Windsor Castle, 1812
This would be the last time; Charlotte had made her decision. Now she just had to go through with it. All her life, she had been able to force herself into unpleasant tasks. But this was different. A visit always disturbed the cold composure she worked so hard to preserve. This had to be the last time.
She walked with a step much steadier than her heartbeat. The regular click of her heels gave her a feeling of comfort, of order. The wind whipped violently around the courtyards of Windsor Castle and it took all her strength to remain on course, sailing like a great ship in her gown with its plentiful train.
With her attendants, she wound her way to where he was kept under lock and key like an animal. Would he be violent today? She added her sigh to the greater groan of the wind. She was growing too old to bear these trials.
At last they reached the dreaded apartments, haunted rooms that Charles I had occupied on his way to trial and execution. Now they housed the culmination of Charlotte’s nightmares.
Doctor Willis met her at the door. She loathed the very sight of him now – his forced expressions of calm and competence.
‘How is he today?’ she asked.
‘Getting on very well, Your Majesty,’ the doctor told her.
‘Nice and quiet.’ His tone was overly sympathetic – a false hushed voice that made Charlotte feel like a child.
‘No talk of sinking you into hell?’ she enquired. ‘Or raising people from the dead?’
Doctor Willis flashed a smile that seemed alien in the surroundings.
‘No, madam. He talks only of Hanover. He believes all his loved ones have gone to Hanover, where they will never age.’
Why should he have that comfort, when she did not?
The doctor led her into the room and she walked as if in a dream, following the ghostly glow of his candle. Slabs of grey brick surrounded her, decorated with threadbare tapestries. A spider scuttled across the wall into a corner of drifting cobwebs.
The patient sat by a stuttering fire. While the top of his head was bald and shining, hair grew from behind his ears in long tendrils that flowed into a silver beard. He stared at Charlotte with glazed eyes, his pupils dilating uselessly.
Once, the sight would have made her weep. But all her tears were spent.
She sat down opposite him. In the dark well of his rolling pupils, she saw reflected her own grey hair and lined face. Her mind struggled to comprehend that this was them, aged. It was like waking up in an unfamiliar room.
Where was the handsome King of old, with his drooping eyelids and sensuous smile? Where was the bright little wife who inspired his devotion?
If she had been there, that other Charlotte, things would have been different. She would have made his dry, cracked lips break into a grin and cast a sparkle in his dull eyes. She would have known what to do. She would have saved him.
© Laura Purcell