Throughout all this Charlotte spent a large part of every day nursing Mrs Gagarin. She had not been well for several months, and by the end of March it seemed likely that she would not recover.
‘While she was capable of taking airings’, wrote Cornelia Knight, ‘her Royal Highness constantly sent her out in a carriage, and when she grew so weak as to be confined to her room, visited her two or three times a day, carried her in her arms to the window, and exerted every faculty to soothe and comfort her.’
Her death was recorded in the Gentleman’s Magazine:
‘July 1. At Warwick House, Mrs Gagarin, many years an affectionate and faithful attendant of the Princess Charlotte of Wales. Her last moments were solaced by the condescending and unremitting attentions of of her Royal Highness, reflecting a lustre on the native goodness of her heart, superior to all the appendages of her exalted rank.’
Charlotte, wrote Miss Knight, ‘was very low for a long time afterwards, though she endeavoured to suppress and conceal her feelings’.
Yet amid all this sadness and frustration there was one element of happiness – the presence of Mercer Elphinstone.
Mercer came down from Scotland in the middle of March and stayed until the end of July.
When she knew her friend was coming, Charlotte wrote to her father, saying that she had heard the news from a third party and asking his permission to see her. Their correspondence had been, as Charlotte put it, ‘conducted with such secrecy & prudence’ that the Prince was convinced they had not been in touch with each other. All Charlotte’s letters were still being open by his agents at the Post Office, and there had been no sign of it. He therefore acceded to what he regarded as a reasonable request.
There were some, including Cornelia Knight, who suspected that the Prince had written to Mercer saying that he would only let her see his daughter if she promised to persuade her not to be too supportive of her mother. But Mercer, who was always wary of Charlotte’s mother, would have done that anyway if she thought it appropriate.
For more than four months Charlotte and Mercer saw each other as often as they pleased. But the Prince Regent had forbidden Mercer to stay in the same house as Charlotte. So when Charlotte was in London, Mercer came round to Warwick House from her own house in Harley Street, and when Charlotte was in Windsor at Lower Lodge, Cornelia Knight arranged for Mercer to stay nearby with a friend, Mrs Hallam.
Throughout those months there were no letters. There is therefore no record of what they discussed. But there is no doubt that one of the most important topics was the rumour that Mercer mentioned in one of her last letters from Scotland.
In her reply Charlotte wrote that she too had heard it. Perhaps, if the Princess were willing to pay it, the price of freedom would soon be available.
It was being said that the Prince Regent and his ministers were planning to arrange a marriage between Princess Charlotte and the Hereditary Prince of Orange.
[an extract from ‘Charlotte&Leopold’ by James Chambers]