EXTRACT FROM “My Dear Hamy..”
pages 378 - 381
Towards the end of 1808, in her new apartments in Kensington Palace, the Princess of Wales stifled her money worries and presented as brave a face as she could to the world. There is no doubt that her reputation in society had been damaged by leaks of the Delicate Investigation and though she was received at Court, it was with the distant formality of a family keeping up appearances. The King, once her champion, was now fading, not only with his eyesight but in his touch with reality. Consequently, Caroline was out and about, cultivating the Tory administration with all her might. Twice in each of the months of September, October and November of 1808, either she or her mother, the Duchess of Brunswick, entertained Spencer Perceval and George Canning, by invitations to dinner – usually with their wives or their Ministers.
On 18th January, 1809 she summoned up her resolve and attended the Queen’s birthday celebrations at the Queen’s House. The assemblage was thinner than usual, due to the freezing weather and the general anxiety in many a noble family over the fate of their loved ones serving in Spain and Portugal under Sir John Moore. As the Examiner described it –
…although the cold was more severe than any this winter, numerous parties of fair damsels, very elegantly dressed - if dressed some of them could be called considering the severity of the weather - began to assemble in the rooms of the Palace leading to the Drawing room at about ten o’clock and waited with anxious but patient expectation, to behold the company as they passed.
The Princess of Wales entered the drawing-room about ten minutes before three o’clock. Discarding sordid problems over cash, she was sumptuously dressed in a richly embroidered gold and white leopard tissue, satin train and petticoat, inlaid with precious stones. Over this ensemble, lay a Grecian wreath of diamonds, set with bunches of roses and stars and all topped with a defiant headdress of ostrich feathers. Her husband ignored her.
Caroline described her visit to Miss Hayman –
I went to Court with a stiff neck which I have had a few days, and had taken every means possible to get rid of by rubbing it with camphorated spirit, hearts horn etc etc but still it was obstinate – I went, and was almost half stripped naked. The Gracious Grin from one ear to another from our ever beloved gracious Queen recovered entirely my stiff neck, so that I could enjoy a very pleasant and comfortable dinner in the evening at Mr Frederick North’s
The Princess was dividing her time between Montague House and Kensington. She declared that Anne would find Blackheath in the same state as she left it –
except my mother, is older and more deaf, I more ugly and dull, Willy more tall and wise, and my household much improved by the acquisition of Lady Charlotte Lindsay who is without exception, one of the most entertaining, most pleasant and most valuable persons for a tête a tête of fifteen hours, although I think that time has been doubled and tripled frequently.
Miss Hayman came up to Town from Wales with Lady Crewe on 27th January 1809, staying for a fortnight at Montague House while her own rooms in Kensington Palace underwent final preparations. She attended the Princess at the palace for three grand parties and one Great Day.
From this time on, correspondence with Lord Minto in India being so difficult and delayed, Anne began regularly to correspond with his wife, Maria Minto, both in Edinburgh and at her country home. She gave her a sketch of the HRH’s regular engagements –
Sunday, a dinner party of agreeables, and a few in the evening. Monday, the Play, sometimes sup out after it. Tuesday, I visit London, the Princess dining with the Duchess [her mother] at Blackheath, & returning to the Opera. Wednesday, the Ancient Concert. Thursday meet Princess Charlotte every other time at the Duchess’s, and return to the Argyle Box, not Rooms. Friday, nothing – but in solace, Princess Charlotte comes the week she does not go to the Duchess. Saturday the Opera and I stay at home.
Anne found Kensington Palace daunting –
I am writing alone in this great Palace with the ghost of George the Second (as the servants say) hovering around me, and throwing down coal boxes and bursting open doors in the middle of the night. Why he plays these gambols I cannot learn and a Ghost without a Tale is a stupid thing! The Princess and Lady Charlotte Lindsay are gone to the Duchess at Blackheath, a duty perform’d twice every week. They return bye and bye to a Ball here, for which all the preparations are being made by Ghost and others – if I may judge by the noise.
Lady Charlotte Lindsay’s arrival in the household relieved Anne from all waiting duties.
The three North sisters wait in their turn and make society very pleasant. Except keeping late hours, and dressing too naked so as to get raps in the Papers, we appear to be going on well – tho’ the finance gets no relief. HRH is very gracious and kind to me, and gives in to the independence which she bestow’d upon me some years back. I return home the first week in May, loving the country as well as you do, and delighting in the thoughts of seeing my own leaves for the first time.
Anne’s heart was no longer in the whirl of royal finances and political machinations in the capital. She had left it behind, far away in Wales, in her new home, her gardens and her little plantation at Gresford. But she found that her mistress was as gracious and kind as usual, on the terms she wished, permitting her independently to pursue her Privy Purse business. She was able to go out whenever she wanted, either on her own, or in company with the Princess and her lady-in-waiting.
… otherwise all goes well, debts excepted, which I fear lose us much popularity, and the very thoughtless increase of which, reduce Sicard and me to a state of almost desperation. I see no hope or prospect of relief.
As for the Princess – ‘…the Lady has taken a very gay turn lately and been at many dinners & parties in Town.’
Caroline’s own parties at Kensington attracted a mixture of people. In her letter to Minto in March 1809, Anne pointed out the diverse political colours of the guests –
Twice a week we have dinners and parties. Mr Windham as often as we can get him, for he is in high favour! So is Mr Elliot. All [political] party is extinguished here, and you see Lord Howick & Lord Liverpool cheek by jowl. Mr Grenville has declined frequently, but Ly Wms Wynn etc and Lords Carysfort and Fortescue etc have been, and come tonight.
Reminiscing many years later, Emma, Lady Brownlow portrayed the gatherings at Kensington Palace in these days as ‘marvellously heterogeneous in their composition’ –
There were good people and very bad; fine ladies and fine gentlemen; humdrums and clever people; amongst the latter the Rev Sydney Smith who I thought looked out of place there.
The military seemed to have disappeared. There were no heroes of the calibre of Sir Sidney Smith nor even Captain Manby. Lord Rivers, who for a time in the latter part of 1808 acted as Caroline’s latest beau, was a complete nonentity. As George Pitt, he had been elected unopposed to the House of Commons in 1793, but in the seven years he served as the member for Dorset, he is not recorded as ever having spoken in the House or even voted. Having succeeded to his father’s peerage, he followed him as a Lord of the Bedchamber to his Majesty and rolled away into obscurity – not much amusement there it would seem in his constant tête a têtes with Her Royal Highness. It was not long before another favourite appeared.
The Princess’s attachment to Lord Henry Fitzgerald commenced about the beginning of 1809. It was a more lasting affair. Lord Henry, the fourth of the Duke and Duchess of Leinster’s twenty children, and first cousin to Charles James Fox, was a noted amateur actor and had the good fortune to marry a very wealthy lady, Charlotte Boyle. With her, he produced twelve children. Henry was for a time in the 1790s, a member of the Irish Parliament and very much an anti-unionist. But following the union between Ireland and the rest of Britain in 1805, Henry did not disdain to serve from 1807 until 1814 in the United Kingdom House of Commons as a member for Kildare. Cecilia, Lord Henry’s step-sister, married Charles Lock of Norbury Park in 1795, and consequently, his lordship played on the fringe of the Princess’s circle of friends. At the time their relationship ripened in 1809, he was a man of forty eight years, with a large family, and a loving wife who held tightly to the purse strings. Caroline was past her prime, with past indiscretions hanging over her from the Delicate Investigation. It was not the most propitious setting to encourage a passionate intrigue.
Lord Glenbervie described Henry as ‘good natured and very well-bred, but weak, and under agreeable manners, covers in society, as violent and absurd politics as those of my old friend his late brother, the Duke.’ Other members of Caroline’s court reflected her interest more in antiquities and art than in amorous adventures. Indeed, her closest and most precious followers were unlikely by nature to have suffered a moment’s temptation in that direction. Sir William Gell was a traveller and an authority on the classical world. He had, said one observer, an ‘unceasing flow of lively, playful language, sparkling dialogue, and brilliant repartee upon every topic which formed the subject of conversation’, coupled, in his personal appearance, with ‘a preference for gay, gaudy colours, striking contrasts, and meretricious ornament.’ Byron called him a ‘coxcomb’. Both he and his close friend, Keppel Craven, were to be Caroline’s unpaid chamberlains on her later travels. Another member of the Princess’s inner circle was Sir Harry Englefield. He was a member of the Royal Society, wrote extensively on scientific topics and also made numerous contributions to the Society of Antiquaries of London. He would have become president of that august institution, had he not made many enemies through his opposition to the restoration works carried out on a number of cathedrals by the architect James Wyatt. He was defeated for the post by another member of the Princess’s circle, the young Lord Aberdeen, said at the time to be a very good toast master, but the ‘stupidest of the stupids’ – an early judgment on his capacities.
Lady Brownlow’s recollection of the Princess at this time in her life was not flattering – Caroline had a figure which was fat, and somewhat shapeless –
Her face had probably been pretty in her youth, for her nose was well formed; her complexion must have been good, and she had bright blue eyes, but the expression of them was bold – which, however, might be partly caused by the quantity of rouge she wore. Her fair hair hung in masses of curls on each side of her throat, like a lion’s mane. Everybody before the peace with France [in 1815], dressed much according to their individual taste, and her Royal Highness was of a showy turn; her gowns were generally ornamented with gold or silver spangles, and her satin boots were also embroidered with them. Sometimes she wore a scarlet mantle, with a gold trimming round it, hanging from her shoulders, and as she swam, so attired, down an English dance, with no regard to the figure, the effect was rather strange.