-xviii-

               One night over a dinner with Louis-Philippe, Fred Weatherall, Will Villette, and Maria Fitzherbert, they all discuss the streak of irrational cruelty which seems to run in the royal family.

             “Many of us here have suffered from it,” says Maria, who chews solely behind the napery these days. “I hear poor Caroline has now been banned even from writing to her daughter…”

              “Yes. So have I,” Edward says. “Caroline ought to make this public — so the mob can storm Carlton House. I am so sick of this endless hell he builds for her…’ But he thinks about the vast imponderably awful hell Wales has been assiduously building for himself for the last quarter-century. No matter how he behaves, Wales is still his big brother. At times Edward despises himself for the love, the bond that cannot break.

                “Caroline’s decided to leave the country instead,’ says Maria. ‘She’s first taking a tour of Italy, and then going on to the eastern Mediterranean…” But her pronunciation suddenly becomes curious. “I dink id due to da Sapio fadily scandal, nussing nezzry de do only vid Charlotte. Soggy vut I teesh hiss boddering ee; I dry hixing tem…” She plunges her fingers into her mouth and rummages there, her frizzy curls bobbing. We get used to anything, don’t we?

                ‘I think I know what you mean,’ he tells her, unsure he knows it all, though.

              The Sappio business was hardly a scandal. Caroline had become fascinated with a family of itinerant Italian musicians. By all accounts they were rather bad musicians, but there was a handsome young singer, Chanticleer – his real name, evidently. She’d had these accomplished spongers living at Montague House, until one of the Regent’s spies reported suspicions of an affair. Wales ordered Caroline to get rid of the Sapios immediately; but she merely moved them into a cottage in Bayswater, not far from Connaught Place, whence, by coincidence, she was soon due to move herself. Willful as ever, she continued to have the musicians to dinner, at which events they were also the entertainment. She often accompanied them too, her voice and playing not much worse than theirs. Incensed by the relentless rumours of infamous behaviour drifting in from Blackheath, and now from Bayswater, the Regent  is overjoyed to hear of Caroline’s plans for a lengthy absence from England, instantly agreeing to grant her a substantial allowance to be absent, and to remain absent for as long as she wishes – if not longer. 

               “But Caroline suspects he’ll now surround her with spies,” Maria says, her teeth apparently tamed, “on the assumption that, so far from home, she’ll be less cautious in her amours, and, sooner or later, she’ll surely be witnessed in flagrante delicto — so he can finally get his divorce. It’s all he ever thinks about – in fact it’s all he’s ever thought about for nearly twenty years now…” The strain of a half a lifetime with Wales is now showing all over her strained face, in bluish pouches below the eyes, in networks of fine lines like engraved cobwebs, and in the general pull of gravity dragging down everything that used to be up. Smiles become grimaces, laughing eyes are weighed down by sorrow. Even her ears seem to have sagged.

              “You know, Maria,” he says, finding the beef unusually resistent to his knife, “I’ve never believed she has actual affairs; they’re just girlish romances, little enthusiasms — mostly all in her mind. She has this need to shock, but, in reality, it’s a need for attention… and for the affection she’s been denied    so long …”

             “One can hardly blame the lady for that,” says Louis-Philippe, also battling with his meat.

             “You may well be right,” says Maria. “But I think her preference is for women anyway – the men are just a façade to hide an inclination she knows is scandalous to the mob — unacceptable if she wishes to remain popular… which she does. The rumours were once rife, but now she’s quelled them with the kind of dalliance no one would deny her…”

              “This beef is truly unforgiveable,” Julie tells the table, requesting that her guests cease fighting with it. She orders footmen to clear the plates, asking one, “Tell Cook not to buy cows from the mortuary in future – if indeed it was a cow…”

              They fall to discussing the latest news from Europe, of which Louis-Philippe has much that is not public knowledge from his own formidably extensive sources in a country where, after all, he is still in line for the throne.

             “Is this thrashing at Leipzig going to be his ruin?” asks Weatherall.

             “The man is full of surprises,” replies the duc, “but one has to view him as the French people do.”

               “In what sense?” Villette inquires, leaning in closer, since his hearing is now deteriorating, along with much else.

              “There are really two senses,” Louis-Philippe tells Villette. “There are his achievements in public works: the many hundred miles of new roads, all of them lined most fetchingly with poplar trees; the new harbours, with imposing fortifications to protect them; the schools for all; the Civil Code, enshrining many rights fought and died for; the Louvre and its magnificent collection of art for public viewing; and the overwhelming grandeur of buildings and boulevards which have made Parisians proud of their imperial capital. Your Frenchman loves to feel proud, remember. Next, and nearly equal in significance, is Bonaparte’s management of his own legend, not just in his personal written accounts of campaigns and triumphs, but also in the many works of art – the bas-reliefs, sculptures, and paintings – which depict the ever-burgeoning magnificence of his reign, and his progress toward a mythic status. It was once the Roman emperors to whom he wished to be compared; but now, I hear, his egoism knows almost no bounds. He’s even reported to have said that the ‘love of glory is like the bridge Satan tried to build across Chaos to reach Paradise’ – and, remember, he altered his coronation oath to include ‘and bring glory to France’. His court painter, Davide, is allegedly embarrassed by being forced to make his portraits increasingly lack all resemblance to their rather plump and aging subject. They now look more like homages to legendary heroes riding equally legendary steeds. He had a sculpture of himself smashed because it gave his face a wicked mien, telling the artist he did not win victories with his fists but with his mind. I’m even told Bonaparte wrote a letter to his stepson, Eugene de Beauharnais, who’s viceroy for the infant king of Italy, instructing him to copy it out and send it to the Pope, as if it were written by Eugene himself. It stated that Bonaparte could now only be compared in stature with Cyrus and Alexander…”

             “Both ‘the Great’,” Edward observes. There is little he diesn’t know about Napoleon anymore.

              “Both also honoured by the Egyptian priesthood with their own divine temple cults,” the garrulous Louis-Philippe adds. “Does he imagine the Pope will sanctify him while he’s still alive?”

                “Is that why he was so keen to conquer Egypt?” asks Weatherall.

               “The Egyptian priesthood vanished nearly two millennia ago,” says Edward, “but his reasons for going there, like everything about him, seem twofold. On one hand, he wanted to cut off our trade routes with the east; but on the other hand, he took with him a legion of scholars and artists, nearly 200 of them, to make as complete a survey of the ancient remains and their civilization as possible. Remember too that what took Cyrus and Alexander to Egypt was a desire to learn the secret which allowed a civilization to survive almost unchanged for well over 2,000 years. No empire has ever survived for even a quarter of Egypt’s time. This was also, presumably, one of Napoleon’s goals, to discover what enabled them to sustain a changeless world for well over two housand years. What was the reason to disguise a scientific expedition as a military campaign? Only a few people have witnessed the depth of Napoleon’s knowledge of and interest in ancient Egypt, and all were astonished by it. He was more concerned with the artefacts brought back, and the progress of scholarship from his expedition, than he was with running France. He realized that Egyptian mathematics preceded Pythagoras by over twenty centuries, and that the Great Pyramid was no tomb. His military purposes were genuine enough, but it was the symbolism of Egypt which intrigued him more – he put sphinxes on the furniture, obelisks everywhere…”

                 “As always, duplicity,” says Louis- Philippe, holding his wine glass up to a candle and gazing into the ruby reflections thoughtfully, before continuing, “How do you know all this, Kent?”

                 “Through brother masons in Paris who were part of the scientific team in Egypt,” Edward replies. “Without violating any oath, I can tell you that masons have an intense interest in certain ancient structures, the Great Pyramid being one of the most interesting among them – along with Solomon’s Temple. We have long understood symbolic aspects of it, but until now we’ve lacked accurate scientific studies. Thanks to Napoleon, we now have them, and they so far exceed our wildest dreams in confirming the information in our own traditional writings. The excitement has initiated a constant flow of information from their lodges to our own. I mention it only to shed light on Napoleon’s hidden agenda, which is definitely there, but far from understood in any political context…”

                 “Hah,” says Louis-Philippe. “But he can no longer pretend to be upholding the ideals of the Revolution and republicanism by placing his awful relatives on the thrones of petty monarchies, can he? And now finding he cannot trust even them! Sacre bleu! He lives in more ostentatious splendour than any Bourbon ever did – I don’t doubt that many are wondering why they put up with his endless wars when they could restore the monarchy and live peacefully. Apparently, the coffers are so depleted that he had to counterfeit Russian rubles to finance the advance on Moscow. Where is ancient Egypt in all this, hmm?”

             “Is it true the allies have now crossed the Rhine and are advancing on Paris ?” inquires Villette, cocking his head to hear the answer.

              “All I know is that he’s put Joseph Bonaparte in charge of Paris, with all its gates heavily armed,” Louis-Philippe says. “He’s trying to separate the allied armies and fight them individually. But it’s not working. Bonaparte is not used to fighting in retreat, less still to suffering so many minor defeats. Obviously, the Pyramid did not divulge its secrets…”

               “Or perhaps it did,” adds Weatherall. 

               At least this ends the overly serious mood. B ut then Julie surprises them all by saying, “I hear the Imperial Family has been sent away somewhere far in the south…”

             “Hah,” says Louis-Philippe. “Does he think he can use his wife as a bargaining chip with her father?”

               “The thought of his son being raised as an Austrian prince must worry him,” Weatherall says, pressing a web of dents into the tablecloth with the back of his knife.

               They do not have long to wait for most questions to be answered. Mere days later, the news comes that ourAllies have entered Paris, and Napoleon, along with his Imperial Guard, trapped in the palace of Fontainebleau, has finally signed the instrument of his abdication, the terms of which he’d ordered Talleyrand to negotiate, saying he would never himself detail the conditions of his own destruction. Fouchet had suggested the emperor be exiled to America; but Talleyrand, eager to ingratiate himself with a new regime, proposed a Bourbon restoration, with Napoleon exiled as Emperor of Elba, a tiny island off the coast of Italy, almost within view of his birthplace, Corsica. This new ‘empire’ is a cruel joke — he’s really to be a prisoner on the little island. He will, however, receive a pension of one million francs, and be allowed a retinue of four hundred soldiers and servants – although every man in his guard was still willing to leave wives and families to join him there in exile. The army had still not lost its faith in their emperor, the ‘little corporal’, as he was once affectionately known. His wife and child are not allowed to join him, though, given instead the Kingdom of Parma, and two Italian duchies, not so very far away across the Mediterranean. Even Napoleon’s mother is prohibited from accompanying him to Elba – although this restriction is later relaxed, giving the emperor access to the many millions Letizia has horded away over the years, certain such a day would come. Unlike her son, she has experienced far more of fortune’s vagaries, and she knows a fall is implicit in every rise. Most relatives flee, and most generals pledge allegiance to the Bourbon Crown — or else they’re dead. Only Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, turned traitor, ordering his Neapolitan army to fight against remnants of those French forces still scattered across Italy. In April the Comte de Provence is officially invited to take the French throne as Louis XVIII; and an absolute monarchy is re-established in Spain. 

               The map returns to what it was – as Mr. Pitt had predicted it would years ago. So ends the most turbulent quarter-century in France’s history. Or so we think.

-xix-

 

               There is now much returning or swapping of seized colonies. For example, we exchange with the Dutch parts of Sumatra for the port of Cochin in India. It soon becomes clear why the Regent wants his daughter to marry the Prince of Orange: we’re obliged to return our lawfully appropriated properties in the Low Countries, and Wales feels the loss keenly. Loss is not something he’s well acquainted with and he possesses no faculty to deal with the concept. But outside and far beyond Carlton House all of England goes wild, hooting with delight that the war is finally over and life can go on its way again without ruin and death as boon companions. There are bonfires on every hill, drinking in every dale, dancing in the streets, lights flaring in every house, and more illuminations flickering on the domes and crenellations of government buildings. There’s also the new gas lighting, transforming nights in the city centre with their gloomy dangerous alleys into a fairyland of perpetual radiance. London glows these days like the very world’s own capital – which is exactly what it’s coming to be now the threat of Napoleon has been removed and desperately vital trade can resume. Now wealth can resume too, which is more to the point in the eyes of some. England is the only country left unscarred by the depredations of war; most of Europe was ravaged by the armies sweeping over farmlands and through cities, burning, looting, raping, murdering or just blowing everything to pieces, which tasks are what an army is really for. Someone else’s army, that is – and we haven’t seen one of those since 1066. So, we’re in excellent shape to proceed along the paths of peace and commerce, this nation of shopkeepers, as Boney called us when he was still an ogre. 

               Only one Englishman finds himself something less than pleased by all these indicators, festivities and celebrations: This is, of course, the Prince Regent. His latest reason for not being happy is that Czar Alexander has taken credit for vanquishing Napoleon. Wales usually has a reserve grievance, and he’s also furious that his coronation has to be postponed until the King dies; which is an event expected at any moment for the past few years, yet never arriving. Although he played no part in the war, Wales feels he did, feels our armies in the Peninsular were his armies and they played as great a role as Russia’s forces did. This is not untrue of course, but would be truer if amended to “nearly as great a role”. You would think at such a time that personal matters are put aside for global concerns. But no. Wales is additionally driven to distraction by a deluge of letters from his wife Caroline insisting that, when the time comes, she should be crowned Queen beside him. You ask yourself how much of her there is left to unravel. You wonder what it’s like inside her head. Although you’d rather be in that head if the only other choice was just the Wales noggin.

                “What happened to her world tour?” he asks Maria Fitzherbert, who still sees Caroline quite frequently. Whether out of habit or pity or common decency is hard to say.

                Maria now pats the spiralling nest of her hair, looking thoughtful. “You know how she is – not entirely rational,’ she says. He thinks: Substitute ‘remotely’ for ‘entirely’, as Maria goes on. “She really believes it’s her right to be recognized as the queen she’ll  actually be… unless they divorce. She insists on attending his coronation too, whenever that happens. I can only imagine Prinny’s mortification…”

              Shaking his head slowly, he says, “Christ! Is she mad? Wales hasn’t seen or spoken to her for twenty years, and she still thinks he’ll crown her his queen! It’s so… so… well, it’s pathetic is what it is…”

             “I see. But,” Julie says, aligning knives and forks into triangles on the dining table, “we know she’s mad, in her own sweet way; but what does the Law say about her rights in this matter? After all, she is still the future king’s wife…”

               “Then she ought to know that Wales will do exactly what he likes,” Edward says, wondering about her cutlery triangles, wondering how the darkness is behaving in the locked chamber of her mind.

              “She asked about Caroline’s legal rights,” says Maria acidly, “not what the Regent would or would not do…” He needs to remind himself that Maria too has her own unique darkness to contend with: Wales won’t talk to her now either.

                 “Ah,” he says, feeling reprimanded, feeling five. “Yes. Well, I must confess I don’t know what her legal situation is… but he could always cite the Delicate Inquiry, and maintain she’s been proven unfit to be his queen, couldn’t he?”

             “Possibly. But what might Parliament have to say?” Julie asks, rather too smugly for his liking, rather too deliberately.

               “For God’s sake,” he says irritably, “Wales will do exactly what he wants to do… How much clearer can I be?”

             “Clearly not much more,” says Julie, giving him a hard glare with granite eyes, a glare of impending night.

                “I’m sorry for bringing any disharmony here,” Maria says quietly and sincerely, looking from side to side at her hosts.

                 “No, no, no,” he assures his guest. “I’m the cause of it. Probably because I resent being under my brother’s control as much as Caroline does. But,” he goes on, after some consideration, stunned by his own frankness, “I also understand his frustration at being king in all but name. I wish my father could be made to abdicate… yet that’s no longer possible. You might as well ask the castle to relocate itself. He hears nothing, sees nothing, and understands less than nothing. Even if he signed the instrument of abdication it would be invalid, since everyone knows he’s not responsible for his actions…” He thinks: What must that be like, to not be the cause of your own effects?

              “Why not propose a bill in the House authorizing abdication by proxy in cases of insanity?” Maria suggests, no doubt wondering why no one else has arrived at the obvious.

              “It would make public something we’ve tried to conceal,” he tells her – one of the things we try to conceal. “And it also calls into question the whole monarchical issue…” Maria ought to have realised nothing is obvious in this family.

              “Which is what exactly?” says Julie darkly.

               “Monarchy has always been a thorny subject in England,” he explains. “The question of who exactly has the right of succession is still raised. We’re Germans, after all, and we don’t want to resurrect the issue of how we’ve come to rule, do we? There are still nobles who support a Plantagenet monarchy, or the Stewart line. Abdication would only antagonize such people. Some even support a Tudor succession, citing some Bristol farrier or Birmingham haberdasher as the legitimate heir…”

               “In a a word then, fear,” Julie says, looking amused, darkly amused.

                “If so,” he tells her, “it’s a fear that haunted even Henry VIII, who promoted the myth of King Arthur – his deceased elder brother’s namesake, I might add — to support the much-disputed notion of an English monarchic line existing at all. Henry showed the visiting Spanish sovereign King Arthur’s legendary round table – which had been a square table the week before, of course…” He’s trying to make this humorous, but inspiring mirth is not among his many talents.

            ‘We had similar arguments in France,’ Julie says, less darkly now – perhaps a little greyish though?. ‘In fact, our dear friend Louis-Philippe is considered by some to be the legitimate heir, the Orleanists and not the Bourbons…’ What, she wonders, happened to the Merovingians?

              ‘Well,’ adds Maria, fiddling with wax she’s peeled from the candelabra, ‘how did it all start, kings and nobles, I mean? It must have been the man who had the most pigs or sheep, no?’

              ‘And the most thugs,’ says Julie, almost lightly this time.

            ‘You don’t think God started it?’ he asks, quite seriously. But he really wants to see where everyone present stands on an issue important to all of them in one way or another, or so you would imagine. But he’s aware that believers in a divine right are thin on the ground in these modern times.

            ‘Ha. No, not God…’. God proves to be the biggest loser here tonight – divine right or not.