Jean Plaidy

Perdita’s Prince

The Queen’s maid of honour

THE PRINCE OF Wales stalked up and down his apartments in the Dower Lodge on Kew Green and aired his grievances to his brother, Prince Frederick.

‘I tell you this, Fred,’ he declared, ‘I have had enough. The time is now coming to an end when we can be treated like children. Like children, did I say? Why, bless you, Fred, we are treated like prisoners. Our father, His Majesty …’ The Prince made an ironical bow which brought a titter to Frederick’s lips ‘… is the slave of his own passionate virtue. God preserve us, Fred, from virtue such as that practised by King George III. And our mother? What is she but a queen bee? There in her hive she grows large, she gives birth and, by God, before she has had time to walk a dozen times through her Orangerie or take a pinch of snuff or two, she is preparing to give birth once more. I thought Sophie would be the last, but now we are to have another little brother or sister despite the fact that we have eleven already.’

‘At least His Majesty does his duty by the Queen, George.’

‘I doubt not that our noble mother would wish him to be a little less dutiful in that direction – although giving birth has now become a habit with her. Really, they are a ridiculous pair. What has the Court become? It is small wonder that people mock. Have you heard the latest?’

Frederick shook his head and his brother quoted:

‘Caesar the mighty King who swayed

The sceptre was a sober blade;

A leg of mutton and his wife

Were the chief comforts of his life.

The Queen composed of different stuff,

Above all things adored her snuff,

Save gold, which in her great opinion

Alone could rival snuff’s dominion.’

‘You see … that is the popular verdict on our King and Queen!’

‘Kings and queens are always targets for public ridicule, George.’

‘Criticism, not ridicule. I shall commit sins … royal sins, Fred. But I shall never be accused of doting on a pinch of snuff and caper sauce. Oh, when I look back I wonder how I have endured it for so long. Do you remember the frilled collars I used to be made to wear until only a short time ago? Frilled collars, Fred! A man of my age … a Prince … a Prince of Wales!’

Frederick put his head on one side and regarded his brother. Ever since he could remember he had admired George – the elder brother exactly one year his senior, seeming wise, bold and brilliant – everything that Frederick would like to have been; but he bore no malice, no resentment, because George would beat him to the crown by exactly twelve months; George, in Frederick’s eyes, was all that an elder brother should be, all that a prince and king should be; the English, in Frederick’s opinion, were going to be very fortunate to have George as their king.

He pondered this now. By God, he thought, for he imitated his brother’s mode of speech as everything else, they are going to find George IV a mighty change from George III. The Prince of Wales was contemptuous of their father – so would Frederick be. Caper sauce! thought Frederick with a smirk. When the Prince of Wales became king it would be very different. He would not have a plain wife; he would have a beauty, and perhaps mistresses. Kings should have mistresses; and George was constantly talking of women. He would sit for hours at the windows watching the maids of honour pass by, even though they were not a very exciting band. Their mother had seen to that. George had imitated her taking her pinch of snuff and murmuring in her German accent: ‘Nothing that can tempt the Princes!’ But there was one pretty one the Queen seemed to have overlooked. George had noticed her. Trust George.

But George was now thinking angrily of frilled collars, and he began to laugh, and so did Frederick, recalling that occasion when George had taken the frilled collar from his attendant’s hand and flung it at him, his pink and white cheeks suddenly purple with rage as he cried: ‘See how I am treated! I’ll have no more of this.’ And he had proceeded to tear the collar into shreds.

‘You were at once reported to our Papa,’ Frederick reminded him.

‘That’s my complaint,’ went on George, narrowing his eyes. ‘We were surrounded by spies then and we still are. I should have an establishment of my own. But they are too mean. That’s the point, Fred, too mean!’

‘I heard it said the other day that the Queen’s only virtue was decorum and her only vice avarice.’

‘There! That’s the way they are spoken of. They live like little squires, not like a king and queen. I’m heartily tired of this state of affairs.’

‘Still, they don’t flog us now.’

‘No. I put a stop to that.’

‘Every complaint that was taken to our father brought the same answer: “Flog ’em”.’

‘It makes me fume to think of it.’

‘But I remember, George, the day you snatched the cane from Bishop Hurd just as he was going to use it on you and how you said very sternly: “No, my lord Bishop, have done. There shall be no more of that!” ’

‘Nor was there,’ said George, laughing, ‘which makes me wonder whether if we had not stood out earlier against these tyrannies they might never have continued.’

The two young men began recalling incidents from their childhood. George could remember being dressed like a Roman centurion in a plumed helmet and being painted, with his mother and Frederick, by Mr Zoffany. Poor Fred was even worse off because when he had been a few months old they had made him Bishop of Osnaburg, which had so amused the people that the child was represented on all the cartoons in his Bishop’s mitre. George was particularly incensed by the wax model of himself at the age of a month or two which his mother still kept on her dressing table under a glass dome. This doting sentimentality went side by side with the stern way of bringing up children. ‘Completely Teutonic,’ said George. ‘By God, can’t we forget our German ancestry?’ Hours of study; shut off from contact with other people; the King’s special diet – meat only a few times a week and then with all the fat pared off; fish served without butter; the fruit of a pie without the crust, all specially worked out by the King who might appear in the nursery dining room at any time and discountenance poor Lady Charlotte Finch, who was in charge of them, if these rules were not carried out to the letter.

‘What a life we led!’ sighed the Prince of Wales. ‘And still do!’

‘Worst of all,’ added Frederick, ‘was growing our wheat.’

‘Farmer George would make little farmers of the whole family.’ George shivered distastefully, remembering their father’s taking them out to show them the little plots of land which he had allotted to them.

‘There,’ he had informed them as though, said the Prince of Wales, he were offering them the crown jewels. ‘There’s your own bit of land. Cultivate it, eh? Grow your own wheat … make your own bread. Nothing like tilling the land, eh, what?’

Nothing like tilling the land! Going out in all weathers; preparing the soil, sowing the corn, while the cold winds chapped their hands. The Prince of Wales was proud of his beautiful white hands. The heat of the sun spoiled his complexion. He was proud of that, too, because in spite of a tendency to develop pimples – which would pass – he had a beautiful soft skin, pink, very pink and white. And this precious skin must be burned in the summer sun while the Prince of Wales worked like a farm labourer. They had even been obliged to thresh their own corn and supervise the baking of their bread.

The indignity of it all! But it had to be done otherwise the cry would go up: ‘Flog ’em.’ And their parents – the King and Queen of England – would inspect the little loaves of bread that had been made with their own wheat and the Prince of Wales had been infuriated to see that George III paid more attention to this bread produced by his sons than to matters of state.

‘I must have an establishment of my own,’ declared the Prince.

‘It’s ridiculous that you should be denied it,’ soothed Fred.

‘I shall demand it.’ The Prince rose and was about to strut across the room when his eye caught a dainty figure crossing the green on her way to the Queen’s Lodge. He was immediately at the window. ‘By God,’ he cried. ‘She’s a beauty.’

Frederick murmured agreement.

She was small, dainty and dark; and suddenly it seemed as though by instinct she raised her eyes to the window where the two Princes stood watching her.

George immediately bowed. She stood still for a moment, dropping an enchanting curtsey and then turning away, sped across the lawn.

‘One of our mother’s maids of honour,’ said George.

‘How did our mother allow such a charmer to get in?’

‘Like Homer, she nodded,’ laughed the Prince. ‘And let us be thankful for it.’


‘I, because I intend to know more of the lady; and you because you will be so delighted in my good fortune.’

‘Do you think, George …’

George looked astonished. Of course he would succeed with the lady. Wasn’t he the most handsome, the most desirable young man in England? Wasn’t he the Prince of Wales?

Frederick hastily agreed: ‘Yes, of course, George, but our father …’

‘By God,’ cried the Prince, ‘I thought I’d made it clear to you that I have had enough of this treatment. Everything is going to be different from now on. I am seventeen years old.’

Frederick, at sixteen, looked suitably impressed.