Saturday, June 7, 2014

Prince Leopold's Women

by Anita Davison

King Leopold I of the Belgians circa 1831

King Leopold I of the Belgians has a place in English history as the beloved Uncle of Queen Victoria, her advisor and mentor during her early reign, and the man who encouraged her marriage to his nephew, Albert.  He was once married to the daughter of the Prince Regent, Princess Charlotte, whose tragic death followed a scandalous mis-management of her pregnancy.  Heartbroken Leopold continued to live at Cleremont until he was invited to be King of the Belgians – but what kind of man was Leopold apart from a handsome, Germanic Regency character loved by a princess? I found a good deal about his prowess as a soldier, his qualities as a diplomat and his work on developing Belgium - but what of Leopold’s personal life?

Leopold George Christian Frederick was one of the ten children born to Francis, reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and Countess August Reuss. He was born on 16th December 1790 at Ehrenburg Palace in Coburg, Bavaria, the city palace of the Coburg dukes, and raised during the dangerous period following the French Revolution and Napoleon's rise to power. His father died when he was not yet sixteen, propelling his elder brother, Ernst, into a premature role as the duchy’s ruler.

Hortense de Beauharnais
Napoleon invaded the duchy in 1806, confiscating much of the family's property, for which Duke Ernst I obtained restitution. To thank Napoleon, Ernst and Leopold went to Paris, where the handsome Leopold turned down Bonaparte’s offer to be his adjutant, but whilst there conquered several young ladies’ hearts. He was also rumoured to have had an affair with Hortense de Beauharnais, Empress Josephine's daughter and wife of Napoleon's brother, Prince Louis Bonaparte.

At seventeen Leopold entered the Tsar's army and by twenty-three was Major-General of the Cavalry. His eldest sister, Duchess Juliane, had married Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, Tsar Alexander's brother, thus Leopold learned that family fortunes could depend upon a well-connected marriage.

Princess Charlotte of Wales
Leopold became a favourite of Alexander and his sister, Catherine of Oldenburg. He led his own regiment to victory of the Battle of Kulm and participated in the French Campaign which brought him to Paris during the triumphal entry of the allies in spring 1814. During his travels around European capitals he first met Princess Charlotte.

At nineteen Charlotte was tall for a woman, and voluptuous with expressive blue eyes and abundant light brown hair. She was admired wherever she went, the perfect foil to her unattractive, squabbling parents.

Her mother, Caroline of Brunswick, had been banished from England when her daughter was twelve due to her lax morals and because the prince considered her ugly, coarse, and she refused to bathe. Thus Charlotte was removed from the care of her disreputable and eccentric mother, and handed over to her extravagant and selfish father.

Charlotte was a kind if impetuous child given too much freedom by the standards of the day, and would shake hands in a mannish way. When taken on board ship, she stood with her feet apart and hands clasped behind her back. [Very unladylike for a Regency miss.] She had a radiant outgoing vitality, but she also suffered behavioural and unpredictable mood swings, perhaps due to the bitter and intractable quarrel between her parents who gave her little love, and possibly because her father was jealous of her popularity.

At seventeen she had already been the subject of rumours concerning a supposed relationship with Captain Charles Hesse, an army lieutenant who was said to be the illegitimate son of the Duke of York. Possibly to tame her, the Prince Regent arranged Charlotte’s engagement to William, Prince of Orange, but when she met Prince Frederick Augustus, the King of Prussia's nineteen-year-old nephew, at a dinner party at Carlton House, she fell in love with him, and resolved to break off her engagement.

When the allied sovereigns arrived in London in June 1814 to celebrate their victory over Napoleon, Prince Leopold was among them. He met Princess Charlotte in the lobby of a hotel and escorted her to her carriage. He also cancelled a visit to the opera in order to pay a call on her.

Perhaps the ambitious Leopold had his eye on the throne of England at this stage, as he made several attempts to attract Charlotte’s notice, but she was still infatuated with Prince Frederick, and Leopold made little impression. However, Prince Frederick had returned all Charlotte’s gifts, her engagement was over and at twenty one she wanted her freedom, therefore she turned to her other suitor, Leopold.

Leopold and Charlotte's Wedding at Carlton House

Leopold's penury and lack of royal connections prejudiced him in the Prince Regent’s eyes, though he finally relented, and the couple were married at Carlton House in the Crimson State Room on the evening of May 2, 1816 in the presence of fifty privileged guests.

The couple took up residence at Claremont House near Esher with Camelford House on the corner of Oxford Street and Park Lane as their London town home. They led a domestic and scandal-free life, their sobriety making them popular among the London crowds after the excesses of Charlotte’s parents.

At twenty-six, Prince Leopold’s character was very different from his wife’s. A friend of Leopold said of Charlotte, ‘she's like a boy in petticoats’. Charlotte was  outspoken, roared with laughter, and her manners were abominable, causing continual friction. Leopold was considered cold and formal, a successful soldier and diplomat, but he soon dominated the wild, impetuous, generous Charlotte.

Their every confrontation ended in the same way, with her standing before Leopold, her body pushed forward, hands behind her back, with flaming cheeks and sparkling eyes, she would declare. "If you wish it, I will do it," she would say. "I want nothing for myself." He would then respond: "When I press something on you, it is from a conviction that it is for your interest and for your good."

Unusually for a Regency couple, they went everywhere together, visiting the poor and attending church. Charlotte combed her husband’s hair, folded his cravats and linens, and ensured his bath was prepared when he came home from hunting. She even prepared refreshments for him, which he relished knowing she made them. Leopold, for his part grew a moustache when she asked him to.

Charlotte mentioned to a friend that Leopold insisted on taking her to the opera when he was not feeling well because he knew she wanted to go. When she became agitated or excited, Leopold would whisper, "Doucement, Cherie, Doucement." Thus her nickname for him was ‘Doucement’.

Christian Friedrich Baron Stockmar, Leopold’s friend, personal physician and advisor, said of them: "My master is the best of all husbands in all of the four quarters of the globe, and his wife bears him an amount of love, the greatness of which can only be compare with the English national debt."

Things were not always perfect in that Leopold apparently caused a rift between his wife and her long-term friend, Margaret Elphinstone when he disapproved of her husband. Charles Joseph, Comte de Flahaut, aide-de-camp to Napoleon Bonaparte, had taken refuge in England at the Bourbon Restoration. Margaret was Charlotte’s confidant, though her position created rumours, later refuted, that she betrayed the princess's secrets to the Prince Regent.

Princess Charlotte miscarried twice in the early months of her marriage. Her physicians, such a they were, feared she would not carry her third pregnancy to term, and prescribed bleeding and limiting her diet. Not surprisingly, Charlotte experienced complications and grew very weak. Her subsequent tragic death has been recorded in detail elsewhere so I shan’t repeat it here, however, Leopold was truly devastated and Charlotte’s loss had a large impact on the rest of his life. Sir Richard Croft, the doctor who had made the decision to wait for nature to take its course with a no intervention policy later killed himself. The Princess was buried, her son at her feet, in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on 19 November 1817.

A month after her death, a portrait she had commissioned before she gave birth was delivered on Leopold's birthday as she had intended. Leopold was visibly shaken and the entire household burst into tears. He took the painting with him to Belgium and became very emotional whenever he looked at it. He named his daughter by Louise Marie d’Orleans, Charlotte, but he was never as devoted to his own child as he had been to his first wife.

Caroline Bauer
Eleven years later, during which his close friends said he still grieved for Charlotte, Leopold saw an actress called Caroline Bauer who cannily resembled Princess Charlotte. Leopold sent his chamberlain to ask permission to call on her and within days he had proposed marriage. This action was totally out of character for the cautious, somewhat cold Leopold, however, Caroline came to England with her mother and took up residence at Longwood House, a few miles from Cleremont. By mid-1829 the liaison was over, and the actress and her mother returned to Berlin where Caroline resumed her career.

Caroline claimed she and Leopold had married, and he had created her Countess of Montgomery – a claim strongly denied by her cousin Baron Stockmar. Caroline married in 1863 and died by suicide in Zurich fourteen years later.

Louise-Marie d'Orleans, Queen of the Belgians
In 1830, Leopold was offered, but refused, the crown of Greece, but he accepted the Belgian throne.  At that time, Belgium consisted of Dutch-speaking Flemings in the north, French-speaking Walloons in the south and a small number of Germans in the east. Originally part of the Netherlands, the Belgians revolted in 1830 due to the differences between the large Catholic French speaking population and the Protestant Dutch.

On August 9 1832, King Leopold married the eldest daughter of the King of the French, Princess Louise-Marie Therese Charlotte Isabelle d'Orleans. A descendant of Philippe d'Orléans, Regent for Louis XV, Madame de Montespan, and of Louis XIV and Philippe I, Duke of Orléans both sons of Louis XIII on her father’s side, and on her mother's a descendant of Maria Theresa of Austria and Catherine de' Medici.

Blonde, fair skinned, blue-eyed Louise Marie was a shy, innocent girl of twenty. She had dreaded the idea of becoming Queen, and had cried inconsolably at the thought of separation from her large family. Leopold was a handsome seasoned soldier and statesman, a widower and an experienced lover at forty-two, an ambitious man of the world, somewhat hardened by past sorrows and disappointments. He was also a Lutheran, and, reputedly, a Freemason, whereas Louise-Marie was a devout and pious Catholic.

Leopold confided to a friend "I'm delighted with my good little Queen: she is the sweetest creature you ever saw, and she has plenty of spirit."

Despite her initial reluctance, Louise-Marie fell deeply in love with her husband and became a devoted wife and loving mother. Very shy, she was only seen in public when Leopold insisted, but became very popular at the Belgian court with her generosity and beauty.

Leopold I with Louise-Marie and their Children

At this time, Flanders was stricken by famine, and poverty ran rampant throughout Belgium. Louise-Marie became patroness of many philanthropic, religious and educational institutions. Her friends, servants, and entourage knew her as a gentle and forgiving mistress whose charity was ‘inexhaustible’, and her popularity grew in direct proportion to criticism for Leopold’s infidelities.

Louise-Marie personally handed out clothing for the poor in inclement weather, organised recurring lotteries on behalf of the poor, and gave household items to any exhibition where the poor would benefit. When a farmer once said in her hearing that he admired a pedigree cow and that one like that would transform his life, Louise-Marie allegedly sent him two of the creatures as a gift.

In Brussels and in the provinces alike, when people heard a tale of hardship, they exclaimed: "If only the Queen knew!" which after her death became: "If only the Queen were still alive!"

Leopold and Louise-Marie had four children: Louis-Philippe who died a year after his birth, Philippe Eugene, whose son Albert I was the third King of Belgians and reigned during World War I, and Marie-Charlotte, who married Archduke Maximilian I of Austria and became the Empress of Mexico.

Arcadia Claret-Meyer
In 1840, Leopold was instrumental is arranging the marriage of his niece, Queen Victoria, the daughter of his sister, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Edward Duke of Kent, to his nephew, Prince Albert, son of his brother, Duke Ernest I. Leopold had offered Victoria advice in the early days of her monarchy, although she asserted her independence early in her reign.

In 1844, Leopold met the eighteen-year-old Arcadia Eugenia Claret-Meyer – he was fifty-three. He housed her in a mansion at No. 47 Rue Royale with a staff of servants who wore his livery.

Their son, George Frederick Ferdinand Henry, was born in the convent of St. Joseph Girls, Cross Street Louvrex Liège.

Leopold then purchased Chateau Stuyvenberg for Arcadia, where she gave birth to their second son, Christian Frederick Arthur. Leopold asked his nephew, Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to create his second family titles. These sons were made Baron von Eppinghoven and Arcadia was made Baronin von Eppinghoven with an income and property to go with it.

After the Revolution of February 1848, Queen Louise-Marie’s father, King Louis Philippe, abdicated and his family fled to England. They remained in exile at Cleremont, where he died in August 1850.

Marie d'Orleans
The death of Louise-Marie’s brother, Ferdinand-Philippe, Duc d'Orléans, in a coaching accident at the age of 31 and of her sister Princess Marie of consumption at 25, had been terrible blows, as had the loss of her first born son at a year old. By the time of her father's death, Louise-Marie was already very ill with consumption.

She died in Ostend two months later, on 11 October 1850 at the age of 38. King Leopold never returned Louise Marie’s passionate devotion and he wasn’t faithful, but he sincerely mourned her and paid her this touching tribute: "Her death was saintly, like her life."

On December 10, 1865, at the Palace of Laeken, in Brussels, Leopold was on his death bed, calling:

"Charlotte...Charlotte..." although no one was sure as to whether he was calling to his daughter, the Empress of Mexico, or to his first wife, Princess Charlotte.

Leopold I in Later Life
His daughter-in-law Marie-Henriette, the wife of Leopold II, asked, "In the name of the love you bear for the Queen's memory, will you not be converted to her religion so that you may meet her again in Heaven?"

"Nein..." he whispered, then died.

I am convinced it was his first love he called for, because before she died, Princess Charlotte had asked that Leopold be buried beside her when his time came. Leopold instructed that a space be made for him in her tomb in St George’s Chapel at Windsor, and asked Queen Victoria again before his own final illness; a request which strangely was not granted.

Louise-Marie wanted to be buried in Laeken, so Leopold had the church of Our Lady Of Laeken in Brussels constructed in her memory. The first stone was laid by Leopold I in 1854. The church was consecrated in 1872, but not completed until 1909. The crypt holds the tombs of the Belgian royal family, including those of all the former Belgian kings.

Sources - For those interested in the historic trials and troubles Catholic Belgian Royal Family, I recommend an excellent blog called, The Cross of Laeken

Accounts of Princess Charlotte’s labour and death
Jane Austens World Blog
Death of Charlotte
Princess Charlotte and Leopold

Charlotte and Leopold are also featured in The Companion of Lady Holmeshire by Debra Brown.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is released by Pen and Sword Books under the name Anita Seymour
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1 comment:

  1. A fascinating look at one of the main movers and influencers behind Victoria -thank you!

    ReplyDelete