Clarence House: Nash’s Regency Palace

“Oh, that fool coachman has set us down at the wrong place,” Diana exclaimed.

Vivien felt sorry for Diana’s new driver.  He had only been brought up from the country just the week before and had little experience in navigating London’s congested street.  Yet he had much to recommend him, in her estimation.  His careful handling of the reins was a welcome respite from the reckless driving of Northam’s previous coachman who used to tool the massive four-in-hand coach at breakneck speed.  After years of terrorizing the streets of London, the old retainer had finally given his notice to quit.

“But I am persuaded we are precisely where we should be.”  Vivien hastened to reassure her friend.  “Look, this is clearly Nash’s work.  Take the portico for instance. The upper part is Corinthian.  The lower is Doric.  Very admirable for the new Clarence House.”

“But this stucco and pink cannot be a house for Old Bill.  I suppose Her Highness had a say in its design.”

“And no doubt she is waiting for us even now.  While we stand about dawdling!”

Vivien did not like to be late, especially when invited to take tea with HRH Princess Adelaide, soon to become Queen Adelaide to her husband’s William IV, the Sailor King.  This was understandable, she being the granddaughter of a sheep herder.  Diana, her companion, was the daughter of the Earl of Northam, and stood on ceremony with no one.  Not even a German princess and the wife of a future king she referred to as “Old Bill.”

“Old Bill” was Princess Charlotte’s uncle, the Duke of Clarence.  He was the man George Washington once plotted to kidnap while the prince was serving in the British Navy during the War of Independence.  Happy July 4th!

When Diana and Vivien visited the Duke’s addition to St. James Palace in 1827 it had just been finished.  There was much to admire in the Palladian design of the noted architect John Nash, who was also responsible for Park Crescent (used in abundance to display the finest in Regency architecture in various Jane Austen films) and part of Buckingham Palace.  William IV was a frugal man whose careful expenditures are credited to Queen Adelaide.  They remained in Clarence House even after he became King, despite the availability of Buckingham Palace.

Clarence House is expected to be the London residence of the newest royal couple.  It is currently occupied by the Prince of Wales and his wife, as well as Prince Harry.  The palace is also noted for being the long-time residence of HRH Elizabeth the Queen Mother, whose lovely blue morning room with her coat of arms is especially inviting:

The Regent’s House or God’s – Part Two

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon on her way to the Abbey

It wouldn’t seem right if Kate and William married, for instance, in Buckingham Palace instead of Westminster Abbey.  No processional, limited guest list, private ceremony off-limits to the press.  But prior to George VI’s wedding to the late Queen Mother, royal weddings were held in private chapels.

In 1816, the heiress to the throne, adored by her countrymen, was wed in her father’s house, which did not, like royal palaces, have a chapel.  It might have been a fatal error.

And the reason is one that is hauntingly familiar.

Caroline of Brunswick

Acrimony among royals is a magnet for public fascination, then as now. Princess Charlotte’s parents waged a very public battle over their troubled marriage and the Prince Regent emerged from it little better than an object of derision.  His subjects sided very much with his aggrieved wife, Caroline of Brunswick, and cast all their admiration and sympathy onto her daughter once her mother, the Princess of Wales, agreed to leave the country.

Charlotte’s father perhaps believed that holding the wedding at Carlton House would avoid the frenzy of a public processional to one of the royal palaces.  But to no avail.   Despite the arrangements he made, the people insisted on participating in the wedding of their princess.

The following is a contemporary description from the 1816 issue of the Asiatic Journal of the Princess’ attempt to get to her grandmother’s palace at Buckingham House to dress for the wedding:

“The Princess Charlotte of Wales, at 4 o’ clock, went in a carriage to the Queen’s Palace, and had the windows down to gratify the curiosity of the crowd in Pall-Mall, but they were found to be so extremely numerous, that the coachman could not with safety drive through them, he therefore returned, and went through the Park.”

At the time, the princess was living at Warwick House, a mean, tumble-down residence very near Carlton House on a dead-end lane.  She could either drive down the public thoroughfare known as Pall Mall, or access Queen Charlotte’s palace via the gated St. James Park.  Remember Kate and William in Edward VII’s carriage heading toward Buckingham Palace?  That was the route Charlotte took.  But in her time, St. James Park was off-limits to the public when the princess journeyed almost in secret up to Buckingham House.

Even her husband to be, Prince Leopold, had a scary moment just before when he was returning to the Duke of Clarence’s house, which was just across the way from the Duke of York’s house at the edge of the St. James Palace complex:

“His Serene Highness afterwards returned to Clarence House a little before half past three, when the crowd was so numerous, and the anxiety so great to see him, that the footman, in letting him out of the carriage, had nearly been pushed under it.  A number of women and children were forced into Clarence House against their will, by the extreme pressure (of the crowd).”

However, the prince took matters in hand and asserted his leadership over the crowd soon after:

“In a few minutes after, his Serene Highness walked across to York House (now know as Lancaster House) when the crowd behaved extremely orderly, and at the request of a few attendants, formed a clear passage for him to pass through; they, however, loudly huzzaed him, and he bowed to the populace.”