This is not a romance rich in daring deeds of chivalry, in stirring episodes and powerful situations. It is merely a little love story, quite simple, very dainty. Indeed, had not the heroine been the daughter of a king, it would probably never have been written; she would have married the hero in the usual way, and with him, no doubt, would have lived happily ever afterwards. But the heroine was a princess, a princess of the Blood Royal, and the heritage of birth stood in her road of happiness, an insuperable obstacle.
Love is a whimsical, capricious force, and the path of true love almost invariably is beset with difficulties. A platitude this may be, but the statement calls for no apology. One may laugh at it, but one cannot despise it; it is a truth which has echoed throughout the ages, and still reechoes.
But perhaps it was inevitable that the Princess Amelia should learn to love a commoner, for she was the daughter of King George III., a monarch whose grey hairs literally were brought to the grave by the matrimonial complications of his children. His was a remarkable and numerous family, but its members, almost without exception, each contracted or strove to contract a mesalliance. That Amelia should have done so was unfortunate, for she was a girl whom not even the breath of scandal should have been allowed to touch. She was very different from the other children. Refined and high-minded, in her were centred all the family virtues. She was very human, but very fascinating, and the nation adored her. Her brothers and her sisters were devoted to her; the Queen loved her dearly, but the King-to George III. she was the most precious thing in life; he idolised her, and not without reason, for in return she idolised him also.
Amelia was his youngest child, the last of a family of fifteen, and was born on August 7, 1783, at Queen's House, a building which, in 1825, emerged eventually from the hands of architects as Buckingham Palace. The two children who had preceded her into the world had both died young. Care, therefore, was lavished upon Amelia, the last born, for she also was delicate, and even as a tiny child won the King's affection in a way in which had none of his other children.
Precocious and of enormous importance in her own eyes, a fascinating child, she was indeed a princess born, absurdly conscious of her dignity. But, unfortunately, even as a baby she was alarmingly delicate. Unlike her sisters, therefore, who, as children, had been kept closely to their books, she was ordered by the doctors to live as much as possible in the open air, and, in consequence, developed into a delightfully natural girl, really artistic, really musical, and, it is said, a "great horsewoman."
"Full as tall as Princess Royal, and as much formed, she looks," wrote Madame d'arblay in 1798, "seventeen, although only fourteen, and has a Hebe blush, an air of modest candour, and a gentleness so caressingly inviting of voice and manner that I have seldom seen a more captivating young creature."
The open air life, moreover, appears to have proved truly beneficial, for in January, 1800, the King declared in a letter to Bishop Hurd of Worcester that "even dear Amelia is with gigantic steps, by the mercy of Divine Providence, arriving at perfect health.
"She was," he continued, "on the 24th of last month, confirmed at her own request by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seemed much pleased in the preparatory conversation he had with her. . . ."
But, none the less, in the following year, when George's mind again gave way beneath the strain of troubles political and domestic -the Prince of Wales's infatuation for Mrs. Fitzherbert (the story told in Every Woman's Encyclopedia in Parts 12 and 13) was a sorry worry to him-it was deemed advisable, for the sake of her health also, to send Amelia to Weymouth with him.
Later, moreover, when George returned to Windsor, the Princess did not accompany him; she remained at Weymouth, and with her stayed Miss Gomme, her governess, and General Fitzroy, the King's favourite equerry, who was specially appointed to escort her on her daily rides.
The Hon. Charles Fitzroy was at this time thirty-eight years of age, twenty years older than Amelia. The second son of Lord Southampton, he was himself of semi-royal descent, for his uncle, the Duke of Grafton, was a direct descendant of King Charles II. But the first duke's mother had been Barbara Villiers, and there was, therefore, a bar sinister in the family escutcheon. Fitzroy, therefore, could not even hope to be recognised as Amelia's husband. This he knew; this the Princess knew, but knowledge could not restrain desire, and she learned to love him, and he her, as truly as man and woman have ever loved.
FitzRoy, however, strove hard to prevent himself from compromising her. He was a noble, generous man, and, moreover, a loyal and faithful servant of his king. George regarded him as his truest friend, and reposed in him the utmost confidence. And this was a trust which Fitzroy was unwilling to betray. But his was a difficult position. When love and honour are antagonistic, love often proves to be the stronger.
Rarely did a day pass upon which the Princess and equerry did not meet; they were frequently thrown into each other's company. Fitzroy always accompanied the monarch on his morning rides. Amelia did also. In the evening, again, he would often play cards with the King and Queen. Am so would Amelia.
Acquaintanceship, therefore, blossomed rapidly into friendship, and now, during these days at Weymouth, friendship ripened into an even closer tie. Miss Gomme was not blind; she saw what was happening, but knew not what action to take. Amelia was heedless to warnings and advice. Hoping, however, that the infatuation would prove merely to be a passing fancy, for a while she held her peace. But when a year had elapsed and she saw clearly that both Amelia's health and spirits were being undermined by an unattainable desire, she deemed it wrong to preserve her silence longer. She confided the secret, therefore, to one of Amelia's sisters, and this sister, Princess Mary, told it to the Queen. Amelia was furiously indignant; interference, she maintained, was quite uncalled for, and forthwith she wrote an angry letter to her mother strongly censuring Miss Gomme's behaviour.