Tag Archives: mary helen lady dashwood

Royal Nursery: Countess of Elgin

‘A few weeks later the Prince was faced with another crisis. Lady Dashwood became gravely ill, and could not attend to her duties in the Royal Nursery (…) It was several months before “this most incomparable and amiable woman” was replaced. Eventually, in January 1797, Martha Countess of Elgin was appointed. A new set of nursery rules was drawn up, ‘TO BE OBSERVED BY LADY ELGIN AND MISS GARTH AS GOVERNESS AND SUB-GOVERNESS TO HER ROYAL HIGHNESS THE PRINCESS CHARLOTTE OF WALES.’

Regularity of hours, the importance of midday sleep and daily airing are stressed. “It is absolutely necessary that her R.H. goes to bed at or before eight o’clock-& it is requested that either Lady Elgin or Miss Garth will attend occasionally at her Royal Highness’s dinner supper&undressing.” There is no mention of the child’s mother, and once again the rules are signed by the Prince.’

[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]

‘In 1804, Princess Charlotte’s little world received a fresh shock. Lady Elgin, now in her sixties, and suffering from gout and weak health, resigned. There is a suggestion, in her letter to the King, that she was compelled to do so, “by a new arrangement of education deemed necessary, as her Royal Highness is advancing in life’. Whatever the reason, this resignation was unfortunate from Charlotte’s point of view: ‘Eggy’ was the one person – apart from her grandfather – for whom she had both respect and affection. It is noticeable that in the new regime which followed, the young Princess began to show signs of becoming a problem child. She was noisy and disobedient; she showed off and told lies. Gentle, good Lady Elgin, who had watched over her “precious charge” so carefully, had succeeded in curbing her temper and instilling in her something of the prim virtue of the model child of that period; and although Charlotte’s temperament was far too passionate and impulsive to remain within these bounds, her affection to Lady Elgin often brought her to her senses when nothing else would. Under ‘Eggy’ we find Charlotte, age five, weaving a tasselled cape string for her grandfather, and sewing laboriously and probably not very well at a footstool for the Queen. She wrote to the King that she wished the cape string were better, “but it is the first I have ever done…” “Pray come back soon to Kew,” she ends, “and for Eggy and me,” and signed herself “Your dutiful Child, Charlotte”. This docile child was to vanish with Lady Elgin’s departure.

[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]

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Portrait: Martha Bruce, Countess of Elgin and Kincardine by Allan Ramsay, 1762, National Gallery of Scotland

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Royal Nursery: Lady Dashwood

‘The nursery establishement was headed by Lady Dashwood, who had been Lady of the Bedchamber to the King’s daughters. She was a charming, gentle character; “I never saw anybody,’ wrote Princess Elizabeth to the Prince, “more truly anxious to fulfill conscientiously the situation in which you have been so very very good as to place her.” She was probably too conscientious, for after six months she became ill, worn out by the difficulties of a job, which, as well as keeping a careful watch over the health of the baby princess, involved diplomacy, tact and strict attention to Court etiquette. She had to remember, for instance, that the nurse, important as she was for the provision of nourishment, might never, owing to her lowly station, be in the same room with the King and Queen; and also to bear in mind that Buckingham House could be icy cold, even in July. “I beg her Royal Highness may be covered up entirely,’ she wrote to her assistant, “as the wind on the staircase…is very great.’

[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]

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Picture: Mary, Lady Dashwood and her son Henry by Joshua Reynolds

The Princess And Her Child Make Quite An Impression

‘The Royal Family, blind to any rift between the parents, wrote ecstatic letters after visits to the Princess and her baby; and the King in his pious optimism, was hopeful that this charming infant would be the means of reconciling her parents. But the Prince was determined that his wife should have no part in the bringing up of their child. He enjoyed organizing, and from his country retreat drew up elaborate rules for the running of the Royal Nursery. Fussy as he was over his own health, he was scrupulously particular over his daughter’s.“To prevent the possibility of infection being carried into the Royal Nursery it is absolutely forbidden that there should be any intercourse between the attendants belonging to the young Princess and any other part of the Household.” The Princess, he ordered, was to be moved in her cradle into Lady Dashwood’s room when the nursery was being cleaned. When the baby was carried out into the garden, she was to have a gentleman in attendance as well as a governess and the nurse – this presumably in case of attempted kidnapping. The Princess of Wales was to see her daughter once a day, either before or after the daily outing, and with governess and nurse always in attendance. Needless to say, as time went on, the Princess contrived to see her daughter more often, and to take her out driving, which she found was a great success with the London public, who could not have enough of the plump blonde Princess of Wales and her lovely baby, and delightedly cheered the carriage as it passed. The Prince, invariably greeted, when he drove through the streets, by a stony silence, added this to his list of grievances against his wife.’

[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]
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Picture: Caroline Princess of Wales and her daughter Princess Charlotte by Thomas Lawrence

Bad Fairy At The Christening

‘On Thursday, February 11 the baby was christened in the great drawing-room of St. James Palace. Lady Dashwood, who was hard up, was given a dress for the occasion, made of satin covered in lace. The baby was also covered in lace, and her cradle, cushion and lace-trimmed sheet were given by the Queen. “I regret”, she wrote to her son, “that my finances will not allow me to offer more.”

Charlotte Augusta were the names bestowed upon the child, after her two grandmothers, who were also her godmothers. Her dotting grand-papa, King George, stood godfather, and it must have seemed, as she lay in her lace-trimmed cradle, surrounded by beaming royal countenances, that an auspicious future lay ahead of this fortunate infant.

But one bad fairy was there in the background, although it was Charlotte’s mother rather than Charlotte who was affected by her presence. As far as Caroline was concerned, Lady Jersey was always there, smiling, cool, perfectly dressed, entirely sure of herself (…) basking in the Prince’s favour, Lady Jersey made it her business to humiliate his wife whenever she could. It cannot have been difficult: Caroline was gauche, unversed in etiquette, stumbling in her English and apt when nervous to blurt out tactless comments and opinions, or to make coarse jokes, all of which were noted by Lady Jersey and relayed to the Prince.’

[an extract from ‘Prinny’s Daughter: A Biography of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ by Thea Home]

st james palace

Picture: St. James Palace, London, UK