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    AC Benus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Carême in Brighton — a mystery novel - 17. Chapter 16: Tender Loving Care & Who Done it?

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Chapter 16: Tender Loving Care & Who Done it?

 

The night had been an oppressive one. A uniform blanket of discomfort arrived with muggy weather rolling off of the sea, and caused a change in the barometer which could be sensed by one and all as a growing headache in the sinuses.

And the night had been touch and go for François. In the privacy of his room, the Doctor had flushed out the young man’s stomach several times to assure the residue of the toxin was fully cleaned out.

After that, and after some pain medication and warm compresses for the patient’s abdomen, Carême had stayed up all night, calming François’ periodic hallucinations of being chased. He whispered his nickname, and François would blink, try to hug him, and settle back to his fitful sleep.

By the time the coal-soot sun rose, it seemed François was out of the deepest part of the woods.

A few hours later, as the Doctor returned to examine him, he was sitting up in bed – deathly pale, but alert and coherent. Kitchiner had forced his patient to drink from a large tankard of tea, knowing the stomach pumping had left François dangerously low on fluids.

Carême closed the interconnecting door behind him. Kitchiner and he were to confer in private, in Carême’s quarters.

The chef asked, “What have you found out about the . . . culprit?”

“The Kitchen Comptroller sent word up and down the coast to secure ‘a British’ turtle for the feast, not one imported from the colonies. A Royal bounty of 2 Pounds, 6 Pence was offered for the one who brought him the biggest specimen, plus, of course, a Shilling a pound for the creature.”

“Is that a lot for one?”

“Not necessarily, but it’s a fortune to any of the hand-to-mouth fishermen around here. An absolute fortune!”

“And so, it was a local turtle?”

“Ah. Well, there’s the rub. First, the Comptroller swears the one butchered for the soup was not the one he selected. And it turns out the poison turtle is not regional at all. It’s not even European.”

“Non?”

“It’s an exotic, Asiatic species – the Hawksbill – known to be extremely toxic and deadly to humans.”

Carême paused. He refrained from asking the man standing before him, the Regent’s right-hand security man, if he thought this was a plot to assassinate George, and possibly the Russian Grand Duke as well. He channelled his ponderings and asked, “What information have you discovered about the turtle’s origins?”

“Well, there’s a second rub, for it seems two nights ago, a theft occurred from the Duke of Kent’s zoological collections. The only thing taken – one specimen Hawksbill turtle.”

Carême thought he perceived undue tension in the way the man had said Duke of Kent, but as to why, the chef could not hazard a guess. He replied simply, “Mon dieu.”

“My operatives think the money prompted some scoundrels, lured by the Regent’s prize on the biggest obtainable, to steal the Hawksbill and fob it off as a locally provisioned animal.”

Carême had his doubts; this theory still did not account for how the Comptroller could swear it was not the turtle he selected, nor indeed, the one he paid for—

“In the end,” Kitchiner continued, “perhaps this was all just an accident – an elaborate one, but an accident nonetheless. Anyway, fortunately François only tasted the poison brew for seasoning in the course of his cooking the soup. Had he had a bowlful, he would be dead.”

Carême, sickened by the thought, glanced at the door to his partner’s room. “And, how is he?”

“Tired and weak. See he drinks the tepid tea I have sent up from the kitchen every hour. He needs the toxicity flushed out of his liver, and fluids are the only way to do it.”

The Doctor made to leave, adjusting his glasses before saying, “Now, not to be rude, dear Chef, but you’ll have to excuse me. The Regent has arranged for me to see he and Charlotte in private. He feels concerned the Princess’ behaviour grows . . . well, becomes . . . more untoward by the day.”

Kitchiner paused by the door to the corridor. “I suspect it’s mostly evidence of her usually high spirits, but His Highness has forbid the Royal Couple from leaving Brighton for the time being. Travelling could exacerbate the Princess’ agitation, he feels.”

The Doctor placed his hand on the lever, lowering his tone to a personal one; a warm one. “Don’t worry, Carême. François is young and strong. He dodged a bullet, and although he came close to death, he’ll pull through and recover quickly.”

His voice choked with emotion, Carême replied, “Thank you, Doctor.”

Kitchiner touched the brim of his imaginary hat and left the room.

Carême gathered himself – inhaling deeply; patting his cheeks dry – and entered François’ chamber. The curtains were drawn, but a light breeze from the warm day outside animated them. The murky light moved in and out with the curtains.

François was awake, sitting up in bed, so Carême sat by the side of his maitre-d’. “You didn’t tell me how the dinner was received. What about the ball? Do George and Nicholas know what almost happened?”

“All agreed the dinner was a triumph. The Regent called me in, and especially praised our work on the model Brighton Pavilion. Our work. I made sure he knew how vital your hand was in the creation of all the pièces montéees. And he was grateful.”

François – wan and pale – appeared little impressed by this information. “And the ball afterwards?”

“The Music Room was magnificent. The footmen moved the sugar work Rustics to the supper buffet table, and the effect was enchanting.” Carême’s demeanour changed. It went from matter-of-fact to perplexed. “There was one odd moment; only one offkey happening the whole evening.”

“And that was?”

“Well, Princess Charlotte was dancing – in fact, in the middle of a waltz with the Grand Duke – when suddenly she pushed him back, claiming he’d put butterflies down her dress. The dancing stopped, and she soon apologized for her ‘beastly’ joke.”

Carême thought François’ appearance took on a strangely gratified cast at hearing this anecdote. It was as if he approved of the action and results. But the chef shrugged it off.

“And George and the Grand Duke, do they know about the turtle?”

“His Highness knows,” replied Carême. “But, according to Doctor Kitchiner, the Regent has decided to keep this bit of intelligence from the Russians, feeling what the Grand Duke doesn’t know cannot hurt him.”

“Pity.”

“Is it?”

François did not respond. He moved on instead. “And this Hawksbill turtle, it was taken from a collection?”

“Evidently, yes. But the Doctor and his informants think the whole thing was an accident. That and nothing more.”

François looked dubious.

“What, Villon? You have other thinking?”

“Yes, of course.” François grew animated. “In my gut, I feel my enemy – Gris Thorndyke – was in cahoots with Donald Bland to poison me.”

“Why? Would they want to put the Regent and Grand Duke, and perhaps European stability, in danger too?”

“But, think about it. They knew I’d be making the soup; that I’d be tasting it as I went along; that I’d get sick and possibly die before it was ever served to the Lordly types.”

Carême conceded François did have a point there, however . . . . “If so, what motivation would the Kitchen Comptroller have in going along with the Chief Footman’s personal vendetta against you?”

François tapped his temple. “Think about it. Donald Bland hates you; wants you out of the way again. He naturally assumed you would taste the soup too; assumes you would die just as quickly as me.”

“Well”—Carême considered it—“perhaps.” That was all he could manage to say, yet, he admitted internally something remained ‘mysterious’ about this entire event, but what it could be he wasn’t sure. “So, moving forward, the Chief Footman and Kitchen Comptroller will be put on a short leash. I’ll ask the Regent personally. They will be closely monitored.”

François relaxed, his muscles deflating from the coiled tension he’d been keeping them under.

The sight calmed Carême. He worried about François’s passions, wondered if they’d one day be the end of him.

“And the Doctor says I will be well?”

“Yes. Strong, quick recovery is what he predicts.”

“And I have to get well soon so I can go back to making your baba for Charlotte.”

Carême smiled. “There’s no need to worry about that. I’ll make it for the Royal Couple in the meantime.”

François was oddly crestfallen.

“Of course,” Carême hastened to add, “you’ll go back to making it for them as soon as you are able.”

François attempted a feeble grin, puzzling Carême once more. The chef placed a gentle back-of-the-hand touch on his partner’s feverish brow, passing off the unaccountable behaviour as merely the poison talking through him.

Carême stood, kissing François’ forehead. “You sleep. I’ll go prepare my eau de poulet rafraîchissante for you. The chicken stock, along with fresh green herbs, will provide more nutrition and hydration than the Doctor’s weak tea alone. That and some of the leftover sole quenelles—”

François took his hand. “Thank you.”

Carême smiled again. “Sleep, Villon.”

 

 

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

 

 

Several hours later, Carême burned the midnight oil recording the daily food successes and points to be revisited for improvement. As this was his wont, the thoughts transferred easily from mind to paper. But after a while, his emotions concerning François over-shadowed the practical. He found himself writing:

 

Je dois un rapport au Doyen de l'école de la Concorde. Il me reste à déterminer dans quelle mesure je dois l'informer de la maladie de François et de sa cause mystérieuse. D'autres ont peut-être déjà relayé ici les circonstances concernant le Grand Duc . . . .

 

I owe Doyen de l’école de la Concorde a report. How much of François’ illness, and the puzzling cause of it, I inform him of remains for me to work out. Others may have already relayed the circumstances here concerning the Grand Duke’s visit, so I must be cautious. And, as one must always be, mindful of the Doyen’s acumen, which oftentimes seems that of a mind reader.

 

In any event, François’ near-brush causes me to wonder if my over-arching reason for being here is worth the personal price. The Doyen would reply with narrowing eyes that there is no ‘personal’ where matters of State are at play. And I’d be hard pressed to dissuade him of his convictions along these lines, but some of us were born to be garter snakes and not strangle-hold pythons like him.

 

Acknowledging it leaves me chilled to the bone. For what cold comfort is there in recognizing Fate as inextricable; one cannot run from it, be it from Brighton or Paris. Even the powerful are powerless, and hope is the first, last and middle ground for those who wish to survive the caprice of Fortune—

 

Carême heard a noise.

François had come through their door, and now stood in his nightshirt like a child awoken by a storm next to a parent’s bed.

From his chair, the chef asked, “Can’t sleep?”

“I’ve slept enough today; the only thing I did is bathe. I’d rather talk to you, mon cher.”

Carême went to him; hugged him, relieved to feel the fever had gone.

Carême undressed, lying down in bed first, and then beckoning François to cuddle down close so he could draw the blanket over the top of them.

The warm, sensual feel of his legs atop his own lightened the chef’s mindset. The young man positioned his ear over Carême’s heart, and Carême stroked his hair.

François said, “Maybe it’s the muggy closeness of the weather, but it feels like the Pavilion – like there are eyes on me, on us, all the time.”

Carême tried to soothe away his partner’s paranoia, chalking it up to more fever-talk, but he knew how François felt. They would always be suspect Frenchmen to these people – dodgy frog legs and velouté in a land of roast beef and mustard.

“I know, Villon. Warm days like these make me long for our time, our free time, at Talleyrand’s country palace.” Carême felt François’ body tense up, as if the mere mention of the Grand Chamberlain’s name put him on edge.

But in another moment, the maître d’hôtel relaxed again, hugging Carême close. “Me too. I sometimes find myself longing for the beauty and quiet of the Château Valençay. Longing for our slow, hand-in-hand walks in the woods, feeling truly alone, removed from the 19th century and its crassness and oppression. It was just you and me, alone together, beholden to no one but each other.”

“Yes. The books we’d take with us—”

François laughed freely. “And later, take the bring slender volumes in bed to read each other to sleep.”

Carême paused. “Yes – I loved to read the sad words of a certain other François to you late at night; read and watch you slowly close your tired eyes to peaceful sleep. It’s why I’ve called you my Villon all these years.”

“Yes, Antonin, I know”—François was overawed with tender emotions—“I know.”

Carême stroked his partner’s hair more adamantly. “We’ll have that again someday, just as soon as . . . as soon . . . . Well, when the state of the world is calmer.”

François replied listlessly, “If we live that long.”

Carême misinterpreted the import of the comment and immediately turned his thoughts to the silent killer within himself. Here too he could try to reassure his partner.

“Do you know why I moved you from being my sous-chef to my maître d’hôtel?”

“So I had grounding not only in the preparation of your food, but also in the ideal ways it should be served.”

“Yes, that is correct. But I had other, more personal, motivations. I did it to save you from my fate – the wasting disease that takes every chef too young in life.”

François raised his head. “I did not realize – you did not tell me—”

Carême gently guided the young man’s head back down. “Yes, Villon. I changed the course of your career, because carbon monoxide poisoning may not be as swift as the Hawksbill, but it’s just as deadly. In the long run, it’s safer for you to be maitre-d’, in and out of the fumes all day, and less riddled by them.”

“You had faith in me; took me from an also-ran undercook at the Élysée Palace to be a knowledgeable and skilful aspirant to your high culinary Art.”

“Yes, I had faith in you. But your success is all your own. I merely identified and then cultivated the latent talent I saw in you.”

“And despite what’s happened since – the ways in which I’ve hurt you – you believe me, don’t you? You still believe in me?”

“Of course, Villon.”

François shed the blanket from the upper part of them, took Carême’s hand and laced their fingers together. “I love you, Carême. Love you.”

Emotion shone from the young man’s voice, but before the chef could say anything, François continued.

“I need to thank you for what you have done for me, but how? For your mentoring and love; for your support and forgiveness. I mean, he had his hands around my throat . . . . But you; well, who other than you would take in Agathé, the mother of my daughter, so Marie could grow up respectably, and with your good name behind her?”

Carême had stiffened a bit now. He tried to explain, “Notions of respectability for appearance’s sake played little in my decision. But love, François, that weighed heavily. I do love you; you know that, right?”

François vowed he wouldn’t cry. “Yes, Antonin. You show it if not say it to me every day. So I am blessed many times over.” Internally, François was breaking down, guilty that his own was so inferior. “Your love is humbling, and I feel unworthy, and relieved to know I won’t be a burden for too much longer. But, you will keep looking after Agathé and Marie, no matter what . . . ?”

“Of course.” Again, the chef misinterpreted, but his reply steadied his belovèd nonetheless.

Carême’s first kisses were tender, gentle ones to wick away the threatening moisture gathering under François’ eyes.

François ratcheted it up, placing his hand aside his man’s face and kissing Carême’s mouth with gleeful hunger. While his lips woke up his lover’s desire, François’ skilful digits reached below the blanket and made Carême hopelessly hard. He kept at it, making the man moan directly into his mouth at the powerful ability of François’ caress.

The younger man broke their kissing, smiling then with a flushed, glossy pout as he slid along the length of Carême’s body, uncovering it as he went.

He applied that wet, precocious mouth onto Carême’s masthead, thrilling as it became stiffer still at this first, new type of contact. He opened his mouth and slowly slid his lips to the fur-lined base of Carême’s shaft.

The chef moaned, gripped onto the sheets, and François was again rewarded with the flaring feel of his man’s pleasure within his mouth.

François moaned himself as he brought his tightening lips up again, driving the chef nearly mad.

But the young man did not relent – did not want to. He instinctively knew his personal skills, and the exposed, heightened emotions they both shared, was building in Carême to the point of a powerful explosion.

As he proceeded, François’s lips and tongue could feel his partner’s predicament, and more so, could taste the sweet nectar which precedes a man’s orgasm.

He stopped suddenly, kneeling on either side of Carême’s waist. He lifted his nightshirt.

Carême protested, “It’s too soon, You are still—”

François shushed him, as if words were too much noise for the moment. Then, the young man applied slick moisture to his palm, which he transferred to Carême’s standing member. Smoothing it around the tip, he slowly positioned and lowered on it, vowing to himself he would not cry.

He loved Carême more than words would ever be able to express, but what he did not know, is it was ever thus for all lovers. In his way, François was fortunate, for he was the type of soul who discovered the quickest, surest way to communicate love was to let bodies do the talking.

François sank down as far as he could, thrilling to this familiar, deeply intimate sensation of connection, and gratified to feel Carême’s hands grip the sides of his thighs with urgency. He experienced even greater satisfaction sensing his man’s growing hardness – expansiveness – within him.

He placed his open palms on Carême’s chest and gradually worked himself over his belovèd’s shaft. François gasped to know Carême could not hold out for long like this, for what in life had ever meant as much to a street kid like François – a child of the French Reign of Terror, which only sought to break intimate connections – to be the instrument to make the one he loves comingle their essences in the most personal means possible?

“Villon . . . . Villon!”

François sat back, taking Carême all the way.

His lover convulsed with pleasure, bucking the young man up once or twice as he did.

And yet, as content and fulfilled as he felt, he told himself not to cry, fearing this might be their last time together.

 

 

_

Copyright © 2022 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments



5 hours ago, 84Mags said:

Yes! I really cannot say it any better. I, too, am going back for yet another re-read.

Everything in this chapter felt overshadowed by an ominous foreboding and I now question several of my previous assumptions. I was shocked to realize that Marie is Francois' daughter (did I miss that somewhere?!) and that Careme married Agathe, on behalf of Francois, in order to keep them safe. While I knew it was merely a common law marriage, I assumed a level of affection. Now realizing they are important to Francois puts the message from Careme in chapter 5 in a new light as well as shines that light on all the subtle ways Francois' actions may be taken differently. 

This is a really really really good mystery!

Thank you, 84Mags! I appreciate how you perceive the weightiness of what happens in this chapter. Because there's almost a dark-energy tug on all of these people's lives that they seem only vaguely aware of. In that, I hope to mirror real life. Most us go though circumstances where we feel something is just not right, but would be hard-pressed to put our finger on what it could be. Perhaps, in the end, it was the pendulous demands of other's on our lives we simply knew nothing about. We shall see in the next chapter. 

I appreciate your enthusiasm and encouragement. We are almost at the end 

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5 hours ago, Theo Wahls said:

Drama!! Love it.😀

To go from saving Francois's life to wonderful intimacy is a long way but you did it masterfully.

So many secrets in this palace. There is enough poisoning going on here, the Borgias would feel right at home. 

Who can Antonin trust? Personally I would trust no one. There is murder afoot. A grand mystery you have given us readers.😘

Thanks, Theo Wahls! Each time I come back to this comment, I keep thinking you opened it with: "Damn!! Love it", which I'd take as a high compliment too :yes:

Your observation that the Borgias might feel at home in the Pavilion has me chuckling. Certainly seems they'd blend right in, huh! lol 

Thanks once agin for a great set of comments!

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4 hours ago, AC Benus said:

Although jumping the gun a tad, now's a good time to post images of William Porden's stables for the Pavilion. The opening scene of the next chapter takes place in the Riding House, which was on the west end of the structure. The east end had a space just like this, but was dedicated to several indoor tennis courts. Between them lived the Rotunda, where the horses resided in splendor.

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The Riding House 

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The Rotunda (now used as a concert hall!)

Scandalous! lol

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AC Benus

Posted (edited)

5 hours ago, CincyKris said:

The British royals and the French royals rivaled each other to create the most elaborate wretched excess!  

Having been to Versailles, I cannot disagree with you. The property of the Royal Château is the approximate same shape and size as the entire county for the City of San Francisco, or roundabout, five miles in all directions! Wow

Edited by AC Benus
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Posted (edited)

On 7/27/2022 at 4:55 PM, 84Mags said:

In one of my research binges while reading this novel, I read that Careme had married Henriette Mahy de Chitenay, whom I believe you are speaking of. Several sources also said that he had Marie with Agathe Guicharder and it depended where I found information, but some said they were married and others that they had an affair. Either way, based on the passage below from Ch 2 and my research, I put them together as a family (common law) but with Careme going through with what he unfortunately must in order to live as a Gay man during his time period. With the revelation about Francois and Marie, it brings to question some of Francois' reactions.

“That’s wonderful, and as I would expect; ten years is a long time, longer in fact than my marriage to Lord Morgan. I admire it tremendously. And how are Agathé and Marie?”

Carême set down his cup and saucer. “They are fine; in Paris, you understand.” From the chef’s point of view, the contemplation of his common-law wife and daughter was a bit of a sore subject. 

On October 18th, 1808, in the office of a notary public named M. Hua, citizen Carême did "consent to take" citizen Henriette Mahy de Chitenay as wife, and she him. This is not in dispute; this is about the only non-destroyed official record of the chef's life. Carême, desperately in need of funds to go into business for himself, took the 14,000 Francs the woman's father gave him to marry her to launch his career. They never lived together; they never attended any social occasion as "man and wife"; they had no life together. There is also no filing to show they ever sought a divorce, or that one was processed or granted. This is why, on the chef's death certificate, Henriette Mahy de Chitenay is legally proclaimed his widow at that precise moment. 

The woman lived all of this time, plus 20 more years after the chef's death, with the chef's chief witness (best man) at the wedding ceremony. They are the ones who had a life together. 

As for Agathé, she apparently gave birth to Marie several months before meeting Carême and cohabitating with him. True, the man named Marie as his heir, but this is uncannily alike with Doctor Kitchiner's naming Willian Kitchiner-Brown his heir even though the boy was seven when he first met Mrs. Brown, the boy's mother. Gay men needed / wanted heirs. 

So, how else would Carême refer the woman living in his house other than common-law wife so people would understand? You have quoted this section of him talking to Lady Morgan to me twice, and seem to think the term "marriage" means something to these male characters of mine. I can assure you, for many more reasons than I've taken the time to type here, it meant nothing. (The 19th century term for these arrangements were as "professional marriages," which seems more pragmatic to me than the 20th century's crass equivalent of "marriage of convenience.")  

(If you are hoping to force me to quote my sources chapter and verse, all I can say is you have to wait until I post my bibliography for this novel. Until then, or in lieu of it altogether, you'll just have to trust I am no by-the-seat-of-my-pants researcher ;) ) 

Edited by AC Benus
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6 hours ago, raven1 said:

The delicate dialogue between Françios and Carême paints a very vivid picture of the love these two men have for each other.  They have made sacrifices for each other and their love together. The only thing that does puzzle me is when Françios tells Carême

“Your love is humbling, and I feel unworthy, and relieved to know I won’t be a burden for too much longer. But, you will keep looking after Agathé and Marie, no matter what . . . ?”

It sounds as though Françios feels that he must leave Carême even though he loves him.

I was surprised that Agathé and Marie were Françios' wife/mistress and child.

Thank you, raven1! I don't know if you noticed or realized it, but this is the first time our couple have said they love one another. I held it back until now; until we feel we know them; until we know how true it is when we finally hear them say it.

Thank you for reading up to this point. We do not have very farther to go in this book   

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An intriguing view of the Pavilion's roofscape looking north. I'm sure generations of roofers

have cursed Nash's design "genius" under their breaths ;)

(Also note how tinny-tiny the people look on the grass below . . . )

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A better representation of the size of the stables. The whole Pavilion was used as

a military hospital in the First World War. 

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An intriguing chapter with so many potential avenues to proceed. 

I was delighted to see the true affection that Careme and Francois have for one another.  The love scene was wonderfully done. 

I'm interested to hear why Francois feels that he may be separated from Careme. Why could this be?

Charlotte's behaviour is odd. I thought she died during childbirth. 

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8 hours ago, Doha said:

An intriguing chapter with so many potential avenues to proceed. 

I was delighted to see the true affection that Careme and Francois have for one another.  The love scene was wonderfully done. 

I'm interested to hear why Francois feels that he may be separated from Careme. Why could this be?

Charlotte's behaviour is odd. I thought she died during childbirth. 

I believe that occurs in November of this same year, the child was stillborn.  This left the crazy king without an heir.  One of the Regent's brothers married at 50 and produced the future Queen Victoria.  

 

 

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