Leopold I, King of the Belgians
Life in Elmbridge
In May 1816 Leopold married Princess Charlotte of Wales, the only legitimate child of the then Prince Regent (later to become George IV). After the marriage, Leopold and his new wife honeymooned at Oatlands House in Weybridge, home of the Duke and Duchess of York. They then travelled the short distance to Claremont House in Esher, where they resided until Charlotte's tragic death in November 1817. Despite the fanfare that surrounded their marriage and the hope that they would bring order to the chaos that had descended upon the British throne, they often chose to spurn the limelight, instead wishing to spend time alone at their Claremont home. As historian Lisa Hutchins writes: 'They loved the quiet and privacy of Claremont and in turn the people of Esher marked their arrival at the estate with a triumphal arch and laid a huge celebration for Charlotte's twenty-first birthday in February 1817. The couple revelled in their country hideaway, patronising local tradesmen and supporting local charities' (Esher and Claygate Past, 2001).
Claremont had been given as a gift to the newlyweds from the British Nation, assisted by an Act of Parliament. Despite the early death of Princess Charlotte, Leopold was to retain ownership of Claremont until his death in 1865. He had land and farming interests in Cobham, Oxshott, Claygate, Stoke D'Abernon and Thames Ditton, and took part in several enclosure and poaching disputes. However once Leopold became First King of the Belgians in 1831 he was never to live there again. Queen Victoria, who enjoyed a close relationship with her doting uncle, used Claremont upon his departure, eventually buying it as a gift for her son, Leopold, Duke of Albany. Such was Leopold's relationship with his niece; he actually acted as a major influence in Victoria's marriage to her cousin and Leopold's nephew, Albert.
Life Outside of Elmbridge
Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was born in Coburg on 16th December 1790. The youngest child of Duke Franz-Friedrich of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Countess Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf, he was made Colonel of the Izmavlosky Imperial Guard Regiment in Russia at the age of five. In the years following his father's death in 1806 Leopold spent some time in the Russian Army to further his military career.
After the death of his first wife Charlotte in 1817, Leopold went on to marry (although the validity of this marriage is doubted) the German actress Caroline Bauer in 1829. This ended in 1831. Thirteen years after Leopold's claim to the British throne was ceded, the new country of Belgium declared their independence in October 1830. There were several candidates for the new leader of this small nation but on the 4th of June 1831 Leopold was elected King of the Belgians. On 21st of July 1831 he swore allegiance to the constitution.
However it was only a fortnight into his reign that trouble sprung; the Netherlands invaded his country, and skirmishes continued for eight years. The Treaty of London in 1839 brought an end to differences between the two countries, with Netherlands finally recognising the sovereignty of the Belgian nation. During this time Leopold had married Louise-Marie of France, whose first daughter was named Charlotte in memoriam of Leopold's first wife. Charlotte went on to become Empress Carlota of Mexico. Tragedy was to strike again however with Louise-Marie dying of tuberculosis in 1850 at the tender age of 38.
Leopold became a Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1816 and died at the age of 74 in 1864 in Laeken. He is buried in the Royal Vault at the Church of Our Lady of Laeken.
- Lisa Hutchins, 'Esher and Claygate Past' (2001)