A Boy General…
On 16 December 1790, the youngest of six children of the Duke Francis of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld entered the world. Prince Leopold George Christian Fredrick hailed from a family with seven hundred years of family history.
As the youngest child, Leopold would not inherit the dukedom so he would have to make his own way in the world either as a solider or a diplomat. Naturally, he was educated as a gentleman, learning Christian ethics, Latin, Russian, French, and English. He was taught to draw, play the piano, ride and to fence.
Though, his family had a long history, they were all ambitious, desiring power, position and wealth. His sister, Julia, married the brother of Tsar of Russia, the Grand Duke Constantine and Leopold found favor and patronage in the Russian Court.
At twelve years of age, Leopold was made a general. In 1806, Coburg, a capital of the Duchy of Sax-Coburg Gotha and Saalfeld fell to Napoleon. Two years later, Leopold would return to his home but four years after his return (1812), Napoleon summoned the princes of the German Confederation to Dresden. The Corsican planned to invade Russian. Leopold didn’t heed the summon especially since he was an officer in the Tsar’s army so he traveled to Italy while the invasion happened and the French were decimated.
In February 1813, Russian and Prussian leaders gathered to form alliance against Napoleon. Leopold was counted among the leaders and received the rank of colonel and was attached to the staff of the Imperial Guard in the Imperial Russian Army.
Leopold’s first battle was at Lutzen where he commanded a brigade of cavalry. Three weeks later, he fought at Bautzen, taking charge of a brigade himself. He led it out in front of advancing French and covered the allied retreat into Silesia. His bravery was displayed once again in the victory of Kulm and was decorated in the field with the Cross of St. George. Then was award the Cross of Maria Theresa at Leipzig. As the campaign drew to a close, Leopold led the Russian heavy Calvary from Switzerland toward Paris, where during the journey, he engaged the French army at Brienne, Fere-Champenoise and Bellville.
A Marriage Would Do Nicely
On 31 March 1814, Leopold, now a Lieutenant-General and the head of his own cuirassiers, escorted the Tsar of Russia and the King of Prussia into Paris.
This handsome prince didn’t know he fit into the Tsar’s plans. For the Tsar, the marriage of Charlotte and Prince William of Orange wasn’t to his benefit so what better way to end that disaster than a dashing prince in military uniform (swoon) so Leopold was now part of the Tsar’s entourage and London town awaited.
Leopold prepared for his visit by borrowing a carriage from his brother-in-law (his sister Sophia’s husband) and he lent him a castle in Austria (ah the castle life). He visited the best Parisian tailors. But money was still tight so once in England, he rented two rooms on Marylebone High Street.
So, it was not a stroke of luck that Leopold was at the bottom of the stairs as Charlotte left the Tsar’s rooms. The Tsar departed England but gave Leopold “permission to stay here as long as it suits me.”
Leopold knew what was required of him. He wrote to his sister telling her, “My chances are, alas, very poor, because of the father’s opposition, and he will never give his consent. But I have resolved to go on to the end, and only to leave when all my hopes have been destroyed.”
For his first visit to Charlotte at Warwick House, Leopold donned full dress uniform. Mrs. Mercer (a trusted friend of Charlotte) knew Leopold and approved of him. So, she schemed to have Leopold appear whenever Charlotte was in Hyde Park. “Each time the princess acknowledged him with a nod, and each time, in response, the Prince trotted up to her carriage and rode beside her for a while.”
The Prince Regent still pressured his daughter to wed Prince William so Leopold wrote to Prinny to tell him his intentions were honorable. This displeased Charlotte since her father confronted her. To make matters worse, he had her household replaced so she ran away. After some negotiations, Charlotte went to her father where he stowed her away at Cranbourne Lodge. She was watched twenty-fours and was even watched in her sleep.
Leopold worried for her and yearned to see her but he had to sail away to Vienna. At the same time, her mother traveled to France. Charlotte never saw her mother again. Charlotte was alone again.
Only One Would Do
In September, Charlotte vacationed at Weymouth to recover from her misery. She enjoyed her time there, sailing, attending the theatre, balls at the Assembly Rooms and gave dinner parties.
This joyful, free life would only continue with marriage. Her choice was Leopold. In 1815, she enjoyed her nineteenth birthday while she sought out information on the man she decided upon or as she called him “the Leo”
In March of 1815, Napoleon escaped Elba so Leopold couldn’t return to England since he had to rejoin the Russian army to take up his old command.
During this time, Charlotte wrote to the Prime Minister to represent her with her father and request him to offer her hand in marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. If her father didn’t agree, Charlotte would remain a spinster.
All Leopold had to do was survive the coming war.