Princess Charlotte by Sir Thomas Lawrence Prince Leopold by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Princess Charlotte & Prince Leopold

Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was born in Coburg on 16 December 1790. He was the youngest child of Duke Franz-Friedrich of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Countess Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf. He was a younger son of a princely house from the depths of the Thuringian woods that had little wealth or consequence to offer even the heir. He grew up during the highly threatening period following the French Revolution and Napoleon's rise to power. Leopold's father died in 1806 when the young prince was almost sixteen years of age.

That same year, 1806, Napoleon invaded the duchy and expropriated the family's possessions. Protected by the benevolent hand of Tsar Alexander I of Russia who always looked out for his own family interests, the new duke, Ernst I obtained the restitution of some of his property from the French authorities. One of Duke Ernst's sisters, Duchess Juliane had married Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, Tsar Alexander's brother. Judging by the rest of his life Leopold obviously took to heart the lesson that family fortunes could hang on a well connected marriage. Family connections were to play an increasingly important role in the future of the Coburgs.

Duke Ernst, accompanied by young Leopold, made a trip to Paris. Ernst wanted to personally thank Napoleon for restoring some of the family's fortunes. Yet, the Coburg who made the most of the fateful trip to the French capital was Leopold. While in Paris, tall and slender Leopold was rumored to have conquered the heart of many ladies at Napoleon's court. He was even rumored to have had an affair with Hortense de Beauharnais, Empress Josephine's daughter and wife of Napoleon's brother, Prince Louis Bonaparte. Whatever the adventures he might have lived while in Paris, Leopold learned discretion, diplomacy, and polished manners.

Upon returning to Coburg, Leopold spent his time in completing his political apprenticeship at his brother's little court. He acted as regent every time that his brother Ernst absented himself from the duchy. Later, he would frequently represent Saxe-Coburg as events unfolded.

By 1807, Leopold decided to enter the Tsar's armies in an effort to further his military career. The continuing Napoleonic wars allowed Leopold to become one of the first German princes to join the coalition against Bonaparte. Leopold accepted the post of Major-General of the Cavalry of Russia from Czar Alexander I in 1813. The handsome well mannered Leopold was a great favorite with Alexander and his sister Catherine of Oldenburg. Leopold led his own regiment at the battle of Kulm 30 August 1813, and later participated in the French Campaign which brought him to Paris one more time during the triumphal entry of the allies into Paris on March 31st, 1814. While in Paris, Leopold acted as his brother's emissary. He also attended the Congress of Vienna in September 1814 as Saxe-Coburg's representative. It was during the travels around European capitals occasioned by the Napoleonic Wars that Leopold first met Princess Charlotte of Great Briain.

Princess Charlotte was the only child of George, Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and George IV) by his wife Caroline of Brunswick. Their daughter was born at Carlton House, London in the early morning of 7 January 1796. She was baptised Charlotte Augusta by the archbishop of Canterbury in the Great Audience Chamber of Carlton House on 11 February 1796, her godparents being her paternal grandparents (the King and Queen) and her maternal grandmother, the Duchess of Brunswick. The Prince Regent and Princess Caroline of Brunswick had been incredibly unhappy in their marriage. It was a miracle that they had managed to produce Princess Charlotte at all.

Warwick House
Warwick House
64-65 Cowcross Road, London

Charlotte had been brought up among violent family quarrels and disrespect, she grew up tumultuous and rebellious. At an early age she had been separated from her disreputable and eccentric mother, and handed over to the care of her disreputable and selfish father. When Charlotte was sixteen, the government proposed a marriage to Prince William of Orange (1792-1849), the son of King William I of the Netherlands. It would strengthen the alliance between Great Britian and the Netherlands and get the rebellious Charlotte off the Regent's hands so he favored the marriage. Charlotte, at first, acquiesced and the engagement was announced after their meeting at a dinner at Carlton House on December 11, 1813. While she was spinning out the negotiations with the Prince of Orange, the allied sovereigns arrived in London in June 1814 to celebrate their victory over Napoleon. Among them, in the suite of the Emperor of Russia, was the young and handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. He made several attempts to attract the notice of the Princess, but she, with her heart elsewhere, paid very little attention. She had already met Prince Frederick, the King of Prussia's 19 year old nephew, at a dinner party at Carlton House and fallen in love with him. She determined to break off the engagement. Charlotte announced on June 16th,1814 that she would have none of the Prince of Orange. This was hardly surprising as his looks had earned him the nickname of 'the Young Frog.' This was not Charlotte's first love affair, for she had previously carried on a clandestine correspondence with Captain Hess, a handsome officer of the 18th Light Dragoons. Lady de Clifford, Princess Charlotte's governess, had allowed Hess who was reputed to be an illegitimate son of the Duke of York and therefore a cousin to often ride beside Charlotte's open carriage in the autumn of 1812. Miss Cornelia Knight, one of Charlotte's ladies, helped her meet Prince Frederick privately at Warwick House during his June 1814 visit to London. Next month, July 1814, the Prince Regent, heard rumors that his daughter was having secret meetings with a man. He didn't find out about Frederick but thought it was his disreputable 35 year old cousin Prince Augustus of Prussia. The Prince Regent suddenly appeared upon the scene and, after dismissing her Warwick household, sentenced Princess Charlotte to a strict seclusion in Windsor Park. "God Almighty grant me patience!" she exclaimed, falling on her knees in an agony of agitation: then she jumped up, ran down the backstairs and out into the street, hailed a passing cab, and drove to her mother's house in Connaught Place. She was discovered, pursued, and at length, yielding to the persuasions of her uncles, the dukes of York and Sussex, of Brougham, and of the Bishop of Salisbury, she returned to Carlton House at two o'clock in the morning. She was immured at Cranbourne Lodge in Windsor Great Park, but no more was heard of the Prince of Orange. In spite of the watch kept on her, Charlotte managed to carry on a secret correspondence with Frederick until he returned her portrait and broke off their relationship in January 1815. The way was at last open to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.

This Prince was clever enough to get round the Regent, to impress the Ministers, and to make friends with the Princess's uncle, the Duke of Kent. Through the Duke he was able to communicate privately with the Princess, who now declared that he was necessary to her happiness. When, after Waterloo, he was in Paris, the Duke's aide-de-camp carried letters backwards and forwards across the Channel. In January 1816 Leopold was invited to England.

Crimson Drawing Room at Carlton House

Although initially reticent to grant his permission, mainly because Leopold's penury and lack of royal connections, the Prince Regent finally granted his daughter's wish. Leopold and Charlotte were married at Carlton House in London on the evening of May 2, 1816. Some fifty privileged guests, many of them members of the royal family, attended the wedding ceremony which took place in the Crimson State Room at Carlton House on the evening of 2 May 1816.

Princess Charlotte's wedding dress was silver lama [lamé] on net, over a silver tissue slip, embroidered at the bottom with silver lama in shells and flowers. Body and sleeves to correspond, elegantly trimmed with point Brussels lace. The manteau was of silver tissue lined with white satin, with a border of embroidery to answer that on the dress, and fastened in front with a splendid diamond ornament. Prince Leopold, who had been granted a commission of Fieldmarshal of the British Army, wore a British General's embroidered uniform coat, white kerseymere waistcoat and breeches. After a honeymoon spent at Oatlands in Surrey, the countryseat of the Duke of York, the young couple took up residence at Claremont House, a grand affair just one mile south-west of Esher, which had been purchased for them. In addition, Parliament had voted to give the Princess a dowry of £60,000 and a joint income of £50,000 a year with an extra £10,000 going to pay for Charlotte's household. Camelford House on Oxford Street was granted to the couple as a London town home.

The character of Prince Leopold contrasted strongly with that of his wife. He was at this time twenty-six years of age, and as the younger son of a minor prince had pursued a career as a soldier and diplomat. Leopold had served with distinction in the war against Napoleon. He had shown considerable diplomatic skill at the Congress of Vienna. Leopold was now to try his hand at the task of taming a tumultuous Princess. Cold and formal in manner, collected in speech, careful in action, he soon dominated the wild, impetuous, generous creature by his side. There was much in her, he found, of which he could not approve: she quizzed, she stamped, she roared with laughter. Charlotte had very little of that self-command which is especially required of princes. Her manners were abominable, while Leopold having moved, as he himself explained to his niece many years later, in the best society of Europe, being in fact "what is called in French de la fleur des pois." There was continual friction, but every scene ended in the same way. Standing before him like a rebellious boy in petticoats, her body pushed forward, her hands behind her back, with flaming cheeks and sparkling eyes, she would declare at last that she was ready to do whatever he wanted. "If you wish it, I will do it," she would say. "I want nothing for myself," he invariably answered; "When I press something on you, it is from a conviction that it is for your interest and for your good."

To everyone's surprise the couple led a domestic and scandal-free life probably mainly due to Leopold's diplomacy and knack for handling his young wife. This was quite a change in comparison with Charlotte's parents and most of her royal uncles. The couple spent most of their time divided between Camelford House, their London residence, and Claremont Park, a country house in Surrey. Sir Thomas Lawrence came to Claremont House to paint Leopold and Charlotte. The government allocated the sum of sixty thousand pounds to pay for the couple's household, a modest income for the heir to the throne, but still a coupe for Leopold as the penniless younger son of a minor princely house. Charlotte gladly adopted many of her husband's tastes, and joined him in reading, studying and religious observance. This model existence made Charlotte and Leopold tremendously popular among the London crowds.

Princess Charlotte miscarried twice in the early months of her marriage, but a third pregnancy in 1817 appeared to be going well. The country exploded in celebrations when the Princess of Coburg's pregnancy was announced in early 1817. The child would be third-in-line for the British throne, and would guarantee the dynasty's existence for another generation. During most of the year, Charlotte, who had already experienced problems with pregnancy tried her best at taking care of her health. She put on weight and felt the happiest she had ever felt. Yet, her physicians were fearful that Charlotte would not be able to carry the full term of her pregnancy. They attempted to calm her by bleeding her and severely limiting her diet. Not surprisingly, Charlotte began to experience complications while growing increasingly weak. Her happy pregnancy was turned into torture by the good efforts of her physicians.

Princess Charlotte's tomb in St. George's Chapel, Windsor

By the first week of November the end of Charlotte's pregnancy was rapidly approaching. She had grown very weak as a result of the continued bleedings and malnourishment prescribed by her doctors. Leopold, worried sick about his wife's excruciating pains, rarely left her side. Labor pains began on November 3, and Charlotte's martyrdom would extend itself over the next two days. The baby was in transverse position and very large. The medical staff realized that forceps were required, yet they chose not to use this method. On the evening of 5 November, after a protracted labour of over 50 hours, she was delivered of a stillborn son at Claremont House. Her treatment during and following the birth was grossly mismanaged, and she died of post-partum hemorrhage and shock at two o'clock in the morning of 6 November. Leopold was distraught beyond his wits. The public went mad with grief at the loss of the popular princess. She was buried in the Royal Tomb House at St George's Chapel, Windsor, with her infant at her feet. The outpouring of public grief at her death was not matched until the death of Princess Diana.

Prince Leopold was distraught with grief. Leopold continued to live at Claremont, and spent the season at the newly acquired London town home Marlborough House. Whether the marriage would have worn well in the long run can never be known. Yet, it was after Princess Charlotte's death that Leopold's services for the future of the Coburgs and Great Britain were put to good use. The English royal family were plunged into crisis. King George III's only legitimate grandchild had died. Before his engagement to Charlotte, Leopold had been befriended by Edward, Duke of Kent. Edward was King George III's fourth son and at almost fifty years of age still a bachelor living with his mistress of 20 years, Madame de Saint-Laurent. George's brothers gave up their mistresses and made legitimate marriages in an effort to secure the succession. Leopold suggested his sister Princess Viktoria, widow of the Prince of Leiningen, as a bride for Edward. With two healthy teenage children, Viktoria proved that she could be a candidate to produce the desired heir. They were married May 29, 1818 and produced a daughter the following year who would become Queen Victoria of England. Victoria would later marry Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the younger son of Leopold's older brother Duke Ernst.

After being chosen as the first King of Belgium in 1831, Leopold married Louise Marie of Orleans (1812-1850) in 1832. Leopold confided to a close friend "I'm delighted with my good little Queen: she is the sweetest creature you ever saw, and she has plenty of spirit." They had three sons and a daughter they named Charlotte in honor of Leopold's first wife.

The small, forgotten princely house of little wealth or consequence from the depths of the Thuringian woods the Coburgs had attained the thrones of three European countries in one decade through careful marriages. Leopold continued throughout his life to arrange marriages for his relatives that made the Coburgs one of the best connected royal families in Europe.

Top of Page
Georgian Index Home
Front Door
Marlborough House
Marlborough House

Carlton House

Claremont House
Graphic letter A, link to alphabetic site map
Site Map

©S.W. This site last updated August 2001 by the webmaster