Princess Charlotte's life at Claremont
It would be hard to understate the joy Princess Charlotte felt on arriving at Claremont in 1816. After living in a gilded cage for most of her 20 years, at last she had a home of her own.
As heiress apparent to the throne of Britain, Charlotte required accommodation that befitted her status. The home selected for her, a gift from the nation upon her wedding to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, was a delight.
" Claremont…is a real paradise….I am quite clear it is the most fit royal residence that can be found anywhere"
Claremont had been long neglected by its previous owner and there was much to be done to revive it. The mansion was shabby inside and the grounds and gardens were in a ruinous state.
The royals next door
Esher was delighted with its new, glamorous royal neighbours, who conferred a royal seal of approval on the village, brought added trade to its High Street (particularly to its butchers) and provided work to the unemployed. Charlotte’s kind-heartedness won the hearts of Esher.
Aware of the growing post-war unemployment crisis, Charlotte and Leopold set about employing “a vast many poor laboring (sic) people” to carry out improvements to Claremont. New pailing went up around the park, and when part of Esher Common was incorporated into it, the princess had a narrow gravel road laid around it, which was just broad enough to take the wheels of a little pony cart that she rode daily.
Less strenuous jobs went to the poor, elderly men of the village, who were recruited to pick stones from the walks, spread gravel on them and weed the grass plots.
The couple were particularly excited by their plans to build a “Gothick” tea-house on a terrace above the amphitheatre. It was Charlotte’s favourite spot in the park and commanded a spectacular view of the lake.
The princess took a keen interest in Britain’s commercial prosperity and encouraged its manufactures. Indeed, nothing foreign was to be seen at Claremont.
The pleasure grounds of a princess
Princess Charlotte loved the flowers that grew in profusion at Claremont. Botany had been part of her education and Prince Leopold shared her passion for it. “On…fine evenings,” according to Kinnersley, “they frequently strayed out together along the fields, and sitting them down upon the green expanse, would examine the daisies, the blue bells, and the spontaneous productions of rustic nature.”
Leopold’s greatest love, after Charlotte, was shooting in the park. With its ponds, boggy ground and wet grassland, it teemed with snipe. But Charlotte had a special affection for hares and blackbirds, and Leopold was expressly forbidden to shoot them.
Preparing to rule
Charlotte had a decidedly scholarly streak about her and reading had long been one of her great passions. With an eye on Charlotte’s future role as sovereign, the couple placed an emphasis on the history of Britain and its constitutional affairs in their reading. Yet she was open to both light and serious works. In 1812 she had read “Sence and Sencibility”, commenting that “I think Maryanne (sic) and me are very like in disposition.”
Leopold's physician-in-ordinary Baron Stockmar detected that the prince had “a markedly good effect” on Charlotte, and asserted that she “gained surprisingly in calmness and self-control, so that one sees more and more how good and noble she really is.”
Charlotte and Leopold are often portrayed as living a reclusive life amid Claremont’s rural delights. Yet much as they might have wanted to, they couldn’t escape their royal responsibilities, and they were to host many important guests including Charlotte's father the Prince Regent, her grandmother Queen Charlotte, and Russia’s Grand Duke Nicholas.
Charlotte and Leopold were never happier than when they were at Claremont. As she wrote on 3 December 1816: “We lead a very quiet and retired life here, but a very very happy one.”
" In this house, reign harmony, peace, and love - in short, everything that can promote domestic happiness"
All could see that Princess Charlotte ruled gently over Claremont with her adored consort. She was the pride and hope of Britain. She would be the light of the new century.