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Princess Mary Becomes Charlotte’s Adviser

Before she left England, the Princess of Wales, with what Grey called her ‘utter want of all sense of delicacy and propriety’, wrote suggesting that Charlotte might marry Prince Frederick of Orange, Slender Billy’s younger and brighter brother, who was just then in England with his regiment. In August he was at Windsor, and took part in a review of troops by the Duke of Wellington, within sight of Cranbourne Lodge – ‘a thin young man, & rode a fine prancing horse’, said General Garth, who had been to look; but Charlotte was in a rage. ‘Can you conceive anything so indelicate,’ she demanded, ‘as bringing him down close to my house after all that has passed?’ All the same, she had climbed, ‘covered with a few pelisses’, up to the roof-top, and watched what she could see of the review through a telescope.

The papers began to hint that the younger Orange prince had been sent to woo Charlotte. ‘The newspapers are very insufferable with their nonsense about me,’ she exclaimed angrily, adding that she would never again look at anything ‘in the shape of an Orange’. Again, she inveighed against the Duke of Wellington’s indelicacy ‘in bringing him down into my neighbourhood’, and she declared, ‘The only effect this Orange siege will have upon me is that I shall become very savage at last … ‘

However, Prince Frederick showed no sign of following up his dashing equestrian exploits with a visit to Cranbourne Lodge, and Charlotte’s dull life went on as before.

One consequence of the move to Windsor was that she saw more of her grandmother and aunts, and though, as she said later, ‘they all pull different ways & I go mine’, her references to the family are for the most part more tolerant. Her unheard-of behaviour in breaking off the engagement and defying her father had caused a flutter in the Castle dovecote; and when she arrived at Cranbourne Lodge she was much on the defensive and too miserable to want to see anyone. She had no desire to confide in any of the family; but in order to clear the air on the Orange question, she decided to have a talk with Princess Mary, and hoped thus to communicate her point of view, wrapped in Mary’s careful diplomacy, to the Prince.

Her aunt received her eagerly, only too delighted to have what she called a conference upon Charlotte’s recent troubles. Cat-like, with carefully-hidden claws, Princess Mary gently drew from her niece the whole story of the broken engagement, the scene with the Regent at Warwick House and finally Charlotte’s flight, seeming impressed by her niece’s firmness and intrepidity. But she was shocked, she said, to learn that she had run away ‘from desperation’; and with a sudden volte-face declared that it was all the Prince Regent’s fault. After the engagement had been broken he should have gone to see Charlotte at once, particularly when she wrote that she was ill. Then all this would never have happened.

Before the interview ended there were one or two sharp scratches from the aunt. She hinted that politically Charlotte’s behaviour had been disastrous: the Prussians, she said,were furious with her for endangering the Dutch alliance, and the King of Prussia had declared that he would not go to say good-bye to her. But ‘I confounded her,’ said the niece, ‘by saying he had sent me his Chamberlain with a very gracious & civil message.’ Princess Mary made a quick recovery, and went on to warn Charlotte to keep away from the Duchess of York, who was still excessively angry with her.* ‘We parted after this,’ said Charlotte, who nevertheless persuaded herself that the result of this conversation was ‘really favorable’. She felt that she had made it clear that she would never, in any circumstances, be talked into a renewal of the Orange match.

Princess Mary had evidently decided to play the part of Charlotte’s friend and adviser. Unfortunately, the overplayed it, and now wrote rather patronizingly, justifying the Regent’s ‘cool and reserved manner’, and indicating that Charlotte was largely to blame. ‘Though your father is desirous of showing you all the kindness he feels towards you, you must meet him half way and be sencible [sic] your own steady conduct alone can make him place confidence in you.’ This put Charlotte’s back up. ‘I am trying to conciliate the P.R. by all good means,’ she complained to Mercer, and in a thoroughly irritable condition prepared herself to go to a fête at Frogmore. This was her first appearance in public since her flight and banishment, and she was nervous.

‘We go in two carriages,’ she said. ‘I shall take Lady Ilchester in one, and let the others go in the other.’ She wished to make her entrance alone, untrammelled by the ‘whole train of nasty ugly women’, as she rudely described her ladies.

At this party she met the Duchess of York, who, contrary to Princess Mary’s dark warnings, ‘was perfect in her manner of meeting & conducting herself towards me; nothing could be better’. The Duke of York, conscious of their last encounter, was ‘awkward in manner but not unkind’; and the Regent, whom she had dreaded meeting, ‘just spoke, & good-naturedly, (the few words he did utter)’. He was closeted with ministers most of the evening, but when he left ‘he wished me good-bye & added a my dear to it’. She hoped that she was forgiven.

By degrees she was succeeding in calming her affronted relations. The Queen, to her surprise, was ‘remarkably good-humoured & gracious’; and indeed, now that the Princess of Wales had removed herself from the scene, Queen Charlotte’s attitude to her granddaughter underwent a change, and she began to act independently of the Prince, even to the point of standing up to him in defence of Charlotte’s rights.

[…]

Towards the end of August, at ‘a very seemly little musick party’ at Frogmore, Charlotte again had a tête à tête with her Aunt Mary, who was at her most amiable. She professed herself ‘all anxiety’ for her niece to marry. ‘I see no chance for you of comfort … without your marrying,’ she said. ‘All your family should be glad if there was anything that would do …’ But it seemed, when they discussed it further, that there was nothing that would do. Charlotte ‘joked’ about Prince Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who had been the Queen’s candidate. ‘Oh God, no,’ cried Princess Mary, and added, ‘I would be the last now to recommend … anyone in particular.’ But when Charlotte, apparently joking again, mentioned Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, her aunt ‘colored not a little’ and admitted, ‘I think from what I saw of him he is a very good looking & very gentlemanlike young man.’ ‘I don’t like him,’ said Charlotte, ‘for he does not suit my taste.’ At this her aunt ‘thought a little’ and then said quietly , ‘You don’t, you don’t.’ ‘She seemed quite satisfied & cheerful again,’ said Charlotte, ‘so that I suspect there is something there with her.’ It looks as if Princess Mary, trying to pick a husband for her niece, was in fact going through the list on her own behalf as well.

A few days later, evidently in answer to an enquiry on the subject from Mercer, Charlotte declared that she had no idea whether her Aunt Mary thought of the Prince of Coburg ‘in any particular way’, but her manner seemed to show that there was ‘something or other’. Princess Sophia, questioned about this by her niece, denied all knowledge of it, but said that Leopold could never be ‘worked’ as a husband for Charlotte, as ‘he had not a shilling’.

* The Hereditary Prince of Orange was her nephew.

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

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Charlotte Is Struggling With Confirmation And Her Family

She knew herself well enough by now, she thought, to understand her own feelings. ‘It is much wiser, to crush at once all wishes or hopes & feelings which never have ended in any good …’ She was not yet eighteen, but she believed herself experienced; and witnessing her mother’s follies, she began to develop a self-imposed austerity far out of keeping with her nature, as she was soon to discover.

She was about to be confirmed, and went to Windsor for the ceremony, which took place on Christmas Day, in St. George’s Chapel. The day before, on her first appearance at the Castle since her betrothal, she was ‘excessively agitated’. First, there were all the congratulations to be got over, and she dreaded an encounter with the Queen, who for some time had not been her friend. However, ‘Mary and the Prince,’ she said, ‘were so very good natured that I got time at last to command myself a little better’. Her father was at his most gracious, and her Aunt Mary quite overwhelmed her with kindness. The Regent, she told Charlotte, had spoken of her ‘in the highest terms’, and was now blaming Lady de Clifford for all their past misunderstandings. The Dowager had prejudiced him against Charlotte, he said, by bringing him trumped-up stories of her bad behaviour, and by never teaching her ‘things that were proper’ such as manners and deportment. Charlotte accepted that Lady de Clifford was being used as a scapegoat, but she was relieved to know herself still in favour. However much she might hate her father’s enthusiastic dishonesty, when the sun shone she was happy to bask in its warmth. He gave her a beautiful diamond armlet, as a cadeau for my birthday’, and his graciousness towards her was reflected by the rest of the family. ‘Certainly,’ she said, it is the first time I have ever been treated with the least égard or civility,’ and she took advantage of the situation by giving her ‘decided & determined opinion upon several subjects & points’.

The Regent had dreaded breaking the news of Charlotte’s engagement to the Queen, and had employed the Duke of York to begin a softening-up process, in the hopes of preventing a scene. The Queen did not care for the Dutch connection, and had suggested Prince Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who was a nice, reliable German, and her nephew. However, according to Princess Mary, the Prince ‘managed the whole affair incomparably with the Queen’, showing unusual firmness which ‘left no probability for her interfering’.

He took Charlotte to see her grandmother, and remained in the room during the interview, in case anything should go wrong. The Queen, said Charlotte, ‘was gracious, but added good advice, wh. I saw rather put the Prince out of patience’. She could not help reminding Charlotte not once but many times, of her mother’s mistakes, which was tactless, to say the least. ‘I see very evidently,’ Charlotte said afterwards, ‘the Queen in her heart hates the whole marriage & connection, but the Prince having been so decided, must now put the best leg foremost‘. When this ordeal was over, there was, for Charlotte, another to go through – her confirmation. It was attended by the Queen, the Prince, and Princesses Elizabeth and Augusta, and was, said Charlotte, ‘so awful a ceremony that I felt during it and afterwards exceedingly agitated’. Emotions ran high: all her relations, said Charlotte, showed traces of ‘agitation’ on their faces when the service was over. The following morning, which was Christmas Day, she made her first communion ‘and was deeply impressed with its importance’. ‘I fancy I was flurried,’ she said, ‘as I certainly looked very white and then very red …’

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

 

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!’

charlotte-and-caroline

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

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