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Princess and Commoner - A Romantic Interlude

Around the year 1810 we find Lord Henry Fitzgerald constantly to be seen in the company of the Princess of Wales - something indeed to set the tongues awagging. Caroline Amelia of Brunswick had engaged in a loveless marriage with her cousin, George, Prince of Vales, in 1795. Undertaken on his side purely because the government agreed to pay off his debts, amounting to some £650,000, if he did so. In the hope that she might produce an heir to the throne. Which, in fact she did, exactly nine months later, in the shape of the unfortunate Princess Charlotte.

The two were temperamentally incompatible. Their union was described as "An impetuous, warm-hearted superficially clever woman, but ignorant, ill-bred, tactless, and incurably careless, mated with a heartless and shameless voluptuary" (212). Hardly a recipe for a successful marriage. After a short time the two parted amid much acrimony, and kept two separate establishments. She was allowed the use of a house at Blackheath, and later of apartments in Kensington Palace. The object of much sympathy.

The princess craved for the affection which was denied her. Out of boredom, allowed to see her own child only two hours each week, she adopted the baby of a dock worker and brought it up as her own. In this love-starved atmosphere she clung to whatever company - especially male company - was around. Her name was linked amorously to several gentlemen - probably with little foundation. When the amiable and urbane Lord Henry Fitzgerald appeared on her scene she fell for him hook, line, and sinker. It is difficult to tell just how intimate the two became during the following months, but, in spite of the fact that they were then both well over forty, it seems he returned her affection.

Frequently when the princess was out driving with her ladies they met on the road, as if by accident, and Caroline would stop the carriage and invite him to enter. Lord Henry, all apologies, would say:"You are too good, madam - I am quite distressed to be in such an unfit dress to appear before your Royal Highness". To which she would reply: "Ah yes, my dear Lord Henry, we know you are all over shock - but never mind, let us make happy whilst we can" (213).

Once at a ball at Kensington Palace when the princess complained of the weight of some jewels she wore on her head, saying they gave her a head-ache. she turned to him for advice on whether she could now take them off. He replied: "Now that you have shown off the magnificence of the ornament, I think it will be cruel that you should condemn yourself to suffer by wearing it longer. In my opinion, you will be just as handsome without it". Her lady-in-waiting, Lady Charlotte Bury, says: "I was covinced, from the manner in which these words were spoken, that the man loved her. Poor soul! of all those on whom she conferred benefits, I think he was the only man or woman who could be said to have loved her - and he ought not to have done so" (214).

On another occasion the princess is recorded as saying: "If I could make myself beautiful as a Venus, I own I wished to do so tonight". To which lady Bury comments: "It was evident that Lord Henry Fitzgerald was the favourite" (215).

Then, with the king's increasing bouts of madness, the Prince of Wales was appointed regent, most of the courtiers who had frequented the princess's apartments forsook them for fear of incurring the royal displeasure - "swept away by the besom of expediency". Lord Henry, however, was not frightened into abandoning her. Far from it. The two were much to be seen in one another's company. Often at the theatre, where he was frequently the only male in her box (216).

At one time, when two of the Fitzgerald children were extremely ill and dying, Lord Henry "was in a state of despair, such as the fondest father only can feel". Caroline went to see him, much to Lady Bury's disgust. "I like him", she says, "he is very amiable; but I regretted that her Royal Highness should have exposed herself and him, by forcing her presence upon him at such a time" (217).

It was this sort of insensitivity on the princess's part which caused the end of the affair. Lady de Ros, who ultimately controlled the family's purse strings, determined to pull down the curtain on the act. she forced her husband to write a letter stating: "From motives of friendship towards her, he conceived it his duty to relinquish the honour of being so frequently in her Royal highness's society" (218).

The princess was devastated. "How could he have written such a cold blooded worldly epistle?", she bewailed, and besought one of her ladies to write to him imploring him to retract his determination, and to continue seeing her and remain her friend. "It was", the lady said, "the most difficult and painful letter that she was ever called upon to write". However, the missive fell into the hands of Lady de Ros - and that was the end of that (219).

Thereafter the princess rapidly went downhill. Even more on her own, and bereft of his guiding influence, she was forced to seek friendships where she could. With kitchen-maids and all sorts of low company. Lady Bury, deploring the change that had overtaken her, bemoaned: "It was from the moment that Lord Henry neglected her that the poor Princess became reckless and imprudent in all that regarded her own interests". She sighed for the "reign of good king Henry". "Would that it had continued", a friend added, "Lord Henry was such an agreeable and gentleman- like person, and never for one moment forgot the respect due to her Royal Highness, or presumed upon her partiality for himself"(219).

To which the lady-in-waiting added: "I could forgive - nay feel sympathy for her Royal Highness; but taking pleasure merely in the admiration of low persons, is beneath her dignity. I am sometimes tempted to wish Lord Henry Fitzgerald had continued to love her" (220).

After this she feigned to hate him for what had happened, although he continued to be included in her company. But all around her knew that the spark of love still burned within her breast. she confided to Sir William Gell, the traveller and archaeologist, in her thick guttral German accents: "'pon my honour, I do hate Lord Henry, my dear; to tell God's truth, I cannot bear dat man". To which Gell replied, sotto voce so that only those close at hand heard: "The Lord forgive you for lying"(221).

Again we turn to the pages of Lady Bury's diary: "31 August 1813. Mrs. and Miss Rawdon and Lord Henry Fitzgerald dined at Kensington. It is comical to see how the Princess behaves to him, trying to show off, and yet endeavouring to make him hate her. His behaviour is perfectly kind, respectful, and even at times there is a sadness in his manner, which makes me think he regrets the change in her sentiments towards him; and I am certain he is sorry to see the alteration there is in the society which frequents her Royal Highness's house" (222).

He was still included in her guest list up to 1814, when she was forced to live abroad. In 1820, when her husband became king, she ventured to return, only to have even more indignation heaped upon her. She died the following year.

Lord Henry returned to the less exciting life at Boyle Farm. Perhaps the incident is best summed up in the words of one courtier: "Ah! it was a great pity that he (Lord Henry) did not endeavour to continue the Princess's friend; she had such confidence in his opinion, that he might have given her good advice, and been of infinite service to her Royal Highness; but his lady wife interfered, and prevented his continuing to be intimate with the Princess, and then, perhaps, Lord Henry himself took fright, and was glad to retire before he burnt his fingers by taking and part in her Royal Highness's affairs" (223).

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