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Thursday, 26 January 2012

Princess Charlotte in Weymouth

Princess Charlotte
from La Belle Assemblée (1807)
A visit to George III 1799

Princess Charlotte’s first holiday in Weymouth was in 1799 when she visited her grandparents, George III and Queen Charlotte, whilst they were staying there. The king had recuperated from his first bout of porphyria in the seaside town in the summer of 1789 and was a regular visitor there for the next sixteen years.

The Prince of Wales, on the other hand, hated Weymouth. No doubt this was partly due to his delight in professing opinions that were contrary to his father’s, but it is perhaps not surprising that he preferred the freedom he found away from the royal court at the more fashionable resort of Brighton.

However, in 1799, presumably in an effort to court his father’s favour, he overcame his dislike and brought his daughter to Weymouth for a holiday. As a lively three year old, Charlotte loved to collect shells on the beach and enjoyed visiting Mr Ryall’s toyshop with her Aunt Amelia.

Recuperating in Weymouth 1814

In 1814, Charlotte visited Weymouth again, to try a sea water cure for the severe pains she was suffering in her knee. She was also emotionally worn down at this time, as her father’s reaction to her behaviour after breaking off her engagement to Prince William of Orange had been severe. Her party included Countess Rosslyn, Countess Ilchester, Mrs Campbell, the Misses Coates, General Garth and the Reverend Dr Short.

A royal welcome

Gloucester Lodge today
Princess Charlotte arrived at Gloucester Lodge on 10 September, where she was warmly welcomed by the inhabitants of Weymouth who had gathered on the Esplanade to applaud her arrival. Two days later, Henry Hayes Tozard, the mayor of Weymouth, organized a formal celebration of her visit, with a display of standards at the custom house, Harvey’s library and the Esplanade and on ships in the harbour, and a general illumination in the evening.

On 14 September, the mayor, aldermen and principal burgesses waited on Princess and formally addressed her with a welcoming and dutiful speech.
“We regard the auspicious appearance of your Royal Highness amongst us, not only as a happy omen of the future prosperity of the town, but as a revival of the joyful sensations we formerly experienced on the visits of your august grandfather, the paternal sovereign of a grateful people.”
Sea bathing

Charlotte went sea bathing every other day in an effort to cure the pains in her knee. According to a letter from her friend, Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, to Lord Grey, Charlotte’s health was becoming worse and the pains in her knee were preventing her from sleeping. Mr Keate came down from London to attend her.

Picturesque scenery

Portland Bill
Miss Elphinstone’s letter also claimed that “the Prince has positively refused to allow here to drive her ponies there, as he says it would collect a mob at the door every time she went out”. However, Huish’s biography suggests that she did go for morning rides and was able to enjoy the beautiful countryside, and in particular, her favourite drive to the charming village of Upway.

During her stay, Princess Charlotte attended services at the Melcombe church, which she found was far too small for the number of the people wishing to attend and was therefore rather hot and overcrowded.

Portland Island

During her stay in Weymouth, Princess Charlotte was able to satisfy her desire to visit Portland Island. Although the short voyage was tedious because of lack of wind, she was fascinated by the huge expanse of barren rock and eagerly sought the details of the East India company ships, the Halswell and the Abergavenny, which had been wrecked off the island.

Abbotsbury, Lulworth and Corfe

Charlotte was cordially received by the Countess of Ilchester at Abbotsbury Castle. Abbotsbury village was once home to a monastery of Benedictine monks and the princess was pleased to visit the famous decoy there.

The decoy, Abbotsbury Swannery
Abbotsbury

She also visited Lulworth Castle, the seat of Thomas Weld, and Corfe Castle, the property of Henry Bankes, where she marvelled at the ancient castle ruins.

Corfe Castle
An anniversary celebration

According to Huish, “On the anniversary of the jubilee, the day was observed by her Royal Highness with every testimony of regard.” I believe that the anniversary referred to is that of George III’s accession to the throne, which was on 25 October. Princess Charlotte gave out gifts of money and bibles to the poor, and the nobility were invited to the King’s Lodge where they were entertained by the famous Italian minstrel, Signor Rivolta, who performed a concert on eight instruments at one time. There was also a magnificent firework display with an emblematical device of the king.

Charlotte had one final marine excursion, on board his Majesty’s ship, Zephyr, before leaving Weymouth on 15 November, breaking her journey at Salisbury where she was able to admire the cathedral before returning to Cranbourne Lodge.

Another seaside holiday 1815

Weymouth beach
Princess Charlotte visited Weymouth again the following year when the pains in her knee began to reoccur. Arriving in Weymouth at the end of July, the princess was, once again, enthusiastically received, and a general illumination was given in her honour. She stayed until the end of the year, leaving Weymouth on 1 January 1816.

On board the Leviathan

On one occasion during this visit, Charlotte was on board the royal yacht when the Leviathan fired a salute and Captain Nixon came on board to pay his respects. At her request, the princess was rowed across to the man-of-war, despite the disapproval of the Bishop of Salisbury, who was of the party. She insisted on ascending the side of the boat rather than have a chair of state let down for her and then proceeded to inspect the whole ship before descending over the side of the boat in the same manner. Her behaviour was applauded by many but chastised by others as unladylike.

Weymouth remembers
 
The marriage of Princess Charlotte to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was celebrated with enthusiasm in Weymouth in 1816; her death the following year was most solemnly mourned.

A letter of commiseration dated 20 November 1817 says:
“Yesterday being the day appointed for the funeral of the ever-to-be-regretted Princess Charlotte of Wales, it was observed here with the most mournful solemnities.”
“We had witnessed, during two successive seasons, which she passed among us, those charitable dispositions, those affable and endearing manners, those elegant attainments, which formed her bright character.”
Sources used include:
Chedzoy, Alan, Seaside Sovereign - King George III at Weymouth, (2003)
Hibbert, Christopher, George IV (1972, 1973)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of her late royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (2001)

All photographs © Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

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