When Charlotte met Leopold

A painting of Charlotte and Leopold in an opera box

Charlotte and Leopold were formally engaged in March 1816, but their slow-burning romance began much earlier, in the summer of 1814.

In June 1814, Charlotte met with the Emperor of Russia in the Pulteney Hotel to explain why she had broken off her engagement to William of Orange. Trying to avoid meeting the Prince of Orange himself, Charlotte slipped out of the hotel using the back staircase. While descending the staircase she bumped into a handsome solider dressed in Russian uniform. This dashing figure just so happened to be Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.

Immediately, Leopold cordially offered to escort the princess safely to her carriage. Charlotte asked him why he had not called upon her, like the other visiting princes. Before her carriage drove away Leopold promised to rectify this error.

Subsequent to this serendipitous meeting, Leopold kept to his word, and called upon Charlotte at Warwick House. Careful not to put a foot wrong, Leopold wrote a letter to Charlotte’s father, explaining his virtuous and friendly reasons for visiting the princess.

There is no record of Charlotte and Leopold meeting again during his initial stay in London; yet it seems Leopold thought he had made a good first impression and was determined to exploit every opportunity to engage further with Charlotte.

" I have resolved to go on to the end, and only leave when all my hopes have been destroyed."
- Prince Leopold to the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, 22 June 1814

Indeed, during his time in London, Leopold asked the Prince of Wales for Charlotte’s hand. Unsurprisingly, the offer was rejected due to his lack of political connections and paltry income, which contrasted sharply with the Prince of Wales’ candidate William of Orange.

Before Charlotte and Leopold had the opportunity to get to know one another, Leopold returned to Germany to console his recently widowed sister, Victoria. In the autumn of the same year he was required to attend a congress in Vienna determining the nature of post-Napoleonic Europe, further delaying a visit to England.

Out of sight, out of mind

Following his departure, Charlotte all but forgot the German Prince Leopold, her head instead occupied by the dashing Prince August on one hand and her father’s insistence that she marry William of Orange on the other. However, as it became evident that Prince August had turned his attentions elsewhere, Charlotte determined to do the same.

After weighing up her remaining options for a prospective partner, Charlotte decided upon Leopold. This decision was a pragmatic one, and took into account that her father had subsequently spoken favourably about the German prince, giving her hope that he might now approve of the match.

Once Charlotte had fixed her sights on Leopold, she became impatient and anxious. Charlotte tasked her best friend Mercer to pass on hints to Leopold that he would be welcome to return to England, even if only for a few days.

Charlotte was cautious when discussing her affection towards Leopold, carefully slipping his name into conversation with her aunt, Mary, and uncle, the Duke of York. After a positive response from both of them, the princess asked the Duke of York for advice on how to present her decision to the Prince of Wales, who remained transfixed on the "Orange match".

Little by little, Charlotte began to see her plan come to fruition. Just before the Battle of Waterloo, Mercer received two letters from Leopold. The first excused his delayed reply, and the second expressed his caution on returning to England without the Prince of Wales’ express invitation. Charlotte responded with patience, determined not to let her chance of freedom with Leopold slip away.

She did not have to wait long for the situation to rectify itself. In February 1816, news reached Britain that William of Orange had married the Russian Grand Duchess Anne. With his primary rival now out of the picture, Leopold made his feelings clear to Mercer, giving Charlotte resolute hope of a future with the Prince.

A happy resolution

Finally, progress was made. Charlotte bravely admitted her preference for Leopold to her father the Prince of Wales, and Lord Castlereagh was dispatched to escort Charlotte’s suitor to England.

Awaiting the arrival of her prince, Charlotte could hardly control her impatience, exasperated by the time it was taking him to arrive. "By accurate calculation & measurement of the distance between Berlin & Coburg," she complained, "I find no reason (except the bad road) for his not being here now."

Now almost 18 months after they first met, Charlotte and Leopold were invited to dine with the Prince of Wales on 26 February 1816. The evening was a great success for both Charlotte and Leopold, who talked and made plans for their future all evening.  Princess Charlotte confessed to Mercer, "I find him quite charming, & I go to bed happier than I have ever done yet in my life." The Prince Regent was also impressed by Leopold's charm and grace. After years of unhappiness and frustration, things were finally going Charlotte’s way.

Marking 200 years

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Princess Charlotte. Delve into the story of the forgotten daughter of England with our series of web articles and events.