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Authors: James Chambers

Charlotte & Leopold (18 page)

BOOK: Charlotte & Leopold
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The hours went by. But now Charlotte was always in bed.

At around six o'clock in the evening, meconium, a child's first faeces, which usually appear after birth, oozed out onto the sheets. It was the first sign that the baby was in distress.

In the course of the next three hours Charlotte gave birth to a boy. He was, as suspected, dead. The doctor and the accoucheur tried every trick they knew to revive him. They plunged him in a bath of warm water. The rubbed him with mustard. They rubbed him with salt. But it was to no avail.

Charlotte had kept her promise. She had neither bawled nor shrieked, and now, heartbroken and exhausted after fifty hours of labour, she kept it still. She bore it all, said Baillie, ‘with a Brunswick heart'. While Mrs Griffiths and the maids around her wept, it was Charlotte who tried to comfort them.

At 9 p.m. the witnesses were informed that Her Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte had been delivered of a still-born son. In keeping with custom, Mrs Griffiths carried in the little corpse for their inspection.

Charlotte was still bleeding. Her uterus had not fully contracted after the birth. It was now shaped like an hour-glass, and it looked as though it was not going to contract any further. Rather than wait for the placenta to be expelled naturally, Croft and Sims decided to remove it by hand. When that was done, apparently successfully, the bleeding stopped.

At last Charlotte was given some nourishment – chicken broth
and toast washed down with barley water. She was also given camphor julep to stimulate her heart, and soon afterwards she became animated and began to chatter a little hysterically.

Mrs Griffiths, who had been awake and in the same dress for three days and two nights, went away to wash and change.

‘How smart you are, Griffiths', said Charlotte merrily when she returned. ‘Why did you not put on the silk gown, my favourite?'

Two hours later, when they had been reassured that the Princess was doing well, the sad and weary witnesses went home. Leaving Charlotte to sleep and Mrs Griffiths to watch over her, everyone else in the house went to bed.

Leopold went first to his study, to write a note telling his father-in-law what had happened. Then he went to a bedroom, lay down fully clothed and fell into a very deep sleep. He was miserable, but he was also exhausted, and it seems likely that Stockmar had given him a sedative.

Just after midnight, Charlotte felt sick. Her pulse was racing and there was ringing in her ears. She vomited and brought up the camphor julep with the broth. Then she quietened for a few minutes and her pulse-rate lowered. And then she clutched her stomach and cried out, ‘Oh, what a pain! It is all here!'

Mrs Griffiths rushed into the dressing room and woke Sir Richard Croft. When he reached Charlotte moments later Croft found that she was very cold and breathing with difficulty, and she was bleeding again. But, although the accepted and often successful treatment for a post-partum haemorrhage such as this was the application of cold water, Croft decided to warm the patient up by applying hot water bottles and blankets to her abdomen. The bleeding continued.

Croft then sent a footman to bring Baillie and Sims. Baillie decided that what the Princess needed was a good dose of wine and brandy. While he was administering them, Croft went off in search of Stockmar.

Stockmar woke to find Croft holding his hand. The Princess was
in danger. The Prince must be told.

Stockmar dressed and went to wake Leopold, but the Prince was so deeply asleep that it took time to wake him, and then he was so drowsy that he barely understood what was being said.

After about a quarter of an hour a footman came. Dr Baillie wanted Dr Stockmar to see the Princess. For a moment Stockmar hesitated. He was reluctant to get involved. Then he went.

When he entered the bedroom, Baillie was still trying to administer wine. The Princess was tossing from side to side, breathing heavily and obviously in great pain.

‘Here comes an old friend of yours', said Baillie.

Charlotte stretched out her left hand, grabbed Stockmar's and pressed it ‘vehemently'. ‘They have made me tipsy', she said.

While he held her hand, Stockmar surreptitiously took her pulse. ‘It was very quick; the beats now full, now weak, now intermittent.'

After another quarter of an hour there was a rattle in Charlotte's throat. Stockmar went off to get Leopold. But as he crossed the breakfast room he heard Charlotte shouting beyond the closed door behind him: ‘Stocky! Stocky!'

Stockmar went back. Charlotte did not see him. She turned on her face, drew up her knees to her chest and fell silent. Stockmar took her cold hand and searched for a pulse. There was none. ‘The flower of Brunswick' had faded. ‘The Daughter of England' was dead.

Stockmar went to break the news to Leopold but, when at last he had woken him, he did it, by his own admission, ‘in no very definite words'.

Leopold was still very drowsy. As he and Stockmar made their way to the bedroom, he sank into a chair in the breakfast room. He still thought Charlotte was alive. He asked Stockmar to go in and see how she was. Stockmar humoured him and went. Then he was blunt. ‘I came back and told him it was all over.'

Leopold went into the bedroom and knelt by the bed. He took
Charlotte's cold hands in his and kissed them – ‘those beautiful hands which at last while she was talking to others seemed always to be reaching out for mine'.

For a while he stayed there. Then Lieutenant-General the Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, who had sat impassive in the saddle through half a dozen military engagements, who had led a cavalry charge in one of the largest and longest battles in the history of Europe, stood up, turned, put his arms round Stockmar and whispered, ‘I am now quite desolate. Promise to stay with me always.'

L
EOPOLD WAS NEVER
the same again. Almost fifty years later he told his niece Queen Victoria that he had ‘never recovered the feeling of happiness' that ‘blessed' his short life with Charlotte. He had always been renowned for his reserve, but, as anyone who had ever been to Claremont knew, there was a warmth beneath it. Now, in his grief, he seemed to be more morose than reserved, and the warmth beneath was replaced for ever by a loveless chill.

On the day of Charlotte's funeral Stockmar wrote to one of Leopold's former tutors in Coburg, ‘Life seems already to have lost all value for him, and he is convinced that no feeling of happiness can ever again enter his heart.'

Each day during the week that followed his bereavement, Leopold walked round and round the park in the rain with Dr Short, clutching a miniature of Charlotte in his hand. Late every evening, he went into the bedroom where Charlotte was lying and sat with her for most of the night. In Charlotte's sitting room, her watch was found on the mantelpiece, and the cloak and bonnet that she had been wearing on her last drive were still hanging on the end of a screen.
Leopold gave orders that they were to stay where she had left them.

He was inconsolable, and his pain grew greater with almost every visitor. On the day after the deaths the doctors came back to carry out a post mortem, interfering with the bodies of his wife and son in a futile search for a cause of death. Worse, Sir Everard Home, Sergeant Surgeon to the King, came to take out their guts and embalm them.

When the medical men had done their work, the undertakers wrapped the child in linen and put him in a simple open coffin. His little heart, which the doctors had taken out, was put separately into an urn. Then Charlotte, also wrapped in linen, was lifted into her own coffin and covered with blue velvet. Leopold watched, and Mrs Campbell watched Leopold. She described him that evening in a letter to Lady Ilchester. ‘It was grief to look at him. He seemed so heartbroken.'

Even some of the visitors who came to comfort Leopold only added to his misery. The Duchess of York drove over from Oatlands and was so overcome with grief herself that she collapsed in the hall and had to be taken home before she saw him.

The Prince Regent came down and asked to see the bodies. He had left Warwickshire for London soon after he heard that his daughter was in labour, but the rider carrying less welcome news had somehow managed to gallop past his carriage and its escort in the dark. He was back at Carlton House and in bed when the Duke of York came to tell him that his daughter and grandson were dead. His response was uncharacteristically selfless. ‘What is to be done for the poor man?' he said, falling back onto the pillow. ‘Great Heaven!'

Leopold gave the Regent a lock of Charlotte's hair. Next day, the Regent's sister Princess Mary, who was now Duchess of Gloucester, took the lock, entwined it with a lock from their youngest sister, Princess Amelia, who had died in 1810, and had them made into an eternity ring for him.

The Queen, accompanied by her daughter Princess Elizabeth,
was dining with the Mayor and Corporation of Bath when the bad news reached her. She set out at once for Windsor. But back in the castle with her spinster daughters and her sad old husband she was overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness and bitter disappointment. Despair destroyed what was left of her health. It declined rapidly from that moment on. Within a year she was dead.

In Holland the Prince of Orange wept at the news, and out of deference to his grief his Russian Princess ordered the ladies of his court to dress in mourning.

When the news reached Italy, it was said, Lord Byron threw open the windows of his apartment in Venice and let out an anguished scream that was heard echoing down the Grand Canal.

Lady Charlotte Bury, who was also in Italy, summed up the situation precisely in her journal. ‘There is now no object of great interest in the English people, no one great rallying point round which all parties are ready to join… A greater public calamity could not have occurred to us; nor could it have happened at a more unfortunate moment.'

In a nation still sunk in economic depression, the focus for hope had been taken away. But for the time being the people were still united, although it was only grief that united them. Public buildings were draped in black. Everyone who could afford it was dressed in black. Even the most destitute unemployed labourers were wearing ragged black armbands. Every place of worship, whatever the religion, prepared to hold a memorial service. Shops, most of which still displayed the portraits of Charlotte and Leopold that had been put there for their wedding, closed for business and then, when they opened again, filled their windows with mementoes – glass, pottery, porcelain, pewter, all engraved or crudely painted with Charlotte rising through an escort of angels to take her place in the heavenly palace. A fund was established to pay for a fitting marble memorial, and the poor were as eager to contribute as the rich: among the long list of ‘subscribers' there is an unnamed child who gave sixpence.
The national grief and sentimental melancholy were unprecedented. No monarch, no minister, no national hero had ever been so deeply mourned as ‘the Beloved Princess'.

On 15 November Charlotte's heavy state coffin was delivered to Claremont. It was made of mahogany, studded in gold and covered in crimson velvet. The little Prince's coffin was similar, with silver studs instead of gold. The simple inner coffins were placed inside them. The urn containing the child's heart was wrapped in velvet.

In the early evening of 18 November a black carriage drawn by six black horses set off down the drive for Windsor carrying the little Prince and his heart. Charlotte followed in a hearse drawn by eight black horses with tall black plumes. Leopold rode in the carriage behind, accompanied only by Dr Short.

They were escorted by a squadron of the 10th Hussars. At Egham the Hussars were relieved, and the escort for the rest of the journey was provided by the Royal Horse Guards. It was late and dark when they arrived in Windsor. While Charlotte was installed in Lower Lodge, her son was laid in his temporary resting place in the Royal Vault in St George's Chapel. When the short service was over, Leopold went down to the lodge and spent the rest of the night, as usual, sitting beside Charlotte.

Next day Charlotte lay in state at Lower Lodge. At eight o'clock in the evening her heavy coffin was carried up to St George's Chapel by eight Yeomen of the Guard, one of whom injured his spine under the strain and died soon afterwards. Leopold walked behind them, his solemn face streaked with tears. Behind Leopold came the Royal Dukes of York, Clarence, Cumberland and Sussex. Behind the Dukes came the Cabinet, then the Archbishops, the Bishops, the officers of state and all the members of the royal households. On either side, in front of huge silent crowds, their path was lined by
foot guards and lit by the burning torches that were carried by every fourth guardsman instead of a reversed musket.

The Prince Regent was not there. Nor was the Queen. He was moping in Carlton House, and she and her sobbing daughters were in her apartments nearby in the castle, listening to the bells and the muffled drums.

The service, which was disrupted at the outset by a few squabbles over seating, lasted until eleven o'clock. When it was over, Leopold waited in the deanery until the congregation had dispersed. Then he went down with Dr Short and stayed praying for a long time in the Royal Vault, where his wife and son were to remain until the tomb and the memorial that the people were buying for them were ready.

In the weeks that followed, Leopold lived alone and inconsolable at Claremont. On 16 December Sir Thomas Lawrence came down to deliver the finished portrait of Charlotte. When they saw it, the entire household burst into tears. Leopold, said Lawrence, ‘was greatly affected' and spoke to him in ‘that low subdued voice that you know to be the effort at composure'.

In his precise English accent, the Prince lamented:

Two generations gone. Gone in a moment! I have felt for myself, but I have felt for the Prince Regent. My Charlotte is gone from this country – it has lost her. She was good, she was an admirable woman. None could know my Charlotte as I did know her! It was my happiness, my duty to know her character, but it was my delight!

Meanwhile, public sorrow evolved into recrimination. The press blamed the Queen and the Prince Regent for not being with Charlotte when she died, although, had they known it, Charlotte had said that she did not want them at the birth. They blamed the doctors, and some of the doctors blamed themselves. Sir Richard Croft,
who may already have been contemplating suicide, wrote to Stock-mar, ‘May God grant that neither you nor any connected with you may suffer what I do at this moment.'

And then the press turned to speculation. Who would inherit the throne of England when all the King's children were dead? The brothers and sisters could follow each other in succession for a while, but when the last of them was gone, who would succeed? There was no next generation. Perhaps the Prince Regent would divorce Charlotte's mother, marry again and have another child. If not, they said, it was the duty of his bachelor brothers and spinster sisters to marry and have legitimate children of their own. The old King had dozens of grandchildren, some said as many as fifty-seven, but Charlotte had been the only one who was not a bastard.

An article to this effect, arguing in particular that it was the duty of the Duke of Kent to marry, appeared in the
Morning Chronicle
, and early in December a copy of that edition found its way onto the table in Brussels where the Duke of Kent was having breakfast with Julie de St Laurent.

The Duke was now living abroad in order to avoid creditors, which was why he had not been able to attend Charlotte's funeral; it so happened that, during the previous year, he had discussed his financial difficulties with Charlotte and Leopold on one of his visits to Camelford House. Since Leopold had just been granted a generous annuity by Parliament, and since the Prince Regent and the Duke of York had received similar grants when they were married, Charlotte had suggested that the Duke of Kent should follow their example, and Leopold had joined in by suggesting that he should consider his own widowed sister Victoria, Dowager Princess of Leiningen.

The Duke liked the idea. He was deeply in love and happy with Julie de St Laurent. If she had been a princess, instead of the daughter of an engineer, he would certainly have married her. But, like his eldest brother, he was not a man to let love stand in the way of financial security.

Julie de St Laurent may not have realised what was happening. When her Duke went abroad briefly in the autumn of 1816, she may have been led to believe that he was making arrangements for their move to Brussels. But in fact he was visiting the Dowager Princess Victoria at her tumbledown palace in Amorbach. He spent two days with her, and when he left he wrote her a letter containing a proposal of marriage, which the Dowager Princess politely declined.

BOOK: Charlotte & Leopold
4.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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