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This week some of us, at least , will be interested in watching the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton(I freely confess, I’ll be watching for I do love ceremonial and an excuse to party!) A very different, much more private Royal Wedding took place in the last year of Jane Austen’s life and as one of the happy couple was a fan of Jane Austen’s novels (as, allegedly, was her father ) I thought you might like to consider it today.

The wedding of Princess Charlotte, only daughter of the Prince Regent and his wife Caroline of Brunswick and heiress presumptive to the Crown, to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, shown above in their box at Covent Garden Theatre, took place on 2nd May, 1816.

Princess Charlotte appears to have been an admirer of Jane Austen’s works, and adored Sense and Sensibility.  From the comments contained in her letters she reveals herself to be a typical teenager (though the term would, of course, have been unknown to her!) and she certainly identified with the character of Marianne Dashwood, that drama queen of all teenagers, and with all her trials and tribulations. Princess Charlotte  was born on 7th January 1796 at Carlton House, the London home of the Prince of Wales. In 1812, when she read the novel, she would have been 16 years old. According to the evidence in her letters by 1st January 1812, she had” heard much” of the novel. By the  22nd January she had got a copy of the novel and had devoured it:

‘“Sence and Sencibility” (sic-jfw) I have just fin- ished reading; it certainly is interesting, & you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne (sic-jfw) & me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c, however remain very like. I must say it interested me much.’

(See page 26, and note 6 thereto of The Letters of Princess Charlotte, 1811–1817,edited by A.Aspinall (1949))

Our friend Joseph Ballard, above, an American visiting England, saw the Princess attend a service at the Chapel Royal on June 17th, 1815. From his description in the journal he kept of his travels, she certainly appears to have been a rather typical teenager in more ways than one….I find it rather amusing…

Having a desire to see Royalty I attended the Chapel Royal, St. James’ Palace, to see the Princess Charlotte, probably the future Queen of England . The chapel is in the courtyard of the palace. The entrance is through a small door into a dark and narrow passage which carried you to the chapel. This is quite a confined room and not at all elegant. The ceiling is panelled and ornamented with the coats of arms of the nobility. The Princess came in attended by several lords and ladies, and took her seat in the gallery opposite to where I stood. She has a pretty face and eyes, with the buxomness of a country lass. Her dress was purple pelisse edged with white, with a French fashioned bonnet and a wreath around it. She had not the least gentility of appearance and her manners were shockingly vulgar, particularly when she stood up. She had then a kind of rolling about, and kept her arms akimbo. She took very little notice of the service and seemed, from her uneasiness, to wish that it were ended….

The wedding took place at Carlton House, the Prince Regent’s London Palace, which Jane Austen had visited in 1815.

The service was held in the Crimson Drawing Room, shown below, as it appeared at the time of the wedding. The room was transformed temporarily into a chapel for the event. A temporary altar with a crimson velvet altar cloth was set up in front of the fireplace. Crimson cushions, prayer books, gold plate and some massive candlesticks were brought in from the nearby  Chapel Royal in  St James’s Palace.

The effect would have been overwhelming and rather suffocating, in my opinion. The  overly flamboyant Prince of Wales was, of course, responsible for the styling of the occasion. Interestingly, his daughter appears to have and  a lighter touch and her country home at Claremont near Esher in Surrey, was decorated in altogether a more restrained style.

So…as ever with these type of occasions the burning question of the hour was….what did the Bride wear ? This is a more vexed question than you would first realise, as we really have no definite answer. This engraving below, again from my collection, of the happy royal couple, was published in the June  1816 edition of La Belle Assemblee, a Regency magazine.

It had this gushing accompaniment (which sounds similar in tone to many of the press reports of the forthcoming wedding that I have read this weekend : plus ca change…)

In the edition of the same magazine for May 1816, this following description of the dress is given:

As we have been gratified with a sight of the wedding dresses of this amiable and illustrious female, a particular yet concise account of them cannot but be acceptable to our fair readers.

 The Royal Bride, happy in obtaining him whom her heart had selected, and whom consenting friends approved, wore on her countenance that tranquil and chastened joy which a female so situated could not fail to experience. Her fine fair hair, elegantly yet simply arranged, owed more to its natural beautiful wave than to the art of the friseur; it was crowned with a most superb wreath of brilliants, forming rosebuds with their leaves.

 Her dress was silver lama 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. Such was the bridal dress …

A dress known as Princess Charlotte’s Wedding dress is now in the collection of the London Museum. It is clear that the dress as now seen does not agree with the contemporary descriptions, and examinations of the structure of the dress undertaken by the museum have revealed that it is now probably made up of pieces from two or even three, possibly different, dresses.

The bodice of the dress is very probably the only original part of the dress and is very elaborate. Kay Staniland , the author of In Royal Fashion: The Clothes of Princess Charlotte of Wales and Queen Victoria 1796-1901, an exhibition catalogue of an exhibition of Princess Charlotte’s and  Queen Victoria’s clothes held in 1997 at the Museum of London, and which I was lucky enough to see, is of the opinion that this bodice would not have been covered by a mantle. The right to wear a royal mantle- a long train made of red velvet and ermine which was worn on state occasions was a touchy point of royal etiquette. The account of the mantle’s story by Robert Huish in his biography of Princess Charlotte of 1819 throws some detailed light on the subject. One was  prepared for the Princess but because the Princess was only the granddaughter of a king and not a daughter of one at this point, as her ill grandfather George III was still very much alive though incapacitated, she was not entitled by her rank to wear such a mantle at public occasions. Not even her own wedding. Kay Staniand surmises that Queen Charlotte, the Princess’s grandmother, might have put into action the making of the mantle for Charlotte to wear but that

Given her husbands state of health and the fact that her son as Regent was acting in place of the King she may well have felt that Charlotte was almost the daughter of a king. Perhaps the Regent, occasionally more of a stickler for correct form than his mother, was the one tobe rigid about court etiquette in this instance. He was possibly also unwilling to allow such public acknowledgement of his daughters proximity to the throne.

It is almost certain that the artist responsive for the engraving in La Belle Assemblee, shown above, did not actually see the dress but had to rely on written descriptions of it. Kay Staniland , again in the In Royal Fashion catalogue, remarks

He(the engraver-jfew) was obviously not familiar with court dress and guessed incorrectly that the train was attached at the shoulders: it seems probable that he was confused by the use of the term “manteau” for a court train and translated it into the semblance of a state manteau”

(See: In Royal Fashion, Page 62)

If we have a close look at a part of the dress the part that is most probably original, the bodice- we can see the exquisite nature of the material from which the dress was made.

(Do note that you can clearly see the scallop shell design which was mentioned in the description in La Belle Assemblee.)

The bodice was made from Lama. Lama was a material formed by wrapping thin strips of plain or patterned silver of gold  thread through the net ground of the material. It was dreadfully and ruinously expensive, and time consuming to make, but must have glittered beautifully  in the candlelight radiating from those tall candlesticks in the Crimson Drawing Room. This was a very fashionable fabric in London at the time of the wedding, so the Princess was at the cutting edge of fashion. I wonder if this trend will be continued this week, or if the bride will set rather than follow a fashion? It will be interesting to see…

And did this royal bride and groom live happily ever after? Sadly , not in this case. The stress of living under the constant scrutiny of both the court, its observers and the press began to have detrimental effects on the health of both the Prince and the Princess. In August 1816 Claremont House near Esher in Surrey was brought for them, as a place of refuge in the country, not far from Town.

In David Hughson in  his Circuit of London(1807) described the house as follows:

Claremont was the seat of the late Duke of Newcastle, by whom, when earl of Clare, its present name was given; on which occasion Garth wrote his poem of “Claremont in imitation of Coopers Hill” .It was a small house built under an hill covered with wood by Sir John Vanburgh,of whom it was purchased by the Duke who was at great expence (sic-jfw) in beautifying the gardens; adding to the house a considerable amount of building in stile with the original; and a large room in which he entertained foreign ambassadors and held magnificent banquets. It was purchased by the late Lord Clive who pulled it down and erected a very elegant villa in a better situation. The park is distinguished by its noble woods, lawns , mounts etc. The summer house called the Belvedere on a mount on that side of the park next Esher, affords an extensive view of the country. This beautiful place is now the property of the Earl of Tryconnel.Claremont is the ony legitimate architectural offspring of Capability Brown; it cost Lord Clive £150,000.

(Page 365, volume 5).

©NTPL/David Sellman

This is the Belvedere, as mentioned in Hughson’s description. The stunningly beautiful landscape gardens at Claremont are now owned by the National Trust and are open to the public. Details can be seen here

Whatever happiness and tranquility the couple had living at Clermont was sadly short lived. The Princess died while in labour on 6th November 1817. Her baby, a son, was still-born. Sir Richard Croft, her accoucheur, was criticised in the press and unfairly blamed for the tragedy. He committed suicide some months later after attending another very similar and traumatic birth. Here is his portrait taken in death by a close family friend, Sir Thomas Lawrence.

The nation was consumed by an absolute agony of grief, something that really was not seen again till the untimely and tragic death of Princess Diana produced such extraordinary scenes in 1997. As a result  of Princess Charlotte’s death, the future of the monarchy was at risk, there being no legitimate heir to inherit the Crown in the next generation, though Prince George and his siblings had many illegitimate offspring. This dire situation was not resolved until the Prince Regent’s brother,the Duke of Kent married and had a daughter, Princess Victoria in 1819, who became heir presumptive to the throne after her uncles’ claims.

Princes Charlotte was interred at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on the 19th November 1817 with great ceremony. Her memorial there, shown below, which also is a memorial to her  still-born son,who can be sen in the arms of the Angel to the left of the memorial, is to my mind, incredibly moving, and was created by M.C.Wyatt

In another echo of the uproar caused by Princess Diana’s death, the memorial was paid for by pubic subscription, for so many people wanted to contribute something meaningful as a lasting memory to their Princess. The story of the subscription is related on the blog of The College of St Geroge’s and I quote from it here:

The money required to cover its cost was raised through private subscription as early as 1817, the same year as the Princess’s death. A list of subscribers who donated money was published in The Times newspaper in 1818. Subscribers were urged to write their names legibly on their subscription papers as mistakes were sometimes unavoidable when the newspapers were written and subsequently printed (The Times, 13th January 1818).

There were certain members of the public, however, who felt the money being raised could be used towards greater causes. One reader of The Times brought forward this suggestion in a letter to the editor: ‘The season is now approaching when the opera is to open: in support of its ballets, female children, from the age of 6 to 16, are brought forward: their remuneration for a season of 60 nights, is not more than 41.4s for each child: here is gain at the expense of eternal happiness, interdependent of the vice which is disseminated by their intercourse with those of their own age.’ (The Times, 25th December 1817). Another writer earnestly pleaded that the monument (whatever it turned out to be) should at least ‘…record in some measure the virtues of the distinguished personate to whose memory it is raised. It is not to be the mere mausoleum of her exalted rank, nor the funeral urn of her personal grace and accomplishments; – it is to express the esteem entertained for qualities of another order.’ (The Times, 13th February 1818).

Other cheaper commemorative items  were produced and I have collected a few, some of which I’ll share with you here:

The pieces  are both made of pearlware, with lustre decoration. This is a small saucer, which has suitable mourning symbols around a stylised portrait of the dead princess-weeping willows,and a rather illiterate motto and command : Britain Mourns Her Princes Weep!(sic)

The second is a much larger plate, again made of pearlware and decorated with a central panel full of mourning symbols…

Britannia , angels, etc.  all distraught before an elaborate tomb.For those of you who are interested in these things, this plate will soon be seen on television, in the forthcoming second series of the BBC’s show, Antique Master

These were cheaply produced in their thousands, to satisfy a very large market. They are still affordable antiques today, and are not hard to find.

And so ends a rather sad tale of a very short Royal Marriage.

I do hope this week’s marriage lasts longer and is happier, and the parallels with Princess Diana end at this point. I am going to be celebrating not only The Wedding but my dear daughter’s 18th Birthday over the next few days, so I’ll not be posting here again until next Saturday, and this explains my rather long post today to make uo for my lack of posts over the coming week.

I wish you all a Happy Week, whatever you are watching;) Adieu !

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