Month: July 2012

A King’s Obsession

I first came across Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg in a book about Jane Austen’s life. As the book detailed Royal antics shortly before Jane’s death, it mentioned the wedding of Princess Charlotte to this obscure German Prince. It also included a picture of the couple. I was smitten.

Leopold was devastatingly handsome. Napoleon described him as “the handsomest man that ever set foot in the Tuileries”. How appropriate that poor Princess Charlotte, doomed to a short and turbulent life, managed to catch such a man. But aside from his good looks, and the fact that he made Charlotte happy, what else do we know about Leopold?

I recently read James Chambers wonderful book “Charlotte & Leopold” to discover more about my historic crush. My findings have only increased it. I knew before that Leopold was uncle to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and I had heard that Leopold trained Albert for the difficult role he was to undertake. What I didn’t realise was how poignant that really was, given Leopold’s life after Charlotte.

The marriage of Charlotte and Leopold was by no means a fairytale romance. She wanted him to gain independence and avoid the Prince of Orange; he wanted her for her social position. Leopold travelled to England solely with the hope of catching Charlotte if he could, even though he had never met her. It is clear that his great advocates, the Tsar of Russia and the Grand Duchess, strategically placed him in situations where he would meet Charlotte. But what started off as a marriage of convenience swiftly become a love match.

Leopold was a wonderful husband. To quote Charlotte, he was “the perfection of a lover”.  He was attentive, caring and corrected his wife where she needed it. While I, as a modern woman, would probably throw things at Leopold for trying to correct my posture and speech, Charlotte was delighted. She was, after all, destined to become Queen of England and needed to deport herself accordingly. Up until now, she had fought against all instruction,  because she couldn’t respect those who gave it to her. Now she had Leopold to look up to and admire, she was ready to be obedient. And besides, the whole thing was done lovingly. He would not openly upbraid, but whisper to her “Douchemont, chere, douchemont”. The fact that Charlotte then nicknamed her husband Douchemont shows that the advice was taken in the affectionate spirit it was given.

It would be easy to suspect that Leopold’s devotion rose out of motives of self-interest. After all, the more power he had over Charlotte, the more power he had over England. He did certainly drive a rift between his wife and her long-term friend, Mercer Elphinstone, when he disapproved of her husband. But we can see, from Leopold’s behaviour after Charlotte’s death, how genuine his love really was.

Throughout Charlotte’s long labour, he had been a model husband. He walked her up and down in front of the fire, he lay down on the bed with her. In fact he exhausted himself so greatly that, after consoling her for the loss of their stillborn son, he was dosed up by his doctor and went to bed. Due to the opiates, he was not present for Charlotte’s actual death. But when his doctor, Stockmar, broke the news, he sat by her bed kissing her cold hands. At last, he threw himself into the doctor’s arms and whispered: “I am now quite desolate. Promise to stay with me always.”

In the years of grief that followed, Leopold’s focus was on the wife, not the Kingdom, he had lost. He sat with her corpse constantly until it was buried. He walked around the gardens with Stockmar, weeping and clutching her portrait. He refused to let Charlotte’s bonnet and cloak be moved from the screen where she had flung them, and could not suffer her watch to be taken off the mantlepiece. He still felt he was destined to be a King. He tried to join in the social scene as the years passed. But he was always happiest at his marital home at Claremont, lost in memories of happier times.

Leopold had taken mistresses before he met Charlotte, most notably Napoleon’s step-daughter Hortense, and continued to take them after she died. But his heart had by no means healed. No matter how old he grew, the women he selected were around the age of Charlotte when she died. He even took up with Caroline Bauer just because she looked like Charlotte. There’s a lovely anecdote of Ms Bauer adopting Charlotte’s parrot, Coco, and taking it on her Continental travels. But while Coco found an adequate replacement for his dead mistress, Leopold could not.

He finally fulfilled the destiny he knew was his by becoming King of the Belgians. He married again, although this time round he was not the ideal husband. By degrees, Leopold had been growing colder and colder. He infuriated his mistresses with his indifference. While his wife, Louise-Marie, continued to love him, she knew she would never take the place of his first wife. She was married to a man in love with a ghost. She knew this so well that she raised no objections when Leopold insisted on their only daughter being named Charlotte.

Leopold’s daughter, known more often as Carlotta than Charlotte, would make a wonderful subject for historical fiction. Despite being the name-sake of her father’s one true love, she was never high up in his affections. The only child he seemed capable of loving was his niece Victoria.  I have a few theories as to why this was. Firstly, Victoria was Charlotte’s replacement as heir presumptive, filling the exact same position Charlotte had occupied before her death. Then there is Victoria’s appearance. Her fleshy cast and large eyes were typical of the House of Hanover, which linked her to Charlotte. Lastly, Leopold would have remembered the days he sat at Claremont with Charlotte and her uncle, the Duke of Kent, Victoria’s father. He would certainly remember recommending his sister, Victoria’s mother, as a suitable bride for the Duke; advice that was swiftly followed.

Carlotta did finally manage to please her father by becoming the Empress of Mexico, but  she inherited the tragedy of her name-sake. Mexico did not want their new Emperor and Empress. While Carlotta ran about the courts of Europe, begging for help, her beloved Maximilian was captured and shot. The ordeal drove her mad. She ended her days in a Belgian castle, gabbling on about her husband and her Empire. How apt, that Leopold’s daughter should also obsess over the spouse she lost. It was a family trait; Victoria was never to recover from the loss of Albert.

As for Leopold, his obsession lasted until the end. He died whispering “Charlotte, Charlotte.”  He wanted, of course, to be buried in England by his first wife and still-born son, but it was not permitted. He was King of the Belgians; although in his heart, he was still Consort to a Queen who never was.




The Strange Death of Queen Caroline Part 2

I promised in my previous post about The Strange Death of Queen Caroline that I would keep you updated with the evidence I found.  I’ve unearthed many interesting facts, but as always with Caroline, the truth is unclear.

In support of a suicide theory, we have the opinion of her contemporaries. Henry Edward Fox certainly thought her capable of harming herself, during the trial for adultery in 1820, when he wrote: “Poor maniac! They say she means to kill herself. I should not be surprised.” We also have the rather gruesome information that Caroline’s body was swollen and black a few hours after death. One of her physicians, suspecting poisoning, wanted to open the body and establish the cause of death. He was told the Queen herself had forbidden any post-mortem. That, in itself, suggests she had something to hide.

Her physicians suspected a blockage in the bowels. They specified “a blockage of magnesia”. Given the paste-like mixture of magnesia and laudanum Caroline had forced down shortly before her illness, this seems very likely. Did that hideous do-it-yourself medicine, which her ladies urged her not to take, end her life? If it caused the blockage that the physicians diagnosed, then the answer seems to be yes.

The records say Queen Caroline seemed “much surprised” to discover her illness and asked “Do you think I am poisoned?” While I can’t discredit the idea that she was genuinely shocked, I don’t trust Caroline. The question is so inflammatory, so aimed at her husband. It seems typical that, whether she was dying through natural causes or her own intervention, she would make sure to implicate George in a scandal.

Historians agree that she was mentally unbalanced around the time of her death, and even refer to her as “the manic-depressive Queen Caroline”. But would she really, through motives of vengeance, go so far? The correspondence that could answer our questions has, frustratingly, disappeared. As foolish at it was, Caroline wrote to Pergami frequently during her trial for adultery with him. It seems to me that, while Caroline loved and had a hope of returning to Pergami, she would be unlikely to commit suicide. But life wasn’t that simple.

Despite her new Queenly allowance, Caroline had to remain in England following her trial, as she was too deep in debt to travel back to Italy. She was separated for goodness knew how long from the man she loved. If in fact, she did still love him. It’s bizarre to consider that through the delirium during the last hours of her life, she never mentioned Pergami. She mentioned his daughter and the children of Alderman Wood. But no Pergami. Is it possible the pair had quarrelled? Had she ceased to think of him with affection? Or had she simply trained her tongue not to mention him?  There is always the possibility, of course, that the witnesses to her death lied. They were her most loyal supporters. Still, I would expect at least one source to creep out if Caroline had actually talked about Pergami when she died.

We also have to balance Caroline’s motives for suicide against a long history of stomach spasms and cramps. About two years before her death, she was suffering acutely with pain in that area. This would suggest a slow-forming blockage or tumour. As I mentioned before, Caroline faced her death with remarkable calmness. Perhaps she had suspected the illness for some time and felt it increasing. Perhaps she had hastened it. Or perhaps she was just showing the Brunswicker courage that remains of her more loveable characteristics.

The verdict I have come to is that Caroline was partly to blame for her own death. It appears she originally became ill through natural causes, but she lost the will to fight against the disease. I also believe she did all she could to make it worse and hasten the inevitable, through her strange medicines and her failure to consult a doctor early on. Whatever the truth, we can be sure her end was sudden and painful. I sincerely hope the “unruly Queen” is now resting in a well-deserved peace.

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That Wicked Princess on the Heath

Put a Queen on trial for adultery and you’re bound to create factions. Even today, Anne Boleyn is represented alternatively as a pure innocent and an incestuous witch with six fingers. Similarly, Queen Caroline, consort of George IV, gets an uneven treatment in the history books. There are those that see an affair lurking with any man she spoke to, and those that naively discredit some strong evidence. Either way, no one seems able to entirely acquit this Princess who, in her own servant’s words, was “very fond of f*cking”.

The scandals about Caroline date right back to her youth in Brunswick. She often met a little shepherd boy out in her walks and went back to his “hovel” with him to see how his family did. To me, this fits in perfectly with Caroline’s life-long obsession with children and general inquisitiveness. Moreover, she was always generous to the poor. But rumours flew about that this little shepherd boy was actually her son.

It seems likely that Caroline did have a love affair while at Brunswick, though I doubt she went so far as to  bear an illegitimate child. She was kept under close guard by her parents and watched constantly, lest she talk to and flirt with young men on the dance floor. There must have been a reason for this. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Brunswick, were not the type of people to overreact and be needlessly strict. I imagine that Caroline’s winningly honest and open conversation got her into some early scrapes, from which they were keen to protect her in future.

Caroline spoke, with her usually lack of tact, of a man she had been very much in love with but was forbidden to marry, due to his low rank. Perhaps this was an Irish officer in her father’s army, who she was seen to be partial to. Or perhaps, as is often the case with Caroline, it was a blatant lie.  She said this to Lady Jersey, her husband’s mistress, almost immediately after her arrival in England, when Lady Jersey had openly insulted her. I consider it a proud backlash, a kind of “well, it doesn’t matter to me if the Prince loves you; he’s not my first choice.”

There was a Prince, however, whom Caroline insisted she had loved her whole life long. This was Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. Her father wanted the match as badly as she did. But the Prussian suit, like so many others in Caroline’s teenage years, mysteriously dissolved. The very lack of evidence as to why the matches were given up is telling. It seems to me that there was some stain upon Caroline’s character that the European monarchies, once they discovered it, were unwilling to forgive.

George IV was later to state his conviction that Caroline was not a virgin when she came to his marriage bed in 1795. Unfortunately, his testimonies are about as trustworthy as Caroline’s. George’s friends admitted that, if he told a story often enough, he came to believe it was the truth. Not content with complaining about Caroline’s smell and generally horrid body, he insisted she was “not new” and mentioned that on the second night, seeing his suspicions, she mixed up some tooth powder and water to stain her nightgown. However, his only “evidence” of her experience is that she made a complimentary comment about the size of his wedding tackle (notice how George always manages to chuck in a comment about how great he is, even when slagging off others). One can’t help but feeling this is just a furious response to Caroline’s allegations that he was impotent. If Caroline did make the comment, I see nothing in it to suggest she wasn’t a virgin. It could either be another desperate attempt to win the affection of her stroppy husband or a natural remark of surprise; Caroline never was one to use the brain to mouth filter.

However, it was when Caroline moved to Blackheath, after her unofficial separation with George, that the rumours really started. Caroline delighted in pronouncing herself “that wicked Princess on the heath, she is such a rake, such a rioter, and such an irregular person, that she makes rebellions, and mutinies, in every well-regulated house – but she comes from abroad and so she is good for nothing”. It seems very natural that the affectionate Princess, who always was fond of flirting, went a little overboard when she found her freedom. Moreover, she loved to cause a scandal. But I don’t subscribe to the view that she pretty much humped anything in trousers during her years on the Heath. She had been told early on by Lord Malmesbury that she would incur the death penalty by committing adultery, and was clearly much struck by it.

George Canning, a promising Pittite MP, had known Caroline before her exile to the Heath and the pair were clearly in love. Some historians have decided the affair wasn’t very serious, given that he married another woman soon after. But Canning confessed that if he had not met his wife, Miss Scott, “I know not how I should have resisted, as I ought to do, the abundant and overpowering temptation to the indulgence of a passion which must have been dangerous, perhaps ruinous, to her who was the cause of it.” Apparently, Caroline and he agreed together that his marriage was the only “effectual remedy to all the danger and…our escape”.  Caroline continued friendly with the Cannings all of her life. When she was put on trial for adultery in 1820, Canning risked the fury of the King and refused to have anything to do with the proceedings.  His writing about escaping danger and ruin suggest that he and Caroline did not consummate their love, but there was clearly much foreplay. When she received a letter from George telling her they “should not be answerable to one another”, she showed it to Canning and asked what it meant. He told her it “freed her entirely” and they “took advantage of it on the spot”.

The next of Caroline’s lovers on the Heath was a dashing naval hero, Sir Sidney Smith. In character, he seemed much like Caroline and I am not surprised to two hit it off. But Smith came hand in hand with the friends he was staying with, the Douglases. And this is where it all gets a bit complicated.

The Douglases and Smith were Caroline’s bosom friends until, without much explanation, she threw them over and took up with Captain Mamby instead. The Douglases later insisted that Caroline had been pregnant and confided in them alone. But if that was the case, she would have kept thick with them. She may have been giddy, but Caroline was certainly not fool enough to tell someone such an explosive secret then make an enemy of them. It is my opinion that Caroline purposefully wound up the Douglases with tall tales, due to her own jealousy.

Her first attack on the Douglases was to send anonymous letters to Lord Douglas, featuring pictures of Lady Douglas and Sir Sidney Smith in amorous situations; or, as Caroline put it “Sir Sidney Smith doing your amiable wife”. Although Lady Douglas maintained that her husband always believed in her innocence, he didn’t act that way. He went storming over to Smith and demanded an explanation. Naturally, Smith denied everything – but was he telling the truth?

If Caroline had found out, mid-affair with Smith, that he was also a past or present lover of Lady Douglas, it would explain her sudden hatred of her friend. It would also explain why she purposefully infuriated Smith by playing footsie with Mamby at a dinner party. She was jealous, and wanted to make him jealous too. It seems that, after all the hoo-ha, she decided she liked Mamby better anyway.

The love-struck Caroline followed Mamby across the country to the docks of his ships and entrusted two of her “charity boys” to his care. She was later to claim that Mamby had smuggled an illegitimate son of her old flame, Prince Louis Ferdinand, across the seas for her. This was the boy Willy Austin, the “Deptford child”, whom the Douglases claimed was the Princesses own. I think both sides are lying here. I believe Willy was the son of Sophia Austin; Caroline, as always, loved making mischief and found she could do so here with a good excuse for trailing after Mamby.

It was around this point that George III reluctantly agreed to investigate her behaviour – “The Delicate Investigation” – and Caroline appears to have pulled her act together after this.  A few rumours circulated in the following years about Captain Hesse, who was courting Caroline’s daughter, Charlotte. Hesse followed Caroline on her Continental journey and remained a loyal attendant. Personally, I believe he was sincerely attached to the family and loved only Charlotte. But many people, Charlotte included, thought otherwise.

It was on this trip to the Continent that Caroline met the man who was to be her downfall: Pergami. This was the adulterous relationship she was put on charge for. She was lucky that, since it took place abroad, the death sentence could not apply. I, along with Georgian contemporaries, believe that the relationship was “pure in-no-sense”. But Caroline’s guilt or innocence was not what mattered to the mobs of the day; they were more concerned with humiliating the King.

But despite my belief in her guilt, I don’t think Caroline’s relationship with Pergami was as bad as it was represented. Her lawyer Brougham did a brilliant job of highlight that the witnesses against her were bribed for their evidence. They had been rehearsed for certain questions and answers and were completely clueless when asked things not on their script: “I do not remember” being a favourite answer. There were others who were downright liars. One mentioned riding beside Caroline’s coach, looking through the curtains and seeing her and Pergami with their hands placed on one another’s private parts. This was later exposed as complete nonsense; the man in question never rode beside the coach, the coach had blinds, not curtains, a third person always travelled with them and the set up of the coach made it impossible for anyone to sit in that position.

Brougham, who confessed to disliking Caroline, later decided that Pergami’s swift promotions through her household had more to do with his child than anything else. It is true that Caroline adored children and made friends with anyone who had them. Pergami’s daughter slept in her bed and called her “Mamma”. But while pictures of this little girl littered Caroline’s houses, so did pictures of her father. He was always moved into bedrooms near Caroline’s. And while his family were all invited to become members of Caroline’s staff, there was one glaring exception: his wife.

It is my belief that Caroline really loved Pergami and would have been happy living with her adopted Italian “family”. But her pride and her need to beat George IV summoned her back to England, where she ultimately died. She did not speak of Pergami at the end, although she wrote to him a few times while in England and remembered his daughter in her will.

As for the other lovers, I can’t be sure how far the relationships went. I am sure there was much kissing and, as Flora Fraser puts it,  “heavy petting” going on, but I’m not convinced Caroline would risk full on sexual affairs in England under the noses of her husband and uncle. But by the time she was with Pergami, free on the Continent and past the age where pregnancy was a risk, it was a different story.

Should she be condemned? England did not believe so; after all, her husband’s affairs were more numerous and sordid. And is it any wonder that a poor Princess, shunned and called ugly by the only man she was legally allowed to sleep with, was delighted to find others who thought her attractive? No; it seems quite natural to me that Caroline succumbed to Pergami and his wonderful moustachios.

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