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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)