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In the early part of 1805, Buonaparte, with his accustomed impertinence, and for the sake of the effect which offers of peace would have on the minds of the French, thought proper to address a familiar epistle to His Majesty, quite in the style of a brother sovereign, announcing his assumption of the imperial purple, and asking the venerable monarch, as if he had been the aggressor, “ what was to be gained by continuing the war?” To this a dignified official reply was sent, repeating the royal wishes for tranquillity, but at the same time a full conviction that a permanent and honourable peace could only be attained by arrangements that should provide for the future safety and tranquillity of Europe, and of the world.
The value of Napoleon's offers of peace was fully appreciated by His Majesty, who was well aware that finally to insure a peace could only be done by active preparations for war: accordingly, increased military and naval activity took place in all quarters; yet amidst this din of war the good old monarch was not unmindful of the arts of peace, for we find him early in this year presenting to the Society of Antiquaries some of the most ancient and valuable paintings from Windsor Castle, consisting of Henry the Eighth and family; Henry's embarkation at Dover; the meeting of Henry and Francis at
Ardres ; and the battle of Spurs, at Terwaen; all of which have been engraved by the Society.
The Castle at Windsor, which was now intended to be the future residence of their majesties and the princesses, instead of the inconvenient Lodge, had long been experiencing repairs and improvements, under the directions of Mr. Wyatt, but still agreeable to the suggestions of His Majesty, who was acknowledged to be well versed both in Gothic and Grecian architecture.
In this repair the Gothic was preserved as much as possible; but the apartments intended for domestic use were fitted up in all the convenience of the modern style of magnificence. His Majesty's own apartments were literally crowded with valuable paintings.
Every arrangement that circumstances would now admit of was adopted; but it was supposed that six years more would be required for the general completion of all His Majesty's plans.
Though the King did not at present attend so strictly to court etiquette, yet he always felt great pleasure in being surrounded in a more familiar way by his faithful subjects, we may almost say of all ranks; and in furtherance of this, a most magnificent entertainment was given at Windsor Castle, on the twenty-fifth of February, which was acknowledged not to have been equalled by any previous thing of the kind.
The arrangements, Eb
which had been a long time in preparation, were entirely under the personal direction of His Majesty, and the expenses incurred were calculated to have exceeded fifty thousand pounds, besides which, a new service of plate, supposed to be the most superb in the world, was prepared for the occasion; and the apartments allotted to the fête were illuminated by the immense silver chandeliers brought from Hanover, interspersed amongst a variety of superb glass lustres of the richest designs.
About four hundred cards were distributed amongst the nobility and world of fashion; and the entertainments were proposed to be a ball, cards, and music, with supper, &c.
To give novelty to the scene, the King expressly ordered that the Oratorio of Esther should be got up; choosing this, not only as one of Handel's fines pieces, but because it had not been performed for many years.
In the interior of the castle all was elegance and affability ; but in the court-yard, and on the grand staircase, every circumstance of military pomp was exhibited by the disposition of parties of the Oxford Blues and Staffordshire Militia.
The company began to assemble about seven o'clock, and on their arrival were severally introduced to their majesties by the royal pages, as on a court-day; but all etiquette was then at an end, and each party, after paying their respects, pro
ceeded to view the rooms, which gave motion and animation to the scene; and as the visitors increased in number, the effect was considerably heightened by the brilliancy of their dresses.
To those who have visited the interior of Windsor Castle, it is needless to expatiate upon the splendour of the immense silver tables, or the elegant pier glasses with massy silver frames, which drew the attention of the company until the commencement of the concert:-after this the merry dance led them to the ball-room, the floor of which was painted in the most beautiful style ; from whence they departed not until the hour of supper, which was laid out in several apartments, the royal table being in the guard-room, and by the King's express order was placed on a platform raised some height from the floor, for the double purpose of enabling the royal party to see their guests, and to gratify the company by a good view of the royal hosts; for, though there was no apartment large enough to have admitted tables for all, yet two tables were spread along the sides of this room, which held about sixty each.
The royal service was entirely gold; the other tables were in silver ; but perhaps the beautiful damask table linen was the greatest curiosity, for it had been entirely spun by the princesses.
To enumerate all the elegance of the supper is unnecessary; but we may add, that about eighty
of the young gentlemen of Eton school supped in the presence-chamber; the King having gone himself, with the greatest condescension, to Eton to invite them.
Such an assemblage could not fail to fill the town of Windsor to an overflow, so that many of the company were obliged to return to London ; but to those who could remain, the Queen, next morning, gave a splendid public breakfast at Frogmore, which was attended by upwards of two hundred of the evening party, who commenced dancing about three, and enjoyed a splendid treat until six in the evening ; being waited upon by the royal servants in full dress livery.
Perhaps there is no crowned head or royal family in Europe that have been more annoyed by fools and maniacs than our own; another instance of which took place on the seventeenth of March, when a man of shabby appearance was observed lurking about Windsor Great Park; and on being questioned by the keepers, he replied that he came there by the appointment of Mr. Pitt to meet the King ; and that he expected the King's carriage to convey him to the Castle.
Having evident symptoms of derangement about him, the park-keeper took him in charge; and on investigation he turned out to be an Irishman, and a barrister ; but being perfectly harmless, he was restored to his friends.