The Example of Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen

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If there was ever a woman you could forget was queen of the United Kingdom, meet Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen. Wife of William IV and queen consort for a mere seven years, it’s easy to overlook her role in the British Royal Family if for no other reason than it’s easy to forget her husband’s reign. Even so, Adelaide was an inherently decent woman and if the House of Hanover had had the good fortune to be blessed with more of her ilk, there would have been by far less scandal in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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The Poorly-Kept Secrets of Princess Amelia

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Princess Amelia was born at Windsor Castle on August 7, 1783, the youngest and 15th child of King George III and his wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Reportedly her father’s favorite child, who called her “Emily,” she came on the heels of the deaths of two older siblings, Princes Octavius and Alfred, both of which hit her parents hard. She also ushered in what was believed to be a “reset” for the Royal Family and the British public, which had recently seen the humiliating defeat of the American Revolution.

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When the Princess of Wales Left England

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On August 8, 1814, the Princess of Wales left England and didn’t return until June 5, 1820 as the queen of the United Kingdom and Hanover. It was an extraordinary set of circumstances that made it both tenable and palatable for the heir to the throne’s wife to live abroad. Indeed, it was a set up so appealing to her husband that he took measures to block her from ever returning.

As laid out in more detail here, the marriage of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick was a disaster through and through. Sometimes comical, other times tragic, it remains a particularly damning example of arranged marriages gone wrong and an indictment of the bumper lanes put on royal unions per the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. Today, however, we’re going to zoom in on this nearly six-year period of Caroline’s exile the best we can because it was an unprecedented set of circumstances and one that has never been repeated.

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Ernest & Frederica: The “Sinister” Cumberlands

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Ernest, Duke of Cumberland had an inauspicious recent showing in the PBS series Victoria, but one that actually illustrates a few reputational issues (shall we say?) during his lifetime. Indeed, for all that Queen Victoria’s uncle may seem like a rather dry case study, Ernest’s life, and that of his wife, Frederica, was consistently marked by scandal, not the least of which were rumors of violence (read: murder).

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Victoria, Albert & That Newlywed Life

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A few months ago we took a look at the courtship, engagement and wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and so today we’re taking a closer look at their first three years of marriage. In short, they were dramatic, surprisingly so given the domestic bliss for which they would later be known, and for which Victoria spent several decades mourning after Albert’s premature death.

But the Victoria who married Albert in 1840 was not the Victoria who was left a widow in 1861 and it took the couple a few years to establish what their dynamic would be. More specifically, what were their roles in public versus private and to what extent was Albert meant to bow to the will of a wife who outranked him?

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William IV & the FitzClarences

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The coat of arms of the FitzClarence family

In 1791 an actress by the name of “Mrs. Jordan” became acquainted with William, Duke of Clarence, third son of King George III. She was 30-years-old and the mother of four illegitimate children via two different men. Three of them were fathered by Sir Richard Ford, who she moved in with after he promised to marry her. He didn’t and once she met William she promptly jumped ship.

The great love of her life was George Inchbald, another actor, who left her brokenhearted when he failed to propose, and before him came an army lieutenant, Charles Doyne, who did propose and was roundly refused. Her first illegitimate child was fathered by Richard Daly, the manger of an Irish theatre company in Cork. Their child, a daughter named Frances, would eventually follow her mother on the stage.

Mrs. Jordan was born Dorothy Bland, a name by which she was known until she left Doyne for Inchbald and reinvented herself, taking the name from the River Jordan which she claimed to have metaphorically crossed when she left Ireland for England.

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Scandal, Divorce & Exile: The Legacy of Caroline Matilda

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I said a couple months ago that the “Georges” were as brutal as their Tudor counterparts, which primarily stems from their treatment of the women in their lives. It wasn’t so much the “Georges” themselves, as the time period. The corsets and classical music and horse-drawn carriages may conjure images of “civility,” but really those are only different dressings for a society that still insisted on many of the same benchmarks from its women. Fertility, of course. Fidelity, in public at least. And the hazier expectation that family honor is housed in the “virtue” of its women.

Like Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard in the 16th century, there are a few figures from the 17th and 18th century that scream out the same legacy of near-martyrdom at the altar of family service. One of them is Princess Caroline Matilda, who would serve as queen of Denmark for six years and die disgraced, divorced and alone.

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The Worst Couple in Royal History: George IV & Caroline of Brunswick

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One theory abounds that the Royal Family is at its most effective when it’s considered dull. If that’s the case then George IV was pretty much a disaster from start to finish, a fact that was solidified by his marriage to his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick at the end of the 18th century. Their union was so scandalous, petty and embarrassing that, honestly, they make the domestic wars of the 1990s seems downright quaint.

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The “Georges” & Their Women: Princess Mary, Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel

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Princess Mary (Image: George Desmarees, Museum of Hesse)

BBC’s History Extra published an article three years ago on George I and George II, the first monarchs of the House of Hanover, which stated:

In reality, George I and George II were just as excitingly dysfunctional as Henry VIII. Theirs was truly a dynasty, with plenty of children, giving us enough characters to fill out a whole soap opera. They were also reasonably good kings. They weren’t flashy or showy, but under them Britain could truly claim to have become ‘Great’.

The article correctly claims that the first two Georges are two of Britain’s forgotten kings. Indeed, their house would become famous for George III and Queen Victoria, and perhaps even more so for founding the line that would so closely link the Royal Family’s heritage with Germany.

But the real secret about the this time period and these reigns isn’t captured in the last sentence above, but the first. And it’s not that the Hannoverians were more dramatic than the Tudors, but rather that they were perhaps equally as brutal. Some of that is perhaps unfair, for the lives of men and women in the 18th century were better-recorded, at least for our purposes. The domestic dysfunction that has permeated the royal court for centuries is better gleaned through primary sources the closer we approach present day, and so, for better or for worse, the dirty laundry is more accessible.

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