On January 23, 1820 Queen Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent, died prematurely at the age of 52. He was followed to the grave just six days later by his father, George III, who had been mentally incapacitated for years. At just seven months old, the then-Princess Victoria of Kent became third-in-line to the throne following her uncles, King George IV and Princes Frederick, Duke of York and William, the Duke of Clarence. All three were childless.
Her mother, Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, found herself at the age of 34 twice-widowed and the mother of three children, one of whom she was responsible for molding into a future British monarch. She herself was German – indeed, at the time of her second husband’s death she had not yet fully mastered the English language.
As all bets indicate that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be named the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when they marry this May, it seems as good a time as any to look at the last prince to hold this title and the two rather memorable marriages he made. To-date this title has only had one creation, though its second has garnered speculation for years. There was discussion when the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward, became engaged that the title would be bestowed on him at his wedding, and it came up again in the lead up to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011, but the best intel has always said it was long ago set aside as Harry’s.
[Note: This post was up on the site for a couple hours on Monday morning, but after all the activity surrounding Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement, I yanked it to save for another day. So, for those of you who already read it, surprise! Here it is again on a calmer day :)]
Mary Adelaide of Cambridge is a bit of a forgotten figure within the British Royal Family, but she was an interesting character in her day and dynastically important. She was Queen Mary’s mother and, as such, a direct ancestor of the current Queen and her descendants. In many ways she’s an interesting parallel to her first cousin, Queen Victoria – both came about from the royal marriage push after Princess Charlotte of Wales’s death, both battled very Hanoverian appearances and both became matriarchs of their own branches of the family.
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.
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.
The series of royal weddings that took place in 1818 illustrates one of the more undignified showings of family duty the House of Hanover ever put forth – which is really saying something. The year was precipitated by the death of Princess Charlotte of Wales in childbirth on November 6, 1817. She left behind a widower, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, no children, and a plethora of middle-aged uncles.
Charlotte was the only offspring to result from the disastrous union of her parents, George, Prince of Wales and his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. The couple famously despised each other, living together only long enough to secure the succession through the birth of one child and separating when Charlotte was an infant. Her father, the eldest son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, had been first in line for the throne since birth and by 1817 was ruling as Prince Regent due the King’s mental health issues.
However, with the Prince Regent at 55 and his only child dead, the 11 other children of George III and Queen Charlotte still living found themselves of renewed dynastic importance. The royal couple’s attitudes towards the personal lives of their children was abnormal at best. Their sons were largely left to their own devices once they reached maturity, which saw most of them join the military, take up mistresses and embroil themselves in society scandals. With the exception of the Prince of Wales who, for obvious reasons, was expected to marry and beget legitimate heirs, the other royal Hanoverian brothers showed little interest in marrying until their pocket books dictated a need for a dowry or an increased Parliamentary allowance.