John Douglas had served with distinction as a Lieutenant of Marines, so much so that he had been knighted and given a pension of £433 per annum by the crown. After a long courtship, he married Charlotte Hopkinson, and they settled at Blackheath, where they became friends with Caroline, Princess of Wales. It was a strange marriage.
|Admiral Sir Sidney Smith|
Douglas had served with Admiral Sir Sidney Smith at the siege of Acre during the Napoleonic Wars; Douglas was poor, Smith was rich, Douglas’s military escapades had aged him beyond his years, Smith was handsome and dashing. Smith sometimes stayed at the Douglas’s home, putting his carriage and servants at their service, and Lady Douglas put herself at Smith’s service.
|Sir John Douglas|
When they dined with the Princess of Wales, Caroline flirted with Smith. She flirted with the society portraitist, Thomas Lawrence. She flirted with Captain Thomas Manby. She flirted with the future Prime Minister, George Canning. And when one woman flirts with men, other women will flirt with rumours. Tongues were tattled. Eyebrows were raised. Nods were knowing. And then there were the letters.
An anonymous letter told Caroline that Lady Douglas was not the sort of woman that the Princess of Wales should sensibly be receiving into her acquaintance. Another letter, said to be in the Princess’s hand, was received by John Douglas, another anonymous letter, hinting, nay assuring him, that Lady Douglas and Smith were cuckolding him. There was also a dirty little drawing with this letter, which made it graphically clear what Smith and his wife were up to.
|The Duke of Kent|
Caroline did the right thing. She called in the Duke of Kent, her brother-in-law, who took Smith and the Douglases to one side and had a discreet word with them. You’d imagine that such high level intervention by the Establishment would have scotched the rumour mills, but in late autumn 1805, John Douglas informed the Duke of Sussex that the Princess was involved in an adulterous relationship and that William Austin, the child supposedly adopted by Caroline, was the living result of her infidelity.
|The Duke of Sussex|
Sussex passed on the accusations to his brother, the Prince of Wales, who in turn passed them on to the King, his father. George III had always been sympathetic to the plight of his niece, he doted on his granddaughter, and he knew only too well what his eldest son was like. But accusations of royal adultery and an illegitimate child could not be ignored.
|Charlotte, Lady Douglas|
A secret inquiry was made into the claims of the Douglases, made by the four trusted Lords; Grenville, Ellenborough, Erskine and Spencer. This was known as the ‘Delicate Investigation’ and the details were later published in the notorious ‘The Book’. The inquiry began in June 1806, and at its heart was the testimony of the Douglases.
Lady Douglas told of how she had seen the pregnant princess on many occasions in 1802, how she had talked about her pregnancy, saying that she could always blame it on the Prince as she had stayed for two days at Carlton House, how she enjoyed ‘many’ bedfellows but liked Sidney Smith the best of them all, and how the Prince of Wales paid for it all.
There were statements from servants, repeating hints and allegations, amounting to little more than tittle-tattle and vague impressions. Depositions from those named were taken, explanations were offered, excuses made. When the coals had been raked over, the stones lifted to see what dwelt beneath, the dirty linen scrutinised for tell-tale clues, the Delicate Investigation made its delicate findings known to the King.
|Charlotte, Lady Douglas|
The Princess of Wales was entirely innocent of the charges, the child, William Austin, was the son of a poor local Deptford woman, adopted by the Princess through the goodness of her heart. But, she was guilty of naivety, of allowing herself to be in a position where her behaviour could be open to misinterpretation. Caroline’s reaction proved this. She wrote to the King, asking why the findings of the Investigation were not to be made public.
If she was guilty, she expected to be formally charged with her crimes; if she was innocent, why then were her accusers not being charged and the falsity of their charges being made known to the public? It was pointed out to her that it was, for the best, a good idea to let matters lie, not to draw attention to the situation; after all, some might conclude that there was no smoke without fire.
|Spencer Perceval - The Book - 1813 (1st Ed)|
It was good counsel, but some in Parliament attempted to use the situation to further their own political interests, not least Spencer Perceval, who hoped to use the case to damage the public perception of the Prince of Wales. Under Perceval’s supervision, the Delicate Investigation and its finding were collected, proofs carefully printed, corrected and then bound, in great secrecy. Five thousand copies were stored away, in an unknown place, and publication was planned, when a turn in the political wind meant that the Grenville administration was about to resign, with a Tory government almost certain to replace it.
This made publication of The Book (as political propaganda) unnecessary, and all copies were destroyed – except for a small number (about two to six) that escaped the flames. These changed hands for thousands of pounds, the government officially suppressed The Book, issued injunctions and attempted to buy up the leaked copies.
|Spencer Perceval - The Book - 1813 (2nd Ed)|
The sun now shone on Caroline – the King sent one of the Royal Dukes to escort her to the opera, where she sat in the Royal box. She moved from Blackheath to Kensington Palace, where royal apartments were provided for her.
Tomorrow – another twist in the tale.