The Berkeleys follow the Royal Court to Weymouth and all goes according to plan...at first
In the scorching summer of 1797, His Majesty agitated to be breathing the ozone of his beloved Dorset coast and the Royal Court removed to Gloucester House in the little port of Weymouth, along with menservants and maidservants, a train of acolytes and half the beau monde. The King’s brother, the Duke of Gloucester, had built the residence (some years before the Earl of Berkeley espied the butcher’s daughter) in response to the enthusiasm of that arbiter of good living, Ralph Allen of Bath. Allen delighted in the place and its freely available panacea which he enjoyed from his trend-setting bathing machine. The Duke of Kent was present that year and two of his brothers. A notable absentee was the Prince of Wales. He had been lampooned out of Brighton and his office as Colonel of the Light Dragoons, ridiculed. Worse still, invective had been hurled in the streets of London over his treatment of the Princess Caroline and there were calls for an Exclusion Bill to disqualify him from the Succession. He had gone into retreat at Critchell House, some miles from Weymouth, and from there made expeditions into the town in his phaeton, eluding his parents as best he could.
The South Gloucesters were based outside Weymouth and the Berkeleys took a house overlooking the bay. It was an ideal opportunity for Mary to intermingle with society and for her face to become familiar.
The minute they arrived in Gloucester Row, Mary tossed off her bonnet and hoisted up a sash window. The sky was Mediterranean blue, not a wisp of cloud. The natural crescent of the shore described a safe harbour. Gulls were gliding on thermals and swooping on titbits scattered by promenaders, as clamant as the species which fastened on the plough.
“Oh, Fred, we shall be happy here, I know it!”
The Earl fell into pensive vein. “My dear, I know it is a lot to ask – but you are quite equal to it – I wish to invite HRH to dine as soon as you are settled in.”
“We are to host the Prince! I see I am to be launched at the deep end!”
“He is a good-natured buffoon, a rag-bag of fine feeling and talent. If he accepts our situation, others will follow. He has always been well-disposed towards us and we must preserve that.”
“He is not in good odour at present.”
“With the people, no. But, it is not they who shape the nation’s charter. That is why we’re in head-to-head conflict with France.”
“Tis hard to remember we’re fighting a war,” sighed Mary.
Innumerable scenarios engrossed Berkeley’s waking hours to do with Fitz negotiating his path to the peerage. The prelude must be carefully orchestrated. “The Prince of Wales is the future, Polly. The King will lose his wits, or die, his day will be done. With His Highness as our ally, the children stand the best chance of obtaining their rights.” Besides, thought Berkeley, we may already owe him more than we know!
Learning that Colonel John West’s regiment was stationed on the isle of Jersey, Mary had written to invite him to spend his leave with them in Weymouth. She told him Berkeley had a secret to communicate. “Twould be a fine idea,” Fred had said, “to let him disseminate our news. He may till the ground, as it were.”
The Colonel arrived exuding health and vigour. He beamed with pleasure to be re-united with cherished friends and exclaimed what a fine set of cubs they were rearing! Gus scaled his back and went charging around the garden at a rollicking pace with shouts of glee. Fitz could only roll his eyes and deplore the imbecility of adults, which, now that he was nearer eleven than ten, struck him more frequently than was comfortable. They breakfasted late the first morning and the Colonel found himself alone with his hosts. He reminded Mary she had said there was something important to relate.
“Do tell West the secret now,” she besought Berkeley.
The Earl caught up his wife’s hand as delicately yet intricately as if they were dancing a minuet. “Allow me to introduce you to the Countess of Berkeley!”
“My lord, I am overcome. It gives me the greatest satisfaction and delight to know your lady is the Countess. Pray forgive my boundless curiosity: when could you have done this? When could you have introduced her by that title?”
“Eleven or twelve years since! Did I not promise that in time you would know more of the business?”
“Indeed so, my lord. Then I am to understand that your eldest son is legitimate?”
“I mean you to understand that is positively the case.”
“That is the best news I’ve heard in years! Will you allow me to talk of it abroad?”
The Earl’s eyes were blazing with amusement. He inclined his head in noble condescension. “You may, West.”
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World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...