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Martha Whyte, Countess Elgin

Mother in law of my 2nd paternal cousin, Elizabeth Oswald.

Martha Whyte married Charles Bruce, 5th Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, on June 1st, 1755, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Martha was the only child of London banker, Thomas Whyte. Together they had 8 children, many of whom became prominent figures in the military and political world of Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries and documented on other pages in this website.

 

The portrait of Countess Elgin (above) was painted in 1762 by Allan Ramsay, the same artist that also painted a portrait of King George III in the same year.

 

Martha's two eldest daughters, Martha and Janet, died in childhood at the ages of 7 and 6 respectively, in 1767. On May 14, 1771, Martha's husband Charles died leaving Martha a widow. Only 2 months later, her eldest son, the new Lord Elgin (6th Earl of Elgin) died at the age of 7.

 

Martha's remaining 4 children (1 girl and 3 boys) survived to adulthood but her youngest son, James, aged 29, drowned on July 10th, 1798 while crossing the River Don in Yorkshire when his horse was swept away by the stream. 

 

In 1799 Martha was appointed presonally by King George III to become gouvernant (meaning "guardian" rather than governess) of Charlotte, Princess of Wales, and heir presumptive to the British Throne. According to historical documents, Lady Elgin and the Princes of Wales became very close. They lived in Warwick House, located in the St. James district of London, together with only servants in the household.

 

The story behind Princess Charlotte is also interesting. Her father, George, Prince of Wales (and later King George IV) and her mother, Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales (and later Queen), disliked each other prior to their arranged marriage and separated soon after. Charlotte was their only child, and had she outlived her grandfather, King George III, and her father, she would have become Queen. The Prince of Wales, who received a tidy income on his own, had no real desire to marry but was pressured by Prime Minister William Pitt The Younger, to marry and produce an heir. In order to convince the Prince to do this, he promised an increased income if he married. The Prince of Wales lived well beyond his means, so this promise of extra income made him seek out a suitable wife. 

 

Caroline of Brunswick was chosen (a long, complicated story in itself) and was George's first cousin. The marriage was not happy and the couple separated within weeks of their marriage although continued to live under the same roof. at Carlton House. Only a day short of 9 months of their wedding, Princess Charlotte was born.

 

The Prince of Wales was mildly unhappy that the baby was not a boy, but King George III was elated to have a legitimate grandchild. King George also preferred girl babies so he was quite happy about the birth. King George also hoped that the birth of Charlotte would help reconcile the Prince and Princess of Wales (it did not).

 

The Prince of Wales left Charlotte to be raised by governesses and servants, and allowed her only limited access to her mother, the Princess of Wales (who eventually left England). Martha appears to have been a breath of fresh air for the Princess, and their freindship and bond is well documented. The Prince and Princess of Wales used Charlotte as a pawn although it seems that Princess Caroline saw a great deal more of Charlotte than did her father.

 

In 1804, after spending 5 years with Princess Charlotte, the Prince of Wales dismissed her. The official reason for her dismissal was given as her age - she was considered too old at the age of 65 - but insiders contend that Martha had infuriated the Prince by taking Princess Charlotte to see her grandfather, King George III (whom she adored) without his permission.

 

Martha was devastated at being removed as Charlotte's guardian and died in 1810 at the age of 70. 

 

When Princess Charlotte died after childbirth in 1818, mention was given to her friend and guardian, Lady Elgin, saying she was "a very worthy and pious Countess who acted for some years as gouvernante".