The Prince and the Quakeress
Encounter in the Rain
THE PRINCESS AUGUSTA was well satisfied with life. She was Princess of Wales, she had been married for eleven years to an amiable husband – unfaithful of course, but all German wives were brought up to accept that inevitability and she thought nothing of it. She was handsome, complacent and fruitful, this last asset being the most important.
The Prince was uxorious as his father had been with Queen Caroline and all were aware of how he had expected her almost to take a part in his affairs with other women, expressing her approval, doing all she could to help him as he would say to ‘his pleasure’. It was a Court joke. Not that Frederick went as far as that – in fact he was an improvement on his father. He never flaunted his women under her nose; and he was without that irascible temper which was so amusing when directed against others and so alarming when turned on oneself. After all, the little man was the King – and the bombastic, strutting, dapper, choleric creature would never allow anyone to forget that.
‘A pox on him!’ murmured Augusta pleasantly. And on that Walmoden woman whom he had wasted no time in bringing to England; and while he publicly wailed that no one would ever replace his beloved defunct spouse, he was sporting with Walmoden in private. But the son of that union – Monsieur Louis whom Madame Walmoden had brought with her to England (no doubt seeing high honours for him there) – should never be recognized, if Augusta could help it; and she might well be in a position to decide, for the King, in spite of his high colour – or perhaps because of it – did not seem to her a healthy man; and when he had followed his dear Caroline to the grave it would be the turn of Frederick and Augusta.
King and Queen of England! Oh no, Monsieur Louis, there will be no place for the old King’s bastards when his son and daughter-in-law come to the throne. Louis was about two years older than her own George.
She was mildly sad when she thought of George. Such a puny little fellow he had been when he was born – a seventh-month child arriving so unexpectedly on that hot June day instead of waiting for August which was his allotted delivery date.
‘And I never thought we should rear him,’ she murmured. But one of the gardeners had an accommodating wife. What a woman! What a chest! What milk! Why were those people always so much more lavishly supplied? She had been a good woman who took to the child as though he were her own and suckled him and guarded him so that in a few months he made up for that early arrival.
George Frederick William! He would be Prince of Wales when the old man went and Frederick became King. Perhaps it would have been better if Edward had been the elder. George was so meek. That was it … meek. And he could not learn. It was not that he did not try. George tried very hard, for George was a good boy. He would do everything he was told; that was why it was so necessary to watch him for fear the wrong people might do the telling; Princess Augusta was determined that only one person should; and that was herself.
She smiled and decided to visit the nursery. Frederick was probably already there. He liked to be with the children and was a good father to them in as much as he showered them with affection and they in return adored him. People might laugh at Frederick but he was a good parent. Queen Caroline, who was reputed to have been a wise woman, had said of him: ‘My dearest firstborn is the greatest ass, the greatest liar, and the greatest canaille and the greatest beast in the whole world, and I heartily wish he were out of it.’
German candour! But although the English laughed at it – and one had to admit laughed at Fred – they did not admire it. Perhaps they would have been disappointed if there were not quarrels in the royal family. Who knew? But at the same time they cheered wildly when she appeared with the children and they approved – outwardly – of a pleasant family life. Fred at least was not quarrelling with his son as his father had quarrelled with him and his grandfather had quarrelled with his father. Quarrelling in German families seemed the natural thing to do. But Fred was different; he loved his sons and his sons loved him.
Yes, Fred was doubtless paying a visit to the nursery before they set out for the races.
Augusta rose from her dressing-table where her women had been attending to her toilette and declared her intention of looking in at the children.
Cliveden, the country home of the family of Wales, had been rented by Frederick from Lady Orkney. Here the Prince and Princess of Wales could entertain lavishly and at the same time shut themselves away from the King’s Court. In fact they could build a little Court of their own, and their friends were only too ready to encourage them in this. The house was charmingly situated, being set on a terrace which stood high above the river. The gardens were cultivated to appear natural and thus supply the maximum charm. Daisies and buttercups mingled with lilies and roses; and because of his love of the theatre Frederick had ordered that a stage be built near the river. This spot was shut in by yews which formed a natural theatre, and it was greatly appreciated by visitors to Cliveden; and as Frederick shared his family’s enthusiasm for music it was most frequently used for concerts, when orchestras would be brought from London to Cliveden to entertain the guests. The children were encouraged to take part in these theatrical entertainments and when they performed, the Prince and Princess would make it a gala occasion.
Frederick was very popular in the district, living simply with his family, mingling with their neighbours and even playing the cello in the local musical group.
Life at Cliveden was not devoted entirely to these diversions. Ambitious men found their way to what was called the Prince’s Court in opposition to that of his father. William Pitt came often, Chesterfield, Stair and Bolingbroke – men with their eyes on the future, for choleric George was well past his youth and it was believed that one of these days he would not survive a particularly violent outburst of rage. It was wise therefore to attach oneself to the rising star and this appeared to be the resolve of these ambitious men.
The King considering his son’s activities would grow purple with rage. ‘Impudent puppy,’ was his frequent comment; but nothing he could say would alter the fact that Frederick was the Prince of Wales.
Augusta was right. Frederick was with the children. None could have doubted who he was for a moment. He bore the Hanoverian stamp: blue eyes and fresh complexion. He had been a good-looking boy, but the appearance of all members of the family was marred by the heavy sullen jaw and the almost vacant expression. Frederick differed from the King on account of his easy-going temperament. Now he looked his most genial, listening to his two elder sons telling him about the next play they intended to perform.
‘Elizabeth wants to play a part,’ Edward was saying. George had opened his mouth and was about to have spoken – to say the same thing, Augusta supposed. Why did he always allow Edward to get there before him!
‘So she shall,’ replied their father. ‘We will ask Mamma’s opinion.’
She joined them, embracing them all in turn – her dear, dear children.
‘Yes, Elizabeth my dear, you shall play a part,’ she told the six-year-old girl, going over to her chair and bending over to kiss her. Poor child, she was deformed and unable to stand owing to her weakness. Augusta was very worried about Elizabeth.
The two little boys William and Henry had toddled over to her; she lifted baby Henry on to her lap. He was only two and cuddling him against her she put out a hand to fondle William’s golden hair so that he should not feel he had been ousted by the baby.
‘Well, you will have some fun, I am sure.’ Frederick smiled fondly at her. He could not have had a better wife, he was thinking now as he did so often. She was always good-natured and never murmured when Lady Archibald Hamilton was a little arrogant – as all mistresses will be if merely to assert themselves – and when Lady Middlesex tried to show her superiority with her Latin quotations and her proficiency in painting and music. ‘It is very clever, my dear,’ Augusta would say placidly. ‘My duties as Princess of Wales would not allow me the time to acquire such accomplishments.’ A gentle reminder that although they might have their place in the Prince’s bedchamber, she was his wife and the mother of the royal line.
‘Now we will talk of this play.’ Her accent was German and of course the children were being brought up to speak in perfect English. In spite of an early youth spent at Hanover, Frederick spoke tolerably well – his mother in the early days of his life before she had first forgotten him and then despised him, had been wise enough to give him an English tutor – and far better than his father, who had never bothered to perfect himself in the speech of the country of which he was King, although even he was an improvement on George I who could not speak, and refused to learn, a word of English.
‘Now, George, my son,’ went on the Princess. ‘You shall tell me what play you wish to perform and what part you wish to take.’
He was silent, a little flushed, thinking hard. Oh dear, he was a little backward. ‘Come, George.’
‘I have not yet thought, Mamma.’
‘I will tell you what I want, Mamma,’ cried Edward.
‘One moment, my dear boy. George first…’
‘Oh, George never thinks anything…’
‘Now, Edward. Come, George…’
Prince Frederick came to his son’s rescue by announcing that he had no doubt that George would soon decide what he wanted to play; and it was time they left for the races. The children could discuss among themselves which play they would perform and most certainly there must be a part for Elizabeth.
On the way to the races Augusta discussed George with her husband. He caused her some anxiety, she admitted.
‘He is a good boy but too meek and he makes no progress with his studies. I thank God that you will be there to guide him so that when his time comes… which I pray may not be until he is an old man and strong in wisdom… he may be ready.’
‘George is a good boy,’ Fred told her, and laid his hand over hers. ‘You fret too much.’
‘But he can scarcely write his name.’
‘All in good time. All in good time.’
‘I am anxious on his account.’
‘Forget your anxieties. All will be well with the boy. Ayscough is a good man and I have decided to send for James Quin.’
‘Who better to teach the children elocution?’
‘You mean to teach them how to act!’ she laughed. ‘I believe you wish to make actors of them above all else.’
‘It is not so. But George must learn how to speak English if he is going to please the English. Do you not agree?’
‘You are right, of course,’ she told him.
And they laughed together, being, as usual, in such harmony.
Such a cloudy day, thought Augusta. There would be rain before it was over. How she hated to get wet. She wished they had not come, for how was she to know at that stage what an important encounter was to take place and what part the rain was to play in it. Often she was to think of this day and the effect that gloomy weather had had on her future. Life, she was to muse, reflecting on it, was full of chance and surprise.
In the meantime here was Bubb Dodington in attendance, his enormous body encased in the most elaborate brocade although several buttons were missing and his clothes gaped in most inconvenient places. He always gave the impression of bursting out of them and as though their purpose was not so much to cover his body as to proclaim his wealth to the world. It was the same with his mansions, particularly La Trappe at Hammersmith and his place in Pall Mall into which he had crammed as much costly furnishing as was possible. But he was a clever fellow – very learned, he could quote the classics lengthily and – to Augusta – boringly; and he was so rich that Fred said he could not afford to do without him because whenever he, Fred, was in particular financial difficulty, Bubb would obligingly lose a few thousand to him at the card table. Bubb was a man with his eyes on fame – and he had the fortune to buy it. So he was naturally ready to pay dearly in order to claim the friendship of the Prince of Wales.