London’s Versailles – Stafford House

“It is arguable that Stafford House was the only true private palace ever built in London, even if it did not surpass Versailles as Wyatt intended.”

The Great Gallery of Stafford House

The Great Gallery of Stafford House

Commissioned by the Duke of York, construction began on what was known then as York House. Princess Charlotte had died and HRH Frederick Augustus (1763 – 1827) was thinking he ought to have a palace now that he was heir to the throne. He once marched 10,000 men up a hill only to change his mind and order the lot back down. When York House scarcely had its foundation stone laid, the Duke sacked his architect, Robert Smirke, whose snide remark is noted in the the previous post.The Duke was as indecisive a builder as he was a military leader.

Benjamin Dean Wyatt (1775 – 1825) was appointed to finish the job. He had been urged upon his royal patron by the Duchess of Rutland, who was remodelling her own home, Belvoir Castle (hmm, I sense a subject for a future post). BD Wyatt designed the house to be two story, with Palladium attributes such as a rusticated ground floor and a lofty piano nobile beneath a shallow pediment raised high by Grecian columns.

It remained a shell, however, until it was leased to the Marquis of Stafford. He was also the late Duke’s largest creditor. However, Lord Stafford was unable to finish the house, having passed away as the “richest individual who ever died.”

Stafford House central hall

I pause here briefly to note the Marquis had become Duke of Sutherland in 1833, by virtue of his marriage to the Sutherland heiress. Elizabeth Gordon (pictured below) became Countess of Sutherland when a mere baby. Both were notorious figures in a couple of ways.  The couple was briefly imprisoned in France for attempting to aid Marie Antoinette’s escape. They were also responsible for some of the worst of the Highland clearances. The Marquis, appalled at the condition of his wife’s Highland tenants, decided they should be cleared and sent off to become fishermen. It did not go well, like so many well-meaning intentions great powers have for the good of the people.

The 2nd Duke of Sutherland was primarily responsible for the fabulous interior of Stafford House. The state rooms were larger than those at Buckingham Palace. The central hall alone was 80 feet across and the stair rising 120 feet high. White marble Corinthian columns lined the walls.

He added a third story to the house for all the nurseries, schoolrooms, nannies, nurses, tutors, governesses, et al for his eleven (11!) children.

The decorative style has been described as Louis Quatorze — it could easily be termed rococo on steroids. The coffered and coved ceilings were heavily ornamented in the boiseriestyle and painted with lots gilding. Below is one of several ornate ceilings in the house. As if that were not enough, the great Stafford collection of paintings was gathered together in the house, including art brought to England from plundered French aristocrats.

Today, the palace is called Lancaster House. It serves as a government reception site.

Better than being in a dustbin like some other houses we know.

Calgon! Take me away!

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Oatlands – Honeymoon House

Sometimes it just makes sense to honeymoon close to home.

Kate and Wills went no farther than Anglesey.  Vivien, my heroine of Welsh descent in Notorious Vow, would approve.  There is much to be said for the privacy afforded by a windswept island off the coast of her family’s native homeland.

File:Fashionable contrasts james gillray.jpg

Entitled "Fashionable Contrast," this 1792 cartoon of TRHs' relationship was less than accurate.

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold honeymooned just outside London in Weybridge, at her uncle’s estate of Oatlands.  The manor had been the site of a royal palace built for Queen Anne of Cleves by Henry VIII, long since demolished.  A house remaining on the estate was enlarged and eventually leased by Prince Frederick, the Duke of York.  This burned down and a Gothic mansion was erected in its place and became the primary residence of his wife, Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia.

The following is an amusing illustration of what things must have been like at Oatlands:

‘The Duke was used to bring down parties of his friends to spend the week-ends at Oatlands.  The Duchess had not the least objection, and without making any change in her own manner of life, entertained her guests in a charming and unceremonious way that endeared her to everyone who knew her.  No one was ever known to refuse an invitation to Oatlands, though the first visit there must always astonish, and even dismay.  The park was kept for the accommodation of a collection of macaws, monkeys, ostriches, kangaroos; the stables were full of horses which were none of them obtainable for the use of the guests; the house swarmed with servants, whose business never seemed to be to wait on anyone; the hostess breakfasted at three in the morning, spent the night in wandering about the grounds, and was in the habit of retiring unexpectedly to a four-roomed grotto she had had made for herself in the park. ‘

from Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold remained at Oatlands until summoned back to London by Queen Charlotte.  The princess’ grandmother planned a “drawing-room,” or presentation to receive the congratulations of the nobility and gentry on the marriage.  The Asiatic Journal from 1816 further reports that between two and three thousand people were present for the occasion and Buckingham House, as it was then called, was filled with “expecting spectators.”Oatlands Park Hotel, Weybridge Surrey

Their honeymoon must have seemed as remote to the young couple as Wales.

Today, Oatlands is a hotel.  You can even have a wedding there!

“One of the most unpleasant habitations in London.”

Princess Charlotte and her new husband were given Camelford House as their London residence.  “One of the most unpleasant habitations in London,” a certain Lady Williams-Wynn is reported to have said.  This view from Oxford Street executed in watercolor in 1850 by J. H. Shepard seems to support her ladyship’s remark:

The front portico beyond the Oxford street entrance is little more distinguished in this early twentieth century photograph. It is remarkable that a house with such a modest exterior should survive for so long when the far more grand Carlton House belonging to the Prince Regent had been torn down nearly a century before.   And why should the newly married prince and princess want to live in such a place?

The answer may lie in a variety of circumstances.  The house lay in the very fashionable environs of the Grosvenor estate end of Mayfair.  In my Notorious series, the Northam townhouse was merely blocks away and Vivien’s townhouse just down the street along Park Lane.   Also, the lease on Camelford House was available–the previous tenant Lord Grenville had moved out.  He had been Prime Minister, notably heading a coalition government called the “Ministry of all the Talents,” a term that one encounters even today to describe various political coalitions and collaborations, albeit rather loosely.

Another attractive feature was Camelford’s highly refined interior.  The first-floor reception rooms were several in number but diverse in design and decoration.  Perfect for receptions and entertaining.  The marvelous plasterwork crafted in the neoclassical style was particularly notable, if difficult to discern in this 1912 photograph taken just before the house was demolished.

Happily, much of the elegant fittings of Camelford were saved before the wrecking ball.   They were purchased intact and reinstalled in a Northumberland Grade II listed building called Lemmington Hall.  At one time this Georgian country mansion was a ruin before its restoration in the early twentieth century.  Then it became a convent.

Today, the interior of the newlyweds’ London home provides a perfect setting for celebrating one’s nuptials. Lemmington Hall is now a wedding venue.

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.”

Persistent Prince – Part Two

To be fair, the Princess Charlotte had been embroiled in a failed engagement with the Prince of Orange, a failed romance with a Prussian prince (or two, depending on who you ask) and quite possibly (ie, understandably) had her head turned by Lord Byron and his turquoise ring.

Lord Byron in Eastern costume

In any case, she had no interest in Prince Leopold.

It seems likes a minor footnote, yet the following excerpt leaves one in little doubt as to the prince’s intentions:

“He paid many compliments to Princess Charlotte, who was by no means partial to him, and only received him with civility. ..and when we drove in the Park, he would ride near the carriage, and endeavor to be noticed.”

–from the memoirs of Miss Cornelia Knight, companion to HRH Princess Charlotte.

Rebuffed, Leopold went back to the field of war. Napoleon had returned to the Continent and must be defeated.  By the time the conflict was over, Princess Charlotte had come to her senses.

I mean, look at him!  What’s not to like?

In my Notorious series, Vivien and Diana joined in the speculation swirling around the unknown prince and his temerity to ask the Regent for Charlotte’s hand.

“I hear that Prince Leopold is very handsome.  Do you suppose Princess Charlotte picked him out when the Allied sovereigns visited last year?” Vivien asked.

Diana snorted.  “Not as random as that, my dear.  Russian intrigue, I’ll warrant.”

“And how would you know?”

Diana grinned.  “I’ve made inquiries.  ‘Twas the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg who introduced Prince Leopold to the princess.  Putting a spoke in Prinny’s wheel and his plans for the Dutch marriage, so to speak.”

“But the Russians were in favor of the match, I thought.”

“Ah, that’s the intriguing part.   You know how Prinny keeps Princess Charlotte all shut up at Warwick House?”

That circumstance never failed to arouse Vivien’s sympathy for the princess.  “They say no one is allowed to see her since she broke off with the Prince of Orange.”

“Except the Tsar’s sister.”  Diana tilted her head in amusement, the jaunty angle of her shako hat almost arch in manner.  “I had it at the Jersey ball.  Countess Lieven swore the Grand Duchess prevailed on the Regent to allow her to see the princess–on the assurance she would get Charlotte to reconsider the dutchman’s suit.”

“And her ulterior motive?”

“She was escorted by none other than your handsome calvary officer from Saxon von something or other.”

The Tsar’s sister may have had yet another motive.  Her own sister needed a husband.  And no one except the Prince of Orange would do.

Persistent Prince – Part One

Miss Catherine Middleton

I’m not convinced “Waity Katie” is an entirely accurate nickname.  With all the speculation and rumor over the last eight years, who was really the party that waited, or more importantly, the party that persisted?

During the Regency period, speculation and rumor also abounded.  Overwrought correspondence, backstairs intrigue and the unhappy marriage of Charlotte’s parents nearly scotched the unlikely courtship of England’s heiress by a penniless German prince–but for his persistence.

Leopold had no money but early on he had a way of attracting the rich and mighty, among them two emperors.  The first was Napoleon, who asked the young officer to join his army. In a fateful decision, Leopold instead accepted a commission in the Russian Imperial Army and went on to distinguish himself on the battlefield.  The Tsar brought him to England as a member of his retinue to celebrate the Allied victory over the Little Corporal.   It was then our hero was granted an audience with England’s princess.

Prince Leopold is introduced to Princess Charlotte

It seems Prince Leopold scarcely made an impression, favorable or otherwise, in Charlotte’s reception salon.

But he was persistent.

The Windsors aka Saxe-Coburg-Gothas

Prince Leopold

Regency’s beloved Princess Charlotte married Prince Leopold, formally Leopold Georg Christian FriedrichPrince of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.  Saalfeld was switched out for Gotha.

You pronounce Georg GEE-org.

And here I was thinking Baroness Schrader was mangling the captain’s Christian name in The Sound of Music. The one with the smoky voice.  Sultry.  Cigarettes in long holders.  Glad to get that cleared up.

Prince William

Hmmm, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha:

Leopold was not fated to give his surname to a new English dynasty.  But later his nephew Albert did.

The Saxe-Coburg and Gotha dynasty of England became known as the Windsors.  It’s all of a piece.  And all in the family.

A year after the events in Notorious Vow, Diana announced her preference to stroll rather than ride with Vivien along Hyde Park’s Rotten Row.  She blamed Garnet’s pregnancy to justify this deviation.  Vivien was glad for the chance to walk with her friend for she had heard the Princess Charlotte had declared a preference for one of her suitors.

“I hear Her Royal Highness has fixed on some minor prince in the Emperor of Russia’s train,” Vivien remarked as they entered the Grosvenor gate of the park.

“I’ve heard that as well.  But Her Royal Highness may be fixed on the Emperor’s pet monkey for all Prinny cares.” Diana shook out the folds of her short pelisse.  It had just been made up by her modiste and featured the latest craze for Spanish buttons.  “The Regent is set on her marrying the Young Frog of Orange.”

“But why should he?” Vivien wondered aloud.  “Is he all that keen on a Dutch alliance now that Napoleon is defeated?”

Diana linked her arm through Vivien’s.  “The dutchman is willing to take Princess Charlotte out of the country.  Prinny has always been quite jealous of her popularity with the people.”

They walked in silence for awhile, broken only by various acquaintances that hailed them from time to time.

“Do you know his name?” Vivien presently asked.  “The German prince?”

“Prince Leopold of Saxon Schloss von something or other.”

“Oh, that cannot be his name.”  Vivien giggled.  “Be serious.”

“Does it matter?  Prinny is not going to let anyone have her that won’t take her away from England.  And Leopold hasn’t a feather to fly with.”