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Moving Into Claremont

At this point Leopold was attacked once again by the violent pain in his face which had afflicted him before. Once again, he was obliged to part with a tooth, but a few days later he and Charlotte took the air together in an open barouche, along the Harrow Road. By this time they were determined to move out of the uncomfortable and depressing Camelford House at the earliest opportunity. The purchase of Claremont had by now gone through Parliament and had received the Royal Assent. The move was arranged for August 23: the furniture and household goods to go in military waggons, while stage coaches were hired to take the servants and the luggage, followed by Sir Robert Gardiner and the household in carriages. Finally the Prince and Princess took leave, without regret, of Camelford House, and set out in their travelling carriage, arriving at Claremont in time for dinner. They were welcomed by the bells ringing from Esher Church, and Charlotte, climbing the wide steps up to the front door, exclaimed as she looked back over the peaceful countryside, ‘Thank Heaven I am here at last!’

(…)

For Charlotte, who, as she grew up, had been bundled into one or other of the less attractive royal houses, Claremont must have seemed a veritable paradise. After Warwick House and Lower Lodge, Windsor (‘this infernal dwelling’), she must have revelled in the spaciousness and beauty of the grounds, and the dignity of the house with its well-proportioned rooms, and great gallery at the back, which had been built to fit a magnificent carpet carpet presented to Lord Clive [one of the previous owners] when he left India.

‘To Claremont’s terraced heights and Esher’s groves,
Where in the sweetest solitude embraced
By the soft winding of the silent Mole,
From courts and cities Charlotte finds repose …’

The Princess adapted some lines by the poet Thomson to for an inscription upon a snuff-box for her husband, epitomizing her happiness in Claremont and Leopold. She had indeed, after the twenty-one turbulent years of her life, ‘found repose’. She was happy; and the marriage which she had envisaged so coolly as an escape from something worse had turned out to be a source of deep contentment, a fulfilment of all that she could ever have hoped.

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

Picture: Claremont House, ca. 1860 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claremont.JPG

Leopold Arrives In London

On April 29 Prince Leopold and his suite left Windsor in two of the Regent’s travelling carriages and drove to Smallberry Green, near Hounslow, the home of Sir Joseph Banks, the wealthy botanist, who provided ‘a most sumptuous repast’. As soon as this was eaten, the Prince, unable to linger and be shown Sir Joseph’s exotic plants, stepped smartly into one of the Regent’s dress carriages, drawn by six magnificent bays, preceded by the Regent’s state coachman on horseback, and followed by a second carriage containing his gentlemen.

This cavalcade set out for London, a splendid sight, with coachmen, postillions, footmen and outriders in their scarlet liveries, and the inhabitants of Brentford, Hammersmith and Kensington ran and jostled to get a chance to see it. The Coburg Prince may well have been feeling nervous at what lay ahead, but he presented a calm and confident appearance, and charmed his beholders by his friendly acknowledgement of their cheers.

At 3.30 he arrived at Clarence House, where he was to remain till after the wedding. Crowds were gathered in the Mall, and had already cheered themselves hoarse when Princess Charlotte, attended by the Countess of Ilchester and Colonel Addenbrook, arrived, at 1:30, at Carlton House. They now turned their attention to Clarence House, and during the next forty-eight hours, whenever he was at home, his Serene Highness Prince Leopold was obliged to show himself over and over again on the first-floor balcony, bowing politely and kindly to the milling and ecstatic populace.

His future father-in-law had made him a general in the British army, which entitled him to a new and splendid uniform for his marriage; but presumably it was in his Russian dress uniform that he drove to a reception at Carlton House, decorated with ‘a very brilliant Austrian order on a light blue ribbon’. Charlotte, who was present, had to leave soon after Leopold’s arrival, to go to the Queen’s Court at Buckingham House. Her dress, we are told, was purple silk, and it seems odd that she should have chosen this funereal colour, the colour which she also chose for her ill-fated first meeting with the Prince of Orange.

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

The Wedding Date Is Fixed

The wedding, after several postponements on account of the Regent’s ill health, was finally fixed for May 2, and on April 22 Prince Leopold moved from Brighton to Windsor, where he stayed at Upper Lodge. He did not meet Charlotte, however, till the 25th, when Princess Mary’s birthday was celebrated by a family party at Frogmore. The Prince Regent was affable to Charlotte and Leopold, but he did not seem at all well. ‘He is dreadfully altered,’ Charlotte observed. ‘I think he looks old & ugly, & is grown to an immense size.’ She noticed that he was unsteady on his legs, and walked ‘quite like Louis 18. If he don’t take care,’ she said, ‘he will soon get like him.’ Perhaps he had relied too much upon that merlin chair in which he wheeled himself about at Brighton.

The wedding was now imminent, and Charlotte’s fears that it would be private and ‘smuggled’ were relieved. The marriage service was to be held in the grand crimson saloon at Carlton House, and the Regent displayed his genius for ceremonial in the arrangements going afoot. A Master of Ceremonies was appointed, and his assistant. The public was to be allowed its share of entertainment, and Charlotte and Leopold would be displayed in due course. From now on they would cease to exist on their own account, but would become part of a complicated royal machine which would not release them until they were man and wife.

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

Picture: His Most Excellent Majesty George the Fourth, lithograph by T.C.P., from the original by George Atkinson, profile artist to His Majesty, printed by C. Hullmandel, published by G. Atkinson, Brighton, November 15, 1821

All The Problems Are Resolved

But as December came and went there was still no sign of it (…) She spent Christmas Day there [in Weymouth] without a single member of her family for company, and it was not until New Year’s Day that she and her ladies climbed into their carriages to ride back to Windsor and Cranbourne Lodge.

On 6 January Charlotte drove down to Brighton with the Queen and two of her aunts. The next day was her twentieth birthday, and the Prince Regent was giving a party for her at his pavilion. In the course of the evening she made ‘another push’ on behalf of Prince Leopold, and this time her father made no objection.

Knowing that the Regent could remember things as he wanted them to be rather than as they were, Charlotte wrote to him as soon as she returned to Cranbourne Lodge, repeating on paper exactly what had been said in Brighton. Her excuse was that her shyness often prevented her from expressing herself clearly, and ‘in the present instance’ she therefore felt that it was essential ‘to have recourse to writing’. After reminding her father that he had once told her he would leave the choice to her, she went on. ‘Thus encouraged I no longer hesitate in declaring my partiality for the Prince of Coburg – assuring you that no one will be more steady and consistent in their present & last engagement than myself.’

But there was no need to worry. The Duke of York had indeed known something. At the end of the previous year the Regent had been making enquiries. He consulted Lord Castlereagh, who had been impressed by Leopold at the Vienna Congress, and Lord Lauderdale, who had got to know him better than anyone else when he was last in England. Both agreed that he was a man of the highest principles and an ideal husband for their future queen, and furthermore Lauderdale could confirm that he was ‘partial to the young lady’.

The answer to Charlotte’s letter was the news that he father had written to Leopold summoning him to England, and that his letter was accompanied by a letter from Castlereagh explaining to Leopold that the Regent intended to offer him his daughter’s hand in marriage.

All that was needed now was for the courier to find Leopold. He was no longer in Paris, but he had not, as some said, gone to Russia. When the courier reached Coburg he was told that Leopold had gone to Berlin, and it was there that he found him, in the middle of February.

By then Charlotte was exasperated with waiting. On 21 February she wrote to Mercer. ‘By accurate calculation & measurement of the distance between Berlin & Coburg I find no reason (except the bad roads) for his not being here now.’

Charlotte’s calculation was correct. The day on which she wrote that letter was also the day on which Leopold landed at Dover and drove to London. This time there was no need to take rooms above a grocer’s shop in Marylebone High Street. This time the Prince Regent was paying. Leopold checked in at the Clarendon Hotel in Bond Street, where a suite had been reserved for him.

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

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]

Charlotte’s Heart Is Broken

Perhaps it was, after all, a good thing that she was going back to Cranbourne Lodge. The season was over at Weymouth and the place had lost its summer charm. It was too windy for sailing, and she spent far too much time by herself. She admitted that her health was better: even though her heart was broken, she looked well, and she told Lady Ashbrook that she had been trying to ride again, ‘and really it goes off better than I could have hoped, which I know you will be glad to hear’. But she went on to tell this kind friend that she had been ‘very uneasy & unhappy upon certain subjects’, and to excuse herself from writing further as she was ‘out of spirits’.

On December 16, she and her ladies set out of for Windsor. She described the journey as sad and uncomfortable. Lady Rosslyn, ‘old Cross Bones’, who always got on her nerves, sat opposite her in the carriage, ‘& really her eternal fidgets & frights nearly drove me distracted’. In any case, Charlotte was hardly in the mood to enjoy herself: two days before, she had written, ‘My hear has had a very sudden & great shock.’ On her return, a letter from Mercer awaited her, which confirmed what she had already heard: Prince August was to marry an Englishwoman, a Miss Rumbolt.

At last, quite suddenly, the wretched, pathetic dream was shattered, the bright bubble of hope vanished into thin air. Charlotte accepted that F had played her false. Her feeling, she said, was not anger or resentment, ‘it is too deep … to allow of anything else but grief’.

At the Castle, she learned a little more about her faithless lover, to whom she now always refers as Prince Augustus. ‘The Duke of Kent told me that P. Augustus was the only black sheep in the family, & que sa main gauche a était offert a tous les jolies femmes en Allemagne.’ But the black sheep’s cousin, the Duchess of York, whether or no she knew anything of Charlotte’s infatuation, gave an even more daunting account of him. His breath, she said uncompromisingly, stank. ‘Handsome as he was, there was no going near him or bearing his approaching, for that it was worse than anything ever was, & at the opera she was obliged really to get one of her brothers to change places with her for fear of being sick.’

It seems strange that this unfortunate defect was not noticed by all the jolie femmes to whom he made love; even stranger that it should have passed unnoticed by the exquisite Madame Récamier. But nothing could have been more precisely aimed to disillusion a lovesick girl.

‘I feel quite convinced,’ wrote Charlotte, ‘that regrets are of no avail … As faith was broken, confidence is gone for ever.’

Throughout the F affair the assiduous Miss Knight – banished and living with friends – had linked the lovers by receiving and forwarding letters. Charlotte dreaded that Notte (as she now always called her) would make things worse for her by reproaching the Prussian prince for his faithlessness. However, she misjudged her. Cornelia managed to smuggle Charlotte’s picture and a ring, returned by F, and wrote calmly and sadly, enclosing a letter – ‘an easy, cool, familiar, friendly letter’ in which Prince August regretfully brings the correspondence to an end. ‘If anything was further wanted to decide the affair,’ said Charlotte, ‘this does it.’

The Duchess of York, having dropped one highly-charged bombshell, followed it up with further disclosures: that, as well as having ‘horrible’ breath – was he, perhaps, too fond of garlic? – he had at least two mistresses. ‘He is not a general favourite,’ she assured her niece; in fact, nobody really liked him except his mother. If the Duchess had set out to finish the affair she could hardly have done so more efficiently. ‘Have I not echappé belle?’ Charlotte demanded of Mercer, and in the next breath went on to discuss the Prince of Saxe-Coburg.

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

Charlotte Enjoys Her Holidays

Gradually, Charlotte began to relax, and allow the tranquil air of Weymouth to calm and invigorate her. She had not been there since she was a child; now she enjoyed visits to curious and ancient places like any other tripper: she was fascinated by Portland and Chesil Beach, and her interest in old buildings – chiefly derived from the reading of Gothic romance – was stimulated by a visit to Corfe Castle.

The town of Weymouth provided her with plenty of entertainment, and she was excited to discover a smuggler who was selling ‘the most delightful French silks at 5 shillings a yard. I am going to be after him,’ she vowed. Weymouth was harbouring a vast amount of French merchandise, and she saw French women, selling prints from Bordeaux. ‘You never saw such odd looking people.’

‘The visit of Princess Charlotte renders this place a continued scene of splendour and gaiety,’ wrote the Salisbury & Winchester Gazette; ‘the sands are every day crowded with rank, beauty and fashion.’ Charlotte’s friends from Windsor, Lord and Lady Ashbrook, arrived to stay at Russell’s Royal Hotel, in company with other noble personages, and the Solicitor General. The Princess began to entertain at Gloucester Lodge, inviting ‘a select party’ to hear Signor Rivolta, ‘the celebrated Italian minstrel’ who gave a most unusual concert, playing on eight instruments at once. Charlotte, we are told, was ‘highly gratified’, so perhaps Signor Rivolta was gifted as well as ingenious.

On the anniversary of her grandfather’s Jubilee, she gave a party which was distinguished by a fireworks display, culminating in a ‘set piece’ in the form of an illuminated portrait of the King. The party was followed by a ball at the Assembly Rooms, ‘attended by all the rank and fashion here’.

Day after day, in spite of the time of year, she bathed in the sea before breakfast and, like her grandfather, benefited from it. She soon felt well enough to go sailing, and H.M.S. Zephyr, sloop of war, was at her service. On what the newspaper correspondent described as ‘a most heavenly day’ the Princess and her suite were conveyed in the royal barge to the Zephyr, which was commanded by Captain Creyke. ‘A royal salute was fired, the yards manned, the royal standard hoisted and every other complimentary honour was shown to her Royal Highness.’ The party sailed along the coast as far as St. Alban’s Point, ‘and we were happy to find out that the Princess experienced no unpleasant effects’. On the contrary she enjoyed herself, and wanted to go again. Sailing became her favourite pastime, and she loved watching all the pageantry of the Naval vessels exercising in the Channel.

The Bishop felt it incumbent upon him to send a report of Charlotte’s health to Windsor. It was very greatly improved, he said. ‘Her spirits are uniformly good & her mind appears to be in a tranquil state. I am strongly inclined to think that she is really happy here.’

Alas, poor Bishop, he knew nothing of his Princess’s true state of mind. Nor did Mrs. Campbell, who Charlotte now decided was well meaning and kind-hearted but who irritated her by talking of her ‘happiness’. How could she be happy? But ‘I must say,’ said Charlotte, ‘that I get every day more ignimatical to myself, & if so must be doubly so to them.’

Dr. Baillie had said that she should stay on at Weymouth as long as possible, and now she found that she wanted to. ‘I have no objection to remain here, as I certainly amuse myself infinitely better, & am more comfortable than at Cranbourne.’ Away from Windsor and family politics, her anxieties seemed less overwhelming. Nevertheless, the smiling face which she showed to the Weymouth crowds was not expressive of her inmost feelings. The turquoise heart was lost for good, and so, she began to believe, was Prince August.

She could not stop loving him; she invented reasons for his neglect of her. Nobody will ever know what was the attraction which drew her to this vain and heartless Prussian officer, but it was strong, and she could not free herself. ‘I think & think about how it will be, & how it will all turn out,’ she said. Sometimes she felt cheerful and confident, at others she was cast down to the depths of despair, and felt that the whole thing was hopeless. In her letters to Mercer she returned again and again to what she called ‘the constant subject of my thoughts’.

It seems likely that Mercer never favoured Prince August, and was working against him. She certainly broke up a tete a tete between the Prince and Charlotte when Miss Knight was encouraging the affair; and later the Princess told her, ‘I never heard one piece of good news about F from you since the business began.’ Perhaps Mercer was trying to spare Charlotte pain, knowing that the frail romance was bound to break up: certainly there is every indication that she discouraged it.

(…)

It became imperative to know how things stood with F. He must be made to write. Mercer had been sent extracts copied from his letters, to prove that he did still love Charlotte: she was now asked to draft a sort of ultimatum to him, for the Princess to send. ‘It is impossible,’ Charlotte told her, ‘to put it better or more forcibly than you do.’

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

Picture: Ruins of Corfe Castle from the outer bailey, source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corfe_Castle#/media/File:Corfe_Castle,_Dorset.jpg