Royal marriages rarely include love instead duty is the other four-letter word used. Most royal couples hope for some form of compatibility between the prospective bride and bridegroom. And for Princess Charlotte and the Prince of Orange, such an outcome was hoped for as well. The first meeting between the royal pair was to happen over a dinner party her father was throwing.
For the party, Charlotte donned a “violet satin, trimmed with black lace.” The gown didn’t help hide how pale she was or her agitation. At dinner, Lord Liverpool sat on her left and to her right was the Prince of Orange.
Charlotte described the future King William III of Netherlands as “very plain but he was so lively and animated that it quite went off…”
After dinner and allowing the two strolling in the gallery, an impatient Prinny drew his daughter to a corner to learn her opinion of Slender Billy. Charlotte said, “I like his manner very well, as much as I have seen it.” All her father heard was her agreement to wed the prince so he summoned the Prime Minister (actually entitled First Lord of the Treasury) Lord Liverpool and his wife who offered their felicitations, which was followed by the surprised Prince of Orange.
It seems Slender Billy was smart than Prinny since in truth he didn’t think he impressed her much. And he hadn’t. She “thought him particularly plain and sickly in his look, his figure very slender, his manner rather hearty and boyish, but not unpleasant in a young soldier.” Not words of affection not even a stir of such feeling. In fact, Charlotte wrote, “I am persuaded I shall have a very great regard and opinion of him which perhaps is better to begin with and more likely to last than love.”
The next day, Prince William called upon her. It wasn’t a success. He informed Charlotte that she would have to spend two or three months a year in Holland when he visited his home country.
She was devastated. The prince promised that she wouldn’t have to accompany him on his every visit and when she did, she could bring her ladies with her.
Such a concession had to be enough for her though. That didn’t stop her anger with her father. Slender Billy was chance at freedom from her father nevertheless, the government held the position that the Princess never leave England’s shores.
On January 7 1814, Charlotte spent her eighteenth birthday by visiting her mother during the day and the evening, at a concert with her uncles, the royal dukes.
The next two months the marriage negotiations raged. Charlotte kept informed of every detail of the negotiations by having them put in writing. Her father was a feckless man who would change anything to suit his whims and that included sending his daughter to Holland.
A Peace Party
While the talks continued, Napoleon was defeated and all of Europe (except France of course since they lost) and their sovereigns journeyed to England, including the Tsar’s favorite sister, the Grand Duchess Catherine, to celebrate. Much like everyone else, the Grand Duchess was impressed by the Princess. She described her as “the most interesting member of the family…She is blonde, has a handsome nose, a delicious mouth and fine teeth…She is full of spirit and positive in character. She seems to have an iron will in the smallest things…Her manners are so extraordinary that they take one’s breath away… She walks up to any man, young or old, especially takes them by the hand, and shakes it with all her strength… She looks like a boy, or rather a ragamuffin.”
That strong will the duchess noticed in Charlotte stood firm against her father and his demands of her to visit Holland after her marriage. The princess refused to give in. To irritate her father even more the Prince of Orange didn’t want her to do anything against her will. In the end, the marriage contract specified that Charlotte would not have to leave England against her will.
While Charlotte signed the marriage contract, Prince of Orange was at Ascot, getting rip roaring drunk. He had to be sent back to London in a coach. Two days later, Charlotte attended a great banquet at Carlton House (the only state occasion she was permitted to attend). Prince William also attended and as was his habit, he got drunk.
Charlotte was becoming disheartened by the arrangement. She learned Slender Billy’s true nature. Her impression of him changed. To her, he was a “callow, scruffy boy who could not even hold his liquor.”
Charlotte’s yearning for freedom wasn’t enough to marry Prince William and for three solid reasons. The first was that she wished to marry another prince since Slender Billy was a “dismal prospect”. The second reason was another prince had caught her eye, a certain handsome Prince August. The third was her duty to stand by her mother who would protect her own position as heir presumptive.
Back Away Not So Slowly
On June 16 1814, Charlotte and Prince of Orange met at Warwick House where she informed him that she’d marry him only if her mother would always be welcome in their home. William wouldn’t agree to that (the two parties hated each other thanks to European politics). She couldn’t marry him without it.
A shocked William plead for her to think over her decision. Of course, the Whigs and her mother were happy. Prinny not so much.
The Princess didn’t know what awaited her. Soon after her meeting with Billy, she and a companion called upon the Tsar and his sister, who happened to be staying at the same hotel as the Prince of Orange. During the visit, the Tsar attempted to persuade Charlotte to change her mind. She wouldn’t budge. When Charlotte was departing, the Grand Duchess Catherine sent her to the back stairs to avoid William.
She took the stairs where a small group lingered at the foot of them. Charlotte spotted “A tall, dark, handsome officer wearing the all-white uniform of the Russian heavy cavalry. The officer turned. He was not more than twenty-four years old, but his badges signified that he was already a Lieutenant-General.”
The handsome Lieutenant-General asked if he could assist the ladies and the princess’s companion informed him of Charlotte’s identity and asked him to see them to her carriage. He did.
The drop-dead gorgeous officer was the General Officer Commanding Cavalry of the Tsar, Prince Leopold Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.
Love had come for the Princess.