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John Van der Kiste

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Elizabeth of Great Britain and Louis Philippe, Duc d'Orleans
by John Van der Kiste   

Last edited: Saturday, July 06, 2002
Posted: Saturday, July 06, 2002

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The affair and plans for possible marriage between George III's daughter and the future King of the French. From European Royal History Journal, March-April 2000

For years the six adult daughters of King George III and Queen Charlotte of Great Britain referred mockingly to themselves or, perhaps more accurately, their home as 'the nunnery'. The eldest, Charlotte, Princess Royal, considered herself lucky to marry the Prince of Wiirttemberg in 1797, when she was 31. Two of the others died unmarried, one haying produced a son in secret. A third may have contracted an invalid marriage and the other two found husbands in late middle age.

Yet, at one point it seemed as if one of the latter might become the wife of a man who was not only a Roman Catholic but, against the odds, eventually became the ruler of Great Britain's old enemy, France. Elizabeth, the third daughter, born in May 1770, was very fat as a child, hence her nickname, 'Fatima'. Mrs Charlotte Papendiek, her mother's Keeper of the Wardrobe, remarked that 'she was born fat, and through every illness, of which she had many, she never lost flesh'. She adored her food and her letters are full of references to her gluttony. One relates of her having' a large plum cake put up as stowage for the stomach. I rejoiced much at the thought of seizing this when I got back to the coach; but the moment I had prepared myself in battle array, with a knife in my hand to begin the massacre, they told me it was for Mama, and my knife returned innocent to my pocket.'

Good-natured and generous, she was outspoken to a fault and prided herself on being a 'Sally Blunt'. As a young adult, she was rumoured to have had an affair with one of the King's pages. At the time of Charlotte's marriage she had written to the Prince of Wales of her hope that, now one of them had been allowed to marry, the turn of the rest would follow. Ever sympathetic to his sisters, he pledged to help to the best of his ability.

Louis Philippe, Duc d'Orléans, born in 1773, had .befriended King George's fourth son Edward, Duke of Kent, who had met him during military service in Canada in 1794-95. In 1800 Louise Philippe came to England, settling at Highshot House near Twickenham, and was introduced to several of the royal family, among them the King and Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Clarence. The Duke of Kent kept a bedroom prepared for him at K;ensington Palace and on Christmas Day 1807 he and his mistress, Madame St Laurent, entertained him to dinner at their Knightsbridge house.

Efforts to bring about a marriage between him and Princess Elizabeth have been ignored by most biographers. Neither T.E.B. Howarth's study of Louis Philippe, perhaps the most popular of recent lives, nor a selection of the Princess's letters, published in 1898, make any reference whatsoever.

The first writer to describe it was Dorothy Margaret Stuart, whose work on the daughters of King George III was published in 1939. Elizabeth first broached the matter in a letter to the Prince of Wales on 25 September 1808, making it clear that she knew it would depend on Queen Charlotte's attitude. Having heard that 'a letter of confidence' had been written to him 'by a person who shall be nameless', she begged him that he would not think her 'impertinent, childish or silly in what I have done, for I had flattered myself that from my constant steady attendance upon my Mother, with my natural openness of character, I had hoped she would have had confidence in me at my time of life, but finding alas to my grief that was not the case I thought it more honourable by her and just towards myself to let her know I was not ignorant of what had passed, with my sentiments and feelings upon it. If there is no possibility of the thing now, I only entreat of You as the person, both from inclination, Duty and affection we must look up to, that You will not dash the Cup of Happiness from my lips. Yet believe me, whatever I may feel at present, and flattered at having been thought of, if I did not hope I flatter myself I might make them happy I would not think of it, and being without any soul near them that might worry & plague on the Score of Religion I do not fear it…

'I only hope You remember that You ordered me if I had anything upon my mind to tell it you, and You solemnly promised me to keep it to yourself. So pray say not a word to your companion, for no soul knows anything of it here but Augusta and Sophia. You know sweet dear Mary is most amiable, but I have not breathed it for fear of its coming out elsewhere.’

Queen Charlotte's reaction was as negative as expected, but the Prince of Wales did not intend to prolong his beloved sister's agony by endless waiting. Unlike the rest of his brothers and sisters, he could sometimes persuade her to change her mind. From Elizabeth's next letter, dated 2 October 1808, it was clear that he had urged her to be patient while he continued negotiations with the Duc d'Orléans:

'I own this has been the wish of my heart so long and my esteem has been gaining ground for so many years that it has truly been my prayer - therefore I feel that Providence has done more for me than I deserved and merit, and all I wished was your friendly attention to my petition and that you would but say be prudent and silent, and I trust happiness may yet be your lot - that you have said, so with that I am on my knees with gratitude, and what promise you make me must be secreted in my own heart, and that you may depend on. When I wrote I was in such an agony of mind no poor wretch was or has been more miserable than I have, yet if I told You there had been a coldness between the Madre and me it was not the case…I said that day on which my Mother spoke with me You shall never see a wry face and believe me she never shall, for I have gone on just the same and will do so to the last, for without being a good Daughter I never can make a good wife.'

Elizabeth was not going to speak of this letter, or of his, to which it is a reply, to anybody but Augusta. Mary and Sophia knew she had written and she begged him to tell them how aware she was of their anxiety. They were all sure, she declared, that he would 'never put a negative' to what had been her dearest wish ever since it was mentioned to her. Amelia, already seriously ill and painfully preoccupied with her own unhappy love affair, was left out, ‘from delicacy'. The letter continued:

'[Mary] has been most angelical, but Augusta has really stood forward nobly for me, in short I cannot say enough for all. Sophy also, for the state I was in made them see I was all but wild, and they have behaved so very amiably that I hope You will express your approbation. The reason why not a word has been said to the youngest was from delicacy, which I will explain when we meet, but Mary must see You, for the Madre has dreaded my saying a word to any of my Brothers, and I said if they spoke to me, which I would almost swear they would, I should to them, and therefore You must manage seeing me before Her - and many things I will then tell You which determined me at once to say I would never give it up - for it was hinted many, many things had been brought forward and rejected without a word from us, and therefore we all felt the Sun of our Days was set - if You are only kind and good as You have always been and ease my mind and one other person's [the Duc d'Orléans], Mum will be the word of the day.'

Nine days later Princess Elizabeth wrote to her brother about the Duc’s anxiety over the legal status of any children which they might have. Some kind of private marriage was evidently contemplated, as Napoleon still seemed all-powerful and a Bourbon restoration (actually a mere six years away) looked unlikely. The Duc d'Orléans was not the next heir, as the future Louis XVIII and Charles X stood closer to the throne. Any concerns as to his children's legitimacy were therefore personal rather than dynastic issues, and Elizabeth's anxiety that they should be addressed by him and her brother was exacerbated by her knowledge that Louis Philippe was about to leave England.

'I think it right to inform you that in consequence of Edward's having seen the D of O. And mentioned the kind manner in which you had spoken to me, of wh[ich], he acquainted him by your permission, He wishes, in justice to Himself as well as out of delicacy to me, that you would merely insure the legitimation of children should there be any - for that subject, once clearly decided upon His mind will be at ease, whereas if the least doubt should arise, as to their legal situation, He should feel that he was scandalizing the world, ruining me, and entailing misery on his children, all of which he is certain your good Heart would revolt at.

'I must now make one request to You - from myself which is that you would send for Him before He goes, and not feel shy in talking the Subject that once over with Him - for of course it must be an ease to his mind as well as to mine to hear what You have said to me from your own mouth, and that he would swear never to reveal what passes. I think it right to tell You that in examining the business more closely I find no marriage whatever can be looked upon as valid without the sovereign's consent, which alone makes the law.'

When Queen Charlotte told Elizabeth that ‘it can never be & that she will never hear of it again’, the latter was not prepared to accept the situation placidly. Sophia complained to the Prince of Wales of the Queen's 'total want of confidence in her children, but the Queen was in a difficult position. To.encourage such a marriage would irritate the King whose mental state was fragile; nobody wanted to do thwart him. She refused even to consult him, knowing how he would react to his daughter’s marriage with a Roman Catholic, a penniless one at that.

The Princesses thought they saw a loophole in a provision of the Royal Marriage Act which allowed an intending bride or groom over 25 to seek marriage without the sovereign's consent but it was unrealistic to expect Parliament to.try and overrule the sovereign. For some weeks Elizabeth hoped desperately that she and her brother, between them, might see a way round the impasse; but by early the following year the matter had passed. On 25 November 1809 the Duc d'Orléans married Marie-Amelie, daughter of Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies and his Austrian wife, Archduchess Maria Carolina.

Elizabeth accepted that she would have to 'go on vegetating' as she and her sisters had been forced to do for the last few years of their lives. As far as her mother was concerned marriage was 'a subject not to be raised at present'. She spent the next few years engaging in charitable work for orphans, writing letters for the Queen, producing engravings, collecting porcelain, taking up farming, and keeping Chinese pigs at Frogmore. In order not to become undesirable by the time she could marry, she drank sugar dissolved in water at night to keep her temper sweet, and went for a long walk each morning so as not to become more stout than she already was. Even so, she had resigned herself to a spinster's existence, writing to her eldest brother:

‘I have been well tried in my Spring and Summer of life; I expect my Autumn and Winter to be free from chilling cold, and whilst I have kind and good friends, a Great chair, a pinch of Snuff, a Book, and a good Fireside, with a kind Brother I think I shall in the end rest very quietly.’

The Duc and Duchesse d'Orléans were among the guests at the wedding of Elizabeth's sister, Mary, to the Duke of Gloucester in July 1816. Though Elizabeth was then still a spinster, her day would come, for in April 1818, at 47, she married the Hereditary Prince of Hesse-Homburg, who became Land grave two years later. On his death in }829 she wrote that 'No woman was ever more happy than I was for eleven years'.

In 1830 Louis Philippe became King of the French. The woman who might have become his Queen generously spoke of Marie-Amelie as an angel, and noted of the French King that 'he wisely never will utter a word which he ought not, but his conduct has been perfect since he has been where he is'. She must have often thought that but for her mother she might herself then have been sharing the throne of France.

By the time she died in January 1840, aged 69, she had seen Louis Philippe's daughter become wife of her niece, Charlotte's, widowed husband, who had become King Leopold of the Belgians in 1831. However, at least she did not see Louis Philippe abdicate in February 1848 and seek refuge again in England, spending his last years at Claremont, Surrey, where he died in 1850.

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