In the middle of all the conversation about what an unlikely choice Meghan Markle is for the British Royal Family let’s take a moment to remember the time George III’s younger brother married the illegitimate daughter of a shop girl. Notably, the marriage was one of the liaisons that prompted the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, a fairly useless piece of legislation that didn’t do anyone much good.
Oh, to be a son of George III – all of the perks, none of the restrictions. Unfortunately, there were a few other key characteristics missing and few from this batch of men particularly distinguished themselves as industrious, ambitious or responsible.
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.
Happy Friday, Friends. Today happens to be the 36th birthday of Prince Harry’s girlfriend, Meghan Markle. It also happens to be the date once put forth on which the Palace would announce their engagement. So far, all quiet on the [central London] front, so let’s agree to move on, shall we? The idea of their marriage is an interesting one, even putting aside for a moment their actual relationship. Weighing this match purely in terms of its hypothetical historical significance is worth considering because it underlines so many weird nuances to how the British monarchy has evolved and where it’s seemingly headed.
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).
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.
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.
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.
As a gift to my roommate who is one of the worst people you’ll ever meet I am writing up a quick post on his ancestor, Edward Despard. Despard, a debtor, rabble rouser and traitor, clearly passed those underwhelming characteristics along to said roommate. To be honest, the more research I do on Despard’s failed hijinks and generally dissolute ways, the more I’m reminded of my roommate, who has demanded that I write this up to please him even though I have a cold and would rather take a nap. He is literally the worst.
Let’s take a moment to pity poor Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, because she didn’t have an easy go of it. Married to the Prince of Wales as a teenager, she was wildly under-prepared for marriage into the British Royal Family, particularly when it was as fractured as it was in the reign of King George II. She had little way of knowing that her new husband was the black sheep of the family, or that her own growing family would become a thorn in the side of her in-laws. Even less could she have foretold that her husband would die prematurely, removing the possibility of ever becoming queen, while leaving her with the weighty responsibility of raising the future king in a foreign country.