On March 20th, it’s announced in the Times that the Duke of York has resigned as C-in-C: ‘…acquitted of dishonesty but censured for indiscretion’—a fairly just verdict, he thinks, in my humble opinion. Fairly. York’s little ‘club’ did a little fixing, it seems, but not much. In other papers this day too is a shrill announcement by Mrs. Mary Anne Clarke that she’s currently writing a book in which she’ll publish all the royal letters she received from York: ‘Nothing shall be held back; no great person’s shame or embarrassment spared; no deceitful effusions of deathless love, or lewd descriptions of forthcoming passion omitted’, etc.
He, the Duke of Kent, now feels rather sorry for York, knowing what a terminally bad day he must be experiencing. Not only is he disgraced as an officer, but he’s also disgraced by his poor choice in mistresses. It’s sometimes hard to remember that he does, after all, have a duchess somewhere, a duchess who he’s now been publically proven unfaithful to. The mob has no liking for such behaviour: royalty ought not act the way common citizens act – or, rather, they shouldn’t be caught doing it. Most of York’s brothers at least live with women they love, though cannot of course marry. York had married someone he couldn’t love; obviously he did it for her money – or so it’s now generally assumed. As you might expect, the press is quick to make much of this additionally shameful issue. There are some horripilating articles: York’s character is so egregious, says one, that only his royal title saves him from a life in prison or transportation. Or worse. The amnesiacs of Fleet Street — and presumably their readers too – have naturally quite forgotten that Wales married for similar reasons, is a chronic adulterer, has also treated his bride most disgracefully — and is in fact doing so up to this very day. But we have more than enough royal scandal to satisfy our ravenous appetite for it… at least for now. Edward has heard that Wales can kill a story in the press sometimes, if he wants to badly enough; but he has it on good authority that his father, the King, is able to stop anything he chooses from being published. Our press is not as free as it likes to imagine. You can’t irritate the monarch. But he would never use this power to spare his sons disgrace or humiliation, and he even deploys reports of their misdeeds in his savage reprimands, waving the paper like a bludgeon, as he splutters and roars. Is he still like that? Edward doesn’t know; he’s been kept from the King for two years now. Is His Majesty angry, or just ill again? News of this is of course never printed. Fortunately, the papers leave Julie alone, except for the odd and usually complimentary allusion. The Duke of Clarence’s Mrs. Jordan is far too popular on stage for any criticism of her relationship, or its ten bastards. The hacks leapt at Lady Frances Wentworth, though. Edward now hears that his brother Bill, Duke of Clarence, is stealthily yet steadily marrying off his illicit brood into the aristocracy. He thinks: Yes, while my own sons are condemned to live in complete anonymity, unknown even to themselves, never permitted to learn who they really are, from whence they really come. It’s sad, yet he mustn’t dwell on it. He mustn’t dwell on any of the inequities in his life. It doesn’t help to dwell; it breeds vipers in the mind – and spoils your supper.
‘So now you can apply to the new C-in-C for a post, can you?’ says Weatherall, as hopefully as always.
‘I already have,’ he says. ‘I had to leave out a name, though, since we don’t know who it’ll be…’
‘It could be you…’
‘After that inquiry? Unlikely, Fred…’ Again, he will be waiting for a reply to his aspirations. Waiting a long time too.
When the Duke of Portland dies, government is thrown into turmoil, so Edward expects no decision. With Pitt gone, and Fox now also dead, the House lacks all eloquence. Its decisions and policies are seemingly banal too. Spencer Perceval becomes Prime Minister and, in the pages of Edward’s diary, the world writhes and judders around everyone. As the War of the Fifth Coalition begins, Napoleon’s armies inflict defeat after defeat on the Austrians, leading up to a final devastation at Wagram. After a rout in Spain, Marshal Soult has 18,000 Portuguese soldiers drowned in the sea. Further west, General Sir Arthur Wellesley defeats French forces under Soult at a good number of battles, forcing them to retreat from Portugal. Iin return, Wellesley is made Duke of Wellington. In Sweden, King Gustav IV Adolf is deposed after a coup by the four estates, and his country squabbles with Russia over Finland. The siege of Zaragoza finally lumbers to an end, as Jose Palafox surrenders; there are 60,000 dead on both sides during over a month of savage street fighting. In the US, the Supreme Court has issued a decision establishing that the federal government is more powerful than any individual state. A Nonintercourse Act replaces the Embargo Act, defining the nature of indigenous tribal land claims; it will be fought over legally for centuries – ask Salaberry, he notes. James Madison is the new President. At the Battle of Medillin, Marshal Victor inflicts tremendous casualties on the Spanish. There is a rebellion in the Tirol against French and Bavarian occupation. Tell Julie, he writes: Mary Kies is the first American woman to be awarded a patent; she has a method of weaving hats from silk and cotton. In the Swiss canton of Aargau, Jews are now being denied citizenship – thought Napoleon opposed that, he comments. In Italy, Napoleon annexes the papal states, declaring that the Pope’s temporal secular power has now ended; the Pope excommunicates him – hah! he scribbles. At the Battle of Aspurn-Essling, Austrian forces under Archduke Karl defeat the French, who are led by Napoleon – at last! he scrawls. Under the name Charles XIII, Duke Charles, uncle of the deposed King Gustav, is elected king of Sweden by a parliament that has now abolished absolutism. French soldiers arrest Pope Pius VII, holding him in Liguria for some time – shameful! In the Peninsular, Wellington’s combined forces defeat the French at Talavera – he underlines this heavily. Walcheran: we land an invasion force – finally, he writes. First Bolivia and then Ecudor declare independence from Spain, the first countries in Spanish America to do so. Joseph Bonaparte, now King of Spain, with his French army defeats a Spanish force at Almonacid de Toledo – I should be there! Sweden and Russia sign a peace treaty, which cedes Finland to Czar Alexander. The British invasion force leaves Vlissingen – why so slow? he asks.
His only distraction has been certain events of a curious nature in London. Last year, the Covent Garden Theatre had burned down, and it has now been replaced by a new Opera House; when the public discovers that seat prices have been steeply increaded from the old prices, a mob gathers; the ensuing rioting lasts for over two months. Meanwhile, something very strange happens at a house in Berners Street, Westminister: starting at five in the morning, various tradespeople show up in droves – sweeps, coal delivery carts, vendors of comestibles, bricklayers, carpenters – to be told that Mrs. Tottenham, the owner of this house, has not ordered any of these goods or services; many hundreds of people show up, until the street is conjested; in the afternoon, dignitaries start arriving, including the Duke of York and the Mayor of London. Mrs. Tottenham has no idea why they’ve come. By five in the evening, thousands of visitors have appeared, and no one knows why. It will later be discovered that a certain Theodore Hook perpetrated the hoax, after wagering a friend he could make any house the most talked-about address in London within a week. He sent out thousands of letters seemingly signed by Mrs. Tottenham and soliciting services, purchases, all manner of trades, and requesting the attendance of notables for a war-benefit event. All day Hook and his friend hid in a house across the road to watch the fun and win his bet. He is never apprehended.
‘Madness,’ says Julie, hearing the story.
Weatherall agrees, saying, ‘What’s getting into people these days?’
‘It’s a distraction from Europe,’ he says. ‘People need a reprieve from bad news…’
‘And this is supposed to be good news?’ says Julie incredulously.
‘Well, it isn’t very bad, is it?’
His father has remained abnormally distraught since the death of Pitt; it’s been far too long now. He’d trusted Pitt in a way he never did any other Prime Minister, although evidently not enough to concede that the Act of Union be necessarily followed by a bill relieving Catholics of the burdens they’d been carrying for an age, allowing them to run for parliament, attain high military ranks, and so forth. Pitt had resigned over this, and now he was dead. When Edward finally has a brief meeting with the King, all the sad old man can do is repeat what he claims were Pitt’s last words to him: “You can roll up the map of Europe, Majesty, for we shall not be needing it over the next decade”. It doesn’t even make real sense. The war hardly troubles His Majesty, who obssesses over Catholic emancipation and his coronation oath to defend the Church. You might as well not even be there, thinks Edward. The Prince of Wales, for whatever reasons, supports Emancipation, as indeed does he, Edward, in principle at least; but he cannot afford at the present time to enrage his father by opposing him on this touchiest of issues. Privately, he tells Wales he will support him on a Catholic bill as soon as he’s regent or king. Wales claims to understand his reasons, but Edward senses he’s cursing him behind his back as ‘Simon Pure’.
He tries to keep away from court circles now, joining as a patron every charitable organization that wants him, including the Westminster Infirmary, the London Orphan Asylum, the Smallpox Hospital, and the Lying-in Charity for the Delivering of Poor Women at their own Habitations. Having also become interested in the theories of Robert Owen, a wealthy cotton-manufacturer and pioneer socialist, whose views on education of the poor match his own, he begins touring the country giving speeches on behalf of his charities to raise money for their various worthy causes. Conditions in the industrial north particularly disturb him. Workers as young as four or five are made to toil under appalling circumstances for sixteen hours or more a day, earning mere pennies a week. This is in despite of a Child Labour Act passed a year or so ago. In the mills, as in the mines, these children are breathing in various forms of corrosive dust or fibres which damage their lungs so severely that the average life-expectancy among such workers is just eighteen years. My life, he thinks, in such a world would have been over before I even reached Geneva. As compensation for early death, families tend to grow too large to support themselves adequately. With his own legion of siblings, he imagines he can understand this; but, when faced with the raw realities, he must admit he can’t. His greatest advantage to the charities he’s involved with is easy access to the mill and factory owners, into whose homes, and to their dinners he invites himself freely. After listening to complaints about the fall in profits caused by Napoleon’s Continental System, as well as the cost of inflation, he promises to assist in opening new markets, and increasing cotton production in India. Then he voices his own complaints to these hosts about their treatment of workers, their exploitation of child labour, and the dreadful working and living conditions to which their labourers are condemned. Such reprimands often meet with blank stares; yet when he makes thinly-veiled threats about acts of Parliament which could force even greater changes on them, he finds such men far more receptive to his suggestions for improvements.
Before long, he has a dozen or so industrialists vowing to establish schools for children under fifteen, whose work day will be limited to five hours, providing they attend the school for another five hours.
“But trade ‘ad better increase, ‘ighness,” says Uriah Fowlpenny, who owns two cotton mills, a factory, and the wretched little town they surround, “utherwise we be forced t’lay off workers, or we be bankrupt, y’see?”
“I think you’ll find there’s a difference between being not quite so rich and being bankrupt,” he says genially and knowingly. “In difficult economic times everyone must tighten his belt, owners and workers alike. Laying people off decreases production and creates bitterness, Mr. Fowlpenny – and we all know where bitterness can lead, do we not?”
“Ay,” Fowlpenny groans, leaning his considerable bulk back in its objecting chair, “but what be the point o’ weavin’ cloth ye can’t sell?”
“There are two points,” he says knowledgeably. “One is the fact that you can warehouse your goods until demand increases; the second is that you have taken on a responsibility for these workers, who’ve uprooted themselves from their traditional farms or villages, and now expect from you all the consolations of traditional assistance in times of need, the same that they received in their native environment. His Majesty, the King, takes such obligations very seriously, and he’d be most disturbed to hear that others were not caring for his subjects the way he does – most disturbed indeed.”
“Ooh, I see,” says Fowlpenny, “I be expected to act like father to ‘em…”
Most of such conversations follow on similar lines, culminating with a dark hint about the consequences of incurring regal displeasure. Only to one man, a pinched, slit-lipped and perpetually angry factory owner, who announces he would call in the army to quell any worker unrest, does he, Edward, have to point out that, as Field-Marshal, he has forbidden all troops from interfering in disputes between workers and owners. The man is much more pliant after hearing this, as grossly untrue as it is.
The Bible Society, of which he’s also president, proves very useful in helping with his Sunday Free Schools. He doesn’t care if people are only taught to read the scriptures, so long as they’re taught to read. It’s a start. The work cheers him immensely and restores a sense of purpose to his life. The more he sees of conditions for the working poor in factory or mill towns, the more determined he is to bring about change. He’s the first member of a royal family anywhere to concern himself thus. Soon he’s supporting organizations for every imaginable reform, including that of a universal suffrage – which outrages nearly everyone he knows.
“You want your gardener and butcher deciding who should form the next government!” scoffs his brother Bill, the Duke of Clarence, quaffing a fifth glass of port after dinner at Knightsbridge. “Next you’ll be suggesting the peasants form their own party! Are you mad? Just imagine the depths to which debate in the House would sink…”
“It cannot sink much lower than it already has,” he says. “And when the poor are educated, who knows what great political minds may emerge from those masses?”
“You mean like Robespierre and Danton?” says Louis-Philippe, the Duc d’Orleans, who has become a regular guest since his move to England from exile in America. He’s present at table with his brother, Louis-Charles. “First thing they’d do is kill us all…”
“Not if they were properly educated,” pipes in little Eduard de Salaberry, who’s now staying there with his brother Maurice, until the time comes for him to enroll as a cadet at Woolwich.
The whole table turns to gaze at young Eduard in surprise.
“He looks a deuced lot like you,” Louis-Philippe says.
“He sounds a lot like you too,” says Bill, giggling girlishly. “I hope you haven’t been filling his head with your social nonsense – the parents will not be happy if you send a rabid radical back to Quebec.”
“An intelligent radical is not such a bad thing,” Julie tells everyone. “Intelligent change will not be revolutionary chaos, will it?”
“Both the boy and Madame are right,” says Louis-Philippe, changing his tune. “We cannot cling to the past, like the Germans, so we must anticipate the future and approach it gradually, in increments, intelligently – otherwise it will explode upon us without warning.”
“Change has an energy of its own,” says his brother, the usually taciturn Louis-Charles. “If you suppress it, it builds up until the sheer pressure within bursts it apart, and what ought to have happened slowly but surely happens all at once. You wake up in a different world, one where chaos reigns because no one has planned for the inevitable differences – and no one is qualified to govern in such a time…”
“Very true, sir” he agrees. “Change needs to be envisioned, and then grown into with care and thought for dealing with all the unforeseen problems that emerge along the way.”
Young Eduard is thrilled to be at such a gathering, and even to have his own thoughts appreciated. He’s being treated like a man, which he never was back in Quebec. Edward knows his thoughts because his father, Louis, quotes sections from his letters home in his own correspondance. Partly, perhaps, because he has little to say himself these days? Julie spoils the boy shamelessly, though, as if the thirteen years of repressed motherhood have sprung into doting life all at once, a revolution of love. She buys him a gold pocket watch for 400 guineas; and then a chain and fob to match it; and then a gold signet ring with her family crest engraved on it. Then Edward tells her to stop, stop, stop: because the gifts will be embarrassing when he reunites with his elder brothers. Little Maurice is already feeling somewhat neglected, he points out, when he and Julie are alone.
“I want to show him my love;” she says, “all the love I’ve been saving up since we left Quebec…” She doesn’t think she needs to explain this.
“Then be affectionate; spend time with him; take him to see the sights, to the theatre, anything – but do not let him equate love with gold and gifts. That is not love. And Maurice — his brother, remember? — cannot be excluded. It will breed resentment and discord. All we really own is our time; thus, the greatest gift you can give anyone is your time – whether spent with them or spent on them, making something for them. What I value most are the songs you write, or the things you embroider for me. I feel their love. Anyone with money or good credit can buy a splendid gift in five minutes. But such gifts really mean nothing…”
“What about all those clockwork marvels you spend thousands on as gifts for yourself?” she asks, offended by his criticism.
“I’m buying the love, the infinite care, and the ingenuity with which their makers imbue them. I can feel that too when I look at them, at the time spent, the care given to tiny details, and the sheer beauty… To bring a new beauty into the world must be wondrous. I don’t know how they can part with their own creations. To make something new must be sublime… I’ve made nothing in my life… except mistakes…”
“You’re forgetting the moral high ground you’ve shovelled into place for yourself of late; you’re forgetting priggish self-pity and debt,” she says harshly. “And aren’t you creating schools for the poor now?”
He’s stung. “I’m merely a catalyst for that,’ he says, ‘the illustrious speaker whose family connections squeeze money from those who didn’t have a crust for dinner fifty years ago… yet now have fifty of the upper crust to dinner every night…”
“Oh, the annual jest! Send a note to the Times…So you are making money at least?”
“The Royal Mint makes money. Everyone else steals, deals, spends, lends, or simply hordes it. If the result of one’s labours is just money, then one has created nothing…”
“Thank you for the lecture. So, am I to presume that when one’s labours result only in debt one has actually created less than nothing?”
‘Ah. Cruel. Unwarranted. I…’ He stomps from the room, slamming the door behind him and feeling that, by comparison, young Eduard is a tower of maturity.
He gallops over to White’s, where he sits with a tumbler of milk to calm his stinging stomach, reading newspapers on their sticks. The club doesn’t carry the papers that now fawn over him as the royal example. As his defender, they don’t defend much: they only aggravate his brothers and make any hope of a new command less likely by the day.
White’s only keeps papers and periodicals that cater to its members’ tastes: they like news that agrees with their opinions, not annoying news that challenges their secure fortresses of solipsism.
What’s this? He peers at an item. Ah, Napoleon is having an affair with the Polish Countess Marie Waleska. It’s keeping him in Warsaw, when he ought to be on his way to Russia. It’s thought he’s fallen out with the young Czar now; Alexander is ignoring the Continental System, on the grounds that France isn’t following it either. He thinks: Didn’t Rose’s dream predict a love affair with a Polish princess? These island women do have an affinity with the mystical, don’t they? Julie often seems able to read his mind: it’s how she knows its vulnerabilities and can thus breach its walls. He sees the shattered walls of Fort Edward, with the bloody corpse of Charles-Louis de Fortisson lying in the rubble, flies on his wounds, his soul already fled. Ah, life, he thinks. Does it yield so easily to death?
He finds Julie slumped on their bed fully dressed and crying her heart out. “I’m sorry I was angry,” he tells her humbly. “I just needed to get out for a while; I went to the club and read newspapers. Did you think I’d left you, my love?”
She turns on him in a fury, eyes red, cheeks wet with tears, saying, “Not everything is about you and your miserable life. Read this!” She thrusts a folded letter at him, and then turns her face away into a rumpled pillow.
He unfolds the paper. It’s a note from Rose in Paris containing only two sentences: Napoleon has divorced me. I am going to die from sorrow.
“I had no idea,” he says, as compassionately as possible. “I’m sure he’ll still look after her. She’ll lack for nothing…”
“If you think love is nothing,” Julie says, her breaking voice muffled by the pillow, “then you understand nothing. Just go away and leave me alone…” The bond of friendship is so tight that she always seems to feel what Rose is feeling.
He can think of nothing else of any use to say, so he leaves, finding an equerry from the King waiting in their hall. The man has brought a lengthy letter, clearly dictated yet signed by His Majesty. “I have to wait for your reply, Highness,” the equerry informs him gravely. He probably heard the yelling upstairs.
He takes the letter into his study, expecting the worst. But it merely requests him to inform Princess Caroline that her father is dead. The Duke of Brunswick, it seems, had joined with Prussia in declaring war on France. At 72, he had some archaic notions of warfare, dismissing the importance of infantry as nonsense. Before their first battle, his men had tried to persuade him of the folly in leading a cavalry charge at the French line; but the old warrior would hear none of it. His sabre drawn and pointed straight ahead, he personally led the charge, with his Black Brunswickers screaming their traditional battle-cry, galloping straight at Napoleon’s implacable wall. The French soldiers must have thought they were seeing a ghost. The Duke was immediately shot in the face, and then quickly carried from the field to his tent, where, horribly mutilated, his eyeballs shot out, he lay a week dying in hideous pain, tended by his field mistress — as opposed to the less adventurous one he kept at home — and several army nurses. Many blamed his quixotic folly for the terrible loss of life which had closed that awful day. His wife, the Duchess of Brunswick, is the King’s sister; thus, although Brunswick is now occupied by the French, His Majesty has invited her to England. Her daughter, Caroline, knows nothing of these events yet. After the Delicate Inquiry, it is felt by all that he, Edward, is the only appropriate person to deliver her this sad news. The King concludes by saying he’d deem Edward’s consent to perform this task a great favour. Edward thinks: It’s hardly that. ‘Tell His Majesty I’ll carry out his wishes immediately,’ he says. And the equerry is gone, galloping back to Windsor. He goes upstairs to give Julie the news. He’ll be leaving for Blackheath momentarily.
“You make a good errand boy,” she mumbles. “Go. Comfort someone else. God forbid I should need comforting…”
“It’s not like that…”
“With you, nothing ever is what it seems to be, is it? Go!”
The older a man gets, he thinks, the less he understands women. They’re so close to other women and the exigencies of their lives; and then they’re remote, hostile, suspicious and jealous of any woman who obtains a man’s attention. It’s as if they own your attention and cannot bear to share it.
Before riding to Blackheath, he decides to call at Carlton House and inform the Prince of Wales his father-in-law has been killed in battle. But he ought to have known better than to waste his breath. “What was the old fool doing in battle at his age?” Wales says, annoyed by this interruption of his uninterrupted leisure time. “I hardly knew the man anyway, so you can’t expect me to be particularly upset, can you, old chap? Besides, the terms he was apparently trying to make with the little Corsican usurper were scandalous; so, he got his just desserts, didn’t he?”
‘There’s a plan to offer exile here to the Duchess,’ says Edward.
“No one’s going to be happy to see that cantankerous old cow,” says Wales, mining his teeth with a silver pick. “The Queen loathes her; and even Caroline can’t stand her. She’ll have to live with you, Eddie, because she sure as hell isn’t living here. I’ve got rid of one fucking Brunswick bitch, and I ain’t acquiring another…”
Everyone knows he hates being called ‘Eddie’ – it’s why they do it. Wales is capable of charm and generosity, when it suits him. This isn’t one of those times, however. Yet, all the same, he will now put his whole household into heavy mourning for a month. It’s little Charlotte’s maternal grandfather, when all is said and done. But you can’t decipher Wales; you wonder if he even can decipher himself much of the time.
At Montague House, Princess Caroline receives the sad news sadly, at first. Then she says, “He was not so very kind to me; always he was giving a teaching of some subjects, pushing them into mine head. But all he pushing into me is the fears of him. In the wars he is brave, a man without fears; but some time I thinking this is because he putting that fear inside of me, so he can be free of it in his self…” The news that her mother might be coming does not dismay her, as Wales predicted it would. “Oh, to see Mama again!” she says, somewhat joyfully, raising her hands to heaven as if receiving grace. “After such long a times it will be a marveling; and she must be staying here with me, yes? Such an excitement I now am feel!”
‘Ah. So, in the midst of death there is life, is there?’
‘Always the gloom thinkings, you,’ she tells him. ‘You must be lookings for the sliver – every clod has linnings of sliver…’
‘So I believe, ma’am…’ But, he thinks, my clouds are usually lined with carbon.
Back at Knightsbridge, a few days later, a puzzling letter from the Baron de Vincy arrives from Geneva. He enthuses over some of Napoleon’s reforms, especially the gaol of a united Europe. Clearly writing in haste, Vincy then says that he’s acquired an unnamed informant within the emperor’s inner circle and will be sending such information as he deems important whenever he receives it himself. In future, he states, such letters will be unsigned for Vincy’s own safety. And he does have some extremely curious news. But Edward disapproves of Vincy’s opinions. Any European union created by Napoleon would consist merely of vassal states ruled from Paris. He’s a tyrant, not a liberator. Vincy goes on to say that the relatives Napoleon is placing on European thrones are becoming a liability for him. They pay no attention to his instructions, and act with all the pomp and self-interest of genuine monarchs, their first loyalty now being to their own newly-acquired ‘subjects’, not to any imperial edicts. In short, they’re wantonly ignoring the original purpose of their royal appointments. Both Naples and Holland are now permitting English ships into their harbours; as is the Czar in his Baltic ports. Count Metternich, the Austrian Chief Minister, had told Vincy that Czar Alexander was an unreliable partner, enthusiastic at first, but changing his mind and policies, both foreign and domestic, often dramatically – and doing it every five years. Metternich had evidently observed this ‘periodicity’, as he calls it, quite carefully over some time, concluding that the czar’s mind had ‘few of the manly virtues and most of the feminine foibles’. The current system, says Vincy, is therefore doomed to failure, and Napoleon will soon replace it with something more enforceable. The emperor has apparently stated openly that Russia is asiatic and doesn’t belong in Europe. He is now forming a plan in which the czar will help France conquer the east. Edward has heard these rumours before, yet they seem to have gained some momentum. With this, Vincy’s letter ends abruptly. He thinks: But how would Napoleon prevent Alexander from seizing, say, India for himself? The emperor can’t be everywhere at once, can he? Had Vincy imperilled himself in some manner by sending this? After all, the French are now in control of Switzerland. Had he been forced to write with misinformation; or is he risking his life in trying to be a brother on the square? His letter had certainly been written under some sort of pressure – but what sort?
The question soon fades, however, for a few days later, as spring begins to swell the brooks and festoon trees with green gems, news comes that Napoleon has married the Austrian princess Marie-Louise. ‘Ah,’ he says, ‘there goes our alliance with King Francis…’
‘If Russia stays with Bonaparte,’ says Weatherall, ‘we’re in deep trouble…’
‘Yes. But I heard that Boney was originally after two of the czar’s sisters for a wife. His suits were turned down by the mother, who loathes him, to her credit. That can’t endear the country to him, can it? One thing it seems we can rely on is his vanity…’ Picking a thread from his breeches, he thinks of Ecclesiastes: is it all vanity, everything?
‘Let’s hope so, Edward. Everything depends on Russia now – and she isn’t very dependable, is she?’
‘Well. Things can change…’
‘Yes. Things do nothing but change, don’t they?’ Weatherall was expecting more than platitudes from his friend.
‘And the more they do, as the French say, the more they remain the same.’ Edward cannot decide whether the expression on Weatherall’s face is one of weariness or one of exasperation. These are exasperating times, he thinks, and that is wearying.
‘The problem with proverbs, maxims, apothegms and whatnot is that they’re never true…’
‘Including that one?’ Edward says.
At the Geological Society, he meets a young Scottish clergyman, the Rev. Henry Duncan, who encourages him to visit Dunfreisshire and observe the kind of work he’s doing there. Duncan is a reformer, passionately concerned with the welfare of his parishioners, who are mostly poor crofters and labourers, overworked, often hungry, never healthy. Once, when supplies in Scotland were low, to help feed his people he travelled to Liverpool and bought an entire shipment of Indian corn there, and paid for it with his own money. He has recently founded and edits a popular newspaper, which has already come to Edward’s attention, as has something he can relate to more closely. When fears of a French invasion were rampant, Duncan formed a militia of fensibles and is now its captain. His many impassioned tracts on social and spiritual issues are well received and go into many editions. Duncan firmly believes that religion cannot be separated from social concerns and public well-being. In sum, he’s the kind of man the Duke of Kent most admires, the kind he is beginning to aspire to be himself. But what Duncan invites Edward to see in Scotland is not the programs of aid or the free schools for which he’s responsible. What he wants to show the Duke of Kent is the Ruthwell Bank, which is the world’s first commercial savings bank, where the poor are encouraged to store their meagre earnings and receive interest on them.
‘Y’see, Heeness,’ he says, the highland accent thick as Scotch mist, as they stand in the windy high street of Ruthwell, watching as a scarlet ribbon is cut, ‘the nootion o’ monies begettin’ monies is noo to ‘em, an’ I’m o’ the opinion it weel learn ‘em t’save…’ The squeezing emphasis on this last word lends it an almost numinous significance.
Salvator mundi, thinks Edward. The bank’s doors gape, and a crowd of locals, in their tartans and feathered caps, pushes its way inside to open accounts. He says, ‘But do they have anything to save, sir?’
‘Ay,’ says Duncan. ‘We’re a threefty peoples. We may see some drublie days, but we alweeys manage to poot a wee penny aside…’ Duncan’s smile is so broad and genuine that it sweeps aside any notion you may have of him as an apologist for Scottish foibles.
Edward is impressed by this bank, envisioning branches everywhere packed with peasants joyfully watching as their wee pennies turn into wee pounds. Rather slowly, though. However, he’s not impressed by the weather, something he’s becoming very superstitious about, something his rheumatic joints have more pragmatic concerns with. Even in mid-May, wind off the highlands still sucks in the great northern chill and exhales it all over a landscape in desperate need of spring. Armed with Duncan’s literature and ideas, the Duke of Kent hurries back south to evangelize and warm up.
‘A bank for the poor!’ exclaims Mr. Coutts, his banker. ‘What a droll idea! Next, you’ll be promoting concerts for the deaf. Be sensible, Highness: tend your own garden; pay off your creditors…’ Kindly and benign as he is, Coutts is still a banker, and he now wonders what he would do with the Duke of Kent were he not the Duke of Kent.
‘You don’t think Duncan has some good ideas?’ says the client Kent.
‘No. I do not…’
Reactions from other quarters are even less encouraging. It prompts a typically perverse reaction in Edward. Rejection by authority figures always turns into the mistreatment and abandonment of his youth, which he rebels against in his passively aggressive manner. Recalling Mr. Coutts’ metaphor, he does in fact have a new garden to tend – not that his work in it will be of much use to any creditors.
The grounds of Castle Hill Lodge have been carefully designed and planned out by him over the many, many months of the main house’s renovation. Having still failed to sell the lease of his Knightsbridge domicile – ignoring his mother’s sage advice, he’d paid twice what it was worth and cannot even unload it at a loss — he moves out to Ealing with Julie anyway. This first trip is planned to arrive at nightfall, so his love can see the Lodge at its most magical. He will never tire of surprising her, no matter how tired she is of his surprises. In the gatehouse a bell is rung to announce visitors. They procede up a steep curving drive, illuminated on either side by multicoloured gas lights, to be greeted by a head gardener, who opens another wrought-iron gate, ringing another bell, this one alerting staff within the house. A head steward in magnificent livery now flings open huge double doors, bowing as he ushers them into a brilliantly-lit hall, where footmen stand in two lines, an immaculate guard of honour, heads bowing, white wigs undulating like surf as the couple pass by.
Since Julie wishes to change her clothes, he leads her to their bedroom apartments, where she gapes in amazement at the bathroom, with its running water and flushing privy, its rose-tinted mirrors and crested porcelain taps. Then she takes in a velvet-covered stepladder, designed to make easier access onto the high-curtained bed. But these are quotidian embellishments. For he then shows her the vast cupboards that contain miniature artificial brooks. These run throughout the upper floor, with tiny waterfalls and working fountains in each room. It’s an interiorized version of the garden at Bedford Basin. It’s also, as Julie herself no doubt considers, madness. You wonder what on earth he was thinking when he commissioned such zany superfluities. But design excess runs in the family. This too is perhaps just his way of putting an imprint on his world to compensate for the one he’s been prevented from putting on history. His thoughts are big, panoramic — too big and too panoramic for the increasingly tiny space allotted to their thinker. Provably a great military leader, he could still become a greater one, if the obstacles in his path were removed, and if there were a path. His mind can freely roam the battlefields of Europe, altering a strategy here, adding a tactic there, transforming defeat into victory; but it is less free to impose the architectural big picture onto the little blueprint at his disposal. To us, it is merely a house; to Edward it is far, far more than that.
After Julie’s lady has helped her into more comfortable clothes, he takes her along the halls and passageways, all of them lit ingeniously by multicoloured lights, creating a fantastical effect of shadows in rainbow hues. The library, now stocked with his collection of seven thousand books, is one hundred feet long, and it opens onto five other brilliantly-lit rooms, making the space even larger. There are private guest suites, designed for his brothers — if ever they visit — each one with its own bathroom, fireplace and dressing room. Bell pulls in every room enable you to summon either a specific servant directly, or all of them at once — if necessary. But why would it be necessary? she wonders. Drawing rooms, a music room, a ballroom, a dining room, and a breakfast room: every space is flawlessly conceived, and tastefully decorated in the latest styles, currently woodsy, Hellenistic, gracefully structured, and very green in hue. Edward had received much advice from the great Wyatt himself, along with other masters of design and decoration, both interior and exterior. He mentions this advice as such, advice, but not what it was or if he took it to heart. Just creating the landscape they’ll see tomorrow has required the work of three experts in the modification of countryside. England was an untidy little place until such experts, like Capability Brown, arrived to organize it. It used to be that you had to search high and low for the ideal spot upon which to build your country seat. Now, you simply build it anywhere and rearrange the landscape around it, adding a hill here, a copse there, a lake, a vale, whatever view you wish to enjoy from your informally formal gardens. Nature needs assistance in order to look both pleasing and natural. Much of the countryside a two-day carriage ride from London in any direction has been immeasurably improved. It makes those yet-untouched parts look tangled and shabby. There is nothing tangled or shabby about the views from Castle Hill, which was once just an unremarkable hill at Ealing. Of course, he has to explain to Julie how it all was before he got to work, how it was when Maria Fitzherbert lived here. There is not a lot you can say when someone who has just shown you a house running with artificial brooks points out the forest moved in order to create a vale leading the eye to ruins of a Greek temple perched on the eminence formed by earth and rocks excavated to fashion the lake behind it.
After an astonished silence of some length, Julie says, “Might I inquire the cost of these alleged ‘renovations’?”
“You may not,” he says, “since it’s impolite to ask the cost of a gift – and this is my gift to you: voila, your chateau on the hill…”
There is not a lot you can say after that, either. In fact, the cost has ascended to over one hundred thousand pounds — a wee bit higher than his original budget of ten thousand. Big, panoramic. But, debts aside, where they always go, he considers the result to be worth every farthing spent. What is money compared with the creations it facililitates? For someone still trying to pay off debts accumulated in Geneva during the previous centruty, this is a question surely begging an answer. Yet there is none. To him, money is like a source of energy able to impel an action of some sort. While he seeks – admittedly with stunning ineptitude – to rid himself of debt, he does not seek money or its acquisitions for their own sake. As easily as he will design, build and embellish a residence, he will give it away. As avidly as he will amass a collection of some kind, he will auction it off to finance a charitable endeavour. It is the act, the process that enamours him. The result is only of interest as a gift. He is far more verb than noun, a man of action sentenced to a life of inaction. In fact, except where gifts or duty are concerned, he values thrift. He will fret over pennies wasted by Cook’s deficient accounting. His concept of money might seem to be scrambled, but not to him. He has an innate conviction that everything will be settled in the end. True, he has no concrete idea of what or when this “end” will be; but the conviction of its settling virtue remains adamantine. He would be appalled to find himself thought of as a self-aggrandizing wastrel.
Julie suddenly bursts into tears and embraces him, holding on like a drowning swimmer. Whether this is from delight at the gift, or from anguish at its cost, he cannot tell. You wonder if she even knows herself. You sense that she can see his intentions and his heart are pure, no matter how frustrating they may be, no matter how much crazy-paving is on the road to hell.
Life now proceeds at Castle Hill. He has already trained the staff, with the help of Weatherall and Villette. As always, to ease the rheumatic pains, he has a man who stays up at night in the winter tending the bedroom fire and laying others elsewhere, to keep the house fully warmed by the time he rises. Army customs die hard; thus, he’s roused at five a.m. with hot chocolate. By six, staff are assembled for inspection. He keeps a hairdresser on call, so that every man can avail himself of a monthly military-style haircut. He was educated and trained to lead a regiment; now he only has a staff, but he still leads them. A resident tailor makes sure liveries are clean and in good repair. After inspection, he sits down with Cook, going through the previous day’s expenses, reprimanding excesses as often as he praises good economy. Like his father, he admires frugality in others, refusing to see its counter in his own profligacy. He is the son of a monarch and, no matter how disastrous King George was as a father, he was still the only role-model in Edward’s childhood. A monarch never carries money, except perhaps when throwing it to the poor. When your image is on the coinage, where is the line between self and money? It must breed a species of scorn. The Queen’s idiosyncratic parsimony has, if anything, made all her children spendthrifts. Is it a comment on needless meanness?
Gossips abound. Hearing of the orderly manner in which life proceeds at Castle Hill, the Duke of York coughs out a bolus of port and oyster, remarking to Wales that Edward has replaced the “parade ground martinet” with a “household tyrant”. He laughs, yet his older brother is not amused.
The unjustifiability of York’s remark is nowhere more apparent than in the fact that no member of Edward’s domestic staff ever leaves his service. “Kind, thoughtful and generous” are terms used by some of them to describe their employer. The trouble with this world is that the testimony of the powerless has no more substance than the wind.
Edward will confess to living way beyond his means, yet it is the means that are at fault, along with his station in life forcing him to live up to it. Even so, he’s still modest in his luxuries compared with other brothers. Someone like the Duke of Clarence, his brother Bill, makes him seem restrained. On Clarence’s permanent staff, for example, are a perfumier, a boot-maker, two tailors, a farrier, a carpenter and joiner, a painter of portraits, and another of landscapes, a sculptor, a tiler, a physician, a herbalist, two veterinarians, a ratcatcher, a chimney sweeper, with monkey-boy, a string quintet, a soprano from Milano, twenty gardeners, a tree surgeon, a glover, and an old woman whose function appears to be sitting in the orchard or kitchen, weather determining which, and crying all day long. Including footmen, stewards, butlers, under-butlers, and maids, Clarence employs over 250 people. Edward has 47. Wales has a staff or some 600; and York has around 500. Inordinate extravagance is thus another charge of which, within his family’s standards, he can be acquitted. It is of course a shame he needs to be acquitted of anything. Only the Duke of York could tell us why we need to acquit; but it is unlikely that he would be willing to admit the truth.
We cannot yet acquit Edward of his addiction to jewelled clockwork novelties, however. Like most addicts, he’s worried by the addiction, or by the helplessness of it. Other people don’t help much either. Dealers, auctioneers, friends, probably foes too, and family all bombard him with cuttings, pages, catalogues, and entire journals devoted to the latest innovations in this collaboration between science and art. You’ll love this, Edward… or that. Castle Hill’s many rooms are soon a jam-packed showcase for… for what? Well, they are triumphs of artistry and skill, and some of them will tell you the time. But, ultimately, they are fripperies, horrifically expensive fripperies that serve no purpose at all. And he, the helpless addict, knows it, knows the weakness, the sickness, and wants it gone.
Sometimes, distractions work on addictions. He’s been an avid and wide-ranging reader all his life, yet now, as a somewhat passive means of dealing with debt and clockwork, he tries to concentrate on the latest thinking in economics. Particularly impressive and enlightening, he finds, are Gottlieb Hufeland’s New Foundations of Political Economy, and David Ricardo’s The High Price of Bullion, Proof of the Depreciation of Bank Notes. Neither book contains much advice about the resolution of personal debt or mechanized addictions, but they do provide the necessary vocabulary for an informed discussion of money – or so he thinks.
At yet another meeting with his banker, Mr. Coutts, he tries postponing the inevitable scolding by discussing these books.
“I scarcely have time to read a pamphlet, let alone a book,” Coutts declares, his wide eyes conveying a distinct amusement, along with their distinct disapproval.
“Doesn’t the proliferation of paper money, ever-depreciating in actual value, worry you?” he inquires.
“Proliferation where money is concerned is not as worrying as is its reverse condition in my trade,” Coutts replies, wryly reproachful, straightening his pristine white cravat, and then adjusting his rippling black wig.
“If we were to stop bank notes from possessing a valuation equivalent to their worth in gold,” Edward goes on, “then how would anyone know what paper currency was really worth?” He thinks: I hope this is what Mr. Ricardo was saying.
“How many eggs or acres will it buy?” suggests Coutts, unflustered and clearly uninterested in his client’s ignorant questions about subjects he patently knows nothing of at all. If he did, he wouldn’t be here, would he?
He tries again, though: “But, sir, surely we cannot keep printing more and more notes to pay our debts without regard to the gold reserves backing them?”
“And why not?” says Coutts, with the bemusement of the expert, the aficionado, staring with eyebrows raised right up into the glossy black cloud of his wig. “I imagine that you would wish to be able simply to print your debts away, would you not? I know I would.” He drums sturdy fingers on the great desk, the plateau of money. “But we cannot, so we’re fortunate someone at the Royal Mint can; for if they couldn’t you, I, and the whole country would be bankrupt, insolvent, in a state of acute pecuniary embarrassment, in fiscal fetters – the choice of figure or euphemism is yours…”
“I thought we were racing ahead to the golden age with manufactures?” he now says, worried by this revelation of a national financial doom, a pecuniary catastrophe worse even than his own.
“But with no one to buy those manufactures,” Coutts explains, leaning forward like a schoolmaster dealing with an unusually dimwitted pupil, “they are as profitable as leprosy. Men are closing entire factories; whole mill-towns are abandoned. If the emperor has no clothes, it’s because he will not allow us to sell him some. I have clients who worry they’ll be going from rags to riches, and back to rags in one lifetime. And…” he cracks his bony knuckles at an alarming volume, “…as if times were not hard enough up there, a loud-mouthed scoundrel named Ludd, Ned Ludd, I believe, has persuaded the idiots that machines are the root cause of unemployment. They go about smashing the factory looms and mill equipment, calling themselves ‘Luddites’, and under the brainless impression that this havoc will soon return the demand for their labour. What it will do is add to the financial burden already crushing the industrialists, who might well just walk away from their establishments to invest whatever capital they have left in something less vexing, less uncertain and far less laborious…”
“I had no idea,” he says, humbled by ignorance of events in the areas where his factory free schools are centred. He thinks: No matter how much you know you end up knowing nothing.
“I’m sure you also have no idea of your current debts,” Coutts continues, hefting a very thick folder from its shelf over to his desk with one deft movement of wrist and elbow.
“Pretty bad,” Edward theorises, hanging his big head in shame.
“No,” says the banker, , “ ‘pretty bad’ is when you can meet interest payments whilst leaving yourself nothing upon which to live. That is ‘pretty bad’. Your situation is what we bankers technically term ‘drowning in a bottomless lake of shit without so much as a toothpick upon which to cling’. The lease in Knightsbridge won’t sell,” he goes on, running an ink-stained finger down columns of bold bad numbers, “which means it’s overpriced in this ghastly market, like everything else. Auction it off for whatever you can get. Which just might fend off sharks who already smell royal blood, even if it’ll only fend them off for a short while. And these so-called renovations to the house in Ealing have by now cost three times what you could sell the entire property for tomorrow – if anyone would want to buy it. Not many people I know desire rivers running through their closets and cupboards. We are in what is termed a ‘buyer’s market’, which resembles any other market, except that in this one the customers, not the vendors, decide the price of everything. Unless one wishes to cart one’s wares home again, one accepts whatever is offered, even if it means a considerable loss. When you need to sell them, assets are never what they seem to be. When you’re broke, no one wants the things upon which you squandered borrowed money, sir. Try selling what you deem valuable and you’ll soon discover it’s nearly worthless. There is a fish – the piranha, I believe – that, if you put your hand in a tank of them, will strip the flesh right down to bone in a second or two. They pay no attention to the man attached to that hand. Those fish, sir, are the men you sell your valuables to. They’ll strip the flesh off your bones without a second thought.… We’re going to be obliged to chain you up somewhere,” Coutts concludes grimly.
“Really?” Edward asks woefully. Who knows what happens to chronic debtors these days?
“Alas, I don’t have that power,” says Coutts, rubbing with an inky forefinger at a stain on the leather top of his desk. “But,’ he continues, meeting Edward’s eye, ‘you can no longer have access to any funds, beyond extremely basic living expenses. A committee will be formed to dispense what income you do still have to creditors in an equitable fashion.’ A pause. A very hard stare. ‘The Rothschilds also told me they loaned you fifty thousand guineas. True?”
He cuts Edward off: “Well, you are fortunate that those Jews have no desire to disrupt their position here by aggravating the Royal Family, so they’re willing to accept repayment at what I would regard as a risible rate of interest…”
Edward is flustered, defensive. “Jews are generous by nature, I’ve found,’ he says, frantically seeking the second half needed by this thought. ‘Even the Ogre Boney,’ he adds clumsily, ‘has launched a Consistorial organization to protect Jewish rights in France…”
Coutts is baffled, wondering if Edward has a hearing problem, or perhaps cognitive issues in general. “He’s also done a lot less meritorious things,” he mutters, looking up from his voluminous folder, as another thought flickers into life. “I meant no slight. In fact, I admire the Rothschilds; they are superb bankers, and willing to take risks on industrial investments no one else will touch.’ A pause, as he realizes the possibility of sounding fatuous, of sounding as if some of his best friends are Jews – the phrase these oversensitive philosemites mock. ‘You must understand,’ he goes on, ‘that the circles in which I move are not necessarily so liberal-minded, and the idea of parvenu foreigners moving in on what they regard as their fiefdom – and moving in so successfully – is not exactly greeted with enthusiasm.’ It is not enough, so he thinks, and then adds, ‘The anti-Jewish sentiments voiced generally arise from envy, I find. Jews know how to survive – they’ve done it for millennia, after all – and it creates a bond between them which everyone else in the banking business wishes they had too. Where a Rothschild can deal freely with relatives from here, through Frankfurt to the Levant and beyond, the rest of us barely trust one another and can only deal within this square mile…” He lets it trail off, feeling it’s more than enough, feeling it’s as close to the truth as he’s ever been on this subject.
“I didn’t mean to impugn your sensibilities,” says Edward, surprised the issue has so much background. The craft of freemasonry welcomes Jews, so anti-Jewish sentiments are alien to him, although he’s aware now that they’re not alien to his banker.
“Well, I did mean to impugn your financial competence,” Coutts says, with his downturned slit of a smile, determined to change this awkward subject. “One creditor being very generous does not a summer of reasonable creditors make.’ A pause. He’s smugly content with this paraphrase of Erasmus, and he lets it settle before going on. ‘With the committee plan,’ he says benignly, ‘I think I can hold the rest at bay – think: meaning they will accept a portion of the interest due them. Being the King’s son does have its advantages, after all. But with this damned inflation and war, the debt will only grow larger and larger.’ He wants to add another “larger” but desists, undoing a button on his waistcoat as he continues. ‘You must find a way to pay it all off – and as soon as possible too. I cannot plug the dyke with this finger forever, you know…” He wags the finger in question at Edward in admonition.
The Duke of Kent makes some feeble promises, but, try as he might, he can think of no practical way to come up with the amount of money now required. Well, there is one. There’s always been one. But that’s out of the question, isn’t it?