‘”The formation of character” in Hannah More’s opinion, “is the grand object to be accomplished,” and here Lady Elgin would have agreed: the character of her “dear precious charge” was her constant preoccupation. Charlotte was emotional, affectionate, but strong – willed; moreover, she was highly strung and we hear of her being “nervous from the weather”. As Lady Elgin knew, she was also affected by the circumstances of her life; in particular, the highly charged atmosphere in which the Princess of Wales lived. In August 1804, Lady Elgin wrote from Shrewsbury Lodge, where she and Charlotte were staying for the summer, describing an unexpected visit from the Princess of Wales.
“On Sunday [August 19] her Royal Highness arrived in great spirits here calling from her carriage that she had great news to tell us, & desired us to guess what would give us the greatest pleasure. Princess Charlotte immediately exclaimed, <<Going to Windsor.>> <<Not just that,>> reply’d her Royal Highness, <<but you are going to Kew, to see their Majesties, &the King has wrote me to desire I would tell you to come in order to take leave of you and me>> (addressing Princess Charlotte) <<before he goes to Weymouth.>>”
“The Princess”, said Lady Elgin, “continued in high spirits and staid to luncheon.” But the Dowager grew more and more uneasy. It was very odd, this verbal message from the King, no word from the Queen, or from one of the princesses. She had never taken Charlotte to see her grandparents without a written invitation; and she began to fear that for some reason the Queen was angry with her.
The Princess offered to take them in her carriage, but Lady Elgin insisted that they should go separately, as Charlotte had better be kept quiet: she was already “agitated from her joy”. When they arrived, “the dear good King” received them with the greatest kindness, and took them into the dining – room. “I was quite stupefied,” wrote the poor worried lady, “when his Majesty said he was alone, and that he came merely to see the Princess of Wales and the dear little girl before he went to Weymouth.” The Princess of Wales the arrived, and the King took her into another room, leaving Lady Elgin trembling with agitation at the appalling breach of etiquette – to visit the King without the Queen’s command, or even knowledge. “I really never was in such a state,” she said; but she revived a little when the party sat down to dinner. The King ate heartily of pudding and dumpling, and insisted upon making the coffee himself.
As Lady Elgin was aware, the King had been seriously ill in 1801, another bout of the strange and frightening malady that affected his mind. This time the illness had been short – lived, but although his bodily health was good, he continued to become quickly excited or depressed, or to indulge in freakish impulses.
She felt now that there was something strange and unnatural in this summons. “I have got you, all to myself,” he said to Charlotte, embracing her fervently and, turning ti Lady Elgin, he added, “The Prince has given up the child to me, but it is not settled.” So nervous was she of the possible consequences of this unauthorized visit that she immediately wrote a full account of it to the Prince. He had been trying to negotiate a reconciliation with his father; but now he forgot everything in the drama of the moment. The King was planning to capture Princess Charlotte and return her to her mother, he believed. The Princess of Wales was trying to insinuate herself into the King’s favour, and must at all costs be thwarted. He told Lady Elgin to keep a close guard on Princess Charlotte; not to part with her “on any account or under any pretence whatsoever”.
[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]