The other friend was introduced to Charlotte by Dr Nott’s replacement, the Rev. Dr William Short. Dr Short was handsome and a bit more of a dandy than most clergymen. He was always light-hearted, even though he had recently been widowed and was still receiving consoling letters and visits from members of his wife’s family.
One of these was his brother-in-law, a distinguished admiral, who had been raised to the peerage as Baron Keith of Stonehaven Marischal. Lord Keith’s first wife, a Scots heiress, had died shortly after giving birth to their daughter, and that girl, now twenty-one years old, self-confident and strikingly beautiful, had inherited her mother’s enormous fortune. She was the embodiment of Jane Austen’s Emma – ‘handsome, clever and rich’. Charlotte worshipped her the moment she met her. Here at last was the companion, confidante and counsellor that the Princess had always needed. Her name was the Hon. Margaret Mercer Elphinstone.
Princess Charlotte wrote frequently to her ‘dearest Miss Mercer’, and Mercer Elphinstone kept almost all the letters. In later life she resisted every demand to hand them over. The best that she was prepared to do was to destroy those that were ‘upon particular subjects’.
Whether she did or not can never be known. Before she died, however, she gave all the letters that were still in her possession to her daughter, who married the fourth Marquess of Lansdowne, and they remained in his family until sold in 1994. Due to Mercer’s defiance, they were never read by the contemporary royal family. But they have survived to be read by posterity , and they are a moving testament to the hopes and fears of the ill-fated Princess.
The earliest letters are little more than gushing expressions of affection and eagerness for news. On the whole, the most amusing passages are the regular disparaging references to Mrs Udney. Yet even in these letters there is a sense of threat and caution. The fifteen-year-old Princess had already endured enough to know that, if she was going to be frank, she would also have to be careful.
[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]
Picture: the Hon. Margaret Mercer Elphinstone by John Hoppner