In 1776, Mrs. Delany was introduced to the Queen by their mutual close friend the Duchess of Portland, who had invited Mrs. Delany to live with her at Bulstrode after Mr. Delany's death in 1767. It was here at Bulstrode that an intimate friendship between Mrs. Delany and the royal family began. She had been a respected painter and excellent needle woman, but at age 74 she invented a method of cutting out paper flowers and plants which appeared so true to nature that Sir Joseph Banks, the most famous naturalist of his age and the director of the Botanical Gardens at Kew, paid her the ultimate compliment by saying that he could use her "imitations of nature" for describing a plant botanically without any fear of error. Queen Charlotte, the "Queen of Botany," had heard about Mrs. Delany's paper mosaic collection Flora, and was eager to meet this kindred spirit.
Mrs. Delany describes her first meeting with the Queen thus:
"The King desired me to show the Queen one of my books of plants. She seated herself in the gallery; a table and the book laid before her. I kept my distance till she called me to ask some questions about the mosaic paper work, and as I stood before Her Majesty the King set a chair behind me. I turned with some confusion and hesitation on receiving so great an honour, when the Queen said- 'Mrs. Delany, sit down, sit down; it is not every lady that has a chair brought her by a King.' So I obeyed."
When the Duchess of Portland died in 1785, the King and Queen feared that this severe shock could harm their beloved old friend. They offered her a small house at Windsor Castle and a yearly annuity to help with its upkeep. On September 3, 1785, the Queen sent the following letter to Mrs. Delany:
"My dear Mrs. Delany will be glad to hear that I am charged by the King to summon her to her new abode at Windsor for Tuesday next, where she will find all the essential parts of the house ready, excepting some little trifles which it will be better for Mrs. Delany to direct in person, or by her little deputy Miss Port. I need not, I hope, add that I shall be extremely glad and happy to see so amiable an inhabitant in this our sweet retreat; and wish very sincerely that my dear Mrs. Delany may enjoy every blessing amongst us that her merits deserve, that we may long enjoy her amiable company. Amen. These are the true sentiments of her very affectionate Queen, -- Charlotte."
The royal family enjoyed Mrs. Delany's "amiable company" until the old lady's death in 1788. This loss of a devoted confidante left a void in Queen Charlotte's life that no other person was ever able to fill in the turbulent times marked by the loss of the American colonies and the virulent onset of the King's illness.
Quotes from Caroline Gearey, Royal Friendships; The Story of Two Royal Friendships as derived from histories, diaries, biographies, letters etc. London, 1898. pp. 268, 275-276, 284-286.
Continue with Fanny Burney's diary.
Return to Homelife.