Queen Victoria’s Secret: Chapter 15.1


The Music of Humanity

London: November 1810-March 1816


               The Duke of York restored, his griping misery and gripping shame at an end, and his status as the brains behind Wellington’s brawn even confirmed, hypocritically of course, by a standing ovation in Parliament, he now makes largesse his own new persona — as a ‘strategic genius’ is perhaps obliged to do? At a rather belated dinner to commemorate Amelia’s funeral, Edward gets his first glimpse of this new York, who looks for all the world like someone wearing a dress uniform far too large for him, weighed down with golden honours he’s not earned, wielding a baton heavier than a flagpole at troops he will never lead. Edward merely wonders how it feels, receiving plaudits to which you know you have no right, in a costume better suited to Drury Lane.

               Raising a suspiciously half-full glass to him, York says, in his snaky hiss, “Although this is a sad occasion, I must drink to the health of poor Edward…”

               Smiling as if paid for the task, Edward hasn’t even the tiniest shred of a conviction that this toast and its faintly implied pledge of amity will prove to be of any benefit to him at all. He thinks: Am I, now, to be ‘poor Edward’, consigned to the same doleful category as ‘poor Caroline’ and our ‘poor father’? He acts with caution around his brothers these days, determined to keep well away from their personal affairs, as instructed. This, he learns, is something best achieved by keeping well away from their ambiguous presence altogether. For the opening months of 1811, all he writes is: Republic of West Florida declares independence from Spain; and then: US annexes West Florida. A little later, we find: Sweden declares war on us. Napoleon’s marshal, Bernadotte, is now heir to the throne, so it’s not surprising.

               Weatherall, the best friend any man could wish for, has a plan to cheer him up, get him through these doldrums. ‘Come,’ he says, ‘tonight we’re going to get a taste from the newest part of our empire…’

               ‘We are?’ he says, the enthusiasm less than minimal. He’s never eaten out in a restaurant before, fashionable as the activity now is. So, they dine at the Hindoostanee Coffee House, the first Indian restaurant to open in England. He finds the food not unpleasant; but, nonetheless, he won’t eat curry again: the biliousness objects strenuously to it. Like eating fire is how he describes this new taste of empire.


               It took nearly a year, but the faithful Robert Wood had accepted his invitation to visit at Ealing. With Edward’s consent, Wood wants to see the place with his wife before agreeing to a permanent position at Castle Hill Lodge. When they finally arrive, after a rough Atlantic crossing, Julie is overjoyed, delighted with young Jean de Mestre, who’s grown into a lad strongly resembling herself, with his piercing blue eyes and shock of blond curls. No trace of the former misshapen goblin remains — which Edward is heartily relieved to find. Eduard de Salaberry, on leave at present from the Woolwich Academy, is now told he must treat Jean, and play with him “like a brother”. How apt and ironic analogies can be, can’t they? You wonder if these boys suspect their real relationship; you wonder if they realize who these doting godparents really are. In one case, and sadly, you will not have to winder long. 

                Julie’s time soon becomes totally immersed in her boys, her lads, probably to the point of their adolescent annoyance. She overrides any laddish irritation with daily treats, which are excessive, yet, as Edward has insisted, not anymore so noticeably outlandish in nature. He’s glad of her distraction, since he has multitudinous distractions of his own to deal with. His charities are demanding, and so are his debts. Entropism has ended the demands of his military career, which has begun its long recession into a past that is merrely memory at first, and then scarcely even that. But there’s still the course of this war in his present, the war whose end is still far from discernable amid its fog of distant chaos on a continent just twenty miles away across the Narrow Sea. Despite Britain’s moat of rarely placid waters, we are by no means safe from invasion; and we’re beginning to lose skirmishes in the war France wages against our economy. Edward relies on information from Europe to tell him how secure Napoleon’s hold on power over there is now really thought to be. But the information is far from reliable, often contradictory, much of it probably misinformation from French intelligence services, a brainchild of the emperor, and thus, unlike the usual clunking nonsense, often cunningly unintelligent. The stream of untruth, half-truth, gossip and rumour is frustrating. But you need to go through it first to realize it’s mainly not worth the trouble. Then an unsigned letter from the Baron de Vincy warns that Napoleon has drafted a Decree of Fontainebleau, which authorizes the confiscation of all British goods, whatever they are and wherever around the globe they’re found. The letter further notes that the emperor intends to annex Hanover, Bremen, Hamburg, Lauenburg and Lubeck, some of those Germanic fiefdoms whence originate England’s current batch of royals. It’s a clear and present provocation. Next, Vincy cautions that Talleyrand, the Foreign Minister, is working both sides of the French political fence, in league with his erstwhile foe, the ruthless Minister of Police, Joseph Fouchet. A master of duplicity, Talleyrand, a crippled ci devant aristocrat, whose services as a bishop and minister date back to the ancien regime, had even advised the Austrians on when best to attack France; and he’s recently been conspiring with the Spanish Bourbons to regain their throne. Napoleon is evidently very well aware of this treasonous double-dealing, disciplining both Talleyrand and Fouchet before a committee of their peers. Yet he had not dismissed or arrested them, always claiming, in defense of this inaction, that Talleyrand is the only man with who he can talk seriously, and saying he needs Fouchet, ‘the man with a hundred eyes’, for his unequalled access to information from every class in society. Furthermore, the emperor maintains that dismissing two such prominent advisers together would make his governance look weak. Although he does tell Talleyrand that he has the power to ‘shatter him like glass’, he also says it’s not worth the trouble to do it. The Foreign Minister later complains to Vincy’s informant that it’s ‘a shame so great a man is so ill-mannered’. Humiliation is obviously more painful for Talleyrand than any other form of punishment. He is, nonetheless, Vincy insists, never to be trusted by England in any future negotiations that might develop. He betrays everyone, if it suits his purpose. The note ends with Vincy’s assetion that Napoleon seeks peace not war. But Edward sees it differently. The emperor possesses a tendency to extend you his olive branch only after winning a conclusive victory over your arms. He imposes a peace rather than making one; therefore, such treaties are deeply resented and rarely last very long. They’re not supposed to. Napoleon places little value in these documents, indeed in documents in general, and has been seen flinging reams in  torn-up paper out his carriage windows as he thunders back and forth across a Europe that he’s methodically making his own. He hurls out books he’s done with too, getting through sizeable tomes in an hour or less, their subject matter is wide as the world he craves to rule. Edward dislikes the barely-veiled pro-Napoleonic wording in some passages of this letter; so he  decides to regard all future communications from Vincy with extreme suspicion, uncertain whose side he’s now on – or perhaps, to be more generous, whose side he’s being forced to serve. Who is this mysterious ‘source’ of his?  Talleyrand himself? Or Fouchet? Both are only united in their hatred of Napoleon — but it’s enough for betrayal. More than enough; for betrayal seeks any convenient excuse to effloresce into evil blooms. He only needs to think of York, although he’d rather not let that malevolent troll back into his head again, where the smell of sulphur could be overpowering at times.  


               When not in the north campaigning for his charities, he spends more time in his stables during 1811 than he does in the lodge at Castle Hill, preparing to race his finest horse in the inaugural Ascot Cup, and then the equally new Arthur Guiness 2,000 Guineas race at Newmarket. This is named after Weatherall’s Irish contact, the noted and now-deceased brewer. Although riding has always been a great passion with Edward, he doesn’t as a rule indulge in racing, since he disapproves of the gambling involved with the sport these days. Indeed, he avoids all events where high-stakes gambling is involved; yet he’s proud of his horses, and his riding skills. It’s one of the few pleasant memories from his childhood, those liberating rides through Richmond Park, scattering the deer and rabbits, thundering through woods, with low branches lashing their leaves at your head. It means freedom from the brown schoolroom and all the impositions of Kew; it means being loosed upon Life itself… for a few hours on Wednesday afternoonss. For want of any better employment, he thus makes Ascot the first exception to his unwritten rule.

                The event there draws much of London society, instantly establishing a tradition of extravagant hats for ladies, and sober morning dress for the men: silk cravats, dove-grey waistcoats, black tailcoats, and striped trousers, which are now beginning to replace knee breeches altogether nearly everywhere – though not at Carlton House, where the girth of dropsied ankles poses and tailoring and design dilemma.

               The stands are packed, the crowds immense, with nosegay vendors, food stalls, makeshift taverns, ad hoc milliners vending hats the size of parasols, bookmakers, and gypsy fortune tellers all doing a brisk business.

                The actual race is so chaotic that, he tells himself, any organization there may be is not worthy of the name. His horse, Castle – named not for the lodge but for the chess piece, which moves straight across the board over any number of squares – grows restless and irritable around so many other skittish creatures, all attempting to form a starting line. He’s a big horse – seventeen hands – and imposingly powerful by comparison with some of the virtual ponies or mules he’s up against. A good number of other uniformed officers are riding too, so Edward doesn’t feel as conspicuous as he’d feared he might. Memories of La Dulaque’s party and Boston have flooded into his dreams of late: he, the accidental English officer in strange lands, his troops vanished, his blazing red uniform impossible to remove, part of his flesh. Bookkeepers give Castle’s odds at 6-1. A slight mount, Hatter, is reckoned the favourite at 3-1. The jockey looks like a twelve-year-old boy. Some horses’ chances are estimated so low that one is even offered at 900-1, and many others hover around the 2 or 300 mark. He feels fairly confident.

                Finally, a flag signals they’re off, which they are after some spirited equine confusion. Castle tears into the lead immediately, and he doesn’t see another horse for some time. But eventually the hammering of hoofs behind tells him there’s some competition after all. Competition is good, but not if it’s too close. He uses the crop on Castle in a way he’s never done before; but he can feel the horse either tiring or else so infuriated by the thrashing that he’s decided to be perverse, as even the finest mounts can be. 

              ‘And around the neck it’s Castle, Castle by a length; but he’s getting some fierce competition now. The Duke of Kent is using his crop. Coming up to the final stretch, it’s still Castle…’

                 The crowd roars as they’re a hundred yards from the post, still leading by a length a horse he can’t see – or can’t see until Castle simply slows to a stubborn halt… 

                ‘And it’s Hatter in the lead; what’s happened to Castle? Hatter by three lengths; Hatter, ridden for Lord Mulhudder by his stable boy, Claude Piggott – and at the line it’s Hatter, Hatter, the Ascot Cup winner by five lengths, with Stonehaven and then Brittany…’

                 He watches every other horse pass by too, before Castle wearily saunterss over the line, nostrils flared, neck covered with white froth. 

              “The Duke of Kent must be very disappointed after such a promising start,” yells a coarse voice through a speech trumpet. “To finish last has to be a humiliating defeat for such a magnificent horse… not to mention the Duke of Kent, who got off to such a g…’” 

               Edward feels like shouting something back, but he accepts his defeat with a sportsman’s grace and dignity, watching Hatter’s miniscule jockey dismount, with a long way down to the turf for such a wee lad. He can’t imagine hiring midgets to ride his horses for him: Where’s the sport in that? Why breed horses if you don’t ride them yourself? Will we train apes to be jockeys if they prove still lighter and faster than midgets? He decides there and then that this is his first and last professional horserace. He does later ask himself if this would still be the case if he’d won. He asks the question, yet there’s no sign of an answer.

               A man in tweeds offers him 400 guineas for Castle, on the spot, guv, jangling a pouch of coins at him as if he were a common breeder. He ignores the man entirely, handing his horse to the groom, and then leaving Ascot as quickly as possible, infuriated by the dense crowds and astounding havoc pullulating all over the littered grounds. Unless they’re soldiers, he cares little for large crowds. The lack of discipline unnerves him, for he knows what a mob can do when their blood is up.


               Back at Castle Hill, the idyll of motherhood is still in charming progress. He sits unseen in the shade of a spreading oak, watching Julie play croquet with her two boys. The industrious bees compute their time as well as he among violet patches of clover. Swallows dart in spirals high above the woods, flitting to and fro from the eaves of his house, to which their neat nests are glued. He chews on a stem of grass, enjoying the milky taste: another uncorrupted childhood memory – but the grass at Kew seemed sweeter. Sparrows sing their bittersweet songs, one delivering a little phrase of incomparable beauty, which others pick up, and then chatter ceaselessly to one another, as if assessing their respective renditions of the little phrase. From somewhere in the forest a woodpecker beats to arms. From the blue lake a white swan takes flight like an angel, briefly circling her domain before landing with dazzling wings near the reeds, where her signets hide themselves when she’s gone and there’s no one to protect them. He thinks: Where will my signets hide when I can no longer protect them? Cries of joy or frustration echo from the darkening croquet lawn. That angelic swan still in his mind’s eye, he summons up some of the poetry written by that young man he’d met in Paris so long ago. Mr. Wordsworth has now become perhaps our greatest poet. Edward asks himself if a glory had indeed passed away from the earth? Now, while the birds sing a joyous song; while young lambs bound in distant fields, does there too exist an incongruous thought of grief? He can so distinctly hear the cries that creatures make to each other; but does he hear the heavens laugh with them in their jubilee? And is his heart truly attendant at their festival? Does he feel the fullness of their bliss — does he feel it all? But there is indeed a tree — of many, one — and a single field which he’d once looked upon; and both speak of something that’s now gone. Flowers do seem to ask him where the visionary gleam has fled. Where’s the glory and the dream now? Is our birth truly but a sleep and a vast forgetting? Has our soul, our life’s star, had its setting elsewhere? Does it really come from a place so distant, yet not in entire forgetfulness; nor in utter nakedness, but blazing, trailing shrouds of glory from a God, who made for us and all this home? Heaven never lay about him in his infancy; but are shades of life’s prison-house even now beginning to close upon those two growing boys? Will they behold the light, and whence it flows, seeing it, as he is now seeing, in pure, unspeakable joy? At length would they perceive it slowly die, and fade into the light of ten thousand common days? Will we all lose ourselves in the indifferent world and its woes? When will it be, if ever, that these chains are thrown off? If so, then with new joy and pride all the little actors will learn another part to fill their empty stage. Is it vanity to draw down a new wonder from the violet air? Does our exterior semblance belie the soul’s immensity? He then thinks of the best philosopher, who yet keeps his heritage, his misted eyes among the darkly blind, so that, deaf and silent as a universe, he can now perhaps read truths of the eternal deep, haunted forever by that ever- turning mind. Is this now his poor father’s sole task in life?  Pelted by the pitiless storm, will he be one to whom the grave is but an empty bed? Without the senses or sights of such long lonely days, or night’s cooling lesser light, will his tomb transform into a place of highest thoughts, which confer pure bliss, as he sleeps awake through age after age in a peaceful enigmatic waiting? Will grey custom lie upon dear Amelia with the delicate weight of glacial frost, no deeper than her brief and empty life? Or is there joy in knowing that in our dying embers exists something which ever lives, something that nature still remembers, something that has been so fugitive, so elusive we have chased it vainly to the end? Is delight and liberty merely the simplistic creed of childhood? Is it in fact not for such ideals that we raise any song of thanks and praise? Does he sing instead for those obstinate questionings of sense and outward things, the fallings from us, the dust and vanishings; those blank fears of a creature moving about in worlds not ever truly seen or realized? Or is it for higher instincts, instilled before birth, before world, at which our mortal nature trembles like a guilty thing surprised? Or is it for those first dear thoughts, those most shadowy of all recollections, which, be they what they may, are yet the fountainhead of all our few or many days, a master-light for all our sleepless visions? 

                In his rverie he knows he wants all of this to uphold everyone here, cherish them, and have the power to make their noisy years seem but moments in the immense being of an eternal silence: truths that wake, truths that cannot perish. Truths that neither laziness, nor foolish mad endeavours, nor boy, nor girl, nor all that is at enmity with joy, can utterly abolish – these are the truths, he thinks, I trust I shall always sing. Can it thus be that, in a season of calm weather, seated not so far inland, the soul still senses an immortal sea, the one which brings us shaken and wailing into life; and that place too whence we can at will, in any moment of our lives, travel without time, seeing all those lost children sport upon the beach or lawn, and hearing the mighty waters rolling on unfathomed, measureless for evermore? 

               He thinks: Sing birds, exquisite birds, birds, sing, sing out your joyous song; and let the young lambs dance to the woodpecker’s potent new tattoo. We in thought will join with all whose dance and work is also play, a game; all whose hearts now beat when gladness glows at the blissful new eternity of each day – even if the once-blinding lesser light grows ever dimmer to our greater vision. Though nothing can bring back those hours of sheer splendour beneath the verdant leaves, of heaven in a tiny flower, we will not grieve, but rather find an enduring strength in what remains behind. In fragments of the primal sympathy, which having been must thence forever be; or in the holy thoughts that so incongruously emerge from human suffering; and in the faith that looks straight through death. Such strength is needed in those years that bring the mind to mystery’s throne, and thus the self to its own immortal history. In his heart now, deeply real, he feels divine might in nature. Thanks to Mr. Wordsworth’s half-remembered lines, he feels the sublime contours of a Creator’s hand. He feels the healing breath of life issuing forth from love. So much is really love, isn’t it? Love: the wandering heart. He loves it all; and then flashes the idea: what you see out there is really in here, bounded in a shell of bone, and with no other existence. The mind is thus greater than what it sees, for it creates what it sees with sensory paints and clay, with mental perfumes, tastes and textures. Who or where are we when no senses feed the mind? Creator and creation are inseparably one, he realizes. It is a truth from the square, but it has never truly struck him until now, as, still unseen, he gazes fondly at his wife and sons. He will need truths in the darkness that lies ahead. We all will. 

               And suddenly it is the tranquil beauties of a waning summer’s afternoon: mown grass, a caress from the breeze, the dank underworld of roots; woodsmoke and the clack of mallets on croquet balls. The enchantment leaves him in puzzling tears, which he assumes are for the joy of watching a mother lost in play with her two darling sons, a bittersweet delight which will soon be blown away, scattered like the gold of autumn in a wild boreal wind. Ah. As he watches the family he could have had, with their smiles, cries and clacking mallets on the mossy lawn, he thinks inadvertantly: Why was I born with everything and yet have nothing? The seraphic swan flies up again, beating heavy white circles above his head now, before swooping back down onto sequined waters, near the wavering reeds, near her own children. As she disappears in there, croquet mallets are thrown down, and Julie, arms around her boys, retreats from an incipient evening’s encroaching chill into the house, where tea is being served. He lies there beneath the oak a while longer, watching tangerine striations form low on the western horizon, over Bedfordshire. The first star appears like a luminous eye above him, as if peering down through England’s roof. Then he too walks slowly to the home he’s made for a family that briefly is, yet can never be, not in this world. 


               Our successes against French forces in the Peninsular are presaged by another omen: a huge volcanic eruption, which even creates new islands in the Azores. On a notice posted at the confluence of the Columbia and Snake rivers, David Thompson claims the area for us; but when he reaches the Columbia’s mouth he finds Fort Astoria already under construction for John Jacob Astor’s American Pacific Fur Company – the company ship had sailed from New York around the tip of South America to stake a claim — on what will become Washington State.

              ‘I much regrets to say, sire,’ says Robert Wood, a few days later, ‘that I can’t be forcing me wife, me Chloe, to stay here. She be missing her family back in Quebec too much, y’see… It’s a hard decision for me, sire…’ 

              “You’ve done right, Robert,’ he tells the man. ‘A happy wife means a happy life…” It does? He tries to hide his vast disappointment, as he fears for Julie’s imminent misery. So, he has to ask, ‘When do you all intend to go?’ 

                “Quite soon,” says Wood. “And shall we be taking young Jean back with us, sire?”

              “Of course, of course. Much as it will pain Madame Julie, he’s really your son now. Just promise to write of his progress as often as you can. It goes without saying, but anything you need is yours for the asking. I shall miss you, Robert…” He thinks: Shall I miss my son, though?

               “And I you, sire…” Wood’s cheerful face is crumpled with emotion and the inability to express it in words.

                  Edward postpones giving Julie this awful news until the last possible moment; and, even then, he dreads the day of parting. As things turn out, however, he’s unable to be present on that day. It’s no lame excuse either. Yet more tangled family business urgently calls him away. Despised he may be, but still he’s the one sent to unravel his family when someone has become entangled in its webs. He’s sorry not to embrace young Jean de Mestre for what instinct assures him will be the last time ever. He’s sorry not to bid Robert Wood a final farewell too. At least Jean has a good father, good parents. Love, it’s all any child needs. He thinks of Quebec, perched upon its looming rocky eminence in the mighty St. Lawrence, and he experiences a tinge of longing for what now seem to be happier days. The past is always annoying us like this, with times and happiness impossible to verify, perhaps even if you could re-experience it?

                You rarely realise when a final farewell has arrived, which is probably just as it should be. Those many unsaid things are often best left that way. You can never find the language to give voice to your heart and soul. Grief and misery are eloquent; but love is better tongue-tied, mute. He’s glad to be spared Julie’s eloquence on that painful day, when she holds for one last time the boy born of a torment out on the savage Atlantic. It’s a miserable thing to consider that all the pains we suffer in life are of no point at all. No fructifying virtue accrues from them. When you find yourself considering this, your gorge rises, your guts leap and churn. You don’t want to dwell on such matters, though. It spoils your supper.

Queen Victoria’s Secret: Chapter 14.6


              With the world in turmoil and England in mortal and fiscal dread, it’s hard to concentrate on his debts, hard to see where they fit into all this upheaval. Everything changes indeed – but not usually this fast. Napoleon has now annexed Holland, and his fleets, based in the Isle de France (Mauritius, as it will become) are attacking and seizing our East Indiamen. He’s after Sweden too: Marshal Bernadotte has been elected Crown Prince of that country by her assembly of estates – but, he writes, why would they want a French general as king… unless pressure is being applied? The Spanish empire in the Americas is crumbling, with our useful help, as country after country declares independence. New Granada (Colombia to be) has gone; Chile, Argentina, Ecudor and Venezuela are going; in Mexico a Catholic priest is inciting riots (which will lead to a War of Independence). The map is redrawn almost daily. He wonders if this state of flux is in fact the modern world, or will it end?  

               He sits despondently in his study at Castle Hill, with Weatherall and Will Villette, who had himself once given Edward valuable financial advice at Geneva. The subject under discussion is his least favourite of all subjects, the one to which he is most subject himself. 

               “You’re going to have to ask the King again,” says Villette gloomily, his face now lined   like a treetrunk with deep wrinkles.

               “Or obtain a position that pays decent money,” Weatherall suggests.

              “Or,” Edward now proposes the unthinkable, “marry some rich German princess…one of the few left who isn’t related to Napoleon…”

               The pair of companions look down at their boots, unable to countenance the tortured expression they know must accompany his dreadful thought. Many of his clocks tick and tock, coiled and waiting to explode on the hour with a dozen novelties, the sort of cheerful wonders that are not always welcome under any circumstances. ‘I think we all know that isn’t an option,’ says Weatherall at length, more to cut through the silence than because it needs saying.

               ‘Well-a-day,’ says Villette, ‘inasmuch as the King won’t pay off his debts, I’m afraid it is an option, and a very viable option too…’

              ‘No,’ he says, sighing at the reality, ‘it’s unthinkable, gentlemen. I’m sorry I brought it up. We’ve been together, Madame and I, for over twenty years. We’re not going to part over money…’ The rattling scorn in this word surprises even him.

                There are days when nothing ever happens, but such days are rapidly diminishing. Within the hour, two messages arrive. One announces the birth of a son to Napoleon and his wife, the Austrian Archduchess Marie-Louise. The other is from Windsor and brings terrible news. His sister Amelia is dying of consumption, and he must come immediately if he wants to bid her farewell. In Sophia’s hand is a postscript saying that his father is not taking this new tragedy at all well. Amelia had always been the King’s favourite daughter, and she’d been sick with this slow and debilitating disease for years before it was even diagnosed – not that a diagnosis was of any use as a cure. 

              The castle is as always grey and solemn, built for such misery, with the Queen and his sisters sitting in their chilly drawing room. The silence there is so tense it constricts your lungs when you enter. He thinks inappropriately: Does it take a death in the family to get me invited here these days? He asks for his father, to be told he’s in Amelia’s room. 

              “She died an hour ago,” says Sophia, her face wet and flushed. “And he won’t leave her side. Don’t try to talk him out of staying, Edward. His reason has gone…”

                Will it come back again this time? That’s the unspoken question here.

                For a scene of death, Amelia’s room is unnaturally bright on this abnormally sunny summer afternoon; but this light is only due to the lack of curtains ubiquitous all over the royal residences. The bad air must get out, so the good air can come in. There doesn’t seem to be much good air in here, though. She lies there, her small head barely denting the pillow, pale, emaciated, but with an indistinct yet peaceful smile on her blue lips. Seated on a chair beside her, the King’s old head is bowed and pressed against Amelia’s tiny white hand. He gives no sign of recognition, wrapped in his enormous desolation, his red eyes bleeding tears. Edward places an arm around his father’s poor bent shoulders, crushed by the weight of their vast tragedy. “It’s me, Edward, Papa…” He says it as loudly as this dead room will allow.

               The King twitches like a startled cat. His great head, with its ragged fringe of yellowy-white hair and beard, seems to be protruding from his torso rather than growing from it, as if he’s been hiding down there inside himself and has only just ventured out. He now looks up through eyes as clouded as old lake ice. “It’s Amelia,” he says, his voice as raw and crackling as its words. “She’s left me, and she will not come back. No, she won’t come back… although I keep telling her to come…” A pause, his mouth grinding its bleached gums; and then he shows a ring, saying, “She gave me this, y’know, boy. I can’t see it anymore, but I know what it is and what it says…” 

               Aware she was about to die, Amelia had commissioned the royal jeweller, Rundell, to take a very precious stone she owned and make a ring from it for the King. The rear holds a lock of her hair under a crystal plate; and there’s an inscription engraved. Edward reads it: ‘Remember Me’. 

             “As if I could ever forget,’ croaks the King. ‘I shall never forget…’ His mind then folds in on itself and he frowns, demanding to know who Edward is. 

              ‘Edward, Papa. Edward…’

             “They will kill me now, you know that? Your brothers. Oh yes, they’ll kill me. I don’t mind, though. I do not want to be mad. God chooses names, did y’know that? Yes: fat as a whale, he is… and he’ll make me wail. God loves words, y’see. In the Beginning He created the alphabet; and His son is the alphabet – ‘I am the alpha and the omega’, y’understand? That’s your Greek alphabet – so Christ must have spoken Greek… The Prince of Wails, he will lock me away behind walls… and that ingrate York… I loved him, and he does this…What have they done with my Queen, Lady Pembroke?”  The King begins to rant, his face crimson, his eyes bloodstones, his poor old heart a bottomless well. 

               “I won’t let them harm you,” Edward tries to say. He must repeat it thrice close to his father’s huge crusty ear.

              “Oh, they’ll have you strung up so crows can peck out your eyes…Take my warning, boy, do not let them catch you here. Terrible things happen here; they’ve happened to me, so I know… This is the very bad place, the one we all feared when we were well…and now we’re sick it’s here… Flee while you can, boy – go!” He cradles Amelia’s little head, now moaning softly, “Don’t leave me, darling girl. Not you. Anyone but you. Ask God to send you back to me; please ask… Ah, my mind is unstill, it’s ever-turning, it’s cursed, bound like Ixion forever…”

             “You’ve not offended the gods, Papa…” he says desperately. But you can’t talk to the mad; they only hear themselves.

              “No, laddie, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa…Terrible things I have d…” 

               His Majesty stops, now gushing out a torrent of bitter tears, which spatter  like tropical rain  upon dead Amelia’s impassive face. Edward strokes his father’s hot convulsing head, and then he quietly leaves the room, missing so very much the old ‘what-whats’ and ‘hey-heys’, the signifiers of health in kindly Farmer George, the king that was.

               His three elder brothers are now gathered in the drawing room with the Queen and four of their remaining five sisters. The eldest sister, one he scarcely knows at all, yet another Charlotte, had been the only one permitted to wed, marrying Frederick of Wurtemberg back in 1797. She’d been little seen by anyone since then. No one liked her much – this he does know. Perhaps it’s envy or jealousy, he doesn’t know; but her absence goes barely noticed. It’s only Elizabeth, Sophia, Mary, and Augusta who look up with a forlorn hope in their red eyes. Hope? As if he, Edward, might be bringing down good news from the dead room. Amelia only fainted; the King is comforting her. The implacable finality of death is so incomprehensible it summons up wild fancies as a preamble to grief’s long and detailed discourse.

                   Wales walks to and fro in an agitated manner, the sombre effect of his black silk suit offset by a satin waistcoat ablaze with floral patterns. Edward thinks irrelevant thoughts: The man hasn’t owned a waist in years, so how can it be a ‘waistcoat’? Surely it must be a gutcoat or paunchvest?

               “Poor Amelia,” says the Duke of York, with a tenderness he must have purchased from some apothecary on the ride over. “I was so very fond of her…” The word sounds unused on his thin lips.

               “But she’s been sick for as long as I can remember…” adds Bill, Duke of Clarence.

               “I doubt if you can even remember the last time you visited her,” Sophia snaps at him reproachfully.

              Chiltren!” the Queen’s petrified voice rings out, “I vill dolerate no argumentink ad zuch a dime! Zease id now!”

              Edward tells Wales about the ring Amelia gave to their father, that he’d seen it, read it.

                “But you haven’t seen or read the will she left and made me executor of, have you, Mr. Pure?”

               “No,” he says, ignoring the slight, ‘is there a problem with it?’

              “The problem is not so much with it as in it, and then in reading it to the King. For she leaves her entire estate to General Charles Fitzroy, who she evidently believes – or believed — to be her husband. She refers to him as such – that’s the problem, Simon…” You wonder where all the charm that can be in his voice has now fled.

                Fitzroy, as Edward learns, is an equerry, related through one of many illegitimate lines to Charles II. But unlike Sophia’s equerry-lover, the long-gone Garth, Fitzroy is ugly, dull, and interested solely in his army career. All the same, Amelia had been besotted with him, their affair going on for several years. Evidently, even the Queen knew of it. She harangued, she threatened, she implored too; and then she turned a blind eye to it. What isn’t under her control does not exist. The King, however, did not know of the scandal; yet, no matter his current condition, he is still legally obliged to authorize the will.

             “Would you care for the task of reading it to him?” asks Wales, in a voice of glue, adding, “I wish I could foist it on you; but, as designated executor, I’m obliged to have this pleasure all to myself. One’s life can be so very tedious at times, can’t it?’ A pause, as he selects something nasty from his fund of nastiness. ‘But I’m sure yours is tedious all the time, Eddie…” 

                You often can’t work out what precisely has offended Wales in a given situation. Is it the nature of what he now needs to do, or just the fact that he’s obliged to do it, to do anything that affronts him? Edward is disinclined to think about it much, aware mostly of his own wariness when it comes to his eldest brother. He should be wary, for the man will, sooner or later, rule his life. Yet a painful morsel of self-knowledge tells him that his guard will drop unwisely at the slightest hint of common decency, let alone outright charm.

               When Wales performs this odious task with the will a few days later, the King reacts tenderly, happy his darling daughter had found someone to love before she died. Amelia has pitifully little to leave in her will, though, besides some jewels and many debts. Christ, thinks Edward, is a royal family supposed to be this penniless? Wales persuades General Fitzroy to waive all his rights in the matter of this will, therby avoiding one more royal scandal; and then he distributes the jewels among his sisters, handing over to Fitzroy only an old box of worthless personal items. You’d think Fitzroy was guilty of some heinous crime, rather than a desultory affair with an ailing princess. The man is also even pressured into resigning his post. This happens on the same day that Amelia is buried in the half-finished Royal Crypt beneath St. George’s Chapel. It’s never clear if Wales realizes that people other than himself have feelings and get hurt. You’re tempted to ask him, but then you’d get hurt. 

               It’s the saddest little funeral imagineable, with a balefully distraught King propped up by Clarence and himself, the Duke of Kent. Much of the time, their old father hardly knows where he is, or why he’s here. It’s probably better this way. For when he does know the where and why, he howls like a wounded beast, rolling on the floor in a vain attempt to seize the little coffin and its occupant in his crooked arms. The dead may be at peace, but, confronted with death, the living are most assuredly not. They will think of anything to avoid contemplating the unthinkable.

                “A bill is currently being passed in the House proclaiming my Regency,” Wales now says, unable to suppress the overweening self-satisfaction leaking from his overstuffed body. They’re back in the Queen’s drawing room at this stage, their father insisting he return to sit in Amelia’s deserted bedchamber alone, but watched from a safe distance by nervous physicians, as he always is these days. When the monarch is mad no one feels very safe.

              “What of our father?” asks Edward, looking at the door through which the King has just vanished, a tattered ghost, a ragged old coat upon a dying tree trunk.

              “The doctors all concur, my boy. He’ll never recover his mind after this,” says Wales, his thin sincerity failing to conceal his fat glee.

                With Pitt dead, the King has no champion in Parliament to shape medical reports on His Majesty’s health. Wales, however, now finally has many nurses indebted to his patronage, and many overpaid doctors willing to agree that the King’s malady renders him incapable of running a government. The King even agrees with this diagnosis himself, or he does eventually, telling the new Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, that he will sign all necessary documents, but only on the condition that he can still retain the title ‘King’, and attend state functions as such — if he’s well enough to do so, of course. Mad he may be, but he can also be reasonable at times. Wales has thus seen his 20-year-old dream come true. He’ll shortly be King George IV in all but name. Edward has little doubt that he will wield the powers of regent to their full extent, and even extend this extent, if he can. Laws are made to be bent, if not broken. You’d think he would be happy, wouldn’t you? But that’s because you don’t know him. No one in this family is ever happy.

                “At least we can push Catholic Emancipation through,” says Edward, as sincerely as possible. He has to say something to this ominous piece of news.

              “We can push a lot of things through now,” Wales tells him in an amused tone, “including the abolition of slavery – a vile trade. Also, one upon which the French colonies depend, eh?” You can see the delight he takes in these non sequiturs, in being oblique.

               “I thought the Act of 1807 had already done that?” says Edward, perplexed, and feeling he’s fallen into a snare.

              “Dear boy,” Wales says patronizingly, putting a heavy arm around his shoulders, “you have to follow these things more carefully if you’re going to be of any use to me in politics. That Act merely outlawed the slave trade; it didn’t outlaw slavery itself. What Wilberforce, Pitt and others, including meself, want is a total abolition. The current Act simply throws a sop to the abolitionists, while allowing planters to continue using the slaves they already have, and which they breed like cattle, making more slaves, without actually violating the law forbidding trade in slaves. Nothing was achieved in 1807 – except that our brother Bill’s sugar planter and trader cronies can carry on business as usual, with free labour from their human chattels. So do examine these things carefully, Eddie, before mouthing off about them and embarrassing yourself in the process, eh?” 

                He lightly slaps Edward’s face. It is an exercise in humiliation, amd makes Edward bitterly regret not giving the issue due attention. But, he thinks, there’s so much information these days that just keeping up with it is a fulltime occupation.       “My concerns have been military,” he tells Wales, clutching at straws, “and, as you know, largely overseas. Domestic issues were hardly worth following in Canada, since they’d generally been settled before we had even heard of them. I’m now hoping you’ll recommend me for a command on the continent, fighting the Ogre…” Christ, he thinks, why say that now?

              “My God, laddie!” Wales exclaims with a malicious chuckle, “with your record I could hardly recommend you for lighthouse duty in the Hebrides, could I?”

               How to respond? His mind whirls. ‘You supported me after Gibraltar, George,’ he says, feeling giddy with fright. ‘Remember? I demand an inquiry into my duties and behaviour on the Rock…before any more slanders are repeated. I demand a public inquiry…”

              “Dear boy,” says Wales, barely moving his moist lips, “you’re no longer in a position to demand anything of me. I trust you won’t forget that in future, will you?” The words come out like a sliver of glass.

              His legs are trembling as he says, “But the army has been my life, George. What am I to do without a command?” Ah, why leave him with such a question?

               A deadly pause. “I’d leave the army to Dundas and Wellington if I were you, Eddie,” Wales then tells him, as if he’s talking to an over-zealous child. Lord Dundas had eventually been appointed Commander-in-Chief after York’s forced resignation. “It strikes me,’ Wales goes on, having slected the nasty thing, ‘that Wellington knows exactly what he’s doing over there. He doesn’t need you messing things up for him….”

                “It’s a big field, ‘over there’,” says Edward, knowing this is probably the last chance he’ll ever have to plead his case with Wales. “I could command a regiment of Prussians, or lead one from the principalities…” Or, he tells himself, muster a platoon of Cornish piskies to irritate the Ogre to death. God, why don’t I just tell him I’ll sign up as a private and peel the army’s spuds for them?

              Wales leans over until his mouth is an inch from Edward’s ear, saying, “Are you fucking deaf, like that foul old lunatic upstairs? Wellington is my army now; and you are bothering me. Go away, Simon Pure. Go far away…” 

                The last words hiss like serpents writhing around in his brain. He walks over to Clarence, who’s dressed in a black frock-coat, with trousers strapped beneath his boots; he’s abandoned his wig too, growing a handsome set of red side whiskers, slightly tinged with grey. Lower lip protruding, tongue washing his upper teeth, Clarence now regards him suspiciously. 

                 “So,” says Edward, he thinks nonchalantly, “we are now to be George’s subjects, are we?”

               Some of us, perhaps,” replies his brother Bill, the brother he thought liked him, the brother now avoiding his eye.

              “And that means what exactly?”

               “The choice of its meaning is yours; but I suggest one possible interpretation is that those who do not meddle in Georgie’s affairs will be subjects subject to more equitable treatment than other subjects…”

             “Ah. I see…”

             “You always say you see,” says Clarence coldly, “yet you never seem to see anything at all…”

                He thinks: Why don’t I just lie on the floor and let everyone wipe their boots on me? But there is a sense of freedom in having nothing left to lose, so he says, “Is it true you spoke against that act abolishing the slave trade, spoke on behalf of friends in the sugar business?”

                Clarence bridles. “There you go again!” he sighs, shaking his head in mock dismay. “Always meddling in other people’s affairs, when your own are the ones in most dire need of some rigorous meddling…”

                “Listen, Bill,” he says quietly and urgently, thinking uselessly that he too ought to grow some side whiskers, “I have no real income, and debts I cannot pay, most of them incurred during my army service and unfairly deemed personal. What do you suggest I do but meddle?” His voice breaks. They always do when you least need them to.

                “Yes,” Clarence tells him, more kindly in tone now, the kindness unexpected, “I know you’ve not been fairly dealt with. I can lend you twenty thousand; and I shall ask the others to help you out too. Just promise to stop interfering in our personal business…eh?” You wonder about smiles, don’t you? Crocodiles look as if they’re smiling, but they’re not, are they?

              What else can he say to this? “I promise, Bill. I promise…” The unexpected offer makes him swallow back tears, so desperate for some kindness is he. “But what shall we do about our… our father?” he now asks.

                 “First,” says Clarence, as if the answer has been ready for ages, “we keep him from public view, announcing that his illness confines him to bed. Second, we gradually cease to mention him at all, emphasising the Regent’s complete control of England’s affairs. Third, we hope the masses will forget about George III, at least until the coronation of George IV. That’s what we do, Eddie…”

                It’s hard to absorb all this. “It won’t be so easy keeping Papa from going out to his villages and farms,” says Edward, realizing how appalled he is by his brother’s sang froid.

                 “Are there not locks and keys,” says Clarence, as if astonished by Edward’s naivety. “Are there not windowless rooms by the score here?”

               This is a day from hell, he thinks, saying, “Our poor father, a prisoner?”

              A cold light gleams behind Clarence’s eyes, as he picks at the strap curiously melding his trousers to his boots, before slowly saying, “He’s blind; he’s all but deaf; he’s so mad he won’t know where he is – and soon he probably won’t even know who he is…” He hasn’t finished, but he stops anyway.

                “Why would he know?” Edward says, hot tears building in the well of his heart. “You’ve all made him into nothing!” It’s the sort of statement that requires you to stamp out, but he remains rooted to the spot.

               There you go again,’ says Clarenece, tut-tutting theatrically. ‘You can’t keep your snout out, can you?’

              ‘He’s my father too, Bill…’

              ‘Not a very good one, though, was he?’

             ‘Christ! You know nothing!’ With this, Edward finally manages to pace off across the room to embrace Sophia. The Queen presumably thinks their tears are for Amelia. “You know w-what they have planned for the King?” he asks his sister, between spasms of grief.

                 “I have an idea,” she replies, her own voice broken like his. “Lock him away and hope he dies soon…”

                “You know him,” he says. “He won’t die soon. And we shall have to sit down here pretending he’s not chained up howling somewhere in a mad cell…’ He’s not sure what he wants to say next, but it is not, ‘You have to beg Mama to find a more compassionate way…” Christ almighty, he thinks, that’s like asking the Gorgon to be prettier.

               She?” Sophia laughs humourlessly – but it’s still mirth. “She was Lot’s wife in some previous life, but she won’t look back in this one. She hates Papa; she fears him, which is worse; she’s glad he’ll be unable to bother her anymore. She only wishes Papa could be shut away over at Kew, or somewhere else, somewhere really remote. The other day she suggested that new prison they’ve opened on Dartmoor. She was serious too. You know what she’s like. All she said about Amelia’s death was some ugly German prayer – you know, words twenty syllables long – and that she’d been sick so long her passing was God’s mercy…”

They look at one another helplessly, cellmates in the same prison, the one without a door.

                “I do nod like vhisperink,” Queen Charlotte now says loudly, her glassy stare aimed at them. She can smell filial impiety. It smells as foul as everything else in her world.

                “Pardon me, Mama,” he says, almost automatically, “but we were just wondering who would be taking care of little Princess Charlotte… I mean,, now the King is… is indisposed…”

               “Zat iss nod any off your busyness,” says his mother, her composure so like a stone statue that it comes as something of a shock when you find the lips moving.

              “She’s officially the King’s ward,” he reminds her, now afloat on the promising tides of this new topic.

              “Vard or no vard, her vuture iss dezided…”

               “And it doesn’t involve you!” Wales spits, along with a jet of Madeira. “She has her own establishment now, with governesses, sub-governesses, bishops and tutors – so she certainly won’t need the Duke of Ken-I-Meddle, will she?” Another one of those unsmiling smiles.

                Edward laughs at this. It’s better than the other nicknames. A little better. Then he draws himself up to his full height – a good three inches nearer the ceiling than the tallest man in the room – and he pushes on with the new subject at hand. “If Princess Charlotte would tell me that herself,” he says to Wales, “then I would readily concede to it. Yet I’ve been her friend for many years, many difficult years too, and I’ve spent more time with her than anyone currently present.” He throws Wales a flinty stare, or what he hopes is a flinty stare. “Thus, I propose that I be permitted weekly visits to her… and she be permitted weekends with me at Ealing. She’s old enough now to make up her own mind, and this is how it ought to be for one who’s going to be England’s monarch. I shall also wager my dukedom upon her agreeing happily to such visits as I have proposed…” He feels his lower lip trembling, wondering what the hell impelled him to blurt all this out. Well, he thinks, in for a penny…

               Ever-surprising – it’s a trait he enjoys promoting — Wales now says sonorously, “It’s true that Eddie has shown little Charlotte uncommon kindness; and I happen to know she is indeed very fond of him. Thus, with her consent of course, I’ve no objection to the proposed visits.’ A pause, as he lets the sheer reasonableness sink well in, and then adds, ‘I must say I found the life that our poor dear father had set up for her was… well, somewhat lacking in amusements and fresh air. She’s going to be a queen, as my brother rightly points out, not a cloistered nun; and she ought to glimpse life in the society she’ll some day rule. Whatever his faults, no one can accuse Eddie here of not possessing enormous grace and exquisite manners, eh? All of which – and much else more mysterious, or so one hears – will indubitably be displayed at Castle Mill Hutch – or whatever the bloody place is called. We could all benefit from the duke’s library, no doubt.” He looks at Edward puzzlingly for a moment, and then asks, “Is it true you have over a thousand books, Ed?”

                 Edward senses he ought to keep his mouth shut, but he doesn’t. “Actually, it’s now over eight thousand,” he says, feeling like a man who thinks he can walk across a deep river, from bank to bank, and gets half way before realizing he stands on water, doomed whichever way he now decides to go.

              “So, there are merely seven thousand nine hundred and ninety which I havn’t read, are there?” Wales cries, waving his hands as if conducting an orchestra. “Hardly worth a visit. I don’t think the King had more than five thousand in his own library, did he?” The voice has a hideous hollowness to it, as if the speaker does not mean a single word he says.

               Edward thinks: Are the waters closing over me? ‘Sixty thousand actually,’ he says, expecting to drown, but still irritated by Wales’ fake philistinism. The man is not exactly well-read, but he’s also very far from illiterate.

               “Mr. Boswell,” their sister Mary says, surprising everyone, but to fend off the stifling cloud of gloom that descends now whenever the King is mentioned, “he told me that Dr. Johnson loved that library because Papa was always informed of his presence there, and would always come to converse with him… on many matters…” She swallows the rest of this, if there was any more of it. 

                 “That was a pointless, boring story,” Wales says, feigning a yawn that seems to snag on his teeth. “That fat, smelly berk wouldn’t be so keen to converse with him now, would he? Tell the nosy, bum-kissing Boswell that, next time you run into him, Mary-Mary, so contrary…!” The shift from reasonable to vile is so effortless in Wales that it’s frightening, a satanic antitalent. 

               Mary runs sobbing from the room, gasping out pity for her father, loathing for her eldest brother, and hatred for the life she lives.

                 “I think Boswell died over a decade ago,” says Edward usefully.

               “Well, you and your eight thousand books ought to know,” Wales tells him, briefly pausing to make another selection, before saying, “What was that pox-ridden rascal doing talking to my sister anyway? Monstrous nerve!” He looks around to see who registers another shift in mood — perhaps to determine if this one is worth repeating in the future?

                “You shoot nod be talkink to Mary in zuch a croot manner,” the Queen tells Wales, her tone not reprimanding enough to be a reprimand. She knows the power Wales will soon have over her, as well as over everyone else. Over England.

‘Mama,’ says Wales, relishing that power and the freedom it brings. He could kick Mary into the Thames and his mother would now only scold him if the weather was cold.


                 As if the royal family had publically requested more grief, misery and annoyance, Mrs. Mary Anne Clarke’s promised book, entitled The Rival Princes, is published, published in two volumes as well – even if it will be ineffectively suppressed.

                ‘That’s two more than she’s probably ever read herself,’ says Weatherall.

               A bubbling mire of twaddle, hearsay, tautology, eavesdropping, solecism, digressions from digressions, auto-hagiography, gossip from whores, maids, society harlots, servants, thieves, drudges, drabs, liars, and convicted felons, as well as being incredibly badly written and just plain boring, you are soon very easily convinced that Mrs. Clarke had actually written this book herself. But the public and human nature being what they are, the two volumes become an instant bestseller – a fact which Mrs. Clarke is not shy in mentioning to every newspaper jockeying for interviews with her. It is with exceeding reluctance that he contributes to her royalties by purchasing his own volumes of The Rival Princes, knowing he’ll almost certainly loom large in the mangled narrative. As far as you can make out – which is not especially far at all – this narrative consists mainly of Edward’s own alleged secret plot to destroy the Duke of York and take his place as head of the army. Edward’s Gibraltar secretary, Dodd, claims Clarke, had been the liaison between Colonel Wardle and the Duke of Kent in this diabolical scheme to assassinate York’s character and steal his career. Embellishing her earlier story at the Inquiry, she now says that Dodd, in the duke’s name, had offered her 5,000 guineas, plus 400 more a year for life, if her accusations managed to bring down York and obtain for him, for Edward, the position of C-in-C. There are even allusions to Julie, whose background, Mrs. Clarke maintains, is a complete mystery — outside of royal circles, that is. She writes: As I am in possession of all the circumstances attending the Duke of Kent’s conduct while Governor of Gibraltar, it is not impossible I shall publish a curious history of his courage, his military and political actions, together with an interesting account of the discovery of the St. Lawrence

                Really? He has no idea what this has to do with Julie’s supposedly mysterious background; and he wonders whether the author does either. He certainly didn’t discover the St. Lawrence River. Had Clarke’s addled brain confused the river with ‘Madame de St. Laurent’? Is it worth even pondering? Indeed, he has no idea at all what much of the book is about. There is even what seems for all intents and purposes like a compliment to him later on, when Clarke quotes someone described as an ‘authority’ on Julie and himself: Mr. Glennie observed that the Duke’s affection for his old French lady, whom he lamented he could not marry, was proof of his steady disposition and domestic good qualities, added to which he regularly went to church and was never seen inebriated – a vice he always checked in those over whom he had command

               ‘Old French lady’, eh? He thinks. I hope Julie doesn’t read that. There’s not much chance of her doing so, since she tends only to read French books, and has a keen, one-paragraph eye for rubbish. There is also much malicious claptrap in these two volumes, however, the kind of malicious claptrap to be devoured and regurgitated in the drawing rooms, taverns and coffee houses all over London. They put you on a pedestal only to knock you off it the moment they can. To have their very private life so openly discussed and speculated upon makes him so uneasy that he feels obliged to counter some of the babble by publishing in the Times a questionnaire he’d put to Dodd the previous year, when the toothsome colonel was still theoretically employed as his secretary. It consisted of questions posed to Dodd, along with his written and signed replies. The document’s authenticity was vouched for by the signatures of two witnesses, Lord Harrington and an aide named Colonel Vessey. The main points made were Dodd’s denial that he’d ever represented himself as Edward’s emissary to either Mrs. Clarke or to Colonel Wardle; and, more importantly, that he’d played no role in any attempt at York’s downfall. This did, admittedly, make Dodd’s presence in the carriage with the two conspirators hard to explain, since they would scarcely have discussed their plot unless they’d firmly beleived Dodd represented the Duke of Kent. But you can’t explain everything in this rat’s nest, can you?  As he writes to the Duc d’Orleans later, his conclusion is that Dodd had acted from an excess of zeal, and was more to be pitied than blamed, since he genuinely believed he was performing the duke a great service, especially in the light of all the grievances he knew Edward harboured over his recall from the Rock. Dodd had thus lost none of Kent’s esteem, since overzealous loyalty is difficult to reprimand, even if its misguidedness sends things badly awry.

                The newspapers, it transpires, uphold Edward’s innocence, saving their visceral scorn for Mrs. Clarke, whose book, it’s observed, contains not a single scrap of documentary evidence – not even one. The Times devotes three columns to a review of The Rival Princes, in which the writer states that his whole department had laughed their way through the book, since it’s rare to encounter such startling balderdash and such extended feats of dazzling circumlocution. The reviewer also suggests, quite cogently, that if Mrs. Clarke had possessed a single document of hard evidence she would most certainly have published it, since she’s published even the most improbable tripe available to her. Very kindly, the reviewer also saves his pity for Dodd, who he believes is the only person to suffer from his unwitting entanglement in this circus of gibbering nonsense, having been barred now from his Artillery Club as ‘no longer an officer or gentleman’.

                Before long, it’s widely known that Colonel Wardle had been the principal malefactor; and, as is their custom, the public grow weary of the affair when its capacity for generating scandalous gossip wanes and finally expires. It did enjoy an astonishingly long run, though, particularly in the middle of a world war.


                   The transition into a Regency is not a smooth one. The King keeps threatening to recover, and even the feared Dr. Willis admits his patient’s symptoms are unlike any form of insanity he’s ever treated. It will, we should know, eventually be learned that His Majesty was suffering from porphyria, a physical ailment with mental effects indistinguishable from madness. But there are still periods of frightening violence, when Willis orders the strait-jacket and the King stamps about like a wild horse. Yet after a few days of restraint, he will invariably calm down, existing then for some time in a dream world, where the dead are living, and the living are dead. He believes, for example, that Amelia is now living happily and healthily in Hanover, where she patiently awaits his arrival. He even reassures one of his doctors, a man whose wife has just died, that she’s not dead, but also living in Hanover with Amelia. A few physicians recommend that a visit from the Queen will help their patient at such times, reminding him of his former life, and thereby encouraging his mind to heal. Queen Charlotte is of course extremely reluctant, insisting that, if she does visit her husband, her daughters must accompany her, with an attendant always present too. When she sees the King’s shattered state, though, his stumbling blindness and babbling confusion, even her brittle heart is moved to pity. The good years briefly return to her, and she even sits weeping – perhaps ice pellets rather than tears? But when the King suddenly demands Lady Pembroke, and appears not to know who the Queen is, the glacial bitterness immediately returns, and she refuses to visit him again, intent now only on making her daughters and everyone else as miserable as herself. Edward’s sisters often hide from her in a hexagonal cave beneath the castle’s north terrace. Its walls are lined with mirrors, and ventilation comes from a chimney protruding up through the turf above. It is their secret place, their fortress in mother earth from a harsh and spiteful earthly mother. The Queen’s body was as uncertain as her moods. She had once been so fat that, back in 1807, someone seeing her walk on the terrace remarked that she looked pregnant with all the royal princes and princesses at once. Now, however, she is skeletally thin, the flesh hanging like pallid rags from her bones. To match this shift in form, she has become so cruelly offensive to anyone and everyone in her presence that her daughters each write her a letter of complaint, all of them at the same time. Mortified by such insolence, she refuses to see them and discuss their complaints. In turn, they suggest to a couple of physicians that a visit to their father might be in order, a visit to reassure him of their and his queen’s enduring love, a visit to keep a sense of family continuing. You wonder if this is mischief or just genuine concern. The Queen objects strenuously, but the doctors overrule her, saying such visits might be beneficial. Might be. But her power is waning, her long and awful reign nearly over. Even doctors can countermand her wishes now. Next it will be footmen or grooms.

               Yet such is the curious nature of his malady that there are still many occasions when it’s thought His Majesty might be well enough to do something normal, something like attending a service at St. George’s Chapel. But even he declines this opportunity, saying he ought not pray to God, or take the blessed sacrament until he’s fully recovered, for to do so would be sinful. When somewhat lucid, he now sees his illness as a state of sin, a punishment from on high. In fact, he does once recover to a level of normality at which it’s thought he might go out in public. His horse is duly saddled and, to cheering crowds, with the help of a rein-guide, he rides first around the Little Park, and then out into Windsor Great Park, returning as agile and fit as his years can expect anyone to be.

                 As is the nature of such things, this is around the same time as the Regency officially begins, with the King – you must celebrate the irony — now in better health than his regent. Wales has retreated to bed complaining of pains in every part of his body – and there are many parts to that body, much acreage in it. One newspaper satirically suggests that the King be made vice-regent to the Regent. But the King’s rally is not to last. The Duke of Kent had visited his father many times, and he senses that behind the man’s apparent recoveries something is steadily decaying, deteriorating. It is, Edward concedes, the way of the world, of the whole universe: profligate growth, and then equally profligate decay. Entropy. It is not there; it is there; and then it is gone again. His Majesty rarely knows anyone visiting him now, often taking Edward for Lord North or the late, lamented Pitt, and discussing matters long since resolved, especially the American rebellion. The Irish question, of course, will never be resolved, so is never discussed. Fortunately.  Once when the King seemed especially placid, Edward persuaded his mother to accompany him for a visit. It was, in retrospect, what Edward would call a very bad idea. The King knew neither of them, and although his voice was rational, all he said, over and over again, was for someone to bring him his shoes. But rudely: Bring me my fucking shoes, you useless twot! It’s the very last visit the Queen ever makes to her husband of fifty years, whose fiftieth anniversary as monarch had been the cause of widespread celebration only two years earlier, with illuminations and fireworks everywhere, and joy across all of England. 

                 Soon, Edward sees no point in going himself either, since his father speaks only to phantoms, speaks only of disturbing nonsense, or speaks in the coarsest language of women he’d known half a century earlier – women who’d shunned him then but who are now, as spectres, evidently much more pliable, far more amenable to his needs. You don’t even want to think about those ‘needs’, do you? Yet the needs are still there, still dreadfully needy.

               And life goes on, after its fashion. Against all expectations, the Prince Regent doesn’t dismiss Perceval’s Tory government, replacing it with one consisting of his Whig friends – as everyone has presumed he would do.

               “I wanted to preserve a sense that the King is still in charge,” he explains, generosity and fairness being the shel, the mask of his new persona. “There must be a sense of continuity, don’t y’know…” You do wonder if he believes what he’s saying, at least while he’s saying it.

               Naturally, it’s not all sweetness and light, or continuity. It is a mask, after all. He does replace Lord Dundas as Commander-in-Chief, as was hoped, replaces him with the Duke of York, dashing to smithereens Edward’s hopes of a command. It’s now widely rumoured that Wellington’s victories in the Peninsula were the result of York’s far-sighted strategic planning. The very idea of this, of York knowing a strategy from a stratosphere, makes even Edward’s horse laugh. When the King learns of the Regent’s benevolence to the disgraced York, still his favoueite in the depths of hell,, Sophia informs Edward, he forgives Wales everything, embracing him and saying constantly how he had feared his heir lacked a heart, but at last he knows otherwise, knows it while knowing nothing at all.  

               “Can you call it ‘understanding’? Edward says. “Or does his mind just come and go like the breeze, touching this and then that at random?”

              “Mostly it just goes,” says Sophia sadly, “and we cannot bear to watch it any longer. No one wants to see what he will be like when it goes altogether. It is all too hard, Edward, too, too hard…”

               Harder than the grey stones it is, harder than the cruel north wind howling through them; the misery that is Windsor seems to know no end. It is a gaping maw into which its occupants have tumbled to be ground up very slowly into dust. The Royal Castle Entropy.   

Queen Victoria’s Secret: Chapter 14.5



                  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?”

             “Yes, I…”

               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? 

Queen Victoria’s Secret: Chapter 14.4


                 This jamboree of shame begins on January 21st, when a Colonel Wardle, Whig Member for Okehampton in Devon, rises in the House of Commons to: ‘…give notice of a motion regarding the conduct of the Commander-in-Chief with regard to promotions, exchanges, and staff appointments to commissions in the army, and staff of the army, and to raising new levies’. A week later, Wardle rises again, announcing that: ‘…to show the misuse of the half-pay fund and other unwarranted actions’ he’s now obliged to draw attention to: ‘…a splendid house in Gloucester Place’, where, for the past five years, a lady named Clarke has: ‘…kept a variety of carriages, a long retinue of servants, and an assortment of luxuries to be accounted for’, and accounted for in connection with accusations upon which Colonel Wardle intends to elaborate.

                 Few doubt this intention of Wardle’s to present his accusations in far more detailed terms. The implication is, however, already scarcely veiled: the Duke of York has a mistress named Miss Clarke, ensconced in a Gloucester Place mansion; and she’s growing very wealthy by selling much-sought-after army commissions — with York’s essential connivance. We further learn that the industrious Miss Clarke even possesses a standard fee-scale, with available commissions ranging from that of lieutenant, at 5,000 guineas, descending through ranks, all the way down to that of ensign, which seems overpriced at 400 guineas. Oh dear, what a mess. But at least it’s York’s mess.

                ‘It sounds awful,’ says Julie, preparing for her evening salon. ‘But you must be happy?’

                Happy? I’m never happy when my family is disgraced…’ He’s not exactly unhappy either, though.

                 Without an appointment, he heads to the Duke of York’s headquarters at Horseguards, where he finds his brother alone, sitting dejectedly in an outsized wingback by the dying embers of a sorry little fire, with a decanter clutched his paws like an orb, his scrawny heron legs tightly crossed, as if  plaited. With his blond wig askew, and the rest of him noticeably unkempt, he resembles a discarded scarecrow who imagines he’s a bishop.

                “If you’ve come to pester me about Gibraltar,” York croaks rather despondently, “I swear to God I shall kill you where you stand…”

                 ‘No, no, Fred,’ he says, ‘I’m here about the accusations being bandied about in Parliament – it’s sheer fraternal concern, nothing more…’

               “If you had any real concern,” York grumbles, at least now offering him a seat and some port, “you’d go over to Gloucester Place and wring that grasping little bitch’s neck...”

               “So, it’s true?” he says tentatively, an odd mixture of elation and fright hurtling around his ribcage.

               “I let her make a little money on the side…’

                ‘Ah,’ he says. ‘The little sounded like quite a lot…’

                ‘We all do favours for friends, Ed. It’s commonplace; so, this was the same thing, wasn’t it?’ He thinks: for friends but not for brothers, eh? ‘But… but,’ York adds, ‘she got very greedy — very, very greedy. Before long the thing was out of control. She even circulated a price-list! I was sick of her bleating and badgering – and I was running out of fucking commissions to sell. Any longer and there’d have been more officers than soldiers in the bloody army. Besides, she bored me, bored the shit out of me. Every fuck had an itemized invoice glued to my prick…’ He grunts, sluicing saliva around his yellowed teeth, before going on. ‘Once a whore, always a whore, so they say. I left her for a Mrs. Kerry out in Fulham – saucy as a goose, and much cheaper too. Do y’see, Edward, all of this is just her revenge…”

                “Mrs. Kerry?”

              “Nah, y’dolt! The Gloucester of Jezebel Place… I mean…” He means the port is drowning his starboard bow.

                “I’m so sorry to hear it, Fred…” And he does feel compassion – he can’t help it – but it doesn’t really feel the way compassion usually feels..

                “I doubt that,” York rasps, pouring more port to reach the aft. “After all, I haven’t treated you very kindly, have I?”

                 “I’m glad to hear you admit it,” he says frankly. “But this matter is now our prime concern, isn’t it? What can be done?” Not very kindly hardly begins to describe it, he thinks.

               “It’s more like who can be done,” says York, and then in a market-vendor’s voice he yells, “Army commissions, get ‘em while they last! Bargain prices! Makes a lovely gift: Major for the hubby, and ensign for li’l Tim. They ain’t just gifts, they’s careers! So, roll up before we’s sold out! Ach!” He sinks back down, exhausted, saying quietly, “It isn’t the Clarke Commission Agency that humiliates me, it’s her, and everyone knowing I made a shilling-whore my mistress! That’s the stick. You have no idea, because your Julie’d be an asset to you in any situation. In my case it’s a confection who simply can’t shut up for five seconds. She will milk this too, her moment of celebrity — milked drier than a nun’s cunt it’ll be by the time she stops pulling on scandal’s teat. Someone ought to toss her into the Thames in a sack…”

               He shudders, thinking what Wales might do to him, to all of them. “No, Fred,’ he says, ‘murder’s not a just punishment for greed. If it were, half the city would be dangling from gibbets…”

                 “I know, I know,” York assures him, with the draining self-recrimination that comes from knowing better yet still acting worse. “But I wish I could harm her, punch her stupid face, wring her neck, kick her into the river…’ He’s panting like an old foxhound, and has to pause before continuing on a less violent yet more culpable note. ‘But I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. I have friends trying to get the business dropped. But I have no idea if they’ll succeed…” He pauses again, wheezing, uncrossing and re-crossing his pliant little legs, before delivering a metaphorical punch to Edward’s face: “You must be aware that there are those who believe you are behind this plot, which they feel is designed to replace me as C-in-C with your good self…”

                The heart hammers. “That,” he babbles, flabbergasted, “or this, is…is, well, it’s a shock…and also preposterous —  outrageous in fact…” He halts in search of rational thoughts, yet only finds, “Why would anyone think such a thing?”

                 York laughs the way you imagine that maniacs laugh when poised to kill. “People don’t think,” he says blandly, “they’re told what to think. Pamphlets are going around claiming to quote letters from you regarding the Rock and lies spread in a deliberate and baseless persecution of you. You! Did you ever write such letters, Eddie? Did you ever give anyone such letters… if written?” A fearful flame burns in his reddened eyes.

                 Edward’s face glows hotter and brighter than the office fire itself, as he admits that he’d circulated copies of some letters, yet only among friends, and purely in order to clear his name of any wrongdoing. ‘You gave me no opportunity to defend myself,’ he says. ‘I wanted the inquiry, remember? I knew it would find me innocent…’

                  York regards him through smoldering slits, which gives his florid, puffy face a mask-like appearance. He’d expected Edward to deny all knowledge of the letters in question, and is now trying to assess whether his admission is cunningly designed to prove his ignorance and innocence of the mettlesome pamphlets, or if he’s actually telling the truth – which, in York’s experience of grilling malefactors, is so exceedingly rare and unlikely that the possibilty of it is invariably discounted. ‘You’re always so fucking innocent, aren’t you?” York says, after some minutes of unnervingly silent scrutiny, and in an exhausted rumble. “Yet you’re also not so innocent, and I wonder how un-innocent you may be when the weight of guilt becomes too burdensome. This makes it hard to tust… to trust you…”

                 “I’m sorry for that,” he says, ‘truly sorry…’

               “There it is again,” York moans, poking the fire back to an anemic life. “I can’t tell if you’re sorry or not. When Ernest says he’s sorry, I believe him, because I know exactly how far from innocence he can travel. His dirty secret is no secret from me; but yours is…’ York looks ghoulish, licking his bloodless lips in anticipation of some imminent horror to feast on. ‘The look of horrified surprise in a woman’s eyes,’ he says, eyes now like red nails, ‘when she realizes what he’s going to do, and do and do – all this excites Ernest. Some whores will put up with anything for a guinea, but he hates that. He wants the shock and surprise – which he certainly got from his valet’s wife. Did you hear, Eddie? Did her with a bottle of sack – a bloody business, but that’s the way he likes it. Unfortunately, she told her husband, silly gormless little tart! So, Ernie had to cut the man’s throat with his shaving razor, didn’t he? No choice, y’see? Another messy business, especially the buggering as he bled out. But we clean these things up for him. We hush them up too, make them disappear. His secret’s safe with us – because he was honest about it and told us all the details.” A deadly pause. York points the poker at him before continuing: “But you won’t reveal your secrets, will you? It’s trust that makes for brotherhood, and you don’t trust us. We all know each other’s little foibles – and I don’t mean cards or brandy – but we have no idea what your hours of un-innocence are like. Are they worse than Ernie’s little games, eh? Are they too monstrous for words, eh?” A luminescent crimson in the bestirred firelight, York’s visage is hellish.

                Is this ugly revelation a lie? Or worse, far worse, is it true? Edward is not sure how to respond, his innards trembling as he says, “I’m insulted you can even compare me with that… that monster.” Christ, he thinks, it’s true. I knew there was something about Ernest… He has no idea how to end this, so he says, “He ought to be hung!”

              “Would you like to hang him? Is that your secret? Like that Frog pervert, Sadie, eh? If you would only tell me you enjoy the cat and gallows, it’d be our secret, and it would have you back on the Rock tomorrow…” Smiles are in the eyes, and York’s is not there. It’s the lupine crescent of something eager to gnaw on your bones.

                Who would want to belong to this family? he thinks. “My only secret,” Edward says indignantly, “is that I detest and despise those punishments, and am often physically sick after supervising them. I wish there were better ways to maintain discipline. But these are not secrets. I don’t hide my efforts to improve military life…”

                 “You and fucking Wellesley. But we all have a dark companion,” York now tells him, faintly amused, “and his needs and deeds often embarrass us – until we confess them to people we trust; and this trust comes from knowing all about their own dark companions. You feel we are a club you cannot join; and, indeed, we are a club – but you can join right now by admitting where your damned innocence goes when the light within turns black.’ York pants again, more repellent when calm than he is in fury. ‘Our little club can fix most problems – in your case, all problems, I imagine. Just join it. Just tell me what lies beneath the surface of dear Joseph…”

               “All right, Fred,” he says, more exasperated by this play-acting than fearful anymore, “I do have secrets; but they’re protected by masonic oath and cannot be revealed, even to a brother mason below my own degree. So, you’re wasting your time, since I know you don’t practice the Craft…” His own genuine innocence startles him, as if he’d never noticed it before now.

               “Oh, Lord!” declaims York. “Everyone knows what freemasons get up to in their aprons, coffins, and fuckwit rituals. It’s hardly a secret…”

              Keep your little club, Fred; I don’t seek to join it. But please allow me to assist you with this current problem, which your ‘club’ obviously cannot fix… and to assure you I have nothing whatsoever to do with it, as heaven is my witness…”

              “Mary fucking Clarke is my witness,” York splitters, annoyed his scare hasn’t worked, “and neither you nor heaven can do much about that, since it’s hell that hath no fury like a woman scorned, ain’t it? My private life’ll be an open book. Our father will…’ He trembles, the façade shattered, fear taking its place in a mask of sweat. After several false starts, he says, ‘Is there no omnipotent entity to champion a man wronged?”

             “God?” Edward ventures.

                “Too judgmental,” says York, a spark of composure returning. “My case is too nuanced for Him. I need a being able to see there’s at least 180 variations between Good and Bad. Do we have one of those?”

               “Jesus? He’s all love and forgiveness, is he not?”

                 “I’ll try him,” York decides. ‘Anyone else, since you always know about these things?’

                 ‘A pure heart?’

                “Does the impure heart stand any chance here? I have a fellow who summons angels to appear in mirrors,” York says, the liquor now addling his brains. “I’ve seen it. They do appear; but they have nothing to say worth all the fucking trouble. This fellow will know how to get someone big’s attention; then we’ll find out what they want for a job like this fucking farrago…”

               “Typically, a lot,” says Edward, fearing for his brother’s mind now. “Mainly your soul, I believe…”

                 “Even I don’t want that,” York mutters. “If it’s even still there…wherever there is. It may be lost, or dead or fled…”

                “No fear of that, Fred: it’s immortal. We get lost and die, not our souls…” It surprises him to have this bestiary turn into a sermon.

                 “I never took you for such a crackpot mystic, Eddie. You’ve always seemed so…so boringly normal…”

               ‘Good luck, Fred. I’ll do whatever I can…’ 

                “I still cannot trust you,” is York’s response. “You think all this claptrap about masons and Jesus will change things – but it won’t. Trust is earned, and you haven’t earned mine. I’m sorry, but principles come before princes. Just don’t blabber to the newspapers – that would help…” York’s comeback to threat has failed, and he knows it.

               “I wouldn’t dream of doing that, Fred. I was offering much greater help – whatever I’m able to give…” Even he can’t imagine what this could possibly be.

               “Which isn’t tossing that fucking drab off Tower Bridge tied to an anvil…”

                “No, it’s not that…” He wonders how you extract yourself from such an exchange – if anyone else has ever had one remotely like it.

                   So he just leaves, expecting a final volley of jumbled abuse, but only hearing the trickling of liquid into a glass.

                 You do wonder about York, wonder what winds his mainspring and makes him tick. What’s his life for? 


                   Over the following days, he becomes fascinated by various approaches to the burgeoning scandal taken by newspapers, all of which positively fizz and bubble with the fabulous story. People love it; they can’t get enough of it. Only Austria’s declaration of war against France, on Febuary 8th, overshadows the York catastrophe. There is a distinct range of attitudes in the press too. The Morning Chronicle’s editor, for instance, decries the publication of unsubstantiated gossip maligning the Royal Family, claiming his own paper had only run the story because all the others did. Not long after this, Edward notices, the same man gave a rousing speech celebrating England’s free press. Free to bamboozle, slander and gloat, he thinks. The Morning Post, on the other hand, expects its readers to believe that allegations against the Duke of York are part of a devilish Jacobin plot to undermine all sacred British institutions. Other sheets espouse the alarming idea that a conspiracy to destroy the House of Hanover is afoot – its details and motive clearly too secret for publication. Very few purveyors of news suggest that the facts so far available strongly indicate there may well be some truth to the accusations. Yet, he thinks, no verdict ought to be delivered before completion of a thorough inquiry – such as I also want for myself. Only the Times, enjoying, as it does, special and not always proper access to government sources, keeps relatively silent on the issue. Most rags seem to confuse opinion with news — perhaps because an opinion can never be wrong? It’s cheaper than newsgathering too. So he’s scarcely surprized to find that the press now tends to mention allegations regarding his own involvement in a plot to ruin York and take his position. Christ! God! He thinks: are military appointments these days coups d’etat? One paper cites a letter he’d written to Lord Castlereagh, when he was still Secretary of State for War, complaining bitterly of his, Edward’s, unjust treatment by York. The article slyly hints that he’d had copies of this letter widely distributed. Where facts are uncertain, editors fear the legal consequences of direct statements, don’t they? What’s the point of a press? 

              Twaddle!” he yells at Julie, throwing down a paper in disgust. “A few friends hardly amount to ‘widespread distribution’, do they? And surely anyone can do what he likes with his own letters, can’t he? If people don’t want real news, why fabricate it for them?”

               ‘Why shout it at me is what I think,’ she says. ‘I also wonder why it upsets you so much if it isn’t true, hmm?’

              ‘Wonderful,’ he sighs, folding back into his chair. ‘Even you think I’m guilty before there’s even a trial…’

               ‘Darling, all you’ve done for two years is curse the Duke of York and wish him harm… Is it surprizing that anyone you know will probably assume you are behind this?’

              ‘My God!’ he says. ‘I was trying to clear my name, not destroy York…’

               ‘But you wouldn’t mind if he were destroyed in the process, would you?’

                ‘You know what?’ The dictionary in his head bursts into flame. He throws down his paper and stamps from the conservatory; so, we never find out ‘what’.


                  At the end of Febuary, the Duke of York is summoned to Windsor for what he, Edward, fully expects will be an exceedingly uncomfortable interview with the King. It’s the kind of interview he always dreads being summoned to himself. He thinks: But at least it’s an invitation to Windsor; I haven’t had one of those since Caroline’s letters. 

                Since the river is flooded, York needs to be carried like a sack of turnips part of the way into castle grounds, where urchins scream with mirth at the sight of him clinging to the neck of a guard, his ropey legs stuck out like the handles of a barrow. It’s not the only place under water now, either. Flooding afflicts half the country, we hear, with residents of Eton and Henley forced to live on their upper floors. Pigs, horses, cows and sheep are simply washed away; bridges are ruined, some submerged, others collapsed, just as roads too are collapsing, swept into ditches, or just away through forests, sometimes off cliffs or into rivers. And rivers occasionally merge into fast-flowing torrents wide as lakes. England is drowning. Napoleon has hired the weather gods to soften us up before he squelches through the shires in his ten-league boots, squashing hamlets, market towns and vllages as he splashes over the acres on his way to dripping  London. Thanks to intemperate gales, ships are wrecked upon rocks, or else, if the audience for this proves unimpressed, smashed into harbour walls or even their own villages. People huddle indoors, tremulously watching this  deluge, wondering if the End has finally arrived. After nearly two millennia, you get used to waiting — so used to it that waiting itself seems to be the promised finale. A man in Sussex, unwisely venturing outside, is blown from Heathfield High Street all the way to Hastings, where he’s fortunate enough to land in the sea not a hundred yards from land. A tree in Hyde Park is uprooted and hurled two furlongs onto a house in Kensington, where it sticks through the roof tiles like a flagpole. Someone foolishly opening an umbrella near Putney Bridge is blown into the Thames, landing on a coal barge, where his back is broken. A gust at the junction of Campden and Church Streets is so fierce it tears open a woman’s greatcoat, blowing her under a hackney cab. We’re convinced; we surrender. 

                 He, the Duke of Kent, is now severely afflicted with his old foe, rheumatism, which expresses its violent dismay at such unreasonably damp conditions. It’s only assuaged by the thought of what unreasonably miserable conditions the Duke of York now endures out at Windsor. The King is a great devotee of omens, something that also bodes ill for York’s audience with him. Will he remain the favourite after today?


                  A week later, when the End has ended and the country begins to dry out, Mary Anne Clarke all but skips into the House of Commons, where Edward, among many other peers of the realm, watches the proceedings with a grave countenance. The lady curtsies daintily to the benches, upon which black-frockcoated men sprawl, some eating nuts or oranges, whose shells and peels lie scattered on the venerable 13th century flagstones.

                “I say, that’s quite an outfit she’s got on!” someone declares, rather drunkenly.

                “Pity you can’t see clearly enough if York got himself a beauty or a beast,” another voice suggests.

                  Wearing a somewhat flimsy royal-blue dress, edged with fine Nottingham lace, a lilac-coloured bonnet on her head, its veil partly concealing her face, she grins proudly around at those present. You’d think she was about to receive some award or accolade. On her forearm is a large swansdown muff, completing an overall sense of opulence, which, considering the issues at the core of this Inquiry, seems, to him at least, somewhat misguided. 

                  What follows is a mixture of mordant entertainment and moral shock, further confounded by the irrepressibly saucy answers Miss Clarke delivers to some of the questions posed her by members of the House. 

                She is, we soon learn, in fact Mrs. Clarke; Mr. Clarke being a bricklayer she married to escape ‘Fetter Lane’, where she’d lived in great poverty with her father, a Mr. Farquhar, who worked with metal to some obscure end. She had bourn Mr. Clarke several children, all of who had died. This revelation receives some ‘ahs’ of diluted sympathy.

                “Then,” she says, struggling with an accent unwilling to leave Fetter Lane for Park Lane, perhaps, “he quitted me and ‘is bricks to take up a life of crime, and leave me no life at all; so I decides to get meself into a bit of profitable trouble as well, I does. I wasn’t about to go back to Fetter Lane now, was I?”

                ‘Fetter Lane’ seems to be a metonym for hell in her mind, and it impresses itself as such in Edward’s, until he recalls that Lemuel Gulliver had once lived there. Although Gulliver is fictional, Fetter Lane is not, and he visits the place, just off Fleet Street, during the luncheon break, only to discover it’s a sufficiently prestigious address to house the headquarters of the Moravian Church, as well as a few esteemed writers, and many other persons of quality. Mrs. Clarke’s accent, he thinks, has more of Hackney or Shoreditch about it than it does Fetter Lane – even if her version of “Fetter” lacks any T sounds. The hell it represents to her is presumably thus one of poverty, or possibly just a lack of independence? 

                As the nature of her ‘profitable trouble’ is probed, over successive days, it becomes obvious that the sale of army commissions, in which she’d been engaged, could only have been a viable enterprise with the cooperation of Frederick, Duke of York, Bishop of Osnaburg, and Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. This illicit trade was Mrs. Clarke’s only form of ‘profitable trouble’ – or the only one of interest to the present inquiry – and it was irretreivably lost when York left her. Hence, she had nothing else to lose now by confessing all. There is of course also the motive of revenge to gain.

               He thinks: Is it truly this simple, or is something else at play here? These questions nag him; and his peeled instincts join in with them.

                It does, he decides, behoove him to show some support for his besieged brother, doesn’t it? Family loyalty and all that.. Despite a wicked bout of influenza, he rises to give a croaking speech to the House. In it he states that, although York and he have had some ‘professional differences’, there is no schism between them; indeed, he regards the Commander-in-Chief as a friend as well as a brother, wishing now to give him every possible support in a time of trial.

                “A lot of good that will do him,” someone rudely comments from behind.

                Unfortunately, this demonstration of fraternal devotion does not have the desired effect; for it is soon noticed that a certain Mr. Pierre Franc Macallam, whose hybrid name has come up often during this Inquiry, is also the author of a pamphlet entitled Observations on His Highness, the Duke of Kent’s Shameful Persecutions Since His Recall from Gibraltar Etc., which had appeared during the previous year. The pamphlet suggests, among many other shameless falsehoods, that if he, Edward, had been Commander-in-Chief, the war in Europe would have been won long ago. Ah… When this pamphlet had been brought to Edward’s attention, it caused him sufficient distress and anger to prompt a visit to Samuel Romilly, the kindly  Solicitor-General, to consult him on the wisdom of writing a public repudiation of it to counter suspicions that he, Edward, had sponsored it himself. 

               “Let me give the matter some consideration,” Romilly had then said, leaning back in his spacious elbow chair, hands behind his close-cropped grey head, his thoughtful eyes giving a distinct impression that this ‘consideration’ was already in progress. He then began leafing through files piled two feet high on his enormous desk, occasionally looking up, as if surprised to find Edward still sitting there. 

                    His diary records that, on September 29th, 1808, Romilly advised against such a move of repudiation, on the grounds that it would give undue importance to such ludicrous suspicions. The Solicitor-General had added that: ‘…the tone and spirit alone of the pamphlet must convince any rational man that it has never received any sanction from Your Royal Highness’. 

                But it turns out that the man Macallam has deeper connections to the Duke of Kent than the duke is even remotely aware of himself — until hearing the facts. Macallum is soon easily proved to be a friend of Edward’s Gibraltar secretary, the toothsome Colonel Dodd. He is also the friend of a certain Mr. Glenny. At an acquaintance’s request, Edward had obtained for Glenny, through General Harcourt, an important position at the Royal Military College. These facts are innocent enough in themselves; but it’s the ubiquity of Macallam’s presence that casts a shadow over them; and Macallam’s curriculum vitae casts an even greater shadow over the man himself. 

                  Besides working as a spy in Trinidad, he’d been a merchant in Nova Scotia – the term usually a euphemism for ‘smuggler’ there – he’d been a ‘trader’ in India and China, where he supervised large commodity transactions, meaning he sold bulk Indian opium in exchange for Chinese silver bullion; and he also acted as an ‘agent’ for Jardine Matheson – probably scouting new markets for London’s largest opium trader. Jardine also has its own bank, and virtually owns Hong Kong, along with much of Shanghai. When the Chinese exchequer apparently ran out of silver, offering to barter tea for opium, Macallam had moved on, and next ‘explored undiscovered islands’ in the South Pacfic; after which he instructed Tamil Indians in the arts of engraving and printing — probably for the production of counterfeit foreign currencies. Following this, he established a merchant bank in Moscow, quite likely for the purpose of flooding Russia – then our enemy — with forged rubles, perhaps ones printed in Madras. He further plied numerous other dubious trades all over the known world, and in parts of it still unknown.

               Christ! he thinks; it’s the kind of history you’d expect to find in a condemned man’s file.

                  “I am simply amazed that Your Highness would know such an obvious rascal,” Lord Raynes tells him reprovingly.

                “But I don’t know the man at all,” Edward protests.

                “That’s what everyone will expect you to say,” Raynes goes on. “My advice to you is to tell the truth – always the best policy in the end, don’t y’know.”

               ‘But honesty isn’t really a policy, is it?’

                 ‘Pah,’ says Raynes, trying to button a greatcoat over his belly. ‘We’re all given enough rope, ain’t we? Y’kin either hang y’self wi’it or hang some other fella…’ He has a luncheon to attend, mercifully.

               Edward has much to contend with. Strolling over Westminster Bridge to watch the river traffic, he thinks: How on earth did a villain like Macallam manage to insert himself into such close proximity without me having the faintest idea of his presence? I’ve never even heard his name until now. Macallam’s work in espionage, however, and his involvement with activities kept from public scrutiny, indicate powerful connections at the highest levels of unofficial government business – and this worries Edward. It worries him a lot. He’s very well aware that the real power in all governments lies behind the scenes, in innocuously-named committees and councils, like Napoleon’s 40-member Council of State. The House or Assemly is just for people to air their opinions and jabber in public. The real work is conducted in private. He knows this for sure. He grew up in its long shadow.

                  And now these interrelationships with people he doesn’t know, as they emerge during the Inquiry, drag him ever deeper into York’s mire of greed and folly, soon making it seem as if he too has been selling army commissions. Why else would he have spoken in York’s defense?  That’s the thinking here. But his thinking is: Which is it to be? Am I out to ruin him, or am I in league with him? It can’t be both, can it? Yet logic plays a very minor role in these conflicting accusations. 

                  A further complication, which strikes him as exceedingly bizarre, is the sworn claim of someone who’d seen Dodd, Colonel Wardle, and Mrs. Clarke riding in a carriage together along the seafront at Brighton.

                “Forget it, Eddie. They’re out to fuck us,” says the Duke of York, as they discuss these latest developments in his office, “and that’s the truth of it. Face the facts, boy…”

               “But why am I being dragged in, Fred? I know Dodd, of course. And I did get Glenny his position; but not for money. As for this scoundrel Macallam, I’ve never heard of the man, let alone clapped eyes on him or conspired with him. There can be no evidence proving otherwise…”

                  “Innocent again, eh? As I said, Eddie, they’re out to fuck us, and that’s that. Lie back and open your legs – you might even enjoy it. Hah, I suppose you regret your little speech of support now?”

               “Of course not. You’re my brother. I will always support you…” Well, not always, he thinks.

               “Even while plotting to ruin me, eh? I can’t believe a word you say…”

                 The screw turns again. A t one point in the Inquiry, Mary Anne Clarke says Macallam owed his escape from justice at the hands of Trinidadian government officials to his friendship with Dodd and Glenny. It’s then even insinuated that Dodd had tried to steal papers relating to this irrelevant incident. Mrs. Clarke adds to this that, on the Duke of Kent’s behalf, Dodd had offered her 5,000 guineas if the information she gave before this Inquiry resulted in him, Edward, becoming Commander-in-Chief. Her notion of incriminating evidence, however, is a veritable potage of disconnected and unproven rumours, innuendoes, rampaging nonsense and bare-faced lies. 

                ‘It baffles me,’ he says. ‘Why does the Inquiry even listen to her wild accusations without demanding at least some proof for them. I don’t know. It’s infuriating. Is her presence there simply prolonged for its entertainment value? It’s disgraceful, all of itl…’

              ‘I agree,’ says Julie dubiously. ‘How much longer does this go on?’

                The Inquiry has proved its main point effortlessly, and very early in the proceedings: army commissions had unquestionably been sold by Mrs. Clarke with the Duke of York’s assistance.  Yet the proceedings still meander on through issues of no relevance whatsoever, dredging up assorted muck to hurl in all directions, ultimately achieving more for Mrs. Clarke’s fame, and her growing status as an icon of fashion trends, than it ever does for the serious investigation of a matter whose consequences are far-reaching and extremely dire for those concerned. This is even though Sir Arthur Wellesley, whose status as hero of Spain grows by by the day, has rather sycophantically spoken out in his commander-in-chief’s defense, knowing little or nothing of the facts. 

                 Crowds now flock to watch the fetching Mrs. Clarke’s stately carriage slide around Hyde Park, with press hacks eagerly reporting on her outfit du jour: ‘…short orange coat trimmed with blue lace; Pilgrim hat with cockle shells in front’. Less prominent, though, are reports that Dodd had been fired by the Duke of Kent, as a punishment, after his damaging testimony in the case. Far less prominent still is any mention of Dodd’s adamant denials that he’d been fired – he had in fact resigned. It is this that makes Edward suspect that Dodd himself is probably behind the whole toxic brew. The secretary may well have viewed Edward’s promotion to C-in-C as something that would inevitably advance his own atrophied career. This theory also explains why Dodd, Wardle and Mrs. Clarke would be riding together at Brighton.

               “Pah! The fact that y’ fired the man makes y’ look very guilty,” observes the devoutly pessimistic old Lord Raynes.

                 “I did not fire him,” Edward points out, increasingly incensed at the presumption of his guilt. “He resigned, so how could I possibly fire him?”

                 “Looks bad all the same,” says Raynes, shuffling off to another luncheon. “It’s not looking good, Kent, not good at all. So, prepare y’self for the worst – that’s me best advice…”

                  A further tidbit of explanatory information comes when it’s discovered that Colonel Wardle, M.P., is currently being sued by an upholsterer for non-payment of sizeable bills relating to extensive renovations in Mrs. Clarke’s Gloucester Place house. Wardle, it will be recalled, initiated the whole nightmare with his insinuations to the House. It thus now seems likely that the Honourable Member for Okehampton had offered the brooding ex-mistress some lavish refurbishments of her home in exchange for evidence against the Duke of York. But why? The answer to this question comes on a timely zephyr: Wardle hates York for his extremist Tory views, and indeed his ultra-conservative positions on every political issue. This hatred is not rational; nor is it in the spirit of democratic Parliamentary debate, during which people do get very angry with one another – but only until it’s time for luncheon. Everyone knows Wardle holds very liberal Whig views; yet this vengeful reaction is disturbingly personal. It merely hides behind the arras of politics, so it would seem, waiting for the right moment to strike a blow from whose wound York could never recover. Wardle is right enough in his estimation of the consequences.

                ‘Is there any kind of result from this inquiry?’ says Weatherall, now impatient with Edward’s accounts of it. ‘All I hear is endless irrelevant twaddle…’

                ‘Ah, yes. I think there’ll be a result, sooner or later…’

                ‘Just like York’s attitude to the war, eh?’ 

Queen Victoria’s Secret: Chapter 14.3


                  Besides apartments at Kensington Palace – which remains his official address – and of course the Knightsbridge house, he has the use of Hampton Court Palace’s Pavilion, since one of his little sinecures is as Ranger of the park there. This involves barely more than a pleasant ride through the woods and grounds twice a year, verifying the work of staff in clearing dead trees, weeding flower beds, and so forth. It helps Mr. Coutts keep his debts at bay, and it allows Julie and he to spend some time in the countryside. But it offers little more than this. There is, however, now another country property, whose mortgage he’d purchased from Maria Fitzherbert some time earlier.

                  Castle Hill Lodge is near the village of Ealing, a day’s ride from London; and he now decides to make it his principal country residence, riding out there with Weatherall through a January hoar-frost and a boisterous, slicing wind, to see what’s required to make the place habitable. Frozen leaves crunch below them like meringue; no matter how much clothing you wear, you can’t get warm. The climate is punitive, he thinks, punitive once more. Has nature turned against me too?

                 A flat-roofed rectangular structure, with a pillared portico in the neo-classical manner, Castle Hill Lodge is reached by a long steep drive through overgrown woods and parkland. The initial impression is one of elegant decay. Weatherall and he have trouble opening the main doors, so they’re forced to enter through a rear door, which leads into kitchens rich with dust and cobwebs. Pots and pans are caked in mildew; a cupboard door dangles from one hinge; part of a table has been eaten by something, or someone; things scuttle out of sight to nests or warrens within the walls. A passage leads to the main house, whose hall and rooms are similarly afflicted with years of neglect yet are spacious enough.

                ‘Ah,’ he says, looking up and down. ‘It could be made more than ample for my needs, I think…’ Potential is always what he sees in a building. Potential.

                   ‘Yes,’ says Weatherall dubiously. ‘With an awful lot of work… and a stagecoach full of money…’

                 The upstairs quarters convey a similarly forlorn sense, emphasized by floorboards that occasionally collapse beneath their feet. The ceiling of one room is in an untidy pile of plaster-lath on the floor. Spiders have made a headquarters in the master bedroom. But he only sees the potential, the shape of what he will do with the place already forming in his busy mind.

              “What do you think?” he asks the dusty air.

                  Weatherall, who’s scraping cobwebs from his shoulders squeamishly, says, “Almost ready to move in, I’d say. But Carlton House it’s not…”

               “Exactly, Fred. And it won’t ever be. I’ve hired my old friend William Villette,” he says. “He’ll work under you to ensure my plans for this place are properly executed by the finest craftsmen available… and perhaps the finest affordable. When, that is, I’ve decided finally what those plans are to be…” The carousel has ceased to turn, and it is now a draughtsman’s table, one of the struts a T-square hanging over an enormous blueprint, where supporting walls are already being moved, and extensions added to the rear.

                Weatherall uses a smile he keeps for such occasions, saying, “I get the sense that debts are about to be incurred by the bushel…”

                “Unavoidable, Fred. If my family don’t want me around them, I must have a home of my own, mustn’t I?  Which room do you want?”

                “The clean one, when it exists. Did I mention I have no great liking for spiders?”

                “Don’t make it as lavish as Bedford Basin,” says Julie, when he gives her the news. She seems downcast by something else, though. “The costs of construction here in London will be so much greater…”

                ‘We’ll give up Knightsbridge to economize,’ he tells her, growing concerned at her woebegone expression. ‘What’s troubling you, my love?’

                 “Another letter from Rose,” she replies, sighing. “The old witch never said she would be a great but dreadfully unhappy queen…”

                “Those predictions always have a sting in their tail,” he says, wondering what the sting in his own prophecy will be, wondering why predictions are always scorpions. As he continues, he’s not wondering about Rose at all.  “Like the wishes granted in fairy tales,’ he says, ‘you need legal advice, contracts…’

               ‘Don’t make it a jest,’ she hisses. 

            This jolts him back to the present, or somewhere near it. He says, ‘I wasn’t. It’s just hard to be concerned about someone you don’t know…’

              ‘You know me. So be concerned about me, and not another stupid house…’

                 He remembers what he ought to have said at the beginning. ‘What’s happened now?”

                 Along with Talleyrand, he learns, the Bonaparte family are cajoling Napoleon to put Rose aside and find a woman who can give him an heir. It’s always been an issue, Rose admits in her letter, but now it has become imperative. Napoleon’s ministers fear that, if he’s killed, without a successor firmly in place, the power vacuum would result in civil war, and all the emperor’s achievements would be wiped away. This appeal to his vanity has an effect. His older brother, the conservative and mild-mannered Joseph, now King of Naples, assumes that he himself would be the heir; but so does the firebrand, ex-Robespierrist younger brother, Lucien. Arguments are frequent and vituperative,  obsessional, with Rose’s most implacable enemy and sister-in-law, Caroline Murat, devising a cunning plot to hasten Rose’s abandonment. Caroline is a sister of Napoleon, who married one of his chief generals, the debonair but incurably vain Joachim Murat; and she’s now suggesting that it is vital to learn first if it’s Napoleon, rather than Rose, who’s the one incapable of producing a child. For this purpose a woman known to be fertile will be selected and kept in seclusion, away from all other men, to be regularly brought to the emperor’s bed. Rose has now learned that a woman has already been found, an Eleanor Noelle, whose husband had recently been imprisoned for forgery. Young, seductive, already the mother of two, she immediately accepted the offer, with its fat remuneration and many perquisites. Rose’s letter is written from Mainz, where her husband is planning a new campaign. Unwilling to remain in Paris with the Bonapartes, she had begged Napoleon to take her with him. 

                Edward cannot concentrate on Rose’s trivia, however, dwelling instead on the French victories over Prussia at Jena and Auerstadt. He thinks:  I was trained in the Prussian army, and know its major weakness is a cumbrousness in troop and supply movements. In the face of Napoleon’s legendary speed and agility, this would have allowed French forces to define both battlefields to their own advantage, while the Prussians were still lumbering on their way to arrive there.

               Left in Mainz for her own safety, Rose says Napoleon has been writing to her often from wherever he’s encamped, and with unusual affection. She now suspects this is because he’s been informed Eleanor Noelle had given birth to a baby boy on December 2nd. Yes, Edward thinks, he’s got many accomplishments to cheer him, not the least of which would be the alleviation of worries about impotence. That must have weighed heavy on his pride… even after entering Berlin through the Brandenburg Gate. He pictures Napoleon standing like an artist before a map of Europe, and repainting it in broad strokes, standing back, smiling in satisfaction, his long brush still poised. Ah, to be on the continent now with an army… His dreams for Castle Hill evanesce in the face of this incomparable glory.

                Rose’s worries interest him far less than her husband’s military prowess. The letter ends with a dream she’d had that Napoleon fell in love with a Polish princess. Replying to her note informing him of this dream, Napoleon, currently beset by a scheming interference from Queen Louise of Prussia, a formidable woman –indeed, women prove to be his most effective opponents — assures Rose her fears are nonsense, and that he loathes intriguing women, thus he can only love one who’s gentle, honest, and graceful – can you guess who she is? he writes. Yet Rose still feels uneasy, insecure and lonely. Edward knows well what that’s like.

                “I’m sorry for her,” he tells Julie, “but she’s not the first to find power and wealth are no guarantee of happiness…”

                 “This is not a time to moralise. You are heartless!” Julie cries, and then she leaves the room sobbing.

                Tears flow all over London that bleak, baleful January. Two weeks after Nelson’s funeral, the Prime Minister, Sir William Pitt, dies. He’s only 46, worn out by the cares of office and the war. He’s succeded by William Grenville, a capable enough man, but no genius, and not beloved the way Pitt was – indeed no politician will be for a very long time. What tore the last shred of Pitt’s health was Napoleon’s Berlin Decree, announcing his ‘Continental System’, which is the consolidation in law of his closure of European ports to our shipping. All countries under his control, and all his allies, will now be obliged to comply or risk his ire. Czar Alexander will soon risk it, setting in motion a great wheel that will crush all of Europe beneath it before finally coming to rest in a field near Brussels a decade later. After various squabbles, the US under President Jefferson has also closed her ports to our ships. We can buy, but we cannot sell. Few people during this time realize how much we’ve come to rely on trade, especially of our manufactures, which are occupying so many workers in the north. Empires can be enormously profitable yet they’re  exceedingly expensive to run. Where we were once a self-sufficient island, we now span half the globe and the sun never sets on us, so we’re totally reliant on the sale of what we manufacture from the raw materials shipped in from the antipodes. The emperor is blocking these shipments, just as he’s blocking the export of goods made from them. We can’t import grain either and the price of bread is soaring beyond the reach of most. It is potentially ruinous, and is creating great unrest among the poor, whose new jobs in the mills and factories could vanish overnight, leaving them stranded in redundant cities. Napoleon is waging economic war, trying to squeeze and starve us into submission – because he can’t reach us with his troops. 

               ‘The old ways are changing rapidly,’ he tells Will Villette, who has now retired from the Dragoons. They haven’t seen one another since Geneva – they’ve corresponded often — and the changes in both men, the consequences of time, are evident and a cause of mirth. ‘But,’ Edward adds, ‘we refuse to see it…’

               ‘We?’ asks Villette, sweeping back wisps of grey hair tossed up by the wind.

                ‘My family, the government,’ he says. 

                  Unlike his brothers, who are bored rigid by the subject, and unlike the King, whose mind cannot grasp it, he’s taken a great interest in the growing new class of factory-owners, inventors, traders, entrepreneurs, bankers and men of business, sensing that the future, and indeed our economic survival will soon be entirely in their hands. 

                  The landed aristocracy is, by and large, still living in the 16th century, and Parliament, dominated by a self-interested majority of wealth and titles, is scarcely better-equipped to operate in a 19th century where, Edward is convinced, England will have to change beyond recognition, or else perish. There is no choice, he feels.

               ‘My family,’ he says, ‘could be instrumental in first recognizing this change, and then assisting our smooth transition towards it by encouraging industrial innovations… indeed celebrating those who conceive and implement them. Of course,’ he goes on, ablaze with enthusiasm for what he’s come to see as his new mission, ‘our social order will of necessity also need to be transformed along more egalitarian lines…’ 

               ‘A difficuly there, no?’ says Villette, a knotted frown revealing his real opinion.

               ‘The modern world will be unforgiving of resistance to it,’ he says, ‘ – of that I have little doubt…’ 

                 In constant exchanges with his old army friends and acquaintances, he has continued trying to press his Gibraltar reforms, along with the need for a ceaseless improvement in weaponry, as well as the army in general. Napoleon’s artillery genius has shown that the sophistication of weapons and skill in using them counts far more now than the size of armies. Captain Rupert George knew this. 

                 Edward’s sole success in the area has been in persuading one general to try using the rocket as a weapon. Invented years ago, by William Congreve, it has languished in a warehouse, like many other innovations, until the general in question gave it a try. The man liked it alot, and soon had it as standard issue. But Edward has seen other wonders, prototypes of rifles that fire several bullets without needing to be reloaded; cannons able to fire accurately from two or three miles away; and iron-clad warships invulnerable to cannon shot. Yet the crusty old generals prefer their flintlock muskets, just as they prefer their illiterate rabble instead of disciplined and educated men. Equality is alien to an army, where the most rigid and unyielding of class systems persists. 

                ‘It’s disheartening,’ Villette comments, although the news doesn’t surprise him.

                  The army is run by a very conservative breed; and no one wants to try innovations — risking flaws, training men to use them —  especially not during a war.

                 ‘No,’ says Edward cheerfully. ‘I’m going to take my case to the very men behind it all.’

                  He means the new class of industrialists, many of who have inherited nothing at birth except their brains and energy. He throws himself into this task with gusto.

                 Thursday, January 1st, 1807. Light is still far off for the new year. Curtains at the foot of his bed flap, and then are drawn away by an unseen force. His wardrobe door opens, and out comes William Pitt. Haggard, worn, bowed, he shuffles silently towards the bed. Edward tries to speak, but no sound will emerge. Pitt waves a grey hand to silence him. ‘You don’t speak to ghosts,’ he says, in a thin, whistling voice, ‘they speak to you. It would be better for me here if I didn’t have to look on as you people make a hash of things. They won’t let me look away, though; no, I must watch until everything I set in motion finally comes to rest. Apparently, we all have to do it. But there’s no one else here, Highness. It’s lonlier than Number Ten. No food, no sleep, just watching, eternal vigilance. What a mess is being made of my schemes! Using the war with Spain to loot her colonies: Is that a sound idea? No, your enemy is in Warsaw now, not Madrid. Boney’s only got the Russians left, and then he will own the continent. You know who he’ll come after then, don’t you? Yes, smug in your cosy bed, you! Ah, but it’s hard to see, and impossible to change. They used to say, ‘laid to rest’, yet there is no rest, just the restless churning of effects from causes, causing other effects… endlessly. It’s endless, sire, endless. And what are you going to do about it, eh?’

                ‘I?’ The Duke of Kent, sits bolt upright in the shadowed room, awash in perspiration and trembling. ‘Me?’

                ‘What is it, darling?’ comes Julie’s drowsy voice from out of a misty sleep.

                ‘Nothing,’ he says. ‘A bad dream is all…’

                All of Europe is having a bad dream as this year opens in blood and depradation. Napoleon enters Warsaw, greeted as a liberator, having along the way created the Rhineland Confederation out of sixteen German principalities, and made Saxony a kingdom. After nearly a millennium, the Holy Roman Empire is now dust. We soon learn, however, of a devastating yet apparently inconclusive battle at Eylau, between the French and Russo-Prussian armies. The death toll had been so high that both sides had withdrawn to deal with their wounded. The dead will stink for months on the field. Yet Napoleon claimed it a victory all the same, pursuing the Russians until he inflicted a very conclusive defeat on them at Friedland. Indeed, it is so conclusive that there is to be a peace conference between Czar Alexander and Napoleon at Tilsit. All of London is wondering if this means a new alliance… or else the French conquest of Russia? Our role on land is, as usual, embarrassingly inadequate, with no commander of vision anywhere in sight.

                Edward reads the papers and sighs. ‘Ah, if only, if only…’


                 All he can do for the war effort is to arrange with Louis de Salaberry in Quebec to have three of his sons come over and take up positions he’s arranged for them in the British army. For Eduard, his ‘godson’, who’s now fourteen, he’d used what little influence he has left to place him as a cadet in Woolwich Academy, the finest military training college we have in England, an institution which accepts only the most promising applicants. This also means that Julie will be able to have their son as a regular house-guest, on weekends and during holidays.

               “It will be strange,” she says, when he gives her the news, “but wonderful too. Thank you so much, Edward…”

                “I thought it would be strange too,” he confesses, “but I’m also looking forward to it tremendously. I feel more paternal now too, after arranging his training at Woolwich, starting his career – you know, those fatherly things…”

                ‘What do you know of those?’ she says. Then she hesitates, adding, “I will have to dote on him, you know that…” 

               ‘As will I,’ he tells her. ‘But remember that Charles and Chevalier de Salaberry will also be here… although they won’t be in London much…’  Their posts are to be with the Royal Fusiliers up in Scotland.

                 She ignores this, as if struck by a revelation. “Oh,’ she says, ‘can’t we bring the Woods and Jean de Mestre over too?” It’s a plaintive voice, a mother’s lament.

               “When Castle Hill Lodge is finished,” he promises her. “I’ll offer Robert a position there. He may not accept, and I cannot force him to do so. But I will make the offer.”

                 “Can you imagine,” she says dreamily, “both of our children under one roof! It’s a dream…”

              “Ah. A dream. Just remember, my dearest, they’re no longer our children – and they must never know they are. It would be ruinous for us all. We must be content with showing them we’re the best godparents on earth; for that is, and always will be our only role in their lives. Just give some thought to how little Jean is to be treated… if he comes. He must have his own special place here too…”

                “He will,” she says. “Oh, he will indeed. Of course, he will – did you think he wouldn’t?”


                 ‘Don’t you “well” me, Kent!’

                  He doesn’t like the way she pronounces “Kent”. It makes hm think of an actress back in Switzerland, back in the land of Innocence. The thought gives him unsettling premonitions. Of what, he cannot say. But whatever it is disturbs his tenuous tranquility.


                 With a vague promise of spring in the air, he travels to South Wales for the opening of the Oystermouth Railway, the first steam train in the world to carry passengers. Crowds of Welshmen, many of them miners blackened from the pits, stand on either side of the gleaming tracks in a dreary drizzling Welsh rain to watch the grunting engine blow out wreathes of steam and smoke, as the covered carts, with their wooden seats full of nervous travellers, clack and clank, slowly jerked away into a hazy distance. Will anyone want to travel in such a manner? 

                 After a brief conversation with a Methodist minister about the need for schools in this impoverished area, he runs into General Williams, who says, ‘That brother of yours, York, is, if you don’t mind me saying so, a dishonourable varlet of the first order…’

                 ‘I don’t mind in the least,’ he says, ‘but why in particular?’

                ‘Well,’ says Williams, turning up the collar of his oilskin, ‘I tackled him on the need to put some of our armies into Europe, recommending you as a commander, and…God! He accuses me of meddling, and demands to know why you don’t resign as governor of Gibraltar…’

                ‘Ah,’ he says. ‘I’m not going to do that until there’s an official inquiry into my conduct there. No reason I should… Besides, I need the money…’

                ‘Yes,’ says Williams, ‘but it’s disgraceful the way he puts this personal enmity above the war…God almighty!’

                ‘Yes, indeed, it is disgraceful – always has been, always…’ 

                He has regularly petitioned York for a return to the Rock, receiving in response a regular stream of increasingly curt and insulting refusals. ‘Let him fulminate all he wants,’ he tells Weatherall, back in London. ‘He’s another Nero, fiddling with his grudges while we’re aflame here in the North Sea… or wherever the hell we are!’ 

                General John Moore is busy on the south coast training an army of fensibles to repel the French. He’s done yeoman’s work, but, all in all, these men are not experienced enough to be relied upon in the heat of battle. Greville’s government, his so-called ‘Ministry of All the Talents’, an increasingly sarcastic term, has fallen, and a general election has made the Duke of Portland, William Bentinck, Prime Minister. A dour, capable man, he last had the post 24 years ago, and is now deemed the only person able to hold together a fractious Whig coalition, which includes the warring George Canning and Lord Castereagh. The new government’s first crisis is the Treaty of Tilsit, which concludes with an alliance between France and Russia, with Prussia as a very junior partner. The weak Prussian ruler, Francis, has been forced to cede half of his territory to Napoleon, including the Duchy of Warsaw and the Kingdom of Westphalia — whose new king will soon be Napoleon’s brother, Jerome.

                ‘Codswallop,’ says Weatherall, ruffling his paper. ‘At least the Jacobites have finally bitten the dust…’ 

                 Henry Benedict, the last Stewart claimant to the English throne, has died, his movement with him.

                 But something else has caught Edward’s attention: ‘What,’ he says, ‘on earth is an ‘internal combustion engine’?’

                 Nicephore Neipce has been awarded the patent for such a device by Napoleon, who watched it successfully power a boat on the Seine.

               ‘That I do know,’ says Weatherall, ‘or the Times does. It’s an engine powered by oil…’

               ‘Ah. Oil?’

                 Robert Fulton, who’d earlier shown his steamboat most unsuccessfully to the emperor, has just sailed a vessel from New York down the Hudson River to Albany. The new age, the one Edward envisions, is already giving birth to her monstrous new children. His diary, for the rest of this year and the next, merely records events that interest him, and meetings he has with all manner of people, many of them connected, if sometimes only vaguely, with reform or innovation. The Geological Society is founded, and he attends the inaugural meeting, noting a new wave in scientific thought. The Royal Navy blockades Copenhagen, principally to prevent Dano-Norweigian fleets from surrendering to Napoleon. Using phosphorus rockets, our navy burns most of the ships, destroying a third of the city and killing over 2,000 of its inhabitants – a severe but necessary action. Napoleon starts vaccinating his army, using Dr. Jenner’s invention, discovered while noticing that milkmaids with cowpox are immune to smallpox (from vacca = Latin for ‘cow’, he tells himself). The Slave Trade is abolished both in America and the British Empire. Queen Marie I of Portugal flees to Brazil, making Rio de Janeiro the Portuguese empire’s new capital. The Americans are after their ex-vice president, Aaron Burr, first charging him with conspiracy – he’s acquitted – and now with treason, for trying to partition part of Louisiana and establish there an independent republic. Napoleon threatens Sweden with war if she doesn’t join the Continental System. Russian troops invade Finland, with no prior declaration of war. Frederick VI becomes the new Danish king, and the next day Denmark declares war on Sweden. A large volcano has erupted somewhere in the South Pacific, causing a sudden drop in marine temperatures in the region — which will spread across the globe for a decade. An uprising against French occupying troops begins in Madrid – promising, he writes. But on May 2nd all the rebels are executed by firing squad (an event that Francisco Goya will later famously depict on canvas). The Russians are not faring well in Finland, suffering defeats both on land and at sea. Anglo-Portuguese forces under Sir Arthur Wellesley defeat the French in two battles on the peninsular – this is underlined. Since Portugal is now Brazil, he wonders, are they fighting in Spain? Wellesley, soon to be Duke of Wellington, is in fact using many of his, of Edward’s, regulations to create a new and different kind of army, one disciplined and gradually more compassionate. Two truces are announced between Russia and Finland, the second ending their war. Having abolished serfdom – perhaps — Czar Alexander now declares Finland part of Russia. France sends more troops into Spain, cracking down hard, with Napoleon himself joining the army – unfortunate, he comments. But Wellesley will soon famously turn this around, signalling the beginning of an end. 

               Waking early on Sunday, 1st of January 1809, he looks out the window at a freezing fog enveloping London in its icy pall. On his desk, partly crumpled, lies a letter from the Duke of York threatening him with a court-martial if he continues to disobey the order to resign. He thinks: Christ! Will I have to put up with this for another year? But, as it happens, he won’t. A billowing fetor of humiliation is already building around York, his spindly legs sunk in it up to the knees like abandoned fence posts in ground-mist.

Queen Victoria’s Secret: Chapter 14.2


                    ‘Corybantic,’ says Maria Fitzherbert in the garden at Knightbridge, as Edward outlines Caroline’s latest disgrace. ‘Worse than a Maenad. You’ve got to confront her about it…show her she can’t get away with such behaviour. Frighten her, for God’ssake. I told you she’d try to bring the family down…’

                 ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘you did. But will it do any good, confronting her?’

                 ‘No,’ says Maria. ‘But you’ve got to do something; and that’s all you can do. She may well send those drawings to everyone she knows – even those she doesn’t know…’

                    So, he and Augustus have to ride over to Blackheath, on an oppressively gloomy day, low black clouds stacked one on top of the other, as if massed for an attack.    She denies it all fervidly, of course.

                 “The Sussess Duke now is looking something fat,” she tells Augustus, a wicked glint in her sky-blue eyes. “Too much the eatering and drink, just like all Hanover’s brother – this is mine own thought…”

                It couldn’t be anyone else’s, he thinks. “I shall give you my own thoughts now, Caroline,” he says. “I’ve had the great misfortune to view those revolting drawings you sent to Sir John Douglas, and I recognized your handwriting on them instantly — for it is uniquely recognizable. Please cease and desist in your denial, and, for once, listen to what we have come here to say.”

                    “Hah,’ she scoffs, ‘Always I am haffing to listen for what mens is saying…”

                “I would very much appreciate a drink,” Augustus tells her, still annoyed at being called fat, and pinching his swelling chin nervously to ascertain the truth. “We’ve been toiling on your behalf for days now, and we deserve some civility.”

                      “Pah! You toil for Douglas bitch, not for me, who is a sister for you! I know truth about diss bitch and what she do with the great hero, the Smith. I see them at it like dags of the street!”

                    Yes, he thinks, I’ve seen your portrait of that. “You’re not serving yourself well, Caroline,” he says sternly. “You saw nothing, and you know it – for there was nothing to see, except the green-eyed monster of your own irrational jealousy. We’re here as your friends and brothers, not your enemies; so, we can either sit and talk civilly, or we can say what must be said standing here in the hall, where every servitor can hear it. The choice is yours…”

                  She huffs and puffs, and then leads the brothers into her cluttered drawing room, calling a maid for refreshments. Is it in this drawing room, he wonders idly, that she does her drawing?

                    Seated on either side of her for tactical reasons, they tell her that unless she ceases her harassment of Lady Douglas, her pictures and writings will be placed before the King, who’d then decide himself what ought to be done with her. She grows pale and silent for some minutes. Her head had been turning back and forth to each of them like someone watching a game of tennis. He imagines this ponderous silence is a harbinger of their mission’s success.

                     But then she blurts out, “That old King like much to see such picture his self, and he do such rude things I draw thems right here with myself. So he will care not a thing for you picture…” She smiles slyly, as if making a cunning chess move.

                Dismayed, they resort to the contingency plan. She’s warned of the awful dangers awaiting her, dangers that will include a truly dreadful humiliation for little Charlotte; then there’s certain divorce from Wales; and being stripped of all titles and possessions; there’s getting sued by Douglas for many thousands, possibly even sentenced to prison, perhaps transportation, who knows? These are high crimes. She is thinking about this, you can tell; but they haven’t finished yet. Her actions might be deemed treasonous, an attack on England, which means the death penalty. Whatever the outcome, she’ll certainly never see her daughter again — not ever. 

                   She looks from side to side, tears glistening. This brutal badgering with threat after threat finally coaxes from her a reluctant promise to leave Lady Douglas alone. But you can’t believe a word she says.

                “It will not be we, your friends, who will come here the next time,” he tells her, at the door, in a last attempt at salvaging the corybantic mess she’s become. “It will be men with orders to carry you off, in chains if necessary; and they will not be gentle or kind; nor will they listen to a word you say. For Charlotte’s sake, Caroline, for your family’s sake, control yourself; and act like the Princess of Wales you still are, not like some antic Drury Lane drab…” He thinks: is this all I can say? If I’d led her life, would I be mailing obscenities all over town? You don’t know these things, do you? Not until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes. He glances down for a glimpse of her footwear, seeing only the shimmer of a six-inch silver stack heel. Or perhaps in someone’s hat, he thinks.

                  They bid her a good day, oblivious to the irony, and ride off, feeling no success at all. To win against the insane you must also be insane, for reason and logic play no roles in such a game.

                “There’s really nothing wrong with her that losing a few pounds wouldn’t solve,” remarks Augustus cagily.

                  “She said the same of you, I believe…”

                “At least I have hair,” says Augustus, who’s now five years old again.

                    He thinks: Yes, you’ve got mine as well, by the look of it. Why so uneven a distribution of blessings in one broken family?

                      He was seven when Augustus came into the world, so he never really knew him – just as Wales, York and Clarence had never really known him, Edward. They were not so much a family of strangers as one of cliques: his three older brothers; his three younger brothers; his sisters – which, of course, left him in a clique of his own. He thinks: Even my own hair doesn’t want any part of my clique now; it’s jumping ship, baling out. Who knows at the time that those early years are the mold into which your entire self will be poured to be shaped? But do we really have any choice in these matters — that’s the question, isn’t it? We’re actors who can’t select the parts we play. The Director does that. Or does He?



                  Hearing from acquaintances that Caroline is now claiming her child had been fathered by him, and that his wife is still seeing Admiral Sir Sydney Smith, Sir John Douglas erupts like Vesuvius. He heads instantly in stratospheric dudgeon to the Duke of Sussex, who he knows better than the Duke of Kent. There, Sir John demands that something be done about Caroline – and done immediately. He won’t tolerate this any longer. Tolrance is finished. Terrified that news of the scandal is now bound to reach Wales, most unwisely Augustus scurries off to save his own neck first. Whence does he scurry? To Carlton House of course, where he blurts out a version of the whole sordid tale, telling Wales that Edward has known about everything, including many other scandals, many indeed, concealing them from Wales now for a year or more. Affecting a knock-kneed look of childlike helpless frailty, he says the Duke of Kent had only recently dragged him into it, unwilling as he was, and solely on account of his friendship with Sir John Douglas. He’s scared. Wales has always been so big. He, Sussex, could still sleep comfortably in the prince’s belly. He says anything he thinks might salvage him. If Sir John erupted like Vesuvius, you can only imagine what monstrous volcano spewed its furious lava all over Pall Mall. 

                   The molten rock is still flowing, red-hot, bubbling and burning, when Edward is summoned there. God! Look at him! The Prince of Wales, a flushed balloon of fury, and even dressed in orange silk, tries to sound at first like a reasonable man, a man simply seeking answers to some slightly vexing questions. Not an easy pose for him to adopt, and thus not a very convincing one.

                      “Why, I am wondering to myself,” he begins, not offering Edward a seat or any civil greeting, “why would you keep to yourself matters affecting the entire Royal Family, hmm? Why? Tell me. Let me in on the secret. Inform me…”

                    “I merely wished to avoid a scandal,” Edward replies, but so meekly his voice is a reedy chirp, “knowing what affect such a debacle would have on the King’s fragile health…” A pause like the end of time. Deflect it, he thinks. Make it about someone else, not about him.

                    “This is how I view your fruitless, dissembling attempt at discretion,” Wales then tells him, as if about to unroll a map or write upon a chalkboard. “Not in fact as an act of filial concern for the Family, but rather as…” He pauses, a man ensuring his quotation from Ovid is properly remembered; and then he suddenly leaps to his feet, kicks a monstrous Chinese urn into the grate, where it shatters into a thousand fragments, advances and screams, a foot from Edward’s face, “…as a deliberate attempt to rob me, the Prince of Wales, of a golden opportunity to cast off an intolerable and interminable burden through the indictment of Brunswick’s bitch with ruinous charges which would sever my accursed bond with that foul cunt for all eternity! Have you any idea, you self-righteous, anhedonic, egg-pated, boring, horse-faced arse, what that means to me?”

                  Since Wales has evidently paused for breath, Edward shakes his head and repeats his pusilanimous defense, this time with greater emphasis on the King’s tenuous mental health.

                  Having blown the lid off his skull, Wales now fumes and steams, or his wig does. He lowers over Edward; he broods darkly, saying with a rattling snarl, “If you seriously believe I give a two-farthing fuck about the King’s health you really ought to have joined the bloody Quakers not the army. Oh,” he changes tones, a new idea flickering into amused life, moving him into jaunty sarcasm, “…we were wrong about ‘Joseph Surface’ weren’t we? For you are really ‘Simon Pure’, aren’t you?” 

                   He’s referring to the odious humbug of a Philadelphia Quaker, a character in the stage comedy, A Bold Stroke for a Wife. It’s popular, alas. Julie and he have seen and enjoyed the play – and Wales knows that they have. Thus, this comparison to the loathsome hypocritic, Mr. Pure, is profoundly insulting. It’s meant to be. O, it’s meant to be a billhook to the heart.

                Edward protests once again, in his little voice, protests that his motives were innocent. He’d acted at Caroline’s request on her behalf, as well as to save unnecessary scandal from afflicting the family. He adds desperately that this is something he’d always attempted to do. Always. Believe me…

                  Wales picks up a large black poker from amidst the china fragments in his grate. Edward is convinced he now intends to beat him to a bloody pulp with it. Instead, though, Wales slams it down on a red lacquer cabinet, cracking the surface apart, leaving a furrow of white wood two inches deep. Is that surface me, my Surface? Then he comes back to stand inches from Edward’s face again, his breath smelling of vinegar, his eyes protruding like cracked billiard balls, his veins running with lava.

                        “You have never belonged in this family,” he tells Edward through clenched teeth, finally clarifying his previous remark made in the Knightsbridge house. “Goblins or demons brought you here. You lied to me; and brothers do not lie to each other — so you cannot be my brother, can you? But you shall have your chance to tell your fairy tale; and we shall have our chance to see what a bare-faced, mendacious, slithering serpent you really are. Maybe we shall learn that you have slipped between Caroline’s sheets too, eh? I hope the smell didn’t make you puke from both ends when the time came… ha, so to speak.” He laughs a cruel laugh at his own wit. Too much time spent with Sheridan, thinks Edward, whose mind feels like a carousel, unstill, ever-turning. Then Wales adds, in a voice hideously similar to their father’s voice at its peak of intemperate fury, “There will be a formal inquiry into these matters, of that you may be certain. Just as you may be equally certain to be called as a star witness, grilled until your cheese bubbles and truth escapes from it.” He steps back, crimson shoes squeaking in the rumbling silence of London, and he yells at maximum volume again: “Now get out of my sight, Simon Pure, before I crack open that eggshell on your perfidious skull and release all the fucking deceitful snakes nesting inside it. Go!”

                  He goes, wings at his ankles. Leaving Carlton House, Edward thinks: That did not go well, did it? In an upstairs window behind smudged glass he catches a glimpse of little Charlotte’s tear-stained face looking mournfully down at him. She waves a tiny hand, before someone orders her away from her vantage point.

                    ‘How did it go?’ says Julie, snipping at some flower stems in the music room.

                    ‘I’m Simon Pure now…’

                  ‘Are you, dear?’

                       ‘And we might as well be living in Philadelphia…’

    ‘Well, Louis-Phillipe and his brothers seem to like it there…’


                  Our joy comes mixed with sorrow these days, or so it seems. It was hard to celebrate our only victory over the French, or over their navy at Cape Trafalgar, because Admiral Nelson died of wounds received during the battle against Napoleon’s useless ships. He’d have been better off staying in Quebec with his amour. All of England mourns him. We’re short of heroes in these dark days. And heroes never last very long. He, the Duke of Kent, an armchair warrior now, must content himself with reading accounts of Austerlitz, as they come in. Napoleon’s strategy was staggeringly successful but could easily have been fatal. He relied on a dense mist, which hid the weakening in his right flank, and allowed him to fake a retreat, luring the enemy down from higher ground. Had the mist lifted, the ruse would have failed disastrously. But the mist did not lift, and the victory was conclusive, with more Russians and Austrians lying dead or wounded than in any battle on record. The living could not cope with the needs of the dead. Not that they’re mentioned prominently in Napoleon’s reports. But his superb marshals, like Soult, Ney and Bernadotte, were as responsible for this victory as their emperor. In the flush of victory, he allowed the Russians to retreat unmolested. A victor’s largesse can be boundless. But Emperor Francis paid a terrible price, paid the whole price. Napoleon took Austrian territories from Italy to the Tirol. His Imperial Majesty Francis II was reduced to King Francis I, ruler of little. Even his capital, Vienna, is now controlled by the French. Beethoven is rehearsing Fidelio there right now, a special gala performance for his idol. For Edward, though, it could all be happening in another world. The only challenge he faces is the Prince of Wales, who has now become as hostile as the Duke of York. You’d think the war was in another world for them too. Personal concerns are all they seem to see out there.

                     There is indeed what is termed A Delicate Inquiry into every allegation made against the Princess of Wales; and he, Edward, is indeed summoned as a key witness. Fortunately for most reputations involved, the newspapers on the whole find war news a bigger attraction than royal gossip; so, the scandal is muted. Of course, wars make people need leaders, which is why leaders like wars. At such times they don’t mind the press either – long as they get the story right. Patriotism is a baffling and illogical phenomenon, opposing, as it invariably does, someone else’s patriotism, which, though identical to your own patriotism, is now somehow the antithesis of patriotism. It makes no sense; but war is all about emotion, not sense. 

                     Proceedings of the Inquiry are so tedious that members of the council even fall asleep. For the chattering classes, British political news is more engaging than these droning proceedings – and it’s rarely that. After the Austrian battles, Mr. Pitt finds it rather easy to form an alliance with Russia, sealed by the Treaty of Petersberg. Austria soon joins this alliance, making it theoretically the largest army ever assembled – if it ever manages to assemble, that is. We prefer to send money rather than men; and we send 100,000 muskets to Czar Alexander, as well as a few generals, like Sir Robert Wilson, to impart the latest military wisdom. The Russian army is in a terrible state; but they’re resilient people: they’ll survive. Will the Prussians join us? That’s what we wonder. Will the Austrians rally to the call? Everyone’s on edge, wondering whether to submit to Napoleon or risk another Austerlitz. He’s made himself the virtual master of Europe now, seemingly unbeatable – the most powerful man in history. You either try to beat him and fail, or else you join him and submit. I give you a choice…  It’s a time for valour and glory, the kind of time that separates men from men, finding giants amongst them – but mainly dwarves. Which will you prove to be? 

                     The whole world is at war. There’s never been a conflict of this scale. It is the combat mission every true soldier dreams of leading. Amid the clash of steel, the boom of powder, as armies scar the continent and bodies are piled from horizon to horizon, where is he? The forgotten Hero of the West Indies is a mere witness at a most indelicate Delicate Inquiry. All he has ever wanted to do is serve his country and lead our soldiers into battle against our foes. It is not possible to imagine a more inopportune time for a field-marshal in his prime, whose leadership skills are unquestioned, whose heroism is on record, to be so disgracefully sidelined and deprived of a command. Bitterness? Yes. Who among us would not be bitter at this?

                   It is fortunate that Sir Sydney Smith, as instructed, had burned the obscene pictures. If they’d been presented as evidence, they would have left the Princess of Wales looking more loathsome to the public than Boney the Ogre. To her credit, though, Caroline defends Edward’s role to this inquisition, ascribing all his actions to her own pleas for mediation. Many sordid facts emerge; yet ultimately the evidence is insufficient to prove adultery, to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt.

                     The Inquiry quietly concludes with her innocence intact, yet her reputation in shreds. The embarrassment to her and little Charlotte must be mortifying. No longer is ‘poor’ Caroline the public’s darling martyr; she’s its national shame — and the ink jockeys do notice this. Newspaper articles are uniformly censorious, embellishing with fictitious details what is already sufficiently damning; as well as inciting a rare wave of sympathy for the Prince of Wales, which deeply gratifies him.

                     Yet, astoundingly, Caroline is not in the least part chastened by the whole humiliating process. Rumours still abound in the clubs and coffee houses about her lewd talk and reckless behaviour, as well as her disparaging comments on members of the Royal Family. She writes scurrilous letters to relatives and friends in Germany, replete with character assassinations aimed at every member of Edward’s family. This comes to light when she gives a clerical friend travelling to Germany a large batch of letters to deliver when he arrives there. For some reason, the man is unable to proceed beyond Holland; thus, he mails the letters back to Caroline. They fall into the wrong hands on their way, of course, and are eventually delivered to the Queen, who reads them, first with fascination, then horror, and finally with apocalyptic rage. 

                     There are perhaps fifty or sixty letters in this batch, and every one of them spits venom at his parents and siblings. His mother passes these letters around the family, creating such a mood of scorching hatred for Caroline you can taste boiled vitriol in the dank air all over Windsor Castle. The documents are offered for Edward’s perusal several times, yet he declines these offers, largely on the priggishly pious grounds that reading private correspondence is a violation of ethical standards. The act thus mitigates anything in their contents. Yet he can’t prevent people informing him of these contents, can he? He’s soon sufficiently aware of them to know that Caroline has been savagely unfair, more or less. Trying to keep a calm head and some semblance of detachment, however, he decides to write a note for distribution to his relatives: They were indeed unjustifiable letters, he writes, which it is hardly possible to reconcile with the rank of the writer. But he also draws attention to the question of principles, which, he believes, are more important than the issue of Caroline’s malice. He does wonder if his carousel mind is the best judge these days. He does wonder. 

                      For the effrontery of telling everyone, in effect, that their insulted dignity is a result of their own unprincipled prying, he finds himself branded Caroline’s defender. Not a label anyone wants glued across their forehead at this time. The ensuing enmity further alienates him from his three eldest brothers, who now cut him to invisibility during any encounter. He almost misses being Joseph Surface or Simon Pure; at least their presence was recognized. You don’t belong in this family… Maybe it’s true? Maybe he doesn’t belong?

                  ‘I hate to say this,’ says Julie, ‘but you only have yourself to blame, don’t you? Why distribute such an inflammatory document?’

                   And Weatherall tells him, ‘Well, Edward, they do say don’t shit where you live, do they not? And you seem to have befouled much of London…’

    ‘Well, I…’

But Julie cuts him off: ‘If you’re going to say you meant no harm,’ she snaps, ‘there’s a highway to hell outside. Go and have a look at the material it’s paved with. No, don’t write me a report about it…’ 


                    ‘Why name a warship HMS Victory,’ he says, when news of Nelson’s death reaches the city. ‘It’s asking for divine retribution. Like a racehorse called Winner…’

                 ‘Well,’ says Weatherall, ‘it was a victory…’

               ‘For the ship perhaps. Not for him. No doubt he’ll be glorified, though – like Wolfe on the Plains…’ But not, he thinks, like me on the sugar islands.

                He’s right about this. It’s January 9th, 1806. London throngs with noisy crowds for Lord Nelson’s state funeral, which he watches from a  window at Weatherall’s club, assuming there’ll shortly be drinking and rioting in the streets, as such pageants generally incite, since any event – tragic, glorious, even comic – provides an opportunity to drink yourself into raving oblivion. Yet as the coffin draws near, on its long way to St. Paul’s Cathedral, an uncanny silence descends over the vast crowd. You could have heard a penny fall. Even the horses’ blackened hoofs make no sound; and every man removes his hat and bows his head in solemn respect. Black plumes, black hoofs, a blackened gun-carriage draped in black bearing a dead hero, all gliding by ethereally, an unreal, a ghostly cortège. He swallows hard, and sees the tears brimming in Weatherall’s bloodhound eyes. London holds its breath. Once the spectral procession has passed from view, people simply walk off quietly to their homes, leaving the streets unnaturally empty.

                 ‘They desrve so much more than we give them,’ he says, gazing down at the emptiness where thousands had just been.

               ‘Who do?’ Weatherall asks, sniffing loudly.

                 ‘Those people. So loyal, so devoted to this country of ours. They’re the ones who cheer victories and mourn at state funerals, while we stay indoors in comfort, eating and drinking…’

                ‘True. And?’ The old warrior is half-lost in his own shadows.

                ‘They deserve more — that’s all…’ 

                ‘You’re talking about education again? But will they want it any more than that rabble on the Rock?’

                ‘I think they will,’ he says. ‘We’ll have to see, won’t we? There’s something dark and smothering about this city. I’m going to stay out of it for a while, avoid the poisons emanating from that confraternity of hostility whose private club is Carlton House…’

                ‘I understand,’ says Weatherall. ‘But it will not be easy with the future monarch as your enemy.’

               ‘Easy? Have you noticed anything easy about the last twenty years?’

Queen Victoria’s Secret: Chapter 14.1



London: April 1805-October 1810


                    The omens once more: an earthquake in Campania kills some six thousand people. It’s in Italy, Campania. Napoleon will soon be crowned King of Italy in Milan. But the world’s attention is being drawn to France. Some like what they see, others are appalled. In Weimar, Johann von Goethe has successfully directed Friedrich Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell, and now he observes Napoleon with fiery fascination, making notes for Faust, his poem about a man who seals a pact with the Devil to gain the whole world, only to lose his soul. Schiller will soon be dead. In Vienna, Ludwig van Beethoven conducts his own Third Symphony, similarly watching events in Paris with a building admiration. Soon his first and only opera, Fidelio, will be performed — when the city is under French occupation. The War of the Third Coalition begins when Russo-Austrian forces advance towards the borders of France. Napoleon is at Boulogne preparing his invasion fleet when the news comes in. Making sure he’s seen publically in Paris, to allay suspicions, he has his Grand Army march at lightning speed in three divisions towards Austria. The defeats will be devastating, culminating in his masterpiece, the Battle of Austerlitz, which wipes out the combined armies of Russia and Austria, leading to the Peace of Pressburg at Christmas – it’s yet another treaty, this one now reducing the foremost continental empire to a mere principality. As Commander of the Russians, the young Czar Alexander is dismayed by his defeat, humiliated, and blamed by the powerful feudal aristocrats who effectively are his government; he will not lead an army again for eight years, by which time he’s entirely rebuilt and reorganized the Russian military into the finest fighting force on earth. It will determine the course of three world wars. 

                  Some people misplace their lives; others throw them away or lose them altogether; but Princess Caroline’s life has been stolen – and she wants it back.  Her marriage has proved to be a long-running farce, shameful, a perpetual torment disguised as an estranged relationship. The theft of her daughter, Charlotte, however, is different, far darker, far crueler, a wound to the soul not just to the mind and heart. The mind and heart heal in time; the soul bleeds for eternity. Yet, nothing if not erratic, and perhaps with some sense of when enough is enough, Wales has now allowed her weekly visits again. Except they’re not in fact ‘weekly’; Charlotte isn’t always there, at Carlton House; her father often sends her away to friends in the country, sometimes for months. Naturally, Caroline isn’t informed of this; she must find out where her daughter is from the staff. When Charlotte does happen to be there, a senior one of these staff is Lady Elgin, her governess, as we’ve heard. Charming, elegant, educated, impeccably well-mannered, and pleasantly elderly in a maternal way, Lady Elgin is, more importantly, also adored by Charlotte, who’s now referred to by all as the ‘Princess Royal’. Knowing Charlotte has someone around her she likes is a welcome, if a very cold comfort for her banished mother. Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, this lady’s husband, is our Ambassador to the Ottomans. But he’s currently looting all the finest marble statuary from the Parthenon, on the Acropolis in Athens. This is of course only to protect these exceptional examples of ancient Greek sculpture from depradations of the Turks, who now occupy the city, and have only scorn for any period of history before the Prophet Mohammed. Everything from an earlier age is the work of Infidels and needs to be destroyed not conserved. So Elgin has a believable enough excuse; but not so believable that Britain doesn’t feel obliged to buy the marbles from Ottoman Greece ten years later – for a very, very modest sum. Even so, Elgin is still called a ‘vandal’ in the House of Commons. But, vandal of a husband or not, Lady Elgin is still a perfect governess, understanding the frequent changes in little Charlotte’s moods, and able to instruct or educate her in all the arts of conversation, charm, scholarly erudition, formal behaviour, and an aloof warmth with strangers — all qualities that will be an essential part of her coming role in life as monarch. They are also qualities which neither of her parents really possesses at all. Lady Elgin’s principal task, however, is to supervise strictly Caroline’s visits in accordance with strictures laid down by Wales. There is to be no inappropriate talk or play; no discussions of family; no unsuitable foods or refreshments; no solitary walks; not much of anything at all in fact, anything a child might consider fun. Lady Elgin, who despises Caroline, particularly excels at this aspect of her work. She always complains to receptive ears in Carlton House that Charlotte is more ‘excitable’ after such maternal visits; she always notes down dubious conversations, masterfully transliterating Caroline’s speech, of which she disapproves intensely, believing it might handicap the Princess Royal. Unaware of Lady Elgin’s feelings about her, though, as she is blithely unaware of much else, Caroline continues to be grateful. The perfect governess does, alas, eventually make a colossal blunder. 

                     One respledant  summer morning, when the park is an explosive cloudscape of green, and pigeons fatly sun themselves on the glowing roof tiles, a messenger arrives for Charlotte bearing a note from the King himself. It requests she come with all haste to Kew Palace, where she will bid farewell to members of the Royal Family as they depart on their annual journey to the sea at Weymouth. Lady Elgin smells a rat; she’s deeply suspicious of this note, since such invitations usually come from the Queen and are thus invariably a summons to Windsor, not Kew. The Queen loathes Kew. Yet Lady Elgin recognizes the fanciful handwriting of the King, as well as his royal seal. Therefore, malodoorous rat or not, she’s hardly in any position to refuse this request. Ordering a carriage, she and Charlotte set out on their trip within the hour. They live next door to Carlton House, their proximity based on the theory that it would give Wales more time to spend with his daughter; but such time proves to be fleeting indeed. At least they’re near the stables. Driving down Pall Mall in their chaise, they travel south-west through Chelsea, down the King’s Road, to Fulham and Putney, and before long they’re in the open country on their way to Richmond. Fallow deer graze on grass the colour and radiance of emeralds; the great river is an iridescent blue sash draped around the flanks of England. Very soon they’re approaching Kew Palace. It is here that the rat Lady Elgin has smelt all morning leaps from its feather bed straight at her throat — for there is no Royal Family and no farewell inside the moldering walls. All they find is the rubicund, jelly-eyed old King sitting alone with Princess Caroline. Oh, heavens, thinks Lady Elgin; Wales is going to kick me across the park and into the Serepentine for this.

                 ‘Dear, dear Charly, hey-hey!’ croaks His Majesty, and Charlotte runs to his open arms.

                 The King has always doted on her and, as we’ve heard, he sympathizes most deeply with her mother. Once a frugal, if not a parsimonious man, His Majesty has now taken to showering expensive gifts upon his grandaughter; and he also still spends a suspicious amount of unaccompanied time with her mother, usually at Blackheath, where prying eyes are minimal, now Lady Jersey has gone, banished with her husband by Wales to make room for other attractions. Whether the King is attempting reconciliation between Wales and wife, or whether he pursues other interests during these clandestine meetings, is a matter of conjecture; for you can never quite believe Caroline’s versions of anything; and none dare ask for His Majesty’s version.

                  ‘I was expecting a…a farewell,’ says Lady Elgin, curtseying gracefully, and trying not to scowl at Caroline.

                 ‘What-what?’ says the King jovially. ‘Well, you’ve got a hail-hulloo instead…’ He smothers the Princess Royal in kisses, as she wriggles in his lap.

                  When news of this cunning stunt at Kew reaches the Queen’s keen ears, she is so very far from happy that those who normally suffer the long, gloomy day around her icy presence suffer an infinitely more egregious, longer and more miserable version of that same day. Yet even that day of endlessly spiteful misery is not remotely as miserable or as interminable as the one facing Lady Elgin, who is held entirely responsible for such an outrageous infraction of Queen Charlotte’s much-vaunted rules, regulations and commands. A tongue-lashing from his mother is, Edward believes, worse than a hundred strokes of the cat on any parade ground. At least when that lashing is over, it’s over and done with. But the Queen’s malicious lashing words tend to swarm around your mind for weeks after, psychic hornets in a constant search for the most vulnerable and tender spots to sting… and to sting again. 

                  It comes as no surprise then to anyone, except little Charlotte and big Caroline, to find Lady Elgin hastily resigning her position, citing ill-health and great age. She requests a loftier peerage in return for her sedulous services to both the present and the future monarch, and the one after that too. Yet what she receives is merely a pension for life equal to her current salary — taking inflation into account, that is. She will soon have a mutilated marble throng and its vandal to govern. 

                This fiscal demon named ‘Inflation’, newly-hatched from a new century’s shell, is currently attacking London more effectively and ruinously than any French army has yet managed to do. Wars are expensive, and paper money is cheap to print by the bale, in order to pay the butcher, baker and the gunpowder-maker, not to mention an army now scattered across half the globe. The Royal Mint’s presses begin to roll night and day, delivering notes by the stack to Bank of England vaults, with face values ranging from one to one thousand pounds. Unlike forgers and counterfeiters, however, the Royal Mint does have a license to print money, a new money too, one backed by nothing but faith in the issuing authority.  

                The issue gnawing away at Caroline’s soul experiences a sudden and steep inflation too, in the form of a seemingly reasonable question: Where and with who will her little Charlotte live henceforth? Her only certainty is that Montague House will not be the where; and that she has less chance of being the who than the Witch of Endor. The King, predictably unpredictable as always, expresses his prodigiously urgent desire to make dear Charlotte officially his own ward; but there are many growling objections to this, most of them, unsurprisingly, coming from Carlton House, where Wales views the suggestion as an intolerable affront. You’re suggesting I can’t look after my own daughter? Well, it’s not a suggestion, is it? Wales also, and more convincingly, suspects that a Charlotte living in her own apartments at Windsor Castle would also be a Charlotte able to provide easier access for her errant mother, whose unhappiness is a project the Prince of Wales can legitimately count as his true calling in life. Any suspicion of this punitive venture failing, or even just faltering for a moment, is beyond all endurance for him — although it’s true that much else is also beyond that. Even her death won’t be sufficient enough retribution. Indeed, he can’t conjure up anything that will suffice – but he tries. 

                       The potential burden on King George’s already overburdened mind of a rift between himself and his eldest son and heir is, finally – and after not a little violence, verbal and physical — deemed to be the only reason for an agreement that Charlotte should, after all, be allowed to live in her own apartments at Windsor. The Queen, as you might expect, vehemently insists that this acquiescence to her husband’s whims will, absolutely not, mean any chance encounters with Caroline, or indeed any encounters with her at all.

                  “She vould nod veel comvortable amonk der vamily,” is how she explains this display of her panoramic inhumanity. She had once, it’s true, invited Caroline to her drawing rooms; but this was when her mission had been to torment her eldest son. The new mission is far from clear to anyone, although it still involves a form of  torment for Wales. Since she mislikes everyone, it’s impossible to say if she mislikes her firstborn son more than most. You get the impression she could mislike anyone most, if they gave her the flimsiest reason to do so. Or is it that she can only love the child who suffers most? If this is the case, her two dead babies must be her favourites. After all, she does occasionally quote Saint Augustine: The dead are invisible; they’re not absent. When Edward hears this he shudders, praying silently to be both absent and invisible in death if he runs into his mother there.

– ii-

                      ‘Great God almighty!’ he cries out, pacing the Turkey rug in his library at Knightsbridge.

  ‘What now, darling?’ shouts Julie from the staircase. You can hear the Duke of Kent a mile away; but she goes in to him anyway.

                  ‘A note from Sussex,’ he says, waving it at her.


                    ‘It’s Caroline…’

                   ‘Oh, Lord. What now?’

                    ‘There’s been a falling out with Lady Douglas – a bad one. Caroline’s accusing her of having an affair behind her back…’

                     ‘An affair? With whom?’

                     ‘That’s the problem. It’s Sir Sydney Smith…’

                   ‘Oh,’ says Julie, blinking. ‘I thought you said he was…’

                    ‘Yes, he is. That’s the point. Caroline’s unravelling; she’s becoming unhinged. Maria warned me of this…’

                    ‘I’m so sorry I ever got you involved with her,’ says Julie, taking his hand. ‘It’s been nothing but trouble, and such a waste of time…’

                    ‘All I can do with time now is waste it,’ he says ruefully, scrunching up the note and tossing it deftly into a wicker bin. ‘I sit here waiting for a new command that will never come… But what else can I do? All I know is the army…’

                    ‘What about your charities?’

                      ‘I’m still trying to pay off fifteen-year-old debts, for Christ’s sake…’ A pause. He sighs. ‘You can’t be a philanthropist and owe thousands of pounds to people. Coutts says my creditors will hit the roof if I’m seen helping the poor. They’ll go to the press: Kent gives our money away, they’ll say. It’s all I can do to meet the interest payments. I need my army salary. I need it. I won’t resign…’

                    ‘So, you distract yourself with Caroline’s problems, do you?’

                   ‘What’s that supposed to mean? Yes, well, at least I can try to help her…’ A catch takes his voice down a quavering octave.

                    ‘Oh, my love. It’s going to be all right.’ She reaches up to stroke his big flushed face tenderly. ‘It’s going to be all right – you’ll see…’

                  ‘I’ve never seen it yet…’

                  Sir John and Lady Douglas, very wisely, inflation or not, have now moved out of Montague House to less traumatic, if more humble quarters elsewhere in the city of London. The rift between Mellie and Caroline had been so fearful that even the apes hid themselves away up in an attic; and Willikin started pissing in his bed, before he was dispatched to join the other orphans in their upscale workhouse. The last straw came when Caroline convinced herself Mellie was going at it with the Hero of Acre, resulting in a knock-down fight that trashed the drawing room and left three red furrows from Caroline’s fingernails on Mellie’s milky cheek. The Princess of Wales had been trying to claw her eyes out. 

                  ‘That’s it!’ Sir John had cried. ‘Pack your chest…’ 

                   And off they went, into a city growing grander by the day, as imperial capitals are supposed to do. He notices this too – he, the Duke of Kent – as he rides through Bloomsbury. From certain angles you’d think you were in ancient Athens. The Georgian style has a tendency to veer into fluted columns, cleithrals, architraves, peripterals, porticos and pediments; so that you get the impression architecture hasn’t changed in two and a half millennia. The price has, though. The real value of paper money may be uncertain, but the money itself is utterly certain of its worth in goods or services – even if that worth changes by the week. You could store gold and silver easily in pocket or pouch, collecting it or handing it over effortlessly; but the paper you have to fold into quarters and keep it somewhere flat, or else it will be damaged – and many merchants won’t accept damaged notes, although the bank will.

                You knew where you were with the coins, knew how many paid for a leg of lamb or a bolt of linen; but you can’t equate a piece of paper with anything of value, anything real. Prices are rising steeply too, yet you don’t notice this so much with paper. Napoleon is closing all European ports under his control to British shipping, so we can’t trade; he’s banned exports to us, so we’re short of many necessities. Edward notices all this in the form of compounded interest: no matter how much he pays out his core debts seem to remain unaffected. Money breeds mobey, copulating there in the dark of vaults and strongboxes, of coffers and safes. 

                 ‘What’s all this?’ he asks a man holding out a large architectural drawing in the grounds of Montagu House — not Caroline’s one: it lacks the first E. This one is the museum, where he’s heading on his charger before going to Blackheath. Evidence of building work underway is all around them here. Like the King and Wales, he’s drawn to ambitious new building like an ant to honey.

                 ‘New British Museum going up here, sir,’ the man replies.

                  ‘May I see?’ The man hands him the drawing, which flaps in the breeze. ‘Hmm,’ he says, ‘looks like the Parthenon…’

                  ‘Yes,’ says the man, ‘it does, doesn’t it? Classical architecture is my inspiration…’

                 Your design? Well, judging by the look of London these days, you’ve been very busy…’

                  The man laughs. ‘Can’t take much credit for that, sir.’ 

                 He says, ‘How will you incorporate this with Montagu House?’

                ‘No,’ says the man, ‘we’re going to demolish that old ruin…’

                   ‘Ah. It may fall down on its own before then,’ he says. ‘Hasn’t one of those attic rooms already caved in?’ He points to the mansard roof, with its mantle of lead.

                 ‘Oh, that,’ says the man. ‘Thieves were up there trying to break in when the timbers gave way beneath them…’

              Thieves? Do they usually steal antiquities?’

                  ‘A lot of gold artefacts came over from Egypt…’

                  ‘I see.’ He hitches his horse and enters the museum, which is indeed in a ruinous state, although very crowded for so early in the day. Gazing down at him in the lobby is a portrait of Sir Hans Sloane, wearing such a vast and fleecy periwig he could well have a lamb sprawled on his head. It was Sloane’s collection that founded the museum back in the days of George II; and his name is very familiar to Edward, who lives around the corner from Sloane Street and Hans Square, to name but a few Sloanes and Hans in the neighbourhood. What he’s come to see, however, is the Rosetta Stone, donated to the museum a few years back by his father, the present King George — who will go on to found the British Library by donating his own collection of 62,000 books. The Stone was among many treasures siezed by the English in Egypt after the defeat of French forces there. When Edward finds where it is displayed, there must be fifty people huddled around it; so, he inspects other objects from Egypt situated nearby. Examining the beautiful hieroglyphic texts inscribed in glowing blues, rusty reds and glinting golds on various sarcophagi, he’s surprised to find what appear to be masonic emblems, like the eye in a triangle; the all-seeing eye of Horus. Understanding these symbols as he does, he thinks it may not be so difficult to interpret this ancient Egyptian pictographic writing, which no one has yet done. But when he finally edges his way up to the Rosetta Stone – a slab of granite about the size of a torso – he changes his mind about this. The stele is engraved with the same text in three different languages, Egyptian hieroglyphic, Egyptian demotic — the everyday phonetic script for documents — and classical Greek. Surely this makes it easy to interpret the picture language? He learned Greek with Fisher at Kew, so he squints at the lowest level of text on the stele. Something about gifts of gold and silver; something about flooding and a dam; something about a ‘Ptolemy’. It’s hard to decipher. The clearest part decrees that this text be written in the two Egyptian languages, as well as Greek, and then copies of it be placed in numerous temples. It makes no sense to him. What is so important about this inscription that it needs to be installed all over the place? As for the hieroglyphs, he doesn’t recognize a single sign. Ancient Egypt seems hopelessly arcane to him; so, he has to take himself off to wander among the Greeks, whose vases and statues he does understand. Soon Lord Elgin’s marbles will be here, to help accustom Londoners to living amid a facsimile of Plato’s Athens. 

                    As the Duke of Kent is peering at a colossal foot of Apollo, Sir John Douglas, not far away, is opening the morning’s mail over his plate of kippers. My Aunt Marigold, he thinks – later. An invitation to attend the new ceremony at Horsequards, a ‘trooping of the colour’ – I shall go. Captain Foster – boring. Oh, and what’s this? He tears open the large manila envelope to find inside on thin pasteboard two staggeringly obscene coloured illustrations showing his wife going at it with Sir Sydney Smith. They’re tinted ink drawings mimicking the graphic style of a popular cartoonist, Gilray. You have no trouble identifying the two figures banging away at it, because their names are written in below their feet. You’d have no trouble anyway, since the enlarged heads are grotesquely recognizable. Sir John’s hands are trembling as he reads, below the names in a cramped and idiosyncratic hand, a suggestion so disgusting that his mind can barely wrap around it. This is followed by a selection of other foul thoughts, and a bewildering variety of random abuse – perhaps just to fill up the remaining space available? What, he wonders, beginning to simmer with rage, is the purpose in sending me these? He feels fairly certain of who the artist is, although Caroline’s oil painting did not reveal so acute a graphic skill. She should stick with pen and ink. 

                  ‘Anything interesting today, Johnny?’ says Lady Mellie Douglas, her scratched cheek bandaged. She’s about to carry over tea to the breakfast nook. It wasn’t a ‘nook’ at Blackheath, she thinks; but for a guinea a week in Bloomsbury, what do you expect? 

                    Sir John quivers but is frozen with the two drawings held up before him. In one Sir Sydney grips his wife’s legs like a wheelbarrow; in the other they’re dogging it on a filthy street, rubbish everywhere. Sir John cannot decide if he should show his wife these pictures now, or just replace them in the envelope in order to decide later. Who knows how many such drawings have been made? Who knows how many people in this city might be opening a large manilla envelope at this very moment? Ay, there’s the rub, he thinks. My honour is at stake here. 

                   ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘These came…’ He holds out the cartoons.

                Fuck!’ says Lady Douglas, her beautiful eyes like jewelled organ stops now.

                   ‘Yes,’ says Sir John. ‘That was my impression too…’

                  ‘That crazy little bitch…’

                   ‘So you’re saying they aren’t depictions of actual events?’

                    ‘Of course I am. Sydney would never…’

                  ‘Or would he, I wonder,’ says Sir John, a twinkle in his eye. ‘Think I’d better confront him about this myself. I can’t be taking a mere denial by you, can I? If there are more of these out there, we’ll both be finished. He and I wouldn’t dare show our faces again. And as for you…’

                  ‘A nunnery?’ she says.

                    Within five minutes, his blond curls aglow in the primrose sunlight, Sir John is knocking at the house on Bedford Street, where he slaps the envelope into Sir Sydney Smith’s hands right on the doorstep. A few minutes later, they’re drinking port and laughing.

                  ‘But what’s the point?’ says Sir Sydney. ‘Why depict something you know is impossible?’

                 ‘Irony?’ says Sir John. Again, they laugh. He says, ‘But if these ever got around…’

                    ‘Indeed. I can hardly plead my exonerating circumstances, can I? Your honour, it could never have happened because I’m bent as a grappling hook…’

                    ‘You can say that again, Syn…’

                   ‘I’m bent as a…’

                     ‘Nelson’s arm? But we’ve got to get to the bottom of this…’

                   ‘Oh, I’m all for that, Johnsey…all for it…’ Yet again they laugh.

                    ‘But this is serious, Syn. You know who’s involved. We could get roped into a scandal that might bring down the royals. Jesus! It’d make Guido Fawkes look like Simple Simon…’

Sir Sydney smiles in a faint thin line. ‘I used to adore Simpy Simon. For years I wanted to meet a Pieman…’

‘We’ll both be meeting a headsman if this gets out…’

‘Yes, and we shouldn’t like that.’ A pause. A shift, summoning the creak of wood and twang of chair springs. ‘I’ll get on it, Johnsey. Don’t worry, Pet. Daddy will make it all better…’

‘Aren’t you forgetting how my father made things better?’ Sir Douglas says, his eyes filled with thunderheads.

‘Oh. Yes. Sorry…’


                    “I told him to be discreet,” Sir Sydney Smith, Hero of Acre, tells him, the Duke of Kent, when he’s eventually been dragged into this fresh Carolinian fiasco. They’re in the study at Bedford Street. “And, naturally,’ says Sir Sydney, ‘I told him to let me keep the drawings in my safe. Here they are…”

                  Christ!’ he says, holding out the cartoons. ‘But who knew she was so talented?’

                  ‘Yes, she’s got my nose exactly, hasn’t she?’

                  ‘Yet a lot of you must be imaginary?’ he says.

                  Exceedingly imaginary in some cases…’

                  Augustus, his younger brother, the Duke of Sussex, has also been dragged in, since he’s also a friend of Caroline, who has no other friends that could be trusted with such a tricky matter. ‘So, we’re in no doubt who drew the pictures and mailed them?’ says Augustus.

                    ‘She can’t spell – look, she’s got ‘quinny’ with a K. And it’s her handwriting, the gothic curlicews. There’s no doubt. We just don’t know why she did it,’ he says.

                    Sir Sydney asks, ‘Could she perhaps have really believed Mellie was having an affair with me?’

                  ‘With Caroline anything’s possible,’ he says. ‘But this is very grave, Sydney. If it got out the ruckus could destroy my family. The King would implode…’

                    ‘And,’ says Augustus, ‘we’d never get invited to Brighton again…’

                      Christ!’ he says. ‘I’d completely forgotten about Wales. This, along with all the other Blackheath infamies we’ve kept from him… God, he’ll have us flayed alive…’

                    ‘Until we’re dead,’ adds Augustus, fidgitting with his buttons.

                  ‘No,’ he says, ‘he’ll keep us alive forever in a world of pain. Jesus! Sorry to blaspheme,’ he tells Sir Sydney.

                  ‘I’m a sailor,’ says the Hero of Acre, his tight smile attempting to surface. ‘I’ve heard worse – a lot worse…’

                ‘Ah. Yes.’ He stares at a model frigate in a bottle on the shelf – how do they get them in there? ‘This business must never get out,’ ge says. ‘I know Sir Sydney has a vested interest in it not doing so, but the three of us must swear an oath to maintain secrecy at all costs. Our futures depend on it…’ He thinks: Could my future be any more hopeless than it is? But you never say that. The temptation is irresistible to those weavers of fate.

                    Augustus says, ‘England may depend on it…’

                    ‘England will survive,’ says Sir Sydney, ‘but we certainly might not…’ He picks up a brass sextant and seems to stroke it, like a pet. ‘I should warn you,’ he says, ‘that the Douglases are already spreading vague rumours about Caroline. One of them was repeated back to me last night at White’s. It didn’t involve the drawings, though…’

                  ‘There’s a mercy,’ Edward says, going on to explain to the hero a little of the tragedies in Princess Caroline’s sad life. ‘So, one can understand her bitterness and the possibility of mental unbalance,’ he adds.

                ‘It could be blackmail,’ suggests Augustus.

                      ‘No,’ Sir Sydney tells him. ‘If it were blackmail, I wouldn’t be cavorting here with Mellie, would I? It strikes me as malice. Or revenge? She was distraught after their affair ended. She’s lashing out…’  

                  “Yes, yes. Burn the pictures,” says Edward, “and then just let the matter slowly drop from sight – if it will. Urge Sir John to do the same…”

                  He’ll not be the problem in that; she will – and I have no way of controlling her. Neither does he. Can you think of one?’ 

                      “Tell the lady that her position in society is at stake, not yours,’ he says, ‘and she ought to cease raising the topic and publically vilifying Caroline. Tell her also that it’s the Royal Family she’s meddling with here; she’ll not want Queen Charlotte’s animosity roused against her. Even my siblings tremble at that prospect…”

                      Lord! She sounds like my mother,” says Sir Sydney, his luminous eyes acquiring a thousand-mile stare. “I’d sooner take on the whole French fleet in a punt than misplease Mama…”

                  “This was what made you run off to sea?” he inquires, wondering why the hero has now revealed something of himself.

                  ‘Oh, that and many other things,’ says Sir Sydney, gazing at the greenery dancing beyond his window. ‘Restlessness, mainly…’

                      ‘I know about that,’ he says. ‘Well, let’s see how this business fares, shall we?’ He can’t avoid the feeling that nothing has been accomplished here.

                As they bid formal farewells and repeat their oath, Sir Sydney tells him, tells Edward, ‘You’re quite a kind man, aren’t you?’

                    ‘I try to be. It isn’t always easy…’

                      ‘No,’ says the Hero of Acre. ‘It isn’t, is it? I didn’t think you were, at first; but you are…’ 

                    His eyes are an infinite distance away, dancing with the leaves that cluster like green clouds in all the squares and all the parks in this great swaggering city they all call home. It makes the thought of another exile infinitely terrible. The future itself has taken on an evil aspect of late. Why, he wonders, can’t we peek into it for a glimmer of what’s in store – just a glimmer. 

Queen Victoria’s Secret: Chapter 13.3


                   During the summer of 1804, he’d paid a good number of increasingly distressing visits to Princess Caroline out at Blackheath. Since little Charlotte had been taken from her – and she was forbidden to see her daughter at all now – Caroline had gone into a vertiginous decline, both mentally and physically. She gained an enormous amount of weight; her skin and even her eyes had grown darker: you would have taken her for a southern Italian or a Greek, rather than a Saxon. Her behaviour and language had become so outrageous that all of London spoke about horrors of which they’d heard — and always ‘on good authority’. She was widely rumoured to indulge in lesbian relationships, holding all-night parties at which the most repugnant of scenes occurred. During his first visit that year, he was shocked by the state of chaos and disrepair into which Montague House had fallen. The gardens were all overgrown; the rooms had not been cleaned or tidied in months, with cups and plates of moldering food strewn across every surface, including the carpets, which themselves were dotted with burnt patches like ink blots. Besides the Duke of Sussex, his younger brother Augustus, and the big-hearted Maria Fitzherbert, no one in what was still Caroline’s family ever visited her. Of course, no longer Wales’ mistress du jour, Lady Jersey was long gone.

                 “They is all vish me deaded,” she told him. Even her English had deteriorated. “Und I vish it for me some time alzo.”

                  He had asked why the place had gone to ruin, but she launched into a tirade about her husband sending her nothing but spies. It was Bill, Duke of Clarence, who informed Edward that staff would not work under the conditions in which Caroline lived.

                  ‘Even menials have limits,’ Bill said. ‘You overtax them, and they know it…’ 

                    After confronting the desperate condition of the house visually, you were invaded by its odour, which consisted of stale tobacco, rancid milk, potent urine, something dank and fermented, and much that resembled the cages in a zoo. This latter was easily explained, however: she owned several monkeys, some locked up, others free to defecate from wherever they elected to squat – a chandelier, the gilded frame of a painting, the candelabra in front of your supper. She also owned a pair of albino rabbits, which hopped at liberty; she had a dozen roaming weasels; a badger; a white-spotted faun; three squirrels; and some larger, uglier variety of ape. She’d often fondle this ape’s genitals when you were talking with her – sometimes, from the beast’s point of view at least, successfully. This was designed to shock, of course. She needed to make an impression, and make one these days she did with effortless ease. The ape, with its squashed, horribly humanoid face, would scream at him, at Edward, who felt like beheading it with his sabre. But he had no sabre, only wearing his uniform now to state or military functions.

                   “I suspect he doesn’t like me,” he said, instead of slicing the creature into steaks.

                “But he is loveink his liddle sveedart,” she cooed, in that irritating sing-song voice people imagine facilitates communication with babies and animals. “Led der Prinny zee ‘ow beeg you is loveink her,” she went on, holding the dreadful simian to her face, which it licked all over with an eager tongue, pink and steamy, as she plastered its nasty snout with revolting osculations.

                   He felt his stomach turn in circles, deciding to get straight down to business, telling Caroline she was creating scandalous rumours abroad, rumours which could severely damage the Royal Family.

                “Zey zay I haff loves vor vomens, yah? Zo I am changink zat – iss diss goot?”

                    It sounded good. It was in practice, however, very far from good. It was bad.

                   Caroline’s method for dispelling the shocking Sapphic rumours was to claim she now had affairs with numerous men, one of who had given her a child. Her claims were made to the despicable circle of social climbers, aristocratic wastrels, and assorted spongers who gathered around her for the prestige of being able to boast a friendship with the Princess of Wales. Of course there were the sumptuous meals too, and the titillating entertainments she provided. The main trouble with her new claim was that she did, as we’ve mentioned, have a child living in the house, a child who she now announced as the offspring of her latest amour. The boy, Willikin, was not hers. This Edward knew, since, as we’ve also seen, she had adopted a dozen or so orphans, who she housed and arranged to be educated elsewhere. Occasionally, however, a favourite infant was allowed to live with her, although not for more than a few months. This current favourite, though, had now been under her roof for long enough to make her confession of motherhood feasible for outsiders, if not exactly believable for those who knew her well. He suspected that a penniless idler calling himself ‘Lord Tintagel’ was the guiltiest party in disseminating the ‘truth’ of Caroline’s declaration. His career as professional house guest, scrounger and pet wit relied completely upon his willingness to spread gossip around London like the plague. Was Caroline so naïve she could not see she was handing Wales that divorce he so craved on a silver platter?

                  Edward met with his brother Augustus, Duke of Sussex, to see what could be done – if only for little Charlotte’s sake.

                  “Lock Caroline in a cage with that bloody ape of hers,’ said Sussex, ‘give them three meals a day, and let the world forget her!” 

                Fortunately, Lord Tintagel was not someone newspapers regarded as a remotely reliable source; so, the scandal remained as a widespread rumour, but not one certified in print as authentic – which of course also meant nothing. Learning this, it struck him as mildly amazing, considering the reams of unconfirmed gossip, outright slanders and malicious attacks on lesser figures in society which the papers published daily without remorse.

                  Augustus and he decided to have the Montague estate and its occupant renovated, refurbished and restored to something of their former, if still slightly-tarnished glory. First they gave her a berating worse than most ever heard on a parade ground. She had all but dissolved into gasping tears by the end of this tongue-lashing, promising never again to cause so much trouble. The brothers had assured her she would never see her daughter ever again if any kind of scandal concerning her life recurred, no matter how trifling. They even told her she may find herself locked away in some old, crumbling castle tower, situated so far north that no map registered its existence – a fate not unlike that of her own poor sister, which made it more than credible in her simmering mind. Coincidently. They hinted at more tools available to the professional punisher: a meagre diet; freezing cold rooms; forced labour; medical torments; and… They stopped when it began to sound too much like their own childhood. 

                 “One does not meddle with the House of Hanover,” Augustus told her loftily, wagging a bony finger in her face. “Not with impunity, one doesn’t…”

                 “Charlotte badly wants to see you,” Edward said, in a more kindly tone. “Do not deny her that…

                   By the end, they felt they’d scared away the obstreperous demon lurking inside her for good. On the way back, he thought of Lady Dorchester in the Chateau at Quebec. She’d been right: Blackheath was not remotely black – it was darker.

                  Over the following days the brothers urged Caroline to surround herself with the cream of society. She asked for suggestions. He had to ask Weatherall, who currently took some form of perverse pleasure in floating about on the newest lakes of London’s social cream. Indeed, he was altogether more sociable here, more the dinner party raconteur and ballroom butterfly, than he’d ever revealed himself capable of being during their military days.

                   He thought about Edward’s query for half a second. “Sir Sidney Smith is the most sought-after guest I can think of now,” he said, smiling with satisfaction before adding, “Not that I make a practice of listing the most sought-after guests…”

                    ‘Ah. No, Fred. Of course not…’

                     Tall, handsome, with soft, limpid eyes and a noble aquiline nose, Sir Sidney Smith was also the ‘Hero of Acre’, credited with being the only Englishman to have ever defeated Napoleon, whose drive east he had prevented, thus saving the empire. Probably. Loaded down with stars, sashes, medals, plaques, coins and enough gold braid to rig his frigate and tow his bumboat, the newspapers made him sound like Achilles… or sometimes Zeus. But you couldn’t deny that he’d beaten Napoleon.

                 “Then Smith it is,” he’d told Weatherall, soon calling at Montague House to insist Caroline invite Sir Sidney Smith to dinner — and invite him soon too. 

                    Smith could hardly decline such an invitation, although he’d most probably wish he could. A heartbeat from the throne, the Prince of Wales, as well as his estranged wife, still our future Queen, were not people whose invitations anyone refused – unless they wished to become a social pariah. 

                     Edward did not attend Caroline’s first ‘respectable’ dinner – from fear of disaster and disgrace — but he heard the following day what a resounding success it had been. Indeed, so resounding was its success that another such dinner had been arranged for six days later, because Admiral Sir Sydney Smith wanted Caroline to meet a man who he claimed truly deserved the accolades for defeating Bonaparte. This man was Sir John Douglas, Marine Colonel, and obviously a great friend of Sir Sydney. Edward was simply glad things were finally going well again for poor Caroline, who now talked of nothing but Smith this and Smith that.

                  “Und ze eyes of his,” she said, as if she expected Edward to have any interest in such a topic, “when they is look at you, you wanting to fall in their dreamings and wallow it. So modestic he is being also…” Even her English had been renovated to its former incoherence.

                  “Modesty becomes a hero,” he told her, unable to hear any more about wallowing in Sir Sydney’s dreams… or his eyes. Well, at least Acre was still British; which was more than you could say for Martinique.

                   That next respectable dinner at Montague House had, however, an unexpected and very curious result. Caroline had so liked Sir John and Lady Douglas, the heroic admiral’s friends, that she invited them to stay on as house guests – indefinitely too, or as far as Edward could make out. There was some mention of a country house being renovated and, also, the cost of London rents, thanks to the war and its devaluation of our currency. Yet neither reason seemed to justify Caroline’s hasty offer of free accomodation. You don’t invite total strangers to move in, do you? Living at Blackheath, as opposed to some fortified ruin on a blasted heath in Scotland, would also enable Sir John to visit his dear friend Sir Sydney as often as he wished.

                   ‘Well,’ Edward told his younger brother on hearing this, ‘free board and lodging in the admiral’s house would surely make such visits even easier, would it not?  What is wrong with all this? Something seems awry, does it not?”

                 “But whatever doesn’t sound awry over there at Crackerbox Palace?” Sussex replied, sagely enough.

                  “Have you ever invited total strangers to come and live with you?” he later asked Weatherall.

                  “I’m a soldier, Edward. I’ve lived with total strangers for thirty years.”

                 “It’s not the same, Fred. This is the Princess of Wales, wife of the next monarch, mother of the sole heir – and now she has people no one knows living under her roof. Something is wrong – I know it is.”

                   “You’ll be able to find out tomorrow then…”


                 “Because an invitation came from Bedlam this morning, asking you and a ‘companion’ to meet the sinister Douglas parasites for refreshments and dinner at the Black Heath. Sir Sydney Smith, Hero of Acre, will also be in attendance, you’ll be glad to know.”

                   “I want you as my companion, Fred. I cannot expose Julie to that unpredictable lunatic yet. She has to become…ah… more predictable first.”

                “A male ‘companion’ is going to seem a tad awkward, isn’t it?”

                 “Does Smith have a wife?”

                 “Hmm. I think not – married to his quarterdeck, that sort of thing…”

                   The web now gets tangled. Beyond the fact that concealing as much as he already had from Wales was bad enough, he didn’t even know whether concealing still more of Caroline’s behaviour was a wise course or not, particularly given Wales’ irrational temper, and the precipitous road to ruin it could set him, Edward, on. But he now feared confession more than he did further concealment. He also feared the phrase that buzzed around his head: The truth will always out in the end. Will it? he wondered. And what then?

                    He took Weatherall to Montague House, finding Sir Sydney Smith a charming fellow – even if his eyes were in fact rather dreamy – very gracious, and so excessively respectful that Edward was obliged to nip all royal rigmarole in the bud. He congratulated the admiral on his victory at Acre, something Smith had clearly heard so often you could have been praising his manicure. 

                 “You have had your own great victories,” he told Edward, “so you know who was lucky, who did the work, and who truly deserved laurels. I stayed safely on board my ship, bombarding the fortress, but out of its gunners’ range. Acre’s true hero is the man we wanted you to meet tonight…”

                   ‘Ah.’ Is he, Edward thought, suggesting others were responsible for my victories too?

                   An elegant couple had silently entered Caroline’s drawing room, the man then pushed over by the woman like a  mannequin on wheels. He was slim, fair-haired, blue-eyed, and… beautiful, rather than handsome, with sun-bleached blond curls combed artfully to seem careless while really being fastidious. He wore full evening dress, cut and stitched by a master tailor, from fabrics unattainable in England, and thus prohibitively expensive where they could be purchased.

                 “This,” Smith announced with ecclesiastical solemnity, “is Marine Colonel Sir John Douglas, the true victor of Acre. He took his men up the scorching rockface and went head to head with the Frenchies massed on top. It was no easy battle. He even saw Bonaparte, who was watching the fighting through his telescope from a hill. One can only imagine Boney’s dismay, seeing his own troops soundly defeated and forced to retreat. I hear the Ogre still asks about that young man who carried the day and became the first Englishman to defeat him…” A pause, as Smith assessed the impact of his words.

                   “And from who do you hear this?” asked Edward. He felt that Smith was going overboard with his plaudits for Douglas.

                    Acre’s true hero, the courageous Sir John, had yet to speak himself at all, simply standing with finely-trousered legs crossed, one heel arched up, languidly smoking a cheroot, looking on as if watching an indifferent card game. To Edward, he did not comport himself, behave or look remotely like a soldier. He looked like an aesthete at an unimpressive art auction.

                  “One hears things in the Navy,” replied Smith. “But do please…” He paused. “Sir John, this is His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent…”

                 Sir John sprang to life as if a bolt of lightning had shot through him, activating the Soldier. Ramrod straight now, he saluted very formally. The transition was unusual, unnerving. You wonder about people, don’t you?

                   He said, “For all the great titles, sire, the one supreme to me is that you are also Field-Marshal.” The words seemed to be illuminated on his lips. “Highness, it is a great honour,” he added, saluting yet again.

                 Edward had worn his dress uniform in order to fend off the blaze of Hero Smith, not to terrify his friend. “At ease, Colonel,” he said. “This is a friendly dinner, not the parade ground. I insist we remain on purely first-name terms – if that is acceptable to you gentlemen?” He then introduced Lieutenant-General Weatherall as his friend and comrade-in-arms, which received a knowing nod from Smith.

                 “I am known as ‘Fred’,” Weatherall added, to forstall another Douglas salute, as the men retired to a smoking room.

                    For all his sudden military etiquette, and his evident qualities as a leader, Edward could not picture Sir John as a hand-to-hand warrior. He also wondered how, if Napoleon had required a telescope to see him, Douglas could possibly have seen Napoleon with his naked eye. He doubted very much if the erstwhile First Consul was wearing his trademark old green overcoat or gondola hat in the fiery Syrian desert. Without these emblems, though, who would be able to recognize him at a great distance? The emperor was reputed to stand a mere five feet tall. The French troops were sick with plague, weak, hungry and thirsty. They didn’t expect a fleet to show up and protect Acre; they assumed resistance would be minimal, so it could not have been much of a battle at all, could it? It was, as is so often the case in war, a fluke: good luck for Douglas, and bad for the French.

                  “Was the heat at Acre terrible?” asked Weatherall. “Because in the West Indies we found the climate despicable, debilitating…”

                “Ah,” said Douglas, knowingly, looking over at Smith, “but this was dry heat – no humidity, and cool at night, you see?”

                   “Shall we rejoin the ladies?” asked Smith abruptly.

                  Edward heard Caroline not too far off say, “Ach! The mens is coming now, and we shall be having nothing conversing  but var, var, var… and the Boney, that too boring Ogra…”

                   He promised her there would be no war talk, and as he said this Weatherall approached to whisper in his ear as he passed on his way into the dining room: “There is something very odd going on here, and I do not like it. We shall talk later…”

                   He nodded, walking over to bow before Lady Douglas, who wore a flat wide-brimmed hat, a string of huge pearls, and a dress of black and green satin, patterned with gold thread, and so loose that, whenever she raised her arms, you couldn’t avoid seeing that her breasts were completely uncovered beneath it. Her dark hair was fashionably curled, her cheekbones prominent, her nose small but perfect, and her lips unusually full, painted a bright carmine red with a new substance. But her eyes, those all-important indicators of character, were hidden by the hat. She simply nodded to his bow, making no effort to stand or curtsey, or even offer a verbal acknowledgement. This was ill-mannered, and Caroline noticed it, yet seemed merely amused.

                   “Greet His Highness appropriately, my dear,” Sir John urged his wife, a strain creaking in his clipped voice.

                     “I just did, John,” she replied. Was it irritably or impudently? Was it both?

                   “She can be being the very naughty fraulein,” Caroline then said gleefully. “And she know well what happenings for the very bad little frauleins, is it not? But, cher Edvard, look at her eyes! They is exquisitely, is they not? Show him, liebchen! Removing you hat, or I will be taking off it…” Without warning she knocked Lady Douglas’ hat from her head with a violent slap, asking him, asking Edward, “Is these ones eye not the most beauteously you is ever seeing?”

                    Lady Douglas looked shocked, outraged, yet curiously submissive, gazing up at him with huge doe-like eyes of a greyish chestnut hue. These were nothing like Julie’s eyes, yet they were far from ugly. Very far. He glanced appealingly over at Sir Sydney Smith, who sidled across the room and discreetly whispered in his ear.

                  “The ladies play such curious games with each other. I don’t pretend to understand – but they both love it. It’s why the Princess now keeps my friends here…”

                  “Ah. Keeps them?” he said. “Can they not leave? I thought there was a country estate being renovated somewhere?”

                “True,” Smith replied. “But it’s up in Ayreshire…and Sir John has no desire to be stranded several days journey from London…”

                 “Or from you?” Edward said. “Or so it seems to me…”

                 “Ay, we’re the best of friends – I think you understand me? The ladies do not bother us, and we don’t bother them. It is a most happy and fortunate arrangement…”

                   He thought: Christ! Wales will have me bastinadoed for this. “Yes. No doubt,” he told Smith, as Lady Douglas now slapped Caroline’s face – hard. Bastinadoed and then transported.

                    Caroline simply laughed, as a reddening hand-print appeared on her creamy cheek. Then the two women embraced, giggling like girls.

                  “I believe I mentioned something odd was going on?” said Weatherall, in hushed tones. “This kind of odd behaviour disturbs me; and I just want dinner to be over so we can leave this madhouse. Am I out of line?”

                 “No Fred, I fully agree with you; but I must get to the bottom of it before I go. I owe it to my family…”

                  “I understand. Let’s just hope the ‘bottom’ is not too far down…”

                  Dinner was not over soon. Smith, Sir John, and Edward sat at one end of a large and well-laid table, while the two ladies sat several feet away, although their shrill, whooping conversation was frequently distracting. As the men discussed the French invasion and Smith’s reckonings of British naval strength, Edward heard Lady Douglas – who was called ‘Mellie’ – make a distinctly rude remark:

                 “I would estimate that Sir Sidney is far more attractive than this Weatherall fellow, isn’t he now?”

                 “You is being the vitch,” Caroline replied to this, throwing wine in Mellie’s face, before adding, “This Fred general is most attractivating man here is, and you is knowing it. His eye is making you ones look like the starings of a dag.”

                 “What the hell is a dag, you illiterate German pig?” yelled Mellie.

                  “Can we please act like civilized people!” Smith said, as loudly as he seemed able to say anything.

                  “No prancing-dancing sailor is going to call me uncivilized!” screamed back Mellie.

                 “He is just now saying it, you stupid rat of a Scotchland ditch,” Caroline threw in, before, astonishingly, hugging and kissing Mellie, pleading for peace and harmony.

                    “We shall be off to tackle the Franco-Spanish fleet soon,” confided Admiral Smith. “And I am nearly certain it will be more peaceful than this…” 

                  Was the arrangement there perhaps not so happy?

                 “You love a woman,” said Sir John Douglas wistfully, “but you find you don’t even know her. It’s not as the bond between men, is it?” His sad though luminous eyes searched his, Edward’s.

                  Edward thought of Weatherall, and thus said obligingly, “Ah. No, it certainly isn’t…”

                  More screams, tears and giggling interrupted their manly attempt at serious talk, but he was determined to ask Sir John his one question before fleeing Crackerbox Palace: “If Napoleon needed a telescope to see you, John, how was it that you could see him?”

                  “You think a British Royal Marine officer is not provided with his own spyglass as standard kit?” he replied, making all three of them laugh. ‘We have muskets and puttees too,’ he added for good measure.

                 “Were you not tempted to chase him?” Edward then asked, embarrassed by his own baggy idea.

                    “His personal guard always whisks him off out of harm’s way. I knew this, so I would have just been slaughtering sick and dying soldiers. We were not well-equipped for the desert either. But I did watch him go; he has a strange ambling walk, much like a bear, rolling from one leg to the other. There is a spell about the man, to be sure. I could sense it in those near him. He’s a force of nature, an idol…or…”

                   Smith cut him off with, “Or a deity… There’s a spell on him all right…” The words hung in the fragrant air like ghosts.

                  “Hubble-bubble toil and trouble,” Edward muttered. Both men had looked somewhat perplexed, so he felt obliged to explain, “Macbeth had a spell on him too, but he did not listen to all of it, and thus flew far too near the sun…”

                “Nothing like a mythed metaphor to end the night,” said Smith, who he was glad to have met after all, as he told Weatherall on their way home.

                    ‘Yes,’ said his companion. ‘Pity those mad drabs had to be there, though…’

                    ‘Ah, indeed. Always a midge in the ointment, Fred. Always…’

                     ‘A midge you can swot…’

                      ‘I thought they did a rather good job of swotting one another, no?’

                      ‘God! So, did you get to the bottom of it?’

                      ‘I leave that to Smith and Douglas…’


                      This farrago is what Edward now discusses with Maria Fitzherbert, asking her if she understands what’s going on at Blackheath. 

                     ‘Maenads,’ says Maria — and that’s all she says.


                      ‘Greek mythology,’ she explains. ‘The priestesses of Dionysius. They wore animal skins and tore their lovers to pieces in the woods. The earth produced milk if they clawed at it. Wine magically filled their sacred vessels. When the god first drove them mad, they tore apart the babies at their breasts. They tore Dionysius apart too…’

                    ‘Ah,’ he says. ‘I see. So, they’re Maenads, are they? Well, who’re they going to tear apart?’

                  ‘Each other,’ she replies indifferently. ‘It’s a folie a deux…’

                A quatre, I’d say…’

                  ‘Perhaps… But it’s dangerous – she’s dangerous, Caroline…’

                Dangerous?’ There’s something alarming about Maria’s tone. It sends chills down his spine.

                    ‘Yes,’ she says. ‘She’s got nothing to lose now. Georgie’s taken Charlotte away for good. His hatred of her will not abate. What has she got to live for but destruction? I warn you, Edward, she’ll tear down as much as possible before destroying herself…’

                    Christ!’ he says, his head swimming. ‘Well, we have to do something, don’t we?’

                ‘We do,’ Maria agrees, ‘but what? You can’t reason with her; you think you can, but you can’t. She may have to be…’ She leaves the sentence hanging like a carcass in the market.

                    He finishes it for her: ‘Put away somewhere? Would George countenance such a scandal?’

                  ‘He won’t have much choice, will he?’

                ‘But, Maria, she’s still so popular with the public…’

                  ‘The public’s mind changes,’ she tells him, adjusting her clacking teeth behind a lace kerchief. ‘It’s always changing; but it can be changed too…’

                  ‘Changed?’ He doesn’t care for the sinister tone of this.

                    ‘A few articles in the press,’ she says, ‘and they wake up tomorrow with entirely different opinions…’

                    ‘Ah, yes. But, God! What a mess – and George still knows nothing about it?’

                ‘Nothing,’ she says. ‘My goodness, he thinks he knows enough as it is; if he knew any more he’d run over there himself, throw her in a sack and kick her all the way to the Thames…’

                ‘What…what would he do to me?’

                  ‘A bigger sack?’ 

Queen Victoria’s Secret: Chapter 13.2


                      The whole conversation, ambiguous, confusing, nonsensical, contradictory, leaves him despondent, as the great globe heaves and convulses around them all. Domenica (Haiti) has managed to gain her independence from France after the only successful slave revolt on record, becoming the first negro republic in the Caribbean. This achievement is marred, however, by a three-month massacre, an ethnic cleansing that eradicates the entire white population of the island. There are signs of instability in the Turkish empire too: an uprising begins in Serbia — which, in a dozen years, will result in a declaration of independence from the Ottomans, as Serbia becomes the first European nation-state. A huge meteorite falls in Scotland, the first in recorded history: another omen, perhaps? 

                     For, late in April, Henry Addington resigns as Prime Minister; and two weeks later William Pitt starts his second term in the post, much to the nation’s relief. You need someone brilliantly competent there in such times, not someone moderately capable. After a plebiscite overwhelmingly in his favour, Bonaparte is proclaimed Emperor of the French by the Senate; and the Code he wrote himself becomes the new French Civil Law. Over in the United States the Twelfth Ammendment to the Consitution is ratified, refining the process by which the Electoral College elects a president and vice-president; and Thomas Jefferson begins his campaign for a second term in the presidency. In Washington, Alexander Hamilton, one of the main founders of US economic policy, is killed in a duel by his political opponent Aaron Burr — much to our chagrin. We liked Hamilton, who was hostile toward France and seemed to favour monarchies in general, being a keen proponent of trade between our two nations. His Federalist Party, populated by a good many bankers, among others, has proposed a strong central government based on the financial sector, with control over states’ debts and new taxes to pay for everything; it is now the main opponent of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party, which favours a decentralized country grounded in agriculture, with local militias and strong states’ rights. It is a pity; Hamilton was our kind of man; we could work with him. 

                  We’re eager for news from the new world, but it comes so slowly. By November we think we can see which way the tide is flowing. The Democratic-Republican-controlled US Senate has impeached Federalist Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase on grounds of political bias; but he will be acquitted next March. This we interpret as a swing towards a looser, more isolationist America – which has its advantages, but will not make a serviceable ally. Yet it is December which brings the worst news. For the first time in a millennium, France has an emperor, Napoleon the First, who crowns himself as the Pope looks on in Notre Dame cathedral. Thomas Jefferson wins the US election, much to our dismay – although his opponent, Federalist Thomas Pinkney, was not exactly inspiring. It’s now estimated that the world’s population has reached the one billion mark. You wonder if there’s room for so many people, don’t you? 

                    ‘There’s room in Australia,’ says Julie.

                   ‘Where the hell’s that?’ The name is unfamiliar to him, as it is to most.

                    ‘New Holland,’ she tells him brightly. ‘Mr. Flinders is suggesting its name be changed to ‘Australia’…’

                   ‘Quite right…’ Like everyone, Edward believes New Holland to be the southernmost land-mass on earth – which it isn’t when Antarctica is confirmed later in the century.

                     A few days on, Spain declares war on us – annoying but not very troubling. Edward’s only means of killing time has been reading; so, we’re obliged to read with him. He’s read hundreds of books; but one in particular catches all his attention: Joseph Lancaster’s Improvements in Education as it Respects the Industrious Classes. This little book rekindles the fire that had burned so very brightly until his career was gobbled up in another conflagration. If I could not reform the army, he thinks, I might meet with less opposition in trying to bring some form of basic education to both the rural poor and those who have now migrated to cotton towns up in Lancashire and elsewhere in the north. Making inquiries, he finds we currently have 90,000 working in the mills, with 184,000 handloom weavers. The first official census was conducted last year, so the figures are easy to come by. The new concentration of a population traditionally scattered across many counties will possibly assist the creation of free schools, he decides, since demand for them in densely-populated areas will surely be greater. 

                       Cast aside by the army, or fired by its C-in-C, he will not let his life go to waste, as his brothers are doing. Also, his masonic oath, which he will always take very seriously, as any oath requires you to do, commits him to trying to leave the world a slightly better place than he found it. Is it not curious how our uplifting inner certainties come and go in the heart like those great empires of history? One moment the zeal for wisdom and a need to perform charitable works is all we desire; the next it is gone, as the sun goes away at night, leaving a world of darkness the only reality conceivable. Until, that is, we awake to find ourselves in another bright dawn. Yes, he thinks, it is more like day and night than the once-perpetual ups and downs of the Assyrian Empire. He now wonders if a bagginess in thought presages dotage, for the body’s impermanence rears its aged head, as it can do at any age, making you bitingly aware that life is not something to squander on pleasures – unless you want to leave a legacy of self-indulgence to your history. He doesn’t want to do that – who has? – but what to leave instead is the question.

                  All told, alas, 1804 is not a year in which to start such philanthropic ventures as free education for the poor. Dark midnight still reigns over his world. It’s tumultuous, beginning with the rumours, then the facts that Napoleon’s spies have discovered the assassination plot Wales had spoken of, arresting several of the conspirators. One of them, probably under torture, has confessed that a Bourbon prince is behind the wicked plot, which had been financed by us, by our Bank of England. Yet Napoleon also discovers that an old comrade of his, General Moreau, is among the ringleaders, uncharacteristically commuting his death sentence to one of banishment for life to America. Not such an ordeal; hardly a banishment; barely a punishment at all. The others, however, are all summarily executed. Napoleon wants to find out which Bourbon prince is the mastermind or chief beneficiary of it.

                     This is still the main news from Paris, when Julie receives an anguished letter from Rose, who begins by saying Napoleon is about to do a terrible thing, an awful deed that will bring ruin and sorrow down upon all involved in it. The new emperor, after much inner debate and soul-searching, has evidently decided the princely conspirator is the Duc d’Engheim, who currently lives just across the Rhine in Baden, from which sovereign state he can virtually watch time passing in France through his spyglass. Engheim is a Bourbon prince, and a descendant of Condé, the great military leader so admired during their youth by both Napoleon and his brother Joseph. The pair wrestle with troubled consciences over what to do about Engheim. Were the man in France, he could simply be arrested and tried for conspiracy in the assassination plot. According to Rose, though, Napoleon has convinced himself that Engheim would hardly be wasting his days in such a bleak spot so near France unless he were actively involved in a plot that might require his immediate presence in Paris. But how to bring him to justice? Someone suggests that a troop of dragoons be dispatched across the border to seize Engheim and bring him back. It’s simple enough. Although Talleyrand, who’s always putting his own future first, will later say of the incident that, ‘It was worse than a crime, it was a blunder’, many believe the original suggestion for this kidnapping had still been his own. In any case, Rose laments, Engheim now languishes in the Vincennes prison awaiting trial by tribunal. He’s only 33, she writes, yet with a spotless career as statesman and politician already behind him, and a broken-hearted fiancé waiting anxiously for news of his fate. In his defence, Engheim will say that he had settled in Baden to be near her in Strasburg – and this appears to be true. Rose, who never meddles in her husband’s political affairs, is now begging him to grant Engheim a pardon: exile him, anything, but spare his life. She even asks if Edward’s father could intervene. She’s desperately afraid that Napoleon will destroy his political future by not showing mercy in this case. Rose then describes an odd weekend at Malmaison, her chateau, when she tried her hardest to win over Napoleon. His mood is described as ‘insouciant’, and, instead of listening to her, he takes eighteen-month-old Napoleon-Charles, son of his brother Louis and Rose’s daughter, Hortense, placing the child in the middle of the dining table, and then taking great delight in watching him smash the china and toss around salvers. Like Caroline’s Willikin, thinks Edward. Seeing a female guest turn pale at his crude, garrison behaviour, Napoleon asks her what’s the matter. The lady claims she’s merely forgotten her rouge. ‘Ah,’ Napoleon says, ‘only two things suit a woman: rouge and tears.’ He had next, Rose says, ‘fondled me in a most unseemly manner in front of the guests’, and then taken off for private conversations with advisers — conversations which all present know concern the fate of Duc d’Engheim. The letter ends with a heart-rending plea for advice and help.

                    ‘His first blunder, eh?’ Edward says. ‘Perhaps…’

                      By now every monarchy in Europe is infuriated with Napoleon’s illegal arrest of the Duc d’Engheim, violating a sovereign state’s frontiers with three hundred dragoons, and dragging a private citizen away for what is assumed to be a show trial of no legal merit. It comes as little surprise to learn that Engheim has been shot by firing squad at dawn on March 21st. He’d refused the blindfold, looking his executioners straight in the eye and then, with great dignity, asking for scissors with which he cut a lock of his hair, placing it in a ring as a memento for his fiancé. These details are received in London a day later, along with the uproar created by this event, not just across Europe but within France itself too. Information regarding the trial comes later. Engheim had simply been required to answer ten questions drafted by Napoleon. His answers to many of them had been highly self-incriminating. Did he intend, for example, to invade France with an English army? Answer: ‘Yes, for how can a Condé liberate his homeland except through force of arms? Question: Do you receive a pension from England? Answer: Yes. Other answers were similarly honest and self-destructive, leaving the twelve-officer tribunal no choice but to pronounce a guilty verdict and a death sentence. Had the young man been an ordinary officer or citizen, little if any notice would have been taken of the trial or execution. But because he was a prince of the blood it causes a commotion among the dozens of European royal houses, as well as the millions of ordinary people who still believe in a divine right of kings. Napoleon had taken no part in the Terror, with its revolting orgy of bloodletting, and his seven years as a commanding officer have been blameless, free of any outrage or taint; but now he’s suddenly made himself a pariah with rulers on every side of France. His only real crime, however, was in ordering French dragoons to cross over into Baden. He’d been beset by contrary opinions, Rose writes later, and the more forceful interlocutors – such as Marshal Joachim Murat, who’d married his sister Caroline, and argued that clemency for Engheim would be a sign of weakness – beat out those of advisers like his brother Joseph, who was convinced Napoleon would be lenient with a descendant of their childhood hero, Conde. Indeed, so convinced was Joseph that he rushed to tell his nervous aristocratic guests the good news mere hours before the bad news rocked an entire continent. Joseph’s guests included the writer Madame de Stael, who is the daughter of Jaques Necker, the ancien regime’s finance minister. News of Engheim’s murder seems to sadden everyone. It disillusions many of Bonaparte’s ideological supporters too; and it will turn Germaine de Stael into Napoleon’s most astute and eviscerating critic, whose pen he fears more than any army, ordering her exiled for most of his reign. Along with her, he lost her sometime lover, Benjamin Constant, the most gifted political thinker of his time, and once the best adviser in Napoleon’s close circle.

                   “The Pope will never crown him after this,” is Julie’s comment on the death of a man whose family she had known intimately, adding, “And the arrogance of that puffed up little man to think His Holiness would ever travel to Paris for him! One goes to Rome to see a Pope. He does not just come when some little general snaps his fingers! It’s insulting; it’s blasphemous…”

                   But she’s wrong. Pope Pius VII does travel to Paris for the coronation of Napoleon, which takes place in the iconic Cathedral of Notre Dame, got up like a pagan temple for the ceremony. Newspaper accounts of this spectacle are nothing like as interesting as Rose’s own account, when it finally arrives.

                   Yet here Edward is in London, looking on at the world from its sidelines, with nothing to do but worry about wars he ought to be waging — along with debts he ought to be paying, and a career in need of its last rites and obsequies.



                    Like all the Prince of Wales’ adventures in architecture, Brighton Pavilion is designed to impress visitors, something it certainly does, even from some distance off, with its glistenning domes and inlaid marble portico. Edward and Julie have been invited for the weekend, and they hope the time will be bearable. Wales had obviously based his design upon engravings of India’s Taj Mahal; yet he evidently knows little or nothing of stylistic variations between Persia and China, so that much of his pleasure palace on the pebbled shores of Brighton is an act of pure, unfettered imagination, whimsy, and a love of excess bordering on lunacy. Another family trait? Wales and Maria Fitzherbert greet them most cordially in a drawing room of such sparkling immensity that your senses seem momentarily paralysed by the bombardment of glimmering colours, flashing gilt, and glossy red lacquer cabinets festooned with inlaid mother-of-pearl dragons.

                  “My goodness!” says Julie, gazing around her wide-eyed. “The Emperor of China would be at home here.”

                  “Well,” Wales tells her cheerfully, “let’s hope the Emperor of France is not at home here when he arrives, eh?”

                  “Is that likely?” Edward says. ‘No one ever tells me anything…’

                   “Then you’re lucky,” Wales says, knotting his meaty brows so forcefully that his eyes almost disappear within them. “They do nothing but tell me things – and half of ‘em turn out to be twaddle. But both Smith and Nelson assure the Admiralty there will be an invasion. It seems the French shipyards are building large numbers of huge vessels to be rowed over like Roman galleys…”

                    “So, he won’t need the weather gauge?” Edward has been waiting for an opportunity to utilize his scraps of nautical knowledge which, scrappy as they are, still outweigh those of the landlocked Wales.

                    “What in blazes is that?”

                     “He won’t need the right wind, or even ideal weather conditions,” he says, stunned by Napoleon’s ingenuity. “He could take us by complete surprise. What are we doing about it?”

                    “Nothing, as usual. Have a drink.” Wales snaps his porky fingers at a footman, who ferries around a tray of sherry. Despite a twinge of biliousness, Edward takes a schooner. “Smith tells me,’ Wales continues, guzzliong, ‘that the Navy wouldn’t be able to reach the crossing spot in time; and if the wind were agin ‘em and the Narrow Sea rough, they wouldn’t be there at all. Cheers!” He drains his sherry and orders another, which is there before he’s finished the sentence.

                      “Then we must have men stationed all along the south coast,” Edward now says indignantly, “and a warning system…”

                     Wales yawns operatically while saying, “Oh, I believe they have some sort of hilltop beacon thing in place… As for soldiers, Eddie, we don’t really have that many stationed here…”

                  “Where the hell are they then?” Nobody tells him anything.

                  “Oh, you know,” says Wales, playing with one of his chins, “India, China, Africa…those sorts of places – the Empire!”

                   “But what use is an empire going to be if we lose England!” He’s all but yelling by now.

                   Julie and Maria, seated upon intricately carved matching sofas patterned in fiery shades of red and orange, look up with alarm. Even a footman in clashing crimson livery seems concerned. So, Edward feels obliged to tell the women, “My brother was just informing me of Bonaparte’s imminent invasion and our utter inability to prevent his conquest of England. So,” he now pauses for effect, “as I said, it’s really nothing to worry about.”

                   “You need to relax more,” Wales tells him affectionately. “That’s why your hair is falling out – too much anxiety.” He turns to the ladies, remarking, “He’s going to be bald as an egg within four years if he doesn’t relax, wouldn’t you say?”

                    Both women are too polite for any response to this, but Julie reddens with embarrassment on his behalf. He thinks of telling Wales: If you get any fatter, you’ll have to ride elephant rather than horses; but he just smiles benignly, asking him instead, ‘What am I expected to do here without a command? Couldn’t I volunteer to fight with one of our European allies?’

                   “It’s not clear if we have any of those now,” says Wales quite simply. “They’re either claiming neutrality, or else falling into French arms. Augustus and Adolphus have had to flee Hanover — lucky to be alive. We wouldn’t want you dead or a prisoner-of-war, would we now? Why don’t you just do what I do?”

                   ‘Which is what, George?’

                    ‘Oh, you know: eat, drink, gamble and be merry…for tomorrow we may be Boney’s vassals, on a daily diet of humble pie and frogs…” 

                    He certainly takes his own advice. That night, over a dinner which, just looking at it, brings on Edward’s threatening bilious attack, Julie reads out Rose’s letter — in English, for Wales complains he has no ear for French these days.

                    As was his custom, Rose writes, Napoleon supervised every detail of the coronation, transforming Notre Dame into something from ancient Rome, and commissioning little figures to be made representing each guest, so he could decide who stood or sat where. He would play with these figures in their model temple for hours, as if at a chess board, moving one here, another there, and then standing back to view the new arrangement, either with pleasure, or else with dissatisfaction. Rose overheard an angry exchange between him and the artisan who had made the lifelike figures.

                    Why have you made Talleyrand taller than me?” demanded Napoleon, holding both figures up.

                     I was merely observing nature’s proportions, sire,’ protested the craftsman meekly, ‘since you said you wanted the models as lifelike as possible.”

                   It is power and authority which determine a man’s stature, not nature,” Napoleon spat, tossing the figurine of his foreign minister onto the flagstones and grinding it under his boot. “Make him again, but smaller – much smaller! 

                      Evidently, according to Rose, like Julie, everyone had been telling her husband the Pope would never come to Paris for the coronation. But each time Napoleon responded with the same confidence: “Oh, he will come all right; he owes me much. I have restored the Catholic Church with nearly all its lands, and bishops who report to him, not to this government. Without me, God would be merely just another émigré.”

                      On the day of the Pope’s expected arrival, Rose writes, Napoleon contrived to be out hunting with his senior officers in the woods near the mud road over which the papal cortège would have to pass. When the carriages, with their escort of Swiss Guard, came into sight, Napoleon announced his presence, obliging Pope Pius, in his white robes and shoes, to order steps folded down on which he could descend from his coach. According to Napoleon – who laughed when recalling it – the Pope stepped straight into a deep muddy puddle. Napoleon apologized for the rain, which, he said, was the one thing in France he could not control. With good humour, the frail old pontiff reputedly said in response: “As you can see, unlike my Lord and Master, I cannot, alas, walk on water.” Instead of kneeling and kissing the papal ring respectfully, Napoleon merely embraced the Bishop of Rome as he would an equal; and then he helped the old man back into his carriage, climbing in beside him for the journey to Fontainbleu. It was, Rose opines, a typical attempt by her husband to demonstrate for someone in a powerful position who is really in power here. Nor was it the last time that Napoleon deliberately humiliated the Pope. But Rose had her own dilemma for the Holy Father. Through a clerical intermediary, she had a note conveyed to Pope Pius stating that her marriage to Napoleon had never been sanctified by the Church; it was merely a civil ceremony. They were both immediately summoned to a private audience with His Holiness. Napoleon is not accustomed to being summoned anywhere, by anyone, thus he was about to vent his spleen when the Pope said: “It has come to my attention that your marriage was not sanctified by the Church.” Rose reports the following dialogue in her innately droll manner:

                       Napoleon: So what? It’s still a legal marriage.

                       Pope: Not to me. I cannot crown a man emperor who is living in a state of sin.

                  N: Well, I’m not getting married again.

                    P: Then I am afraid I cannot crown you.

                    N: Or will not?

                     P: I cannot; the Church forbids it.

                     N: Can’t you marry us?

                      P: Of course, I can.

                       N: A quick ceremony. In secret; and with few witnesses. Is it possible?”

                    P: With the Pope himself conducting your ceremony no other witnesses are needed.

                      N: Tonight, at ten, in the Tuileries – is it possible?

                    P: With God all things are possible. I shall come discretely.

                     On their ride home, Napoleon had said, “He’s not a bad old cabbage, is he? For a Pope, I mean…

                    As things turned out, Napoleon’s uncle, now a cardinal, performed the marriage rite, since, Rose believes, her husband did not even trust the Pope to keep this second wedding secret.  Rose confesses her subterfuge had been entirely self-serving, this religious wedding making any future attempt at divorce more difficult. Napoleon’s family, she says yet again, hate her to such a degree that the domineering mother, Letizia, had even refused to attend the coronation altogether, and some other siblings were expressing a similar reluctance.

                     Rose next recounts an anecdote which indicates both Napoleon’s insecurity, as well as his overweening pomposity. 

                   Being ‘Emperor of the French Republic’ sounds somewhat mundane, doesn’t it?” he had asked her, adding, “Even a little down-at-heel – I mean, when one is announced at some great affair of state.”  Rose had asked him what sort of title he would prefer. He thought this over for a while, and then declaimed, “I have decided I shall be addressed as ‘His Imperial Majesty, Emperor of the French’; it has a better ring to it, don’t you find?”

                     Talleyrand, who had goaded the senate and tribunes into pressing the First Consul to accept an imperial crown, had been tackled by Rose, who mistrusts him, on what precisely was the idea behind this collosal farce. With his habitually sardonic smile and cautious evasiveness, Talleyrand had said, “Sort of a cross between the Holy Roman Empire and the Empire of Charlemagne, I think.” 

                    Their wedding ceremony, conducted and witnessed solely by Napoleon’s uncle, had bored the emperor so severely that he had even fallen asleep during it, snoring at one stage. Rose was expecting some small celebration afterwards, yet nothing had been arranged, and, saying they’d been married for years already, and the evening’s event had been a necessary facade, Napoleon went straight to bed and to sleep. Rose then remarks that he keeps regular, if unusual hours, and is addicted to unvarying habits. He’s awoken at six a.m. by his valet with tea, rising immediately, donning a white dressing gown (swansdown in winter), with heeless slippers, and then he sits for a few minutes looking through newspapers and mail while finishing his tea. He next picks his teeth with a wooden spike very thoroughly, before brushing them with soda-paste, followed by a second brushing with coral powder. His Mameluke body-servant, Rustam, who always sleeps outside his door, is then summoned to hold the mirror while Napoleon shaves himself, using an ivory-handled razor of British steel – which he claims to be the world’s finest. His bath ready, he will often soak for up to an hour, making the bathroom a miasma of steam. Rustam dries him, emptying lavender cologne onto his head, which he massages in himself, then over his back and underarms. He gets through sixty bottles of such cologne every month. He’s then dressed by his valet, Marchand, his linen being of unusually fine quality, yet his clothes of coarse cheap cloth, often old or worn, and occasionally even patched. Surrounded by marshals and other officers resplendent in yards of gold braid, he claims this shabbiness makes it very clear who holds the reins of power. His tendency to wipe a pen on his white breeches further emphasises a surface appearance of grubbiness, a staged image of poverty by the most powerful man in Europe, who also eats and drinks little, and prefers to be in bed by 9 p.m. Yet he would frequently rise at midnight, summoning his drowsy secretary to dictate letters until three or four in the morning, when he would sleep again, only to be awoken at six. Since his own handwriting is generally illegible, he dictates everything, pacing up and down while he speaks, and rarely signing any document with more than an ‘N’. Rose repeats his obsession with detail, no matter how trivial. By letter from somewhere in Prussia, he once berated the Louvre for opening late one day and keeping the public outside waiting in cold weather. His knowledge in matters ranging from architecture to zoology deeply impresses experts in numerous subjects.

                  But, says Rose, his maniacal obsession with their coronation confounds even her. A day before the event, he has the Pope over to Notre Dame to show him the figurines and where everyone would sit or stand. The Pope looks closely at his own little self on its tiny throne. “I fear my chair is rather far back,” he observes mildly. ‘My arm will not reach you with the crown.’

                   It will be fine, you’ll see,” Napoleon tells him, abruptly adding, “What is it like being Pope, eh? Is it what you always dreamed of becoming?”  

                   P: To tell the truth, sire, I never wanted the position, and I dislike much about it. It scares me every day.

                    N: You must enjoy the power and luxury?

                    P: The only power I have comes from God. As for luxury – it shames me. I would sooner live in a monk’s cell and spend my days helping the poor and needy.

                   N: Rather than helping me, you mean?

                   P: You may be poorer and needier than you think, sire. Poverty and need are not just of the body. They are also of the heart, mind, and soul – and thus cannot be so easily ameliorated.

                     N: You prove to me that there is such a thing as a ‘soul’, Holy Father, and I will give all I own to the poor.

                   P: You prove to me that there is not, and I will resign the papacy, denouncing the Church as a deception.

                    N: Mere sophistry. But the offer is tempting.

                    P: The Kingdom of Heaven is within each of us; but we have to seek it.

                    At this point, Rose writes, Napoleon is silent, moving his models around on their board for some minutes, before saying, “When I was in Egypt, Holiness, I spent a night alone inside the Great Pyramid of Cheops, lying in the huge marble sarcophagus of what they call ‘the King’s Chamber’. During those seven hours, alone in total darkness within millions of tons of stone, I learned more about myself and the world than I had in thirty years. Do that yourself and you shall find what you are looking for – besides witnessing a marvel so far beyond our puny cathedrals that one suspects no human hands could have constructed it. That is my answer to you.”

                       Why am I here?” the Pope asks, a plaintive frustration in his tired old voice.

                    To bless my reign,” says Napoleon, suddenly marching off out the cathedral without uttering another word.

                    The ceremony itself goes off as planned, Rose says; although the Bonaparte sisters deliberately drop her 300-pound train at one point, nearly sending her toppling to the ground.. There are hundreds of musicians and a huge choir. All the Pope could have seen, however, was Napoleon’s back; the papal throne is even further away than it had been in the model. He had complained his arms were not long enough to place the crown on the new emperor’s head, yet there was no move to change his position. Impatient as usual, Napoleon urges clergy to speed up the special mass. When the crowns are carried out on scarlet cushions, Pope Pius makes an effort to stand, but before he’s even on his feet Napoleon, to gasps of amazement, seizes his own crown, placing it briefly on his head, before reverting to the golden laurel wreath he had been wearing previously, and which makes him resemble a Roman hero. Ashen-faced, the Pope resumes his seat. Then Rose is crowned by her husband in the same perfunctory manner, kneeling before him as she had expected to do with the Pope. Rose says she felt ridiculous, in her forty-foot ermine-trimmed cloak, now and forever referred to as a ‘Majesty’, even by the Pope himself, as he deliveres his blessing for the Emperor’s reign. She hears him whisper to Napoleon, flicking holy water over his face, “I pray that this crown does not become too heavy for you to bear, Majesty.” Napoleon had evidently whispered in return, “You can go back to Rome now, old man. I don’t need you here anymore.”

                  Rose had been a patron and friend of the artist Davide, for who she obtained the highly lucrative commission to commemorate this coronation with a painting of the event so massive it is all but life-sized. He had made many sketches during the ceremony, of course, and had the arrangement of figurines for reference. But Rose had pulled off a clever stunt, presumably a consequence of gratitude and friendship. The moment depicted in the painting is Napoleon crowning her, and not his own coronation of himself. This latter scene would have made it difficult to include the Pope, besides seeming absurdly vain – so her machinations are not entirely self-serving. When the emperor goes to see how Davide’s gigantic canvas is progressing, Rose imagines he might explode with rage upon seeing her coronation rather than his own. Instead, according to Davide, he’d walked up and down the seventy-odd feet of canvas, nodding appreciatively. Then he’d suddenly exclaimed, “But where is my mother? I don’t see her anywhere.” Davide replies that Letizia’s absence from the coronation explains her absence from the painting. “Put her in anyway,” Napoleon tells him, looking around the scores of painted figures. “It was a woman’s tiff – you know how they are. She’ll regret not being painted here sooner or later. Put her right there,” he points out a spot that would obscure some minor aristocrat, “and give her a beautiful dress, a fine coiffure – you know how vain they all are.” Again, he admires the painting, urging its rapid completion; and then he leaves quite happily. Never once does he mention the work to Rose. She ends her immensely long, ambivalent letter by adding an ominous note about the Bonaparte family’s new cause for hate, but saying she has no time or energy to write more now.

                  Brava, splendid stuff!” bellows Wales, who had seemed to fall asleep during the reading. “I learned more about Boney from that letter,’ he says quite sincerely, ‘than I have from everything written here – including our own so-called Intelligence reports!”

                    “Is your Pavillion inspired by the Taj Mahal?” Edward asks his brother, mainly to demonstrate appreciation and a little knowledge.

                  “Indeed, it is…partly,” Wales replies, always eager to discuss his designs.

                  “You know the Taj Mahal is a tomb then?”

                   Nonsense,” Wales yodels. “It’s a palaceobviously it’s a palace.”

                    “I’m told the potentate in question built it as a tomb for his beloved wife.”


                  “He wanted to build a black version for his own tomb,” he adds, “but the state was bankrupt by then…” As ours will be if you are king, he thinks.

                    “Hmm,” says Wales, looking about the room, “I suppose the story could be true. Perhaps I shall make the Pavilion my own tomb, because I wouldn’t spend a groat on that Brunswick bitch’s mausoleum, you can be sure of that!” 

                   The room seems to have more to say than they do, choking with so much oriental splendour, frescoes of foliage pollilating above in the dome, inlaid precious stones blinding you with reflected candlelight.

                 “You simply must dine with us every time a letter arrives from your Rose!” declares Maria Fitzherbert, who, despite her casual finery and natural elegance, now seems weary and strained. ‘Bonaparte seems to be a monster,’ she now says, ‘whose only charm is his power…although his power is far from charming,’ she adds, glancing at Wales with the tail of her eye. She knows whereof she speaks.

                     After Julie has recounted the tale of Rose’s prophecy from the witch on Martinique, they fall to discussing Mrs. Siddons’ performance in Macbeth, which all four of them have recently seen and agreed unanimously to be superlative. 

                    “I like Macbeth,” Wales says. “For one thing, it’s short – short enough to keep one awake. But I have never understood why the Thane of Cawdor – or Cawn of Tandoor, or whoever he starts out being – believes the witches when they prophecy he’ll be king yet doesn’t believe them when they tell him his children will not be kings.’ Edward thinks: but my daughter will be a queen. ‘Either you believe a bunch of wise old drabs,’ says Wales, ‘or you don’t believe them…’ He laughs to himself. ‘I mean,’ he goes on, ‘their own fortunes must have been dispiriting, eh? After all, they’re living on a blasted heath around a camp fire… But d’you see my point?” 

                   Everyone sees it, just as clearly as they see he’s approaching that stage of his daily intoxication when it becomes necessary for him to be offensive.

                    Julie’s sweet and cheerful voice now chimes in: “Yes, but he was married to such a frightful witch that he’d learned to listen all right, but he did not always hear…”

                     The Prince of Wales bangs the table at this, laughing himself so nearly sick that he calls for coffee – a good sign, presaging an intention of future sobriety. An intention. 

                 To sustain this uncustomary mood, Maria says, “It’s very hard to believe, watching Mrs. Siddons perform, that Shakespeare wrote the role for a young boy actor. Surely it was written for a woman to perform, or am I wrong?”

                    To this Edward says lamely, “Maria may have a valid thesis…” He’s nervous about his brother’s mood.

                   “Listen,” commands Wales, “Sheridan – who once met someone whose great grandfather’s uncle’s neighbour was Shakespeare’s best friend – Sheridan, a man of the theatre, remember, told me Shakespeare had a couple of strumpets he used for certain female roles…and, what’s more, he got involved in some legal dispute for which they were witches…I mean witnesses. So my dear Maria is definitely right, as always, when she maintains that a hairless youth could not deliver a line like, um, dash his nipples from my boneless gums, or some such, without having the groundlings howling and the whole house laughing itself shitless…” Drunk as he surely must be, his brain still functions in its curious way. You think it won’t, but it does.

                       Noticeably relieved to find her prince back from the edge of his dark vinous abyss, Maria goes on: “What roles must have been played by real women then?” she asks, having a problem with her false teeth that suddenly necessitates removing them behind a napkin.

                   “Hamlet?” Wales suggests flippantly. “Is your mouth bothering you again, my sweet?”

                   Glimpsing Maria’s face behind the napery, Edward sees that, without teeth, she has aged forty years, her cheeks sunken and withered, her eyes hollow. It surprises him that Wales, who’s all about appearances, is still so affectionate with her. It surprises and touches him. But he never doubts if Julie will still love him when all his hair has fallen out. What age demolishes love proves impregnable. Love is the one thing time cannot touch. It’s not time’s fool. Or we hope it isn’t. To keep their game going, he suggests, “Cleopatra?”

                  “I think Romeo and Juliet could not have worked with two teenaged boys,” Julie says. “And without a real shrew to tame, nor would Taming of the one in question…”

                    Eventually, they decide the Bard had two main female actors, one a haughty beauty, the other probably a spiteful bitch. He also had a gorgeous young thing – mistress too, no doubt – who was cast in everything suitably flattering. Plays toying with the idea of ladies disguised as men disguised as ladies also seem to allude slyly to a flaunting of the laws against women being allowed to act – which was not the case in Italy and other parts of Europe. Ah, world, he thinks, this part of you is not mine: the ceaseless superficial banter; the need for wit, the necessity to amuse, in order that time flies by, instead of crawling. You comment critically on how the tempus fugits, yet when it hobbles, you’re too ashamed to admit it, to confess your time has become a fardel for you. What is it, time? Our measurements are just a convenience; one man’s minute is another man’s hour…or day. He thinks: Does this explain my fascination with clocks? My father’s? Am I really trying pathetically to own my time? Our original conception of it must have been circular: from sunrise to sunrise, from summer to summer. What impelled us to make it linear? Life, from womb to tomb? Why 24 hours in a day: why not ten? Why 60 minutes in an hour? You wonder if you could become lost inside your own mind – like his father, the King. You do wonder, don’t you? Thus, he’s pleased when Julie accepts Wales’ invitation to play cards; and he’s pleased when he notices Maria’s wooden teeth are back where they belong. It means she and he can be alone to discuss an issue that has become suddenly very pressing. But we shhall need to set back the year’s clock a little to make this difficult issue clearer. Tempus Refugit.

Queen Victoria’s Secret: Chapter 13.1



London: May 1803 – March 1805


                After pouring out his enraged sorrows to Julie, Immediately upon his return to Knightsbridge he writes a letter to Lord Pelham requesting an interview. No reply comes; so, he pens another, a more strongly-worded letter, which also receives no reply. ‘I’m tempted to just storm over to his office,’ he says. But he’s been laid low with another bout of rheumatism; storming anywhere is not a feasibility.

                     Your importance to others can be gauged by the celerity of their replies to your correspondence. It is only five weeks later, after a third and overtly angry epistle this time, that he obtains a reply from Pelham. Dated June 30th, it states that Edward’s letters have been laid before the King, who made no comment on them; which, Pelham has now determined, means that no interview is necessary. More kick to the head than slap on the face. 

                    “They’re using the King’s illness as an excuse now,” he tells Weatherall, who reads the letter with a frown deepening in his brows until it resembles seams of his skull.

                     ‘It’s disingenuous…’ This is his sole comment.

                     ‘I’ll not let this matter drop,” Edward vows, striding over to his desk as if intending it harm.

                     Instead of battering it to splinters, he writes to the Duke of York, demanding a court of inquiry into his, into Edward’s, conduct and competence while commanding at Gibraltar. 

                   At least this gets a response, even if. York’s reply is a swift refusal, stating in part, ‘…to adjudicate on the actions of an officer of your rank is manifestly inexpedient. No such court of inquiry can be granted…’ 

                     Fury does not adequately describe his reaction to this. ‘Christ!’ he bellows. ‘What York is really saying here is that he’d ensure the judgment of any such court went against me, isn’t he? He couldn’t know the outcome of any inquiry unless he’d already predetermined it, could he? The bastard!’ It ought to have been an infinitely worse epithet, but when you really need these they’re never available, are they?

                     After a dispiriting visit to Princess Caroline, during which he learns that little Charlotte is now being kept away from her mother permanently, he discovers something to further aggravate his jangling mental state. Over coffee at White’s club, he’s told by a Lieutenant-General Williams, recently returned from Malta via the Rock, that new-governorTrigge, his successor, has dispensed with most of his new military regulations. Just dispensed with them, like rubbish.

                   ‘God almighty!’ he says. ‘My three hundred pages of carefully-considered reforms based on years of experience: toiled over for nothing?’

                   ‘Apparently,’ says Williams, ‘the Government here agreed to their cancellation…’

                   York,’ he splutters. ‘York did this…’ Why say it? he thinks. Who else could have possibly done it?

                  ‘You’re not entirely alone, though: read this.’ Williams shows him the copy of a letter written by General Sir William Fawcett, Adjutant-General under the Duke of York. In it, Fawcett states that he regards the Duke of Kent’s military instructions for the garrison on Gibraltar as, ‘…admirable, a model that had long been needed’.  

                    Inspired by this tiny morsel of vindication, and his unrelenting rage, Edward has copies made of all his correspondence while in command on the Rock, which he then circulates among his various friends and acquaintances, most of them acquaintances. This is done primarily to demonstrate that he had filed copious reports on his activities as Governor-Commandant, receiving nothing but encouragement in return. Consequent to this, he obtains much sympathy for his current mistreatment; yet this sympathy is not from anyone who can aid him with the problem. And neither the King nor his elder brothers have responded to his requests for interviews. He feels closer to virtual strangers than he does to this alleged family of his.

                    ‘He’s effectively terminated my military career,’ he says, slumped down over his desk, his chin propped up on his big clasped hands.

                  ‘Surely not!’ says Weatherall, whose own days as a soldier will also be over if this is true. ‘You must confront him man to man, Edward…’ A pall of helplessness descends whenever these brothers enter the picture.

                    ‘I daren’t. As Commander-in-Chief he could use the intrusion as yet one more reason to cashier me…’ The helplessness is shared. Edward stares into the wood grain seeking assistance there. But assistance is nowhere to be found. A soldier is all he knows how to be; and now he cannot be a soldier, so it seems.

                   The following day, another letter arrives from the Duke of York. It merely states that he, the Duke of Kent, has been promoted to the rank of Field-Marshall, the summit of military ranks. No explanation is offered.

                     ‘Ah, God!’ he sighs.

                     ‘A good sign, no?’ says Weatherall hopefully.

                    ‘No, no, Fred. It’s another twist of the blade. I know York. It amuses him to make me a field-marshall when I’m never again to receive a field to marshal… How can I get another command with this hanging over my head? The promotion also makes a court of inquiry impossible – the cunning devil! As his letter said, you can’t adjudicate high-ranking officers, and there’s no higher rank than this…’

                 ‘With Bonaparte threatening to invade,’ says Weatherall, ‘they’re hardly going to dispense with one of their finest commanders, are they?’

                  They might not, but he will… You don’t know him…’ I don’t really know him either, he thinks.

                 ‘And I’m mighty glad of it,’ says his friend, for want of any consolation to offer.

                  A day later, mysteriously, he’s finally invited to Windsor to visit his father, who has apparently responded well to treatment and is now much recovered. Possibly the ‘much’ is excessive. But Edward, arrived at the dreary castle, is forbidden to tax His Majesty’s burning brain with any vexing issues or government business. It is not going to be an easy or remotely useful conversation. 

                      ‘Have you seen our wagonway yet, hey-hey?’ asks the King, sitting in his wingback by a window overlooking the verdant park. This is how he opens their chat.

                     ‘Our what, Papa?’

                      This so-called wagonway is the first railway line in England, stretching from Wandsworth all the way to Croydon, and the King is of a sudden much taken with the romance of steam engines. ‘You must see her,’ he exclaims, his face like crimson lace beneath its neat mantle of ivory-yellow hair. ‘She huffs and snorts like a mad old bull…’

                    Christ, so did you, he thinks, the last time I was here. It is one of those conversations that, were you having it with anyone else, might seem quite normal; but with his father it presents many aspects of lunacy. And then it is abruptly terminated when the King imagines he can see a poacher in the woods below, where the only person visible is a urinating groom waving a riding crop, presumably to ward off flies.  On his way out, Edward has the immense misfortune to encounter his brother, York, in the Queen’s drawing room. He loses his composure utterly and completely. “You, sir,” he barks, as if talking to a rowdy private on the parade ground, “are a blagard, a hypocrite, incompetent, jealous, petty and treacherous. You deliberately undermined my career because it made your own seem pitiful in comparison – and pitiful it is indeed.! My scorn for you knows no bounds; I…”

                    But his mother cuts him off, shrieking, “I vill hear no more off ziss! You vill apologice to your bruzzer, schnell!”

                    ‘No, Mama, I shall not. I’d sooner apologize to Boney the Ogre,’ he says, turning giddily to leave the room. He’s never spoken to her like this; he’s never spoken to anyone like this. 

                    Sophia wants to run after him but, as she tells him later, the Queen had forbidden it. ‘Not all bad though,’ says his sister. ‘She then interrogatedYork in her prickliest regarding your furious accusations. He claimed innocence, of course; yet Mama remained sceptical. I’d say she’s on your side…’

                  ‘Ah. No. She’s never on anyone’s side; not even her own, I suspect…’ 

                    According to Weatherall, who these days gets around socially more than he wants to, Edward’s story is by now dinner gossip all over the city, with opinions about his conduct and its condemnation varying wildly. You aren’t sure how to take this; and things get no less confounding. His greatest support begins emerging, curiously enough, from the Prince of Wales, who at long last invites him to Carlton House. It is only a formal occasion, but it’s still an invitation.

                      During a reception for some scowling German princling, Wales walks Edward arm in arm over to where Mr. Addington stands in serious conversation with some Whig political sycophant. After last autumn’s election, Addington is now Prime Minister in name as well as occupation.

                      “Mr. Addington,” says Wales, in his most imperious tone, ignoring the Whig, and still locking his arm in Edward’s, “you send out a man to control a garrison all but in open mutiny; you tell him to terminate such a disgraceful state, and you assure him of the Government’s unqualified support. He goes out and finds things infinitely worse even than stated. The impending revolt occurs; he quells it thoroughly. By way of reward, you then disgrace him. If you want to deter an officer from his duty, or encourage a mutinous soldier, your tactics are admirable. My brother here has every reason to complain. He would not be a Field-Marshal, less still a man if he kept silent, would he, sir?” Wales has a way of making you uncertain if he’s rebuking or joking. It’s unnerving, as perhaps it’s intended to be.

                  Addington has no idea how to respond to this, so he merely bows and keeps his peace.

                  He’s eyed quizzically, the way you’d observe an exotic species of fauna. “I take this mute response as your shame, Addington,” says Wales jovially, allowing his brief pause to further chill the exchange. “Yet I’m pleased not to hear an excuse for something warranting no excuse whatsoever.’ Another short pause; another fascinated stare. ‘Good evening, sirs,’ he concludes with frightful ambivalence. ‘Do try the salmon mousse – it’s divine…” He hauls Edward off like a billowing flagship towing its enormous dinghy into harbour.

                  “Thank you, George,” he manages to say, so unused to fraternal support he can hardly believe what has happened.

                    “Truth needs no thanks,” Wales tells him, making sure the whole room sees their closeness, sees it along with its implied rebuke to the Duke of York. What is going on?

                    ‘It was,’ Wales says later that night, ‘ a conversation I had with General Fawcett that  convinced me you did a superb job on the Rock. Yes, he convinced me of it; and I have come to see that malicious elements have spread false rumours about you for their own ends. I wrote to you about it. Did you not get that letter?’ 

                      Was there such a letter? Wales doesn’’t mention York specifically, yet he doesn’t have to. If, that is, this isn’t a wicked torment or evil game. But look at him! You wonder that he hasn’t exploded in his glittering waistcoat, firing off diamond buttons in the blast like bullets and mowing down his guests. He must have gained five stone since Edward last saw him. Does he not notice this? Or does he assume no one else notices something this unmistakable? 

                    When the universe changes its mind about torturing you it’s difficult not to hope the new attitude will remain forever. More cheering news arrives the next day, when it’s publically announced that, as an accolade for his services to them as governor, the general population of Gibraltar has awarded the Duke of Kent a gift of one thousand guineas. Such accolades are so much better than patently insincere, hyperbolic windbaggery in Parliament. Somewhat regrettably, considering the fathomless abyss of debt, he decides to spend the money on a diamond garter star to match the sash star given him by the people of Halifax. What’s the rationale here? Well, these trinkets will be constant reminders of the appreciation his hard work has elicited from those it was designed to benefit. You’re forced to admit that a lack of appreciation has to be severe for someone to seize hold of a little gratitude and, lest people doubt gratitude ever came your way, to wear it as jewelry, possibly on a daily basis. His of course suspicious of the sheer quantity in which good news now seems to arrive. The universe is not famous for its benevolence. 

                  ‘You’ll like this too,’ says Julie, handing him her newspaper, over breakfast one morning in the summer garden, where a crested woodpecker is tapping out its code on the trunk of an elm. All things conspire – at times.

                     ‘Hmm,’ he says, reading the article. A Methodist preacher had stood before his crowded assembly three days ago and told them he’d been a captain serving under the Duke of Kent at Gibraltar, and now felt it his duty to speak out on Edward’s behalf, and ‘…to bear public testimony to the upright, courageous conduct of the Prince, and the beneficial regulations for the soldiery and inhabitants which he so wisely devised and so perseveringly maintained…’ “I know nothing of this man,’ he says, shaking his huge head, with its thinning slats of wispy chestnut hair. Just as well that not everything is perfect in paradise, which still has a serpent even if you cannot see it today.

                    Julie asks him, ‘Why on earth did this cleric feel compelled to speak out now?’

                     He regards the sunlight bemusedly, uncertain it’s here to stay. ‘I’ve no idea. But I’m monstrous glad he did. I must write to thank him.’ There is a pause, perhaps to seek guidance; and then he says, ‘I do hope York is reading this…’ 

                    What he hopes far more, naturally, is that his Commander-in-Chief sees fit to give him another command. There could be cogent reasons for it too, he thinks. A new uprising is being put down in Ireland; he could still go there. In India, the Maratha War is blazing away: it’s also a possibility, isn’t it? Or he could take a command in Prussia? Anything at all will surely be better than twiddling his thumbs in anxious desperation here. He’s not a man able to relax. To sit at home with his feet up he must be sick, and – is there no end to this joy? — he’s never felt better. With England’s summer bursting out in wild greenery all around him, you cannot help but wonder if life is suggesting, with all this abundance, that this is the way his career should also now burst out, fecund and fruitful at last. The thought does appear to require a ‘but’ though, doesn’t it? But instead of exploding into glory, his future in fact looks as empty as the blue sky — which is endless, he thinks, and yet nowhere at all. Clouds are sinister in their absence above London.

                     Not everyone in the city is preoccupied with the Duke of Kent’s future, however. In Weatherall’s club, a week later, the talk is all of this surprising American Louisiana Purchase, now that the details of it are coming in. It’s more than just Louisiana too; the deal will double the size of those United States. Not welcome news to many here. 

                    “Why would Bonaparte sell them such a huge piece of the continent?” Edward says, oddly glad himself not to be preoccupied with his own future. “Is he bribing an alliance from the states? Or does he simply need the money?” Edward can sympathize with such need.

                    Now would have been the time to be in Canada,” sighs Weatherall wistfully. “They are obviously provoking us by annexing Ohio. I wonder how those Indians are responding?” 

                   “I wonder how we are responding on their behalf,” he says, the usual preoccupation swooping back down on him from its eerie. “What a very fine time for my army days to be in doubt.’ No, he thinks, ‘in doubt’ is not what it is, adding, ‘To be smothered, suffocated, snuffed – and I shall mention no snuffers…”

                    “Nothing about India?” Weatherall inquires, ever hopeful that ruin needn’t be so ruinous.

                    “It seems Colonel Wellesley is doing magnificently with Gwalior and in the south,’ he replies, trying to sound pleased about this, but forced to remark, ‘No one needs us – or, in my case, no one wants me…” He smiles in an attempt to offset the glumness invading.

                   “With France,” says Weatherall, scraping hope’s barrel,  “they’ll need and want every good officer available.” Not much residue left to scrape up in that barrel. He returns to his newspaper and then, minutes later, huffs or puffs mightily again.

                  ‘What is it, Fred?’ Old friends don’t need a lot of verbiage to assess the mood.

                  ‘Oh, Arthur Guiness,’ says Weatherall, prodding his page reproachfully.


                  ‘When you were hoping for a posting in Ireland, I got myself an introduction to a fellow over there, a brewer, well-connected…’ Weatherall is far from sure that this is needed now, wobbling his meaty forefinger imeaninglessly n the air.

                      Edward is not sure it’s needed either, whatever it is. ‘Ah. And?’

                     ‘Apparently he made an excellent beer…’ It sounds bizarre the moment he’s said it.

                      Made?’ says Edward, in wonderment that the tense is a subject – yet it is. ‘What? He stopped, did he?’

                       ‘No, he died,’ is the morbid answer, which needs mitigation: ‘Evidently some months ago…’

                      You are perplexed why some comversations need to happem at all. ‘So… he’s off the list is he, Mr. Guiness?’ Is this the point? No, it requires more.                      ‘Perhaps he has family?’ It’s the right and hopeful thing to say.

                   Weatherall isn’t so sure. ‘To keep all the beer flowing?’ he says, the tone vexed but positive; and then not so positive: ‘Well, we shan’t be drinking it now, shall we?’

                  Edward blinks, twitching his nose. ‘No, I suppose not…’

                   ‘Pity that.’



                         No longer thinking it’s such a delight, Julie has received another letter from Rose, who begins by saying she regrets her previous letter, which had been written in the heat of anger. Does the First Consul’s wife imagine this wasn’t obviousd?  She and Bonaparte are very much in love again; this is her news. Her only complaint now is of his irascibility with their guests and his crude barrackroom manners. Better than his whoring around, no? At a recent reception, Rose recounts, he ignored all the aristocratic ladies she’d assembled to give the occasion an appropriately dignified grandeur, and he walked straight up to the very tall  British Ambassador – a man Rose believes hesitantly to be named Whitworth – and shouted at him.: My spies tell me what you people are up to, you pig-faced buffoon! You’re re-arming; I know it! So, I too shall re-arm. If it is another war you want, I shall give you another war – and this time it will not be inconclusive. I shall be ruling England within the year, and your lanky corpse shall be dangling from the ramparts of Windsor’s castle. Go and scribble this down for your mad king, if he is still able to read — you oafish nincompoop!” After this embarrassing tirade – or is it a message for us? — Bonaparte evidently strode from the reception hall and did not return. Rose went after him, mortified by his rudeness, yet finding him laughing all by himself in his study. She asked what he found so amusing, and he merely told her that Talleyrand had just given him some annoying news about British army maneuvers, so he was obliged to vent his spleen on the Ambassador. There follows some rather more alarming news. Talleyrand, his foreign minister, the Tribunate, Senate and some others have persuaded the First Consul to proclaim himself ‘Emperor of the French’, to which suggestion he readily agreed, already planning a grand ceremony for late in the year, a coronation, one at which Pope Pius VII himself will place the imperial crown upon Bonaparte’s head. The Pope, it seems, has also obligingly unearthed a ‘Saint Napoleon’, whose feast day is on August 15th—by sheer coincidence also Bonaparte’s birthday.

                    “But most extraordinary of all,” says Julie, her voice breaking, her sapphire eyes wide with wonder, “is that he intends to have Rose crowned as Empress alongside him!”

                      “I find that the least extraordinary thing here,” he says, trying to disentangle the ramifications of all he’s just heard, unlikely as it sounds.

                         “Don’t you see,” she persists. “It’s just as the old witch on Martinique predicted all those years ago: Rose would one day become a great Queen!”

                      Edward is far less amazed by the accuracy of occult prophecy than she clearly is. He sits up, recalling his own fortune teller and saying, not to dampen her spirits, “By heaven, you’re right! How could a gypsy possibly have known  so very long ago that this would happen?” Of course, he knows why, just as he knows this is the correct response.

                     “She was a witch, not a gypsy,” Julie reminds him, puzzled by the glint in his eyes. “There are no gypsies on Martinique.” 

                      He hasn’t mentioned his own experience of prophecy, fearing that its implication of an official royal marriage needed to produce an official royal child would only upset her. He’s right about that.

                    “The oddest part,” Julie concludes, putting down her letter and narrowing her gaze, “is that Rose is opposed to him taking the throne. It appalls her…”

                   “Why would that be?” He genuinely cannot imagine why.

                    “Because it brings the horrid dynastic issue to the fore; and since she probably cannot give him an heir, he will be under even greater pressure from his grasping family to put her aside and marry some foreign princess who can bear him children, an heir.’ She needs a pause for the subject of children to cease pressing down with the weight of regret. ‘His family already hate her so much that the thought of Rose soon being their empress is driving them crazy.’ A tiny smirk appears. ‘Now they all want royal titles of their own…”

                   He can understand this better than she. “The way things are going over there,” he says, “they’ll probably all get them too.” He knows this isn’t the issue here, but he’s not certain what the issue in France is with this startling turn of events.

                    Fraternal coziness continues unabated, making a strange time still stranger. His brother Wales has taken to visiting him in Knightbridge these days, and they often discuss Bonaparte while Julie and Maria Fitzherbert amuse themselves with whist or chess in the music room. As if, he thinks, they have no interest in the world – when I know they do.

                     “We have spies everywhere in France,” says Wales, in his habitually boastful tone, the one you suspect will be the music of his own reign, “many of them royalist agents, but some also ex-Jacobin scum. Both sides want an end to Boney the fucking Ogre. We even have a Bourbon spy working as that Corsican prick’s bedchamber servant…” He dips his head at British brilliance, all of it shining from Carlton House. 

                   Bonaparte walks a tightrope in Paris, we hear, disapproving of continuing the Revolution on one hand, yet also opposed to the old monarchy on the other. Two powerful factions are thus his sworn enemies. But the streets are now clear of rubbish and refuse, and the economy is thriving, with government annuities up forty percent. It’s everyday life that people care about, not ideologies. Always variants on bread and circuses, Edward thinks, finding much of ancient Rome in modern France – or in the man soon to be her emperor.

                   “He has to be called ‘Napoleon’ now,” Edward says, forgetting how unwise a thing it is to correct Wales.

                    “He can call himself ‘Fuckwit Footle’ for all I care,’ says his brother, the reaction to correction unusually mild. ‘Anyway, this servant tells us that the usurping dwarf dictates all correspondence to a young secretary named Vertigo, or some such Froggery – dictates all except his policy and war plans, which are kept locked in a safe bolted to the floor.’ He makes this sound ludicrous even though his own safe is also bolted to the floor; but nothing sensible can happen in Paris, where Wales has never ventured, having never left England in his life. ‘Only Vertigo has the right to enter Boney’s office suite,’ his spy has told them, ‘and he also keeps the one copy his master has allowed to be made of that safe’s key.’ Wales chortles at the thought, although you’re not sure which thought is so amusing. ‘If the plans are removed they will be missed immediately, and the only suspect will be Vertigo; so there’s no hope of bribing him to steal the documents, is there?’ Edward thinks not but just downturns his mouth in sage understanding, as Wales blabbers on: ‘Boney often sleeps in the bloody office, for a start – can you imagine! — but even if he’s abed elsewhere, he sleeps no more than a few hours, and he’s back at work by midnight, usually – the fiend!’ Of course, sleeping in an office and long hours at work must baffle the prince hideously. ‘Our servant-spy, however, however, knows where Boney’s key is kept. It’s always on his person unless he bathes, which that usurping fuckwit does a deuced abnormal number of times daily.’ Like Edward, Wales still bathes according to their mother’s advice, which is twice a month. He scoffs at Boney’s hygiene. ‘These baths are generally prepared and supervised by some evil Arab slave called Bustem, or Bastem, who watches his owner like a hawk, and will kill any unauthorized person coming anywhere near him.’ We know this already, thinks Edward, from Rose’s angry letter. ‘Our man says that Bustem and his dagger have to eat and sleep at times too, don’t they?’ Presumably they do, like everyone, but Wales requires a response and gets one. ‘Thus, if Bonehead wants his little-girly bath at such times, only our man, the servant or whatever he is, can prepare it.’ Edward has pictured spying as a moree revealing activity than this domestic routine, but you have to keep the praise flowing for Wales, who goes on with what must be tenth-hand intelligence: ‘He thinks he can obtain the key and make off with the plans during one of these unnatural sodding bathing sessions. The Comte de Provence – I mean, King Louis the-whatever-he-is – has offered this fellow a fortune in lands and honours if he can pull off the scheme…”

                    Ah, so this is a scheme, is it? “It sounds unlikely that he could,” says Edward, mulling over the rather improbably desperate ploy. “And even if he did, Napoleon would soon know, and would naturally alter any plans he felt compromised.’ This seems so obvious it needs no mention, but perhaps it’s not? ‘Not to mention,’ he says, his thoughts spilling into his words, ‘finding the servant long before he’s able to enjoy a square yard of land, less still an honour. Ah, no. Not a great plan, George…” God, he thinks, why correct him again? He tries to look more concerned than scornful.

                     “Yes,” admits Wales with highly uncharacteristic humility, twisting his high white cravat so roughly that his chins wobble like surf, “I knew there might be flaws. But you, Eddie, were born with a brain that works. You see! You found the flaw immediately. I’ll need your brain when I’m regent – I’ll sorely need it then…” The humility now sounds less humble.

                   Edward pictures his brother prying the brain from its skull. You’ll sorely need to remain sober then too, he thinks. Anyone could see the flaws in that preposterously hare-brained plan. You wonder how Wales’ brain functions in its alcoholic fog; you fear that’s why he needs your brain; you fear dreadfully for a regency – as Sophia had said you would. How to respond for him this time?   “How’s that coming along, by the way?” Edward asks, knowing he’s always the last to hear anything of import from his family, or anything at all.

                   “The old bugger keeps bloody well recovering, damn it!” Wales moans, sounding as if the King’s recoveries are a deliberate slight or an evil attempt to thwart him. “That buffoon Addington’s no better than Pitt and it’s even harder now to meet the requirements for a bill to be passed.’ A pause as Wales lets the intolerable exigencies of his life astound the huge little brother listening to him so patiently; and he continues in covert tones, ‘The King can’t be relied upon to do any work, which of course suits the fucking ministers just fine; yet every day he still has to sign papers he can barely see. It’s monstrous, Eddie! And here am I, ready and able to take the reins…” His eyes widen at the at the thought.

                    Yet unable to mount the horse, Edward thinks, saying, “But is that feeble fantasy the only plan we have for eliminating Bonaparte before he marches up Pall Mall?” It’s all a far more serious business than his eldest brother appears to realize.

                    “No,” says Wales, with an air of vast dissatisfaction. “There’s a fellow named George Cadwilly, or George something, who plans to assassinate the little Ogre on his way to Chateau St. Cloud – it’s a place where he often goes for weekends, apparently. The assassination is supposed to signal an insurgence of Bourbon and Jacobin forces to restore the monarchy.” Even he sounds dubious.

                   It begins to worry Edward; after all, this is England’s future security we’re dealing with here, securing by means of balderdash and dreams. “Why would Jacobin forces want to do that?” he asks. “It’s like a wolf rounding escaped sheep back into the fold, and then waiting patiently for a reward as the farmer repairs his fences and loads his shotgun…” He tries not to look too content with the metaphor.

                     “Well, that’s what we hear rumoured of the plan,’ says Wales, stepping back on the brilliance. ‘There may well be more to it.”

                    He thinks: Or there may well be less. There’d better be more than mere rumours though. “And if your spies are hearing these rumours, don’t you think Napoleon’s own legion of informers, and Fouchet’s highly-trained spies, might also have caught a whiff of it? Whatever we think of him, the man is a military and strategic genius, after all’s said and done. It is always such a mistake to underestimate one’s enemies, George – I learned that on my first miserable day at Luneberg twenty years ago.” And, he thinks, it’s so obvious that even you must know it.

                     Is Wales so easily impressed these days? “God knows why you aren’t C-in-C of the army, Eddie,” he says, sighing with seeming sincerity. “Fred’s not up to the job, and he knows it – but he would never admit it; and he’d rather eat a ripe turd than see you in the post.” His expression is now opaque, and you wonder why he’s apparently confessing to less power than he normally brags about having in all matters.

                  “Why the hatred?’ is what Edward wants to know. ‘I don’t understand it…”

                   “Yes, you do,” says Wales, suddenly looking reflective – not easy for him. “Or maybe you don’t. But I’ve spent more time with him than you – decades more, in fact – and I know. It’s just jealousy, that’s all. He was so happy when you messed up at Geneva, because he feared you’d eclipse him in our papa’s eyes. He loves being the favourite, always has… But, again, he’d never admit that either, would he?” This is no longer easy to read, and he knows it.

                     The Duke of York is evidently jealous of his own weaknesses, thinks Edward. “Can’t you exert some influence over him, George,” he says, “to get me a position in Ireland, India, Europe, here… anywhere – except Canada? I’m a field-marshall, for Christ’s sake, with no command and nothing to do – literally nothing! I’d give anything to command an army against Bonaparte. I understand the man. I could defeat him. I know I could… Can’t you exert your influence; I mean as our next monarch, as head of the family… Can’t you, please?” He did not intend to sound so desperate, yet he is, so why not?

                     Given his rainbow-hued satin waistcoat and pink velvet breeches, it is hard for Wales to look gravely serious, yet somehow he manages it. “No,” he replies, “that’s all in Fred’s domain now. I would be meddling. Besides, he will do nothing to help you – and, be careful, for he can harm you far more than he already has.’ He lets this horror sink in before going on. ‘The best I can do is put a flea in Addington’s ear – something about needing every good officer we have at a time like this, eh? But expect nothing, for Fred is not very susceptible to reason in your case…” The supercilious look makes you wonder why he’s said anything at all today.

                     “But surely the war, and threats of invasion trump such petty grudges?” Edward says, hoping against hope that common sense is still available in London.

                    “Not with Fred,” says Wales frankly, slowly shaking his puffy blond wig. “He’d rather see Boney on our throne than have you win another victory in battle…” No indication here whether he thinks York is being rational in this or not.

                    Edward has to make his own opinion painfully clear, even though it must surely be the general opinion, if anyone else is aware of what goes through York’s nasty head: “But that’s madness…”

                    “Which does run in our family, Eddie, does it not?”

                    “What do you suggest I do? Twiddle my thumbs while London burns?”

                     “Let me think about it,” Wales says reassuringly. “But if London’s on fire I’d prefer you to help douse the flames rather than fiddle. One hears much about your talents as a fireman…” Wales laughs, annoyingly, and his shimmering belly undulates in agreement with the mirth.

                     ‘Christ! Now Joseph Surface joins the fire brigade… Oh, this family, this family…’ It’s all he can say; the words for this don’t yet exist.

                     ‘Yes,’ says Wales with a type of ambiguity not yet commonly understood as such, ‘you’re not really a part of it, are you?’ He says this as he rises to depart, a typical Wales device, leaving whoever with a landscape of doubt.

                   ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ The entire house resounds with Edward’s unanswered question, which can still be heard in the rafters late that night. What does any of it mean?