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Friday, 22 June 2018

Painshill - a stunning Georgian landscaped garden

Painshill - view of Gothic temple and five-arch bridge © Andrew Knowles
Painshill - view of Gothic temple and five-arch bridge
Painshill is a Georgian landscaped garden situated near Cobham in Surrey. It was created by Charles Hamilton between 1738 and 1773, and had many Georgian visitors including Horace Walpole, Sir Joseph Banks, and Charles Von Linne, the eldest son of the eminent botanist.

Since 1981, the Painshill Park Trust has been working to restore the garden to its Georgian splendour. The garden is open to visitors. For more information see the Painshill website.

Charles Hamilton – creator of Painshill

Painshill was the masterpiece of Charles Hamilton (1704 – 1786), the youngest son of the 6th Earl of Abercorn. Having made the Grand Tour – not once, but twice – Hamilton was inspired to produce a living memento of what he had seen. As the youngest son, he did not have great wealth at his disposal, but he did have good connections. He went to school with Henry Hoare of Stourhead, of the wealthy banking family, and Henry Fox, later 1st Baron Holland. Both men lent him large amounts of money.

In addition, Hamilton’s sister Jane1 was First Lady of the Bedchamber to Princess Augusta of Wales, and most likely the mistress of Princess Augusta’s husband Frederick, George III’s father. Through her influence, Hamilton was appointed Clerk of the Household to Prince Frederick (1738-47) and MP for Truro (1741-47). He was also Receiver General of the Revenues of Minorca from 1743, and when this post was lost in 1756, Henry Fox arranged for him to be given a government pension of £1,200 a year.

Living pictures at Painshill

In 1738, Hamilton acquired some land in the Cobham area and started to build Painshill. The garden was designed to present the visitor with living pictures incorporating a variety of man-made features including a Gothic temple and a crystal grotto. Hamilton created a path around the garden that presented the visitor with different vistas as they walked.

View of bridge and Gothic Temple at Pains Hill  from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by Prosser (1828)
View of bridge and Gothic Temple at Pains Hill
from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by Prosser (1828)
Sir John Parnell wrote in his journal on his visit in 1763:
You enter at a disadvantageous part of the garden by a little old house. Nothing before you but a flat, fine-grassed sheepwalk, with clumps of Scots firs and laurel interspersed with flowering shrubs: these are surrounded with pitched network to prevent the sheep, which are here in abundance, from spoiling the plants. In this plain you wait some time till the footman who opened the gate to you has brought a gardener who conducts you about two hundred yards, when all at once a beautiful country bursts on your eye at one side, and at the other an hill wooded and interspersed with pretty pavilions, which from its distance you are surprised to hear is within the pales of the improvement. You then enter some wilderness work of flowering shrubs which leads to an orangery where are some exotic plants and abundance of oranges. Here the gardener asks each person’s name and formally writes it down in a book for what purpose I cannot say, except that his master may thence make an estimate of what the gardener receives for showing the improvements.2
Horace Walpole visited Painshill in 1748 and wrote:
I have been to see Mr Hamilton's, near Cobham, where he has really made a fine place out of a most cursed hill.3
View from the Gothic Temple at Pains Hill  from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by Prosser (1828)
View from the Gothic Temple at Pains Hill
from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by Prosser (1828)
In Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828), Prosser wrote:
‘There may be scenes,’ observes a writer in his description of this seat, ‘where nature has done more for herself, but in no place that I ever saw has so much been done for nature as at Pains Hill. The beauty and unexpected variety of the scene, the happy situation, elegant structure, and judicious form of the buildings, the flourishing state, uncommon diversity, and contrasted groupage of the trees, and the contrivance of the water, will not fail to awaken the most pleasing sensations.’4
In his Observations on Modern Gardening (1770), Thomas Whately wrote that Painshill
… is little benefited by external circumstances; but the scenes within itself are both grand and beautiful; and the disposition of the gardens affords frequent opportunities of seeing the several parts, the one from the other, across the park, in a variety of advantageous situations.5
The crystal grotto from across the lake, Painshill
The crystal grotto from across the lake, Painshill
Whately continued:
An easy winding descent leads from the Gothic building to the lake, and a broad walk is afterwards continued along the banks, and across an island, close to the water on one hand, and skirted by wood on the other: the spot is perfectly retired; but the retirement is chearful; the lake is calm; but it is full to the brim, and never darkened with shadow; the walk is smooth, and almost level, and touches the very margin of the water; the wood, which secludes all view into the country, is composed of the most elegant trees, full of the lightest greens, and bordered with shrubs and with flowers; and though the place is almost surrounded with plantations, yet within itself it is open and airy; it is embellished with three bridges, a ruined arch, and a grotto; and the Gothic building, still very near, and impending directly over the lake, belongs to the place; but these objects are never visible all together; they appear in succession as the walk proceeds; and their number does not croud the scene which is enriched by their frequency.6
A pioneer of English wine-making

Hamilton planted a vineyard, probably in the early 1740s, and by 1748, the vines were producing grapes. He was a pioneer of English wine-making and sold wine from his vineyard for more than two decades. His attempts at making red wine were not successful but he decided to try again with white wine. In 1748, he employed David Geneste, a Huguenot refugee from Clairac, part of the wine-making region of Bordeaux.

Painshill vineyard (2018) © Andrew Knowles
Painshill vineyard (2018)
Hamilton claimed that:
The very first year I made white Wine, it nearly resembled the flavour of Champaign; and in two or three years more, as the Vines grew stronger, to my great amazement, my Wine had a finer flavour than the best Champaign I ever tasted … The surest proof I can give of its excellence is, that I have sold it to Wine-merchants for fifty guineas a hogshead.7
The Gothic temple

The Gothic Temple at Pains Hill  from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by Prosser (1828)
The Gothic temple at Pains Hill
from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by Prosser (1828)
The Gothic temple was situated at the top of a hill, looking down onto the lake.

Gothic temple, Painshill © A Knowles
Gothic temple, Painshill
Interior of Gothic temple, Painshill © A Knowles
Interior of Gothic temple, Painshill
Horace Walpole seemed to take exception to the fact that the design was not based on a real Gothic building. On visiting Painshill in 1761 he wrote:
Went again to Mr Charles Hamilton’s at Payne’s hill near Cobham, to see the Gothic building & the Roman ruin. The former is taken from Battey Langley’s book (which does not contain a single design of true or good Gothic) & is made worse by pendent ornaments in the arches, & by being closed on two sides at bottom, with cheeks that have no relation to Gothic. The whole is an unmeaning edifice. In all Gothic designs, they should be made to imitate something that was of that time, a part of a church, a castle, a convent, or a mansion. The Goths never built summer-houses or temples in a garden. This at Mr Hamilton’s stands on the brow of a hill – there an imitation of a fort or watchtower had been proper.8
Design for a Gothic temple from Gothic architecture, improved by rules and proportions by B & T Langley (1747)
Design for a Gothic temple from Gothic architecture,
improved by rules and proportions
by B & T Langley (1747)
The ruin and mausoleum

Ruined abbey, Painshill
Ruined abbey, Painshill
View through archway of ruined abbey, Painshill
View through archway of ruined abbey, Painshill
Prosser wrote:
On the borders of the lake is an artificial ruin, and a mausoleum containing some antiquarian remains brought from Italy.9
Walpole was more complimentary about the ruin than the Gothic temple:
The Ruin is much better imagined, but has great faults. It represents a triumphal Arch, & yet never could have had a column, which would certainly have accompanied so rich a Soffite. Then this Arch is made to have been a Columbarium. You may as well suppose an Alderman’s family buried in Temple bar. Had it been closed behind, & there is no reason it should not, for it leads no where, one might imagine it a private burial-place, tho the fashion uncommon. The upper row of niches in the columbarium are too high, & in a proportion more gothic than Roman. The tessellated pavement unluckily resembles a painted oil-cloth.10
The mausoleum, Painshill
The mausoleum, Painshill
The lake

Hamilton used the water of the nearby River Mole to create water features for his garden. Whately described how the lake sat below the Gothic temple:
… an open Gothic building, on the very edge of a high steep, which rises immediately above a fine artificial lake in the bottom: the whole of this lake is never seen at once; but by its form, by the disposition of some islands, and by the trees in them and on the banks, it always seems to be larger than it is.11
View of Gothic temple from the lake, Painshill © A Knowles
View of Gothic temple from the lake, Painshil
The grotto

One of the highlights of Painshill today is the restored crystal grotto. Prosser wrote:
A descending walk to the left of this building [the Gothic temple] conducts to an island, connected by a bridge over the lake. This island is also connected with another by an arch built of the same material as the grotto which adjoins it … The grotto is well designed and admirably executed by the same artist who formed that at Oatlands; its situation, also, is well chosen for a mimic display of those beautiful cavern scenes which nature sometimes presents. Near the entrance and in various situations are masses of artificial rockwork fancifully disposed. 12
Bridge leading to grotto island, Painshill
Chinese Bridge, Painshill
Entrance to the crystal grotto, Painshill
Entrance to the crystal grotto, Painshill
Inside the crystal grotto, Painshill
Inside the crystal grotto, Painshill
View from inside the crystal grotto, Painshill
View from inside the crystal grotto, Painshill
View from inside the crystal grotto, Painshill
View from inside the crystal grotto, Painshill
View from inside the crystal grotto, Painshill
View from inside the crystal grotto, Painshill
The ceiling of the crystal grotto, Painshill
The ceiling of the crystal grotto, Painshill
Replica of the Woollett bridge, Painshill
The Woollett bridge, Painshill
The five-arch bridge

Whately wrote:
A broad river, issuing from the lake, passes under a bridge of five arches near the outlet.13
The five-arch bridge, Painshill
The five-arch bridge, Painshill
The waterwheel

ir John Parnell wrote:
At about two hundred yards from the water you see the River Mole lying 13 feet beneath you, yet it is raised up by one of the most ingenious wheels I ever saw, and supplies all the water in the improvements. Mr Hamilton brought the invention from some waterwork abroad.14
The current wheel dates from the 1830s.

The waterwheel, Painshill
The waterwheel, Painshill
The waterwheel, Painshill
The waterwheel, Painshill
The hermitage
On the side of the hill is couched a low hermitage, encompassed with thicket, and overhung with shade … composed of logs and of roots; the design is as simple as the materials; and the furniture within is old and uncouth; all the circumstances which belong to the character, are retained in the utmost purity, both in the approach and the entrance; in the second room they are suddenly changed for a view of the gardens and the country, which is rich with every appearance of inhabitants and cultivation.15
Hamilton engaged a real hermit to live in the hermitage, but it was not a success.
The hermit, sad to relate, was a failure. He was offered £700 to live a Nebuchadnezzar-like existence in his cell, sleeping on a mat, never speaking a word, and abandoning all the conveniences of a toilet. He would gladly have taken the £700, but threw up his post after three weeks.16
The Gothic tower

Gothic tower, Painshill
Gothic tower, Painshill
At the far end of Painshill stands the Gothic tower.

Sir John Parnell wrote:
From the wood you enter a walk which leads to the extremity and highest part of the improvements. On it is erected the Belvidere or Gothic castle: it is five storeys high from the ground, with a round staircase at one angle and about 15 feet in the clear. From the upper rooms you command a truly charming scene of this fine cultivated place on two sides, you see to Windsor Forest on another side, and the fourth looks to the heath we came over. It is inconceivable how beautiful Mr Hamilton’s grounds appear, all spotted with pavilions, clumps of evergreens or forest tress, while the rough heath withoutside show what Industry and the Power of Cultivation can do, as most of Mr Hamilton’s was once as rough as it.17
Whately described it:
From the tower on the top of the hill is another prospect, much more extensive, but not more beautiful; the objects are not so well selected, nor seen to so great advantage; some of them are too distant; some too much below the eye; and a large portion of the heath intervenes, which casts a cloud over the view.18
The Temple of Bacchus

The Temple of Bacchus, Painshill
The Temple of Bacchus, Painshill
The temple was
… a large Doric building, called the temple of Bacchus, with a fine portico in the front, a rich alto relievo in the pediment, and on each side a range of pilasters: within, it is decorated with many antique busts, and a noble statue of the god in the centre; the room has none of that solemnity which is often affectedly ascribed to the character, but without being gaudy is full of light, of ornament, and splendour.19
The ‘statue of the god’ referred to was a huge marble statue of Bacchus, the god of wine, which was 7 feet tall. Prosser’s description of Painshill in 1828 told of the fate of the statue:
Not far from this [the Turkish tent], amid a scene rich with flowery shrubs and majestic trees, is the temple of Bacchus, a large building of the Doric order, having a portico and a fine alto relieve in the pediment. It formerly contained a celebrated antique colossal statue of Bacchus of great merit, which is said to have cost £3,000. It was afterwards purchased by Mr Beckford, and removed to Fonthill.20
A replica of the statue of Bacchus, Painshill
A replica of the statue
of Bacchus, Painshill
The ceiling is thought to have been the work of Robert Adam.

The Turkish tent
A Turkish tent is erected on an eminence, commanding a pleasing view of the lake and adjacent scenery. 21
View from the Gothic temple, Painshill  showing the five-arch bridge and the Turkish tent
View from the Gothic temple, Painshill
showing the five-arch bridge and the Turkish tent
Sir John Parnell wrote:
The tent is elegantly finished, the back is built and plastered, the top leaded and painted blue, joining a sailcloth marquee that covers all and is painted white with a blue fringe drawn up before in festoons, like Darius’s Tent.22
Whately praised the view from the Turkish tent:
… an open walk through the park; in the way a tent is pitched, upon a fine swell, just above the water, which is seen to greater advantage from this point than from any other.23
The Turkish tent, Painshill
The Turkish tent, Painshill
A new owner

Eventually Hamilton’s money problems caught up with him and he was forced to sell Painshill. After visiting in October 1771, John Wesley commented:
And now, after spending his life bringing it to perfection, the grey-headed owner advertises it to be sold! 24
In July 1773, Hamilton sold Painshill to Benjamin Bond Hopkins for £25,000 and moved to the Royal Crescent in Bath. Hamilton died in Bath in 1786 aged 82 and is buried in Bath Abbey.

Hopkins built the house that Hamilton had never got round to building: 
The principal front … has its centre adorned with four columns, to which is an ascent by a flight of steps. Connected with the building, on the south side, is a neat private chapel; its windows are ornamented with various subjects painted on glass. On this side is a small flower-garden, with aviary and a well stocked gold and silver fish-pond.25
Pains Hill from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by Prosser (1828)
'Pains Hill' from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by Prosser (1828)
Hopkins continued to open the garden to visitors but spent very little time at Painshill. After his death in 1794, it was owned by various people including Henry Lawes Luttrell, Earl of Carhampton, from 1805 to 1821, and then his widow, the Dowager Countess, who was the owner in 1828 when Prosser was writing his guide.

Notes
1. You may be interested to know that Charles Hamilton was connected to Emma Hamilton, the famous mistress of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, through his sister Jane. Jane and her husband Lord Archibald Hamilton, a younger brother of James Hamilton, 4th Duke of Hamilton, were the parents of Emma’s husband, Sir William Hamilton.
2. James Sambrook, 'Painshill Park in the 1760s' Garden History vol 8 no.1 (1980) – excerpt from manuscript journal of Sir John Parnell – An account of the many fine seats of nobles I have seen, with other observations, made during my residence in England in 1763.
3. Horace Walpole, Letters from the Hon Horace Walpole to George Montagu Esq (1818) - in a letter from Horace Walpole to George Montagu dated 11 August 1748.
4. George Frederick Prosser, Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828).
5. Thomas Whately, Observations on modern gardening, illustrated by descriptions (1770).
6. Ibid.
7. Sir Edward Barry, Observations Historical, Critical and Medical on the Wines of the Ancients and the Analogy between Them and Modern Wines (1775).
8. Paget Toynbee, ‘Horace Walpole’s Journals of Visits to Country Seats, &c’ The Volume of the Walpole Society, vol. 16 (1927) - entry dated 22 August 1761.
9. Prosser op cit.
10. Toynbee op cit.
11. Whately op cit.
12. Prosser op cit.
13. Whately op cit.
14. Sambrook op cit.
15. Whately op cit.
16. Eric Parker, Highways and Byways in Surrey (1921).
17. Sambrook op cit.
18. Whately op cit.
19. Ibid.
20. Prosser op cit.
21. Ibid.
22. Sambrook op cit.
23. Whately op cit.
24. The World of Fine Wine website – A most Cursed Hill: Painshill and the Beginnings of English Wine
25. Prosser op cit.

Sources used include:
Brayley, Edward Wedlake, A Topographical History of Surrey (1850)
Barry, Sir Edward, Observations, Historical, Critical, and Medical on the Wines of the Ancients: And the Analogy Between Them and Modern wines (1775) pp471-76
Hodges, Alison, 'Painshill Park, Cobham, Surrey (1700-1800): Notes for a History of the Landscape Garden of Charles Hamilton' Garden History vol 2 no.1 1973 pp39-68 JSTOR www.jstor.org/stable/1586476
Langley, Batty & Thomas, Gothic architecture, improved by rules and proportions (1747)
Parker, Eric, Highways and Byways in Surrey (1921)
Prosser, George Frederick, Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828)
Sambrook, James, 'Painshill Park in the 1760s' Garden History vol 8 no.1 1980 p91-106 JSTOR www.jstor.org/stable/1586682
Toynbee, Paget, Horace Walpole's Journals of Visits to Country Seats &c., The Volume of the Walpole Society, vol 16, 1927, pp9-80 JSTOR www.jstor.org/stable/41830706
Walpole, Horace, Letters from the Hon Horace Walpole to George Montagu Esq (1818)
Whately, Thomas, Observations on modern gardening, illustrated by descriptions (1770)

History of Parliament online 
Painshill website
The World of Fine Wine website – A most Cursed Hill: Painshill and the Beginnings of English Wine

Last visited June 2018
All photographs © RegencyHistory.net

Thursday, 17 May 2018

The Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace

Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
The Gold State Coach is, without doubt, the most magnificent coach I have ever seen. What is more, it is Georgian. For me, this huge golden carriage is the highlight of any visit to the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, London.

‘A beautiful object’

The Gold State Coach is on display in the former State Carriage House at the Royal Mews. It measures 7.3 metres long, 2.5 metres high and 3.9 metres wide, and is gilded all over.

Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
The coach is adorned with palm trees and lions’ heads, and devices representing the British victory in the Seven Years’ War against France.

Lion detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Lion detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
The exterior boasts exquisitely painted panels by the Florentine artist, Giovanni Battista Cipriani.

Panel detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Panel detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
On its roof, there are three cherubs representing the guardian spirits of England, Scotland and Ireland, supporting the Royal Crown, and holding the Sceptre, the Sword of State and the Ensign of the Knighthood in their hands.

herubs on the roof of the Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Cherubs on the roof of the Gold State Coach
at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
The body of the coach is supported by braces covered in Morocco leather decorated with gilded buckles held by Tritons.

Triton detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Triton detail on Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Horace Walpole wrote to his friend Horace Mann:
There is come forth a new state coach, which has cost 8,000l. It is a beautiful object, though crowded with improprieties. Its support are Tritons, not very well adapted to land-carriage; and formed of palm-trees, which are as little aquatic as Tritons are terrestrial. The crowd to see it on the opening of the Parliament was greater than at the coronation, and much more mischief done.1
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
An unusual piece of extravagance

George III commissioned the Gold State Coach in 1760 and it was designed by the architect Sir William Chambers. As Walpole wrote in his letter, the coach cost nearly £8,000 to build. Based on the Retail Price Index, £8,000 would equate to well over £1,000,000 in today’s money. If we consider relative incomes, the equivalent cost would be as much as £14,000,000 or more.2 This seems uncharacteristically extravagant of George III.

Given the cost of building the Gold State Coach, it is perhaps surprising to discover that it was made not for George IV – renowned for his profligacy and love of pomp and ceremony – but for his much more frugal father.

The Gold State Coach’s first outing

The coach was completed in time for the State Opening of Parliament on 25 November 1762. Its first journey was deemed a success, despite the fact that one of the door handles broke and a pane of glass cracked.

Driving the coach

Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
The Gold State Coach is usually displayed with four replica horses, with a postilion riding one horse in each pair. However, the coach actually requires eight horses to pull it as it weighs around four tonnes. The horses wear a special harness made of red Morocco leather, known as No. 1 State Harness which is reserved especially for this coach.

Originally, the coach was pulled by eight Cream Hanoverian stallions, with six of the horses being driven by a coachman from the box and the leading pair being driven by a postilion riding one of them. From 1918 to 1925, black horses were used, but since George VI’s coronation in 1937, the coach has been drawn by Windsor Greys.

The hammer cloth and box were removed by Edward VII to promote greater visibility and the coach is now pulled by eight postilion-driven horses.

Because of its weight, the coach can only travel at a walking pace and is no good at all on hills. It also takes a very long time to stop. A brakeman walks immediately behind the coach, ready to operate the brake handle when required. The brake needs to be applied approximately 27 metres before the desired stopping point.

Unfortunately, the magnificence of its exterior is not matched with the comfort of the ride. The body of the coach is supported by leather braces and not only rocks backwards and forwards, but sways from side to side as well.

Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach
at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Coronations and jubilees

The Gold State Coach has been used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821. The frieze around the walls of the former State Carriage Room where the coach is on display was painted by Richard Barrett Davis (1782-1854) and depicts the coronation procession of William IV in 1831.

The coach is still used today, but only for special occasions. This is just as well as a large section of the wall on one side of the carriage room has to be removed in order to get the enormous coach out.

The Queen used the Gold State Coach for her coronation on 2 June 1953. It was last used on 4 June 2002 as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Gold State Coach at the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace
Last visited 1 August 2017 for Bloggers' breakfast event.

Notes
(1) In a letter dated 30 November 1762, from Walpole, Horace, Letters of Horace Walpole to Sir Horace Mann volume 1 p126 (1833).
(2) Relative values calculated using the Measuring Worth website (see link below).

Sources used include:
Vickers, Hugo, The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace (Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd, 2011)
Walpole, Horace, Letters of Horace Walpole to Sir Horace Mann volume 1 (1833).
Measuring worth website

All photographs © Regencyhistory.net

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, Princess Charlotte's friend

Margaret Mercer Elphinstone by John Hoppner  in John Hoppner RA by WD McKay and W Roberts (1909)
Margaret Mercer Elphinstone by John Hoppner
in John Hoppner RA by WD McKay and W Roberts (1909)
Profile

Margaret Mercer Elphinstone (12 June 1788 – 11 November 1867), later Baroness Keith, Lady Nairne and Comtesse de Flahault, was an intimate friend of Princess Charlotte of Wales and a society hostess.

Early years

Margaret Mercer Elphinstone was born on 12 June 1788, the only child of Admiral George Keith Elphinstone, Viscount Keith (1746-1823), and his first wife, Jane Mercer. Margaret’s mother died in 1789, but Lord Keith did not remarry until almost twenty years later, when he wed Hester Maria Thrale (1764-1857), the eldest daughter and heir of Henry and Hester Thrale, on 10 January 1808.

Princess Charlotte's friend

Princess Charlotte of Wales  from the Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight, lady companion to the Princess Charlotte of Wales (1861)
Princess Charlotte of Wales
from the Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight,
lady companion to the Princess Charlotte of Wales
(1861)
Margaret, often referred to as Miss Mercer in contemporary documents, became a close and influential companion of Charlotte, Princess of Wales. According to Princess Charlotte’s lady companion, Cornelia Knight, the Princess ‘constantly communicated’ with Margaret.1

Princess Charlotte’s biographer Coote agreed, stating:
The amiable Miss Elphinstone enjoyed her particular confidence and was continually employed by her to execute her several benevolent commissions.2
Princess Charlotte’s relationship with Margaret was probably encouraged by her father. In 1813, some of the details of the supposedly secret 'Delicate Investigation' into the alleged adultery of Princess Charlotte’s mother, Princess Caroline of Wales, became common knowledge. Princess Charlotte was inclined to take her mother’s part against her father, as did most of the public.

Princess Caroline of Brunswick from Huish's Memoirs of her late  royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Princess Caroline of Brunswick
from Huish's Memoirs of her late
 royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818) 
Some people believed that Margaret was being used by the Prince Regent to turn Princess Charlotte against her mother. Cornelia Knight wrote:
About this time Miss Mercer Elphinstone came to Town, and Princess Charlotte wrote to ask the Regent’s permission for seeing her; which was granted. It was evident that this had been arranged beforehand, and that the conditions were that Miss Mercer, who had more influence than any one with Princess Charlotte, should open her eyes to her mother’s imprudence, and break the confidential intimacy between them.3
George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1816)  Photo © RegencyHistory Painting © NPG London
George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1816)
Photo © RegencyHistory Painting © NPG London
In June 1814, Princess Charlotte decided that she could not marry the Prince of Orange and ran away to see her mother. Margaret was one of those who went to Connaught House to find her, and one of the few who was still allowed to communicate with her after her return to Warwick House.

The accusations of duplicity did not go away. In January 1815, Cornelia Knight wrote:
Miss Mercer Elphinstone has been allowed to visit Princess Charlotte since her return from Cranbourne, and is in constant and undisturbed correspondence with her.
Miss M. is also accused by many of playing a double part. I believe her to be desirous of governing Princess Charlotte without a rival, but I cannot think she would deal treacherously by her, though she may not be aware of the use made of her by her uncle, Mr Adam, who is the Prince’s Chancellor for the Duchy of Cornwall and is supposed to be devoted to the Duke of York. Miss Mercer is in her politics strongly attached to the Opposition, and very intimate with many of them.4
Cornelia Knight was not always complimentary about the influence that Margaret had on Princess Charlotte, but she did write that it was natural that people were suspicious of her because
… it is to be remembered that Miss Mercer is an heiress, and very clever, and will, therefore, always excite jealousy.4
The Duke of Devonshire

William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of   Devonshire, in Chatsworth House
William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of
Devonshire, in Chatsworth House
It has been suggested that Margaret wanted to marry the Duke of Devonshire. Cornelia Knight wrote:
Followed by all the mothers and all the misses in London, because he was the yet unmarried Duke of Devonshire, it is probable that he might wish to be liked for himself alone, and this must be the case if Princess Charlotte liked him. His ambition, also, might be roused, and he might, and perhaps unfortunately did, feel really attached to her. A good young man, of a benevolent heart, moderate abilities, and romantic turn (which I understand was the case with him), might easily fall into such a snare. He was very attentive, and Princess Charlotte’s friends were, almost all, very intimate with him. Miss Mercer Elphinstone was supposed to like him, to wish to marry him, and to be playing a deep game, so that when he was disappointed of Princess Charlotte, he might take her, out of gratitude for her good offices. This ill-natured story was too ridiculous to be believed; for if Miss Mercer wished to marry him, she could not at the same time wish to encourage his attachment to a beautiful young Princess of seventeen, who was generally thought the handsomest woman in the ball-room (for dress became her particularly), and who must, at all events, eclipse a woman of twenty-eight, whose great fortune would be no attraction to the Duke.5
Although she disbelieved the rumours, Cornelia Knight recorded two newspaper reports that were printed in the Morning Chronicle in May 1815. The first, published on 11 May announced:
We have great pleasure in announcing that the marriage is settled between the Duke of Devonshire and Miss Mercer, daughter of Lord Keith. It is to take place next week.
The following day, a second newspaper report stated:
We are desired to contradict, from authority, the report of the Honourable Miss Mercer Elphinstone’s marriage with the Duke of Devonshire.6
Princess Charlotte’s wedding anniversary

Margaret maintained her friendship with the Princess after her marriage to Prince Leopold. She was one of a select party invited to Claremont for a dinner and concert to celebrate their first wedding anniversary on 2 May 1817. Princess Charlotte was pregnant and had determined ‘to abstain in future from all crowded assemblies.’7

Claremont from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by GF Prosser (1828)
Claremont from Select Illustrations
of the County of Surrey
by GF Prosser (1828)
Marriage to the Comte de Flahault

On 20 June 1817, Margaret married a French nobleman, Auguste Charles Joseph, Comte de Flahault de la Billardrie, in Edinburgh. Auguste had been an aide-de-camp to Napoleon Bonaparte. After Napoleon’s fall, he came to Britain, where he had spent part of his youth.

Margaret and Auguste had five daughters whilst living in Perth, Scotland: Emily Jane (1819), Clementina Hortense (1821), Georgiana Gabrielle (1822), Adele Elizabeth Josephine (1824), and Sarah Sophia Louisa (1825). Emily married Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 4th Marquess of Lansdowne, and Georgiana married Jean Charles Marie Felix, Marquis of La Valette. Clementina and Adele died young and Sarah did not marry.

Auguste and Margaret moved to France in 1827 and Auguste was accepted back into the French government, as ambassador to Rome, Vienna and St James’s, before becoming chancellor to the Legion of Honour.

Baroness Keith and Lady Nairne

Margaret became Baroness Keith in the Irish and UK peerages in 1823 on the death of her father, and succeeded her cousin as Lady Nairne in 1837. The two baronies of Keith became extinct on Margaret’s death, but her eldest daughter Emily, Marchioness of Lansdowne, succeeded her as Lady Nairne.

Margaret was a well-known society hostess in Paris, where she died on 11 November 1867. She was buried at Tulliallan Castle in Perthshire, Scotland.

Notes
(1) From Knight, Cornelia, Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight, lady companion to the Princess Charlotte of Wales volume 1 (1861).
(2) From Coote, J, A biographical memoir of the much lamented Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales and Saxe Coburg (1818).
(3) From Knight, Cornelia, Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight, lady companion to the Princess Charlotte of Wales volume 1 (1861).
(4) From Knight, Cornelia, Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight, lady companion to the Princess Charlotte of Wales volume 2 (1861).
(5) From Knight, Cornelia, Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight, lady companion to the Princess Charlotte of Wales volume 1 (1861).
(6) From Knight, Cornelia, Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight, lady companion to the Princess Charlotte of Wales volume 2 (1861).
(7) Huish, Robert, Memoirs of her late royal highness Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales (Thomas Kelly, 1818, London.

Coote, J, A biographical memoir of the much lamented Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales and Saxe Coburg (1818)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of her late royal highness Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales (Thomas Kelly, 1818, London)
Knight, Cornelia, Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight, lady companion to the Princess Charlotte of Wales (1861)
Reynolds, KD, Flahault de la Billardrie, Margaret de, suo jure Lady Nairne and suo jure Baroness Keith, and Countess de Flahault de la Billardrie in the French nobility (1788-1867) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; accessed 19 June 2017)
The Gentleman's Magazine (1868)