised to find no ladies present, only Miss Goldsworthy, the Princesses’ governess, now very old, very deaf, and inclined to drop asleep over her dinner. However, there were three Royal Dukes, York, Cumberland and Cambridge, and Miss Knight’s feelings, so easily upset, were appeased by their princely graciousness. She could find no fault with the meal or with the surroundings; the rooms were ‘fitted up with great splendour and elegance’, though far too hot.

But she could not approve of her host’s manner to his daughter. He hardly spoke to her, and showed her no affection. ‘His greatest attentions,’ she wrote, ‘were for Miss Goldsworthy,’ to whom he evidently chose to show more favour than the daughter of Sir Joseph Knight. Her conclusion was that ‘every consideration was to be sacrificed to the plan of keeping the Princess Charlotte as long as possible a child; and consequently, whoever belonged to her was to be thought a nurse or preceptress, inferior, of course, to the nurses and preceptresses of the Princesses her aunts’. Although inclined to be huffy on her own account, Miss Knight was far more concerned on Charlotte’s, now that she had seen her vis-a-vis her father.

When they returned to Windsor, Cornelia found this opinion confirmed. The Duchess of Leeds’s daughter was considered by the Queen to be a suitable companion for Charlotte, and parties were to be given of ‘young ladies not present’ – or, as Miss Knight put it scornfully, ‘children’s balls’. She was as indignant as Charlotte, whom she described as having ‘in understanding, penetration and stature…become a woman’.

It must also be remembered that Charlotte had already had a love affair, was attractive to men, and enjoyed their company. The Prince was aware of this, and warned Miss Knight in the course of an evening party that she must see that there was no nonsense with the Duke of Gloucester. The Duke, who was known as Silly Billy, was thirty-seven and a gift to the caricaturists, but he was kind and friendly: perhaps, though, from later events, the Prince’s instincts were right, for the time came when Charlotte was quite ready to accept her goggle-eyed cousin Gloucester as a suitor.

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

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Picture: Portrait of Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh by an unknown artist, 1813-22

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