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Authors: James Chambers

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But the news, when it came, towards the end of the month, was not what they wanted to hear. The French were now in control of Holland, and they were already so sure of keeping control that they were preparing to make radical changes. Although the United Provinces of Holland were known as The Dutch Republic, they were not nearly republican enough for the revolutionary French. Apart from anything else, when electing their head of state – their Stadholder – the Dutch had got into the habit of electing the senior prince of the House of Orange, as though he was a hereditary monarch. So the French and their revolutionary Dutch allies were preparing a new constitution, and they were even planning to give the nation a new name: the Republic of Batavia.

All opposition had vanished. The Stadholder and his family had left for England. The British army was withdrawing across the
north-eastern border. Recognising that its mission was now futile, the British naval squadron that had been waiting for the Princess had turned about and sailed for home. It was time to take the long route. But the winter was unusually hard. Some roads were impassable. Rivers were frozen. The northern German ports were inaccessible. Malmesbury took Princess Caroline back to Hanover, and for the next six weeks, in the exemplary decorum of the Hanoverian court, he continued to teach her how the English expected a princess to behave.

At last, when the thaw came, they headed north, accompanied by Mrs Harcourt, the wife of the British commander, who had agreed to attend the Princess on the journey. On 28 March they boarded a frigate, HMS
, off Cuxhaven at the mouth of the river Elbe. They were safe. Britannia still ruled the waves. The waters around them were crowded with British warships. A few days earlier, twenty miles to the south, the British expeditionary force had been evacuated from Bremerhaven.

When they reached Gravesend Malmesbury, Mrs Harcourt and Princess Caroline transferred from HMS
to the royal yacht,
, and sailed up the Thames in her. They arrived at Greenwich, as expected, at noon on Easter Sunday.

The Princess stepped ashore eager and radiant. The limitations of a long sea voyage had given her ample excuse for not washing but, with the excited assistance of Mrs Harcourt, she had dressed more neatly than she had ever dressed before. She wore a muslin gown, a blue satin petticoat and a little black beaver hat with blue and black feathers in the hatband.

But there was no one there to meet her. The campaign to destroy her self-confidence had already begun.

The Prince of Wales had done his best. He had ordered carriages to
be sent and had provided them with an escort from his own regiment, the 10th Light Dragoons, commanded by his two favourite officers, Lieutenant the Marquess of Worcester and Lieutenant George ‘Beau' Brummell. But it was a matter of protocol that the royal bride's lady-in-waiting should go out in one of the carriages to greet her and escort her back into London, and the lady-in-waiting had delayed their departure.

It was over an hour before the carriages arrived and, when they did, rather than apologise, Lady Jersey greeted the Princess with patronising disapproval of her clothes. She was so rude that Malmesbury saw fit to step in and rebuke her for it. But Lady Jersey would not be put off. Although Princess Caroline's clothes were utterly appropriate for travelling in a carriage, Lady Jersey insisted that she should already be dressed as though she were about to be presented at court, and she forced the flustered Princess to change into a tight white satin dress and an unbecoming turban with tall ostrich feathers on it, both of which she just happened to have brought with her.

From Greenwich they drove through welcoming crowds to St James's Palace, where the Princess was to stay until her marriage. While she was acknowledging the cheers of the crowd at the open window, the Prince of Wales came into the room. Malmesbury, whom the Prince still addressed by his surname, described what happened next in the most famous passage of his diary:

She very properly, in consequence of my saying to her it was the right mode of proceeding, attempted to kneel to him. He raised her (gracefully enough), and embraced her, said barely one word, turned round, retired to a distant part of the apartment, and calling me to him, said, ‘Harris, I am not well; pray get me a glass of brandy.' I said, ‘Sir, had you not better have a glass of water?' – upon which he, much out of humour, said with an oath, ‘No; I will go directly to the Queen,' and away he went…

Princess Caroline gaped. ‘My God!' she said, ‘Is the Prince always like that?' And then, forgetting all that Malmesbury had taught her about tact and restraint, she added, ‘I think he is very fat, and nothing like as handsome as his portrait.'

That evening they all dined together. By then the Prince had recovered his composure. But the Princess had not. She had clearly been hurt by her reception, and she dealt with her pain by being sarcastic, ‘affecting raillery and wit, and throwing out coarse, vulgar hints…' making it plain that she was well aware of the relationship between her lady-in-waiting and her future husband. ‘The Prince was disgusted', wrote Malmesbury, ‘and this unfortunate dinner fixed his dislike'.

But there was no going back. Three days later Princess Caroline waited for her groom at the altar of the Chapel Royal, swaying precariously in an enormous, old-fashioned wedding dress with huge hoops inside it and broad ribbons with preposterously big bows wrapped around the outside – it had been chosen for her by the Queen.

Earlier that morning, the Prince had sent one of his brothers, the Duke of Clarence, to tell Mrs Fitzherbert that she was the only woman he would ever love. By the time he reached the chapel, it was obvious to everyone that this time no one had kept him from his brandy. He tottered reluctantly up the aisle, supported in every sense of the word by the Dukes of Bedford and Roxburghe.

The day ended in a manner that might have been expected. According to the new Princess of Wales, her husband ‘passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell, and where I left him'.

Thereafter the relationship continued as it had begun. For all that the
Princess was amiable and eager to please, there was no denying that she was slovenly and she smelt. The Prince displayed his displeasure at every opportunity, and the hurt Princess hit back each time by exaggerating whatever she had done to displease him.

Within three weeks of their wedding they were no longer living together as man and wife. At night the Princess retired to her own small apartments on the ground floor of Carlton House, and the Prince went to his much more splendid apartments above them.

Then came the development that really did fix the Prince's dislike for ever. He had married for money, and now he learned that, far from increasing his disposable income, his marriage had actually diminished it.

Pitt went further than he had promised. He persuaded Parliament to raise the allowance from the privy purse to as much as £125,000 a year. But the House of Commons also ruled that for the next nine years £65,000 of this, together with all the income from the Duchy of Cornwall, was to be set aside to pay off the Prince's debts. In real terms therefore his annual income had been reduced from £73,000 to £60,000; on top of that he now had the added expense of paying for his wife's establishment.

The Prince's distaste was embittered by resentment. He ignored his wife as much as he could by day as well as by night. On the pretext that he could no longer afford to pay for them, he removed most of the chairs from her private dining room and took back the pearl bracelets that he had given her on their wedding day – although he then gave them to Lady Jersey, who wore them publicly in her presence.

His displays of displeasure became increasingly cruel, and the Princess no longer felt strong enough to meet them all with defiance. Sometimes they reduced her to tears. As one witness, Lady Sheffield, wrote, she lost her ‘lively spirits', and in their place her mood became one of ‘melancholy and anxiety'.

As the months went by, however, it became clear that, somehow,
during his first few days with his wife, the Prince had performed his dynastic duty. One day short of nine months after their wedding, she gave birth to Princess Charlotte.

The birth of a daughter did nothing to heal the royal relationship. At first the best that could be said was that the family was living under the same roof, the Prince and the Princess in their separate apartments and their daughter above them in the nursery. But when Charlotte was only just a year old, her miserable mother moved out and went to live in a villa five miles away near Blackheath.

The Princess of Wales still used her apartments in Carlton House when she came in to London to visit her daughter, and after a while Charlotte was sometimes taken out to visit her in Blackheath, although she was never allowed to stay with her.

During the first few years of her life, Charlotte saw more of her father than of her mother. But it was only just more. The Prince was often away from Carlton House, and when he was there his time with his daughter was always brief. Although he was said to be good with children, he only played with them and he soon tired of it. He devoted much more of his energy to preventing his wife and parents from influencing his daughter than he did to trying to influence her himself.

Eventually, however, when the Prince's affections were restored from Lady Jersey to Mrs Fitzherbert, he decided that he wanted Carlton House to himself again. So his wife was given apartments in Kensington Palace, and his eight-year-old daughter and all her staff were moved into Warwick House, a crumbling old brick building which stood just to the east of Carlton House.

From then on, for the rest of her childhood and throughout her youth, Princess Charlotte Augusta, who was fully expected to succeed her father one day as Queen of England, lived in a household of her own, in the company of no one who was not paid to be there.

Warwick House was made all the more traumatic for Princess Charlotte by the fact that she had only recently acquired a completely new staff of governesses and senior tutors.

Indeed, there were only two members of her entire household who had been with her for any length of time at Carlton House. One was her personal maid, worthy Mrs Louis, the German widow of a British soldier. The other was her dresser, pretty Mrs Gagarin, who had innocently contracted a bigamous marriage with a Russian aristocrat and had kept his name, although not his title, when she left him soon after. Inevitably, in the circumstances, the little Princess was on what some saw as inappropriately intimate terms with these two, and their mutual devotion was to continue for the rest of their lives.

Charlotte’s governess, Lady Elgin, had been asked to resign just before the move. Her only known offence had been to take Charlotte to visit her grandfather, the interfering old King. But she had done so without first obtaining permission from her father, and that had been more than enough to infuriate him.

When she went, the sub-governess, Miss Hayman, was dismissed as well. Miss Hayman’s sin had been much more severe. She had become too friendly with Charlotte’s mother. But the Princess of Wales stayed loyal to her. On her dismissal Miss Hayman joined the Princess’s household in Blackheath and took charge of her privy purse.

In place of Lady Elgin, Charlotte’s father appointed the Dowager Lady de Clifford, a dignified but barely graceful Irish woman, who was well past fifty years old. She had lived for some time at the Palace of Versailles before the French Revolution; and the Prince, who, despite his many faults, was justifiably renowned for his deportment, hoped in vain that she might be able to imbue his daughter with some of the qualities of that most elegant of courts.

Charlotte was a temperamental tomboy, and Lady de Clifford was too good natured to discipline her effectively. Every time she tried to be strict, the Princess was more than a match for her. Charlotte might not have wanted to behave like a princess, but she was all too well aware that she was one, and she used the fact whenever it suited her.

On one occasion, when she burst merrily into a room, Lady de Clifford attempted to scold. ‘My dear Princess’, she said, ‘that is not civil; you should always shut the door after you when you come into a room’.

‘Not I indeed’, said Charlotte. ‘If you want the door shut, ring the bell.’

Neither took their battles to heart, however. The antagonists were soon fond of each other, and Lady de Clifford did everything she could to make Charlotte’s life less lonely.

At Carlton House, Charlotte’s only playmate had been Annie Barnard, the orphaned niece of her father’s coachman. Annie lived with her uncle and his wife above the stables and played with the Princess every day. She even dined with her, and for a few months they did their lessons together. But the move to Warwick House,
beyond the safety of the stable-yard gates, was enough to separate them.

As a replacement for Annie, Lady de Clifford introduced the Princess to one of her grandsons, the Hon. George Keppel, who was three years younger than she was. George was a pupil nearby at Westminster School. He was brought round regularly in a coach to play with Charlotte at Warwick House – and to supplement his meagre school diet in the kitchens – and sometimes, appropriately chaperoned, she went round to visit him at the school.

Over forty years later, after he had succeeded his brother as Earl of Albemarle, George wrote a memoir which contains many of the most endearing anecdotes about the childhood of the Princess with ‘blue eyes’, ‘peculiarly blond hair’ and ‘beautifully shaped’ hands and feet. Among all the usual stories about fisticuffs, bolting horses and tears, he described an afternoon when Charlotte, who was visiting his parents’ house in Earl’s Court, crept out through a side gate and joined in at the back of a crowd that had assembled outside the main gate in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Princess.

He also recorded an afternoon when he and Charlotte helped out in the kitchen at Warwick House. As a result of their efforts, Lady de Clifford was served a mutton chop that was so heavily dressed and over-peppered that she summoned the servants in a fury. But he did not record whether the incident was an intentional prank or merely the result of childish over-enthusiasm.

Although Lady de Clifford dined at Warwick House, she did not live there. She came in from her own house every morning to supervise everything that went on. But she was not in overall command of Princess Charlotte’s education. That was a responsibility for a man, a preceptor; at the instigation of the King, the office had been given to the Rt Rev. Dr John Fisher, Bishop of Exeter. Fisher was a favourite at Windsor Castle. He had been tutor to the Duke of Kent, Chaplain to the King, Clerk of the Closet and Canon of Windsor. He was sincerely pious and a connoisseur of painting and drawing.
But he was pompous, humourless, dogmatic, wilful and absurdly old-fashioned. In the manner of a generation that had mostly died out towards the end of the eighteenth century, he still wore a wig and spoke affectedly. When referring to himself, which he did often, he pronounced the word bishop ‘bishup’, emphasising the last syllable. Within weeks of meeting him, nine-year-old Charlotte had nicknamed him ‘the Great UP’.

Lady de Clifford and the Prince of Wales were convinced that the King had appointed the Bishop to act as a spy and report back on everything that was happening at Warwick House. Delegating the duties of his distant diocese to his archdeacon, he called there regularly, sometimes as often as twice a week, and when he did he was almost always critical.

He argued constantly with Lady de Clifford about what Charlotte should be learning and how it should be taught to her. Their debates were heated, acrimonious and noisy, even in the presence of the Princess. But when that happened, Charlotte used to mock the Bishop behind his back, burdening Lady de Clifford with the added strain of trying to keep a straight face.

According to George Keppel, Charlotte had inherited her father’s talents for acting and mimicry. While the Bishop pontificated, she stood behind him jutting out her lower lip, waving her arms and generally ridiculing his expressions and mannerisms in an exaggerated mime.

Deep down, Charlotte may have been disturbed by the extent to which Dr Fisher and Lady de Clifford argued, but the person who bore the brunt of the conflict was the Rev. Dr George Nott, her chaplain and sub-preceptor. Kindly, liberal, patient Dr Nott was responsible for religious instruction, English, Latin and ancient history, and he received conflicting instructions from the governess and preceptor in almost every field. On top of that, since he saw himself as Charlotte’s moral tutor, he added to his burden by trying to teach her to be honest. But he was no more successful in that than in spelling.

Charlotte wanted to mend her ways. She liked Dr Nott and was eager to please him. She told him so several times. In one note to him she wrote, ‘Let me most humbly implore your forgiveness… Never shall another lie come out of me.’ But, like many children in discordant households, she had discovered that a little falsehood here and there could go a long way towards establishing her innocence or reducing the burden of her studies; it was a tool too useful to abandon completely.

Apart from Dr Nott, there were two other sub-preceptors, who came in as he did to teach English literature, French, German and modern history; and there were masters for music, dancing, drawing and writing. The only resident members of Charlotte’s tutorial staff were the two widows who acted as sub-governesses, Mrs Campbell, whose husband had been a Governor of Bermuda, and Mrs Udney, whose husband, according to the Prince of Wales, had been the ugliest man he ever saw.

Mrs Campbell was small, angular and argumentative. Unknown to the Prince of Wales, who affected support for the Whig opposition, she was also, like Dr Fisher, a high Tory. But she was intelligent and strong-willed. As a governess she was strict but fair, and Charlotte respected her for it. Before long the Princess was announcing poignantly that Mrs Campbell and Dr Nott were her adopted parents.

Mrs Udney, on the other hand, was good-looking, ill-tempered and fickle. She was so fond of drink that even Charlotte noticed, and she adored gossip. According to Lord Glenbervie, who heard it from Mrs (by then Lady) Harcourt, she took one of Charlotte’s tutors as a lover. Sadly, however, he was unable to name him. In a letter to his wife, who was one of Lady Jersey’s successors as lady-in-waiting to Charlotte’s mother, he wrote, ‘She says Mrs Udney had an intrigue with one of the Princess Charlotte’s music or drawing masters – that they used to be locked up together in Mrs Udney’s room, which opened into the Princess’s, and that when any friend or intimate
came there, and was going to open the door of communication, the Princess would say: “You must not try to go there. Mrs Udney and —— are there, and they always lock themselves in.”’

Although Mrs Udney tried to worm her way into Charlotte’s affections by indulging her, she was never successful. The Princess, who referred to her behind her back as ‘Mrs Nibs’, was unimpressed by her fondness for drink and her depravity, and she may have had other unrecorded reasons for disliking her as well. But to Lady de Clifford and Dr Nott, Mrs Udney’s most serious weakness was her fondness for gossip. The drawing rooms of London were buzzing with scandalous stories about Charlotte’s parents, particularly her mother, and there was a real danger that sooner or later Mrs Udney might pass some of them on to her.

In his pursuit of pleasure, the Prince of Wales often went away from London for weeks or even months on end, and when he was away it was not thought to be seemly for Charlotte and her household to be left unsupervised. When he was in residence at Carlton House, his visits to his daughter next door were never frequent and always brief, but at least he could say that he was on hand and that Charlotte was nominally under his protection. So when he went away – to Brighton or Newmarket or to stay with friends – Charlotte and her household, including Lady de Clifford, moved to Windsor, where she could be under the nominal protection of the King. But they did not live in the castle. As in London, they lived separately in their own house, Lower Lodge, in the park.

In March 1806, while they were living at Windsor, ten-year-old Charlotte went into a room where Mrs Campbell was writing at a table. When Charlotte asked what she was doing, Mrs Campbell answered that she was making her will.

‘Then I’ll make mine too’, said Charlotte. And so she did, in the same childish detail as she kept her accounts.

I make my will. First I leave all my best books, and all my books, to the Rev. Mr. Nott.

Secondly, to Mrs. Campbell my three watches and half my jewels.

Thirdly, I beg Mr. Nott, whatever money he finds me in possession of, to distribute to the poor, and all my money I leave to the poor to them. I leave with Mr. Nott all my papers which he knows of, and I beg him to burn those which he sealed up. I beg the Prayer Book which Lady Elgin gave me may be given to the Bishop of Exeter, and the Bible Lady Elgin gave me may be given to him also. Also all my playthings the Miss Fishers are to have. And lastly, concerning Mrs. Gagarin and Mrs. Louis, I beg that they may be very handsomly paid, and that they may have a house. Lady de Clifford the rest of my jewels, except those that are most valuable, and those I beg my father and mother, the Prince and Princess of Wales, to take. Nothing to Mrs. Udney, for reasons. I have done my will, and trust that after I am dead a great deal may be done for Mr. Nott. I hope the King will make him a Bishop.


March, 1806.

My birds to Mrs. Gagarin and my dog or dogs to Mrs. Anna Hatton my chambermaid.

When Dr Nott saw the will, he entered into the spirit of the game and suggested that Charlotte was being too unkind to Mrs Udney. Charlotte agreed and added a codicil making a bequest to Mrs Udney as well. But by then, somehow – and it is not difficult to guess how – the original will had found its way into the hands of the Prince of Wales, who allowed himself to be convinced that it had been written under the influence of Mrs Campbell.

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