Antecedents





I



On November 6, 1817, died the Princess Charlotte, only child of the

Prince Regent, and heir to the crown of England. Her short life had

hardly been a happy one. By nature impulsive, capricious, and

vehement, she had always longed for liberty; and she had never

possessed it. She had been brought up among violent family quarrels,

had been early separated from her disreputable and eccentric mother,

and handed over to the care of her disreputable and selfish father.

When she was seventeen, he decided to marry her off to the Prince of

Orange; she, at first, acquiesced; but, suddenly falling in love with

Prince Augustus of Prussia, she determined to break off the engagement.

This was not her first love affair, for she had previously carried on a

clandestine correspondence with a Captain Hess. Prince Augustus was

already married, morganatically, but she did not know it, and he did

not tell her. While she was spinning out the negotiations with the

Prince of Orange, the allied sovereigns--it was June, 1814--arrived in

London to celebrate their victory. 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. Next month the Prince Regent, discovering that his daughter

was having secret meetings with Prince Augustus, suddenly appeared upon

the scene and, after dismissing her household, sentenced her 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 Bayswater. 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 Windsor, but no more was heard of the Prince of

Orange. Prince Augustus, too, disappeared. 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 another of the Princess's uncles,

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 he was invited to England, and in May the marriage took

place.







The character of Prince Leopold contrasted strangely with that of his

wife. The younger son of a German princeling, he was at this time

twenty-six years of age; he had served with distinction in the war

against Napoleon; he had shown considerable diplomatic skill at the

Congress of Vienna; and he 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; she had very little of that self-command which is especially

required of princes; her manners were abominable. Of the latter he was

a good judge, 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.'



Among the members of the household at Claremont, near Esher, where the

royal pair were established, was a young German physician, Christian

Friedrich Stockmar. He was the son of a minor magistrate in

Coburg, and, after taking part as a medical officer in the war, he had

settled down as a doctor in his native town. Here he had met Prince

Leopold, who had been struck by his ability, and, on his marriage,

brought him to England as his personal physician. A curious fate

awaited this young man; many were the gifts which the future held in

store for him--many and various--influence, power, mystery,

unhappiness, a broken heart. At Claremont his position was a very

humble one; but the Princess took a fancy to him, called him 'Stocky,'

and romped with him along the corridors. Dyspeptic by constitution,

melancholic by temperament, he could yet be lively on occasion, and was

known as a wit in Coburg. He was virtuous, too, and observed the royal

menage with approbation. 'My master,' he wrote in his diary, 'is the

best of all husbands in all the five quarters of the globe; and his

wife bears him an amount of love, the greatness of which can only be

compared with the English national debt.' Before long he gave proof of

another quality--a quality which was to colour the whole of his

life--cautious sagacity. When, in the spring of 1817, it was known

that the Princess was expecting a child, the post of one of her

physicians-in-ordinary was offered to him, and he had the good sense to

refuse it. He perceived that his colleagues would be jealous of him,

that his advice would probably not be taken, but that, if anything were

to go wrong, it would be certainly the foreign doctor who would be

blamed. Very soon, indeed, he came to the opinion that the low diet

and constant bleedings, to which the unfortunate Princess was

subjected, were an error; he drew the Prince aside, and begged him to

communicate this opinion to the English doctors; but it was useless.

The fashionable lowering treatment was continued for months. On

November 5, at nine o'clock in the evening, after a labour of over

fifty hours, the Princess was delivered of a dead boy. At midnight her

exhausted strength gave way. Then, at last, Stockmar consented to see

her; he went in, and found her obviously dying, while the doctors were

plying her with wine. She seized his hand and pressed it. 'They have

made me tipsy,' she said. After a little he left her, and was already

in the next room when he heard her call out in her loud voice 'Stocky!

Stocky!' As he ran back the death-rattle was in her throat. She

tossed herself violently from side to side; then suddenly drew up her

legs, and it was over.



The Prince, after hours of watching, had left the room for a few

moments' rest; and Stockmar had now to tell him that his wife was dead.

At first he could not be made to realise what had happened. On their

way to her room he sank down on a chair while Stockmar knelt beside

him: it was all a dream; it was impossible. At last, by the bed, he,

too, knelt down and kissed the cold hands. Then rising and exclaiming,

'Now I am quite desolate. Promise me never to leave me,' he threw

himself into Stockmar's arms.





II



The tragedy at Claremont was of a most upsetting kind. The royal

kaleidoscope had suddenly shifted, and nobody could tell how the new

pattern would arrange itself. The succession to the throne, which had

seemed so satisfactorily settled, now became a matter of urgent doubt.







George III was still living, an aged lunatic, at Windsor, completely

impervious to the impressions of the outer world. Of his seven sons,

the youngest was of more than middle age, and none had legitimate

offspring. The outlook, therefore, was ambiguous. It seemed highly

improbable that the Prince Regent, who had lately been obliged to

abandon his stays, and presented a preposterous figure of debauched

obesity, could ever again, even on the supposition that he divorced

his wife and re-married, become the father of a family. Besides the

Duke of Kent, who must be noticed separately, the other brothers, in

order of seniority, were the Dukes of York, Clarence, Cumberland,

Sussex, and Cambridge; their situations and prospects require a brief

description. The Duke of York, whose escapades in times past with Mrs.

Clarke and the army had brought him into trouble, now divided his life

between London and a large, extravagantly ordered and extremely

uncomfortable country house where he occupied himself with racing,

whist, and improper stories. He was remarkable among the princes for

one reason: he was the only one of them--so we are informed by a highly

competent observer--who had the feelings of a gentleman. He had been

long married to the Princess Royal of Prussia, a lady who rarely went

to bed and was perpetually surrounded by vast numbers of dogs, parrots,

and monkeys. They had no children. The Duke of Clarence had lived

for many years in complete obscurity with Mrs. Jordan, the actress, in

Bushey Park. By her he had had a large family of sons and daughters,

and had appeared, in effect, to be married to her, when he suddenly

separated from her and offered to marry Miss Wykeham, a crazy woman of

large fortune, who, however, would have nothing to say to him. Shortly

afterwards Mrs. Jordan died in distressed circumstances in Paris.

The Duke of Cumberland was probably the most unpopular man in England.

Hideously ugly, with a distorted eye, he was bad-tempered and

vindictive in private, a violent reactionary in politics, and was

subsequently suspected of murdering his valet and of having carried on

an amorous intrigue of an extremely scandalous kind. He had lately

married a German Princess, but there were as yet no children by the

marriage. The Duke of Sussex had mildly literary tastes and collected

books. He had married Lady Augusta Murray, by whom he had two

children, but the marriage, under the Royal Marriages Act, was declared

void. On Lady Augusta's death, he married Lady Cecilia Buggin; she

changed her name to Underwood; but this marriage also was void. Of the

Duke of Cambridge, the youngest of the brothers, not very much was

known. He lived in Hanover, wore a blonde wig, chattered and fidgeted

a great deal, and was unmarried.



Besides his seven sons, George III had five surviving daughters. Of

these, two--the Queen of Wuertemberg and the Duchess of Gloucester--were

married and childless. The three unmarried princesses--Augusta,

Elizabeth, and Sophia--were all over forty.









III



The fourth son of George III was Edward, Duke of Kent. He was now

fifty years of age--a tall, stout, vigorous man, highly-coloured, with

bushy eyebrows, a bald top to his head, and what hair he had carefully

dyed a glossy black. His dress was extremely neat, and in his whole

appearance there was a rigidity which did not belie his character. He

had spent his early life in the army--at Gibraltar, in Canada, in the

West Indies--and, under the influence of military training, had become

at first a disciplinarian and at last a martinet. In 1802, having been

sent to Gibraltar to restore order in a mutinous garrison, he was

recalled for undue severity, and his active career had come to an end.

Since then he had spent his life regulating his domestic arrangements

with great exactitude, busying himself with the affairs of his numerous

dependents, designing clocks, and struggling to restore order to his

finances, for, in spite of his being, as someone said who knew him

well, 'regle comme du papier a musique,' and in spite of an income of

L24,000 a year, he was hopelessly in debt. He had quarrelled with most

of his brothers, particularly with the Prince Regent, and it was only

natural that he should have joined the political Opposition and become

a pillar of the Whigs.



What his political opinions may actually have been is open to doubt; it

has often been asserted that he was a Liberal, or even a Radical; and,

if we are to believe Robert Owen, he was a necessitarian Socialist.

His relations with Owen--the shrewd, gullible, high-minded,

wrong-headed, illustrious and preposterous father of Socialism and

Co-operation--were curious and characteristic. He talked of

visiting the Mills at New Lanark; he did, in fact, preside at one of

Owen's public meetings; he corresponded with him on confidential terms,

and he even (so Owen assures us) returned, after his death, from 'the

sphere of spirits' to give encouragement to the Owenites on earth. 'In

an especial manner,' says Owen, 'I have to name the very anxious

feelings of the spirit of his Royal Highness the late Duke of Kent (who

early informed me there were no titles in the spiritual spheres into

which he had entered), to benefit, not a class, a sect, a party, or any

particular country, but the whole of the human race through futurity.'

'His whole spirit-proceeding with me has been most beautiful,' Owen

adds, 'making his own appointments; and never in one instance has this

spirit not been punctual to the minute he had named.' But Owen was of

a sanguine temperament. He also numbered among his proselytes

President Jefferson, Prince Metternich, and Napoleon; so that some

uncertainty must still linger over the Duke of Kent's views. But there

is no uncertainty about another circumstance: his Royal Highness

borrowed from Robert Owen, on various occasions, various sums of money

which were never repaid and amounted in all to several hundred

pounds.



After the death of the Princess Charlotte it was clearly important, for

more than one reason, that the Duke of Kent should marry. From the

point of view of the nation, the lack of heirs in the reigning family

seemed to make the step almost obligatory; it was also likely to be

highly expedient from the point of view of the Duke. To marry as a

public duty, for the sake of the royal succession, would surely

deserve some recognition from a grateful country. When the Duke of

York had married he had received a settlement of L25,000 a year. Why

should not the Duke of Kent look forward to an equal sum? But the

situation was not quite simple. There was the Duke of Clarence to be

considered; he was the elder brother, and, if he married, would clearly

have the prior claim. On the other hand, if the Duke of Kent married,

it was important to remember that he would be making a serious

sacrifice: a lady was involved.



The Duke, reflecting upon all these matters with careful attention,

happened, about a month after his niece's death, to visit Brussels, and

learnt that Mr. Creevey was staying in the town. Mr. Creevey was a

close friend of the leading Whigs and an inveterate gossip; and it

occurred to the Duke that there could be no better channel through

which to communicate his views upon the situation to political circles

at home. Apparently it did not occur to him that Mr. Creevey was

malicious and might keep a diary. He therefore sent for him on some

trivial pretext, and a remarkable conversation ensued.



After referring to the death of the Princess, to the improbability of

the Regent's seeking a divorce, to the childlessness of the Duke of

York, and to the possibility of the Duke of Clarence marrying, the Duke

adverted to his own position. 'Should the Duke of Clarence not marry,'

he said, 'the next prince in succession is myself, and although I trust

I shall be at all times ready to obey any call my country may make upon

me, God only knows the sacrifice it will be to make, whenever I shall

think it my duty to become a married man. It is now seven-and-twenty

years that Madame St. Laurent and I have lived together: we are of

the same age, and have been in all climates, and in all difficulties

together, and you may well imagine, Mr. Creevey, the pang it will

occasion me to part with her. I put it to your own feelings--in the

event of any separation between you and Mrs. Creevey.... As for Madame

St. Laurent herself, I protest I don't know what is to become of her if

a marriage is to be forced upon me; her feelings are already so

agitated upon the subject.' The Duke went on to describe how, one

morning, a day or two after the Princess Charlotte's death, a paragraph

had appeared in the Morning Chronicle, alluding to the possibility of

his marriage. He had received the newspaper at breakfast together with

his letters, and 'I did as is my constant practice, I threw the

newspaper across the table to Madame St. Laurent, and began to open and

read my letters. I had not done so but a very short time, when my

attention was called to an extraordinary noise and a strong convulsive

movement in Madame St. Laurent's throat. For a short time I

entertained serious apprehensions for her safety; and when, upon her

recovery, I enquired into the occasion of this attack, she pointed to

the article in the Morning Chronicle.'



The Duke then returned to the subject of the Duke of Clarence. 'My

brother the Duke of Clarence is the elder brother, and has certainly

the right to marry if he chooses, and I would not interfere with him on

any account. If he wishes to be king--to be married and have children,

poor man--God help him! let him do so. For myself--I am a man of no

ambition, and wish only to remain as I am.... Easter, you know, falls

very early this year--the 22nd of March. If the Duke of Clarence does

not take any step before that time, I must find some pretext to

reconcile Madame St. Laurent to my going to England for a short time.

When once there, it will be easy for me to consult with my friends as

to the proper steps to be taken. Should the Duke of Clarence do

nothing before that time as to marrying it will become my duty, no

doubt, to take some measures upon the subject myself.' Two names, the

Duke said, had been mentioned in this connection--those of the Princess

of Baden and the Princess of Saxe-Coburg. The latter, he thought,

would perhaps be the better of the two, from the circumstance of Prince

Leopold being so popular with the nation; but before any other steps

were taken, he hoped and expected to see justice done to Madame St.

Laurent. 'She is,' he explained, 'of very good family, and has never

been an actress, and I am the first and only person who ever lived with

her. Her disinterestedness, too, has been equal to her fidelity. When

she first came to me it was upon L100 a year. That sum was afterwards

raised to L400, and finally to L1000; but when my debts made it

necessary for me to sacrifice a great part of my income, Madame St.

Laurent insisted upon again returning to her income of L400 a year. If

Madame St. Laurent is to return to live amongst her friends, it must be

in such a state of independence as to command their respect. I shall

not require very much, but a certain number of servants and a carriage

are essentials.' As to his own settlement, the Duke observed that he

would expect the Duke of York's marriage to be considered the

precedent. 'That,' he said, 'was a marriage for the succession, and

L25,000 for income was settled, in addition to all his other income,

purely on that account. I shall be contented with the same

arrangement, without making any demands grounded on the difference

of the value of money in 1792 and at present. As for the payment of my

debts,' the Duke concluded, 'I don't call them great. The nation, on

the contrary, is greatly my debtor.' Here a clock struck, and seemed

to remind the Duke that he had an appointment; he rose, and Mr. Creevey

left him.



Who could keep such a communication secret? Certainly not Mr. Creevey.

He hurried off to tell the Duke of Wellington, who was very much

amused, and he wrote a long account of it to Lord Sefton, who received

the letter 'very apropos,' while a surgeon was sounding his bladder to

ascertain whether he had a stone. 'I never saw a fellow more

astonished than he was,' wrote Lord Sefton in his reply, 'at seeing me

laugh as soon as the operation was over. Nothing could be more

first-rate than the royal Edward's ingenuousness. One does not know

which to admire most--the delicacy of his attachment to Madame St.

Laurent, the refinement of his sentiments towards the Duke of Clarence,

or his own perfect disinterestedness in pecuniary matters.'



As it turned out, both the brothers decided to marry. The Duke of

Kent, selecting the Princess of Saxe-Coburg in preference to the

Princess of Baden, was united to her on May 29, 1818. On June 11, the

Duke of Clarence followed suit with a daughter of the Duke of

Saxe-Meiningen. But they were disappointed in their financial

expectations; for though the Government brought forward proposals to

increase their allowances, together with that of the Duke of

Cumberland, the motions were defeated in the House of Commons. At this

the Duke of Wellington was not surprised. 'By God!' he said, 'there is

a great deal to be said about that. They are the damnedest

millstones about the necks of any Government that can be imagined.

They have insulted--personally insulted--two-thirds of the gentlemen of

England, and how can it be wondered at that they take their revenge

upon them in the House of Commons? It is their only opportunity, and I

think, by God! they are quite right to use it.' Eventually,

however, Parliament increased the Duke of Kent's annuity by L6000.



The subsequent history of Madame St. Laurent has not transpired.





IV



The new Duchess of Kent, Victoria Mary Louisa, was a daughter of

Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and a sister of Prince Leopold.

The family was an ancient one, being a branch of the great House of

Wettin, which since the eleventh century had ruled over the March of

Meissen on the Elbe. In the fifteenth century the whole possessions of

the House had been divided between the Albertine and Ernestine

branches: from the former descended the electors and kings of Saxony;

the latter, ruling over Thuringia, became further subdivided into five

branches, of which the duchy of Saxe-Coburg was one. This principality

was very small, containing about 60,000 inhabitants, but it enjoyed

independent and sovereign rights. During the disturbed years which

followed the French Revolution, its affairs became terribly involved.

The Duke was extravagant, and kept open house for the swarms of

refugees, who fled eastward over Germany as the French power advanced.

Among these was the prince of Leiningen, an elderly beau, whose

domains on the Moselle had been seized by the French, but who was

granted in compensation the territory of Amorbach in Lower Franconia.

In 1803 he married the Princess Victoria, at that time seventeen years

of age. Three years later Duke Francis died a ruined man. The

Napoleonic harrow passed over Saxe-Coburg. The duchy was seized by the

French, and the ducal family were reduced to beggary, almost to

starvation. At the same time the little principality of Amorbach was

devastated by the French, Russian, and Austrian armies, marching and

counter-marching across it. For years there was hardly a cow in the

country, nor enough grass to feed a flock of geese. Such was the

desperate plight of the family which, a generation later, was to have

gained a foothold in half the reigning Houses of Europe. The

Napoleonic harrow had indeed done its work; the seed was planted; and

the crop would have surprised Napoleon. Prince Leopold, thrown upon

his own resources at fifteen, made a career for himself and married the

heiress of England. The Princess of Leiningen, struggling at Amorbach

with poverty, military requisitions, and a futile husband, developed an

independence of character and a tenacity of purpose which were to prove

useful in very different circumstances. In 1814, her husband died,

leaving her with two children and the regency of the principality.

After her brother's marriage with the Princess Charlotte, it was

proposed that she should marry the Duke of Kent; but she declined, on

the ground that the guardianship of her children and the management of

her domains made other ties undesirable. The Princess Charlotte's

death, however, altered the case; and when the Duke of Kent renewed his

offer, she accepted it. She was thirty-two years old--short,

stout, with brown eyes and hair, and rosy cheeks, cheerful and voluble,

and gorgeously attired in rustling silks and bright velvets.



She was certainly fortunate in her contented disposition; for she was

fated, all through her life, to have much to put up with. Her second

marriage, with its dubious prospects, seemed at first to be chiefly a

source of difficulties and discomforts. The Duke, declaring that he

was still too poor to live in England, moved about with uneasy

precision through Belgium and Germany, attending parades and inspecting

barracks in a neat military cap, while the English notabilities looked

askance, and the Duke of Wellington dubbed him the Corporal. 'God

damme!' he exclaimed to Mr. Creevey, 'd'ye know what his sisters call

him? By God! they call him Joseph Surface!' At Valenciennes, where

there was a review and a great dinner, the Duchess arrived with an old

and ugly lady-in-waiting, and the Duke of Wellington found himself in a

difficulty. 'Who the devil is to take out the maid of honour?' he kept

asking; but at last he thought of a solution. 'Damme, Freemantle, find

out the mayor and let him do it.' So the Mayor of Valenciennes was

brought up for the purpose, and--so we learn from Mr. Creevey--'a

capital figure he was.' A few days later, at Brussels, Mr. Creevey

himself had an unfortunate experience. A military school was to be

inspected--before breakfast. The company assembled; everything was

highly satisfactory; but the Duke of Kent continued for so long

examining every detail and asking meticulous question after meticulous

question, that Mr. Creevey at last could bear it no longer, and

whispered to his neighbour that he was damned hungry. The Duke of

Wellington heard him, and was delighted. 'I recommend you,' he said,

'whenever you start with the royal family in a morning, and

particularly with the Corporal, always to breakfast first.' He and

his staff, it turned out, had taken that precaution, and the great man

amused himself, while the stream of royal inquiries poured on, by

pointing at Mr. Creevey from time to time with the remark, 'Voila le

monsieur qui n'a pas dejeune!'



Settled down at last at Amorbach, the time hung heavily on the Duke's

hands. The establishment was small, the country was impoverished; even

clock-making grew tedious at last. He brooded--for in spite of his

piety the Duke was not without a vein of superstition--over the

prophecy of a gipsy at Gibraltar who had told him that he was to have

many losses and crosses, that he was to die in happiness, and that his

only child was to be a great queen. Before long it became clear that a

child was to be expected: the Duke decided that it should be born in

England. Funds were lacking for the journey, but his determination was

not to be set aside. Come what might, he declared, his child must be

English-born. A carriage was hired, and the Duke himself mounted the

box. Inside were the Duchess, her daughter Feodora, a girl of

fourteen, with maids, nurses, lap-dogs, and canaries. Off they

drove--through Germany, through France: bad roads, cheap inns, were

nothing to the rigorous Duke and the equable, abundant Duchess. The

Channel was crossed, London was reached in safety. The authorities

provided a set of rooms in Kensington Palace; and there, on May 24,

1819, a female infant was born.





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