Tag Archives: prince regent

The Dutch Toy

Before her marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Princess Charlotte of Wales, the heiress to the British throne was betrothed to Prince William, the Hereditary Prince Of Orange. That was an union the Princess, much to her father’s chagrin, had never been too keen on. Both her mother’s hatred for the Orange family, and her reluctance to leave England and live abroad, even for a few months a year, eventually prompted her to end the engagement.

Of course these events were closely observed by the satirists of the time, who had a field day (or year) with it. Here are a few of the satirical prints making fun of the whole thing:

A Dutch Toy!!!-Or, a pretty Play-thing for a Young Princess!!! Huzza

Sitting under a canopy, Princess Charlotte is pulling the strings on a jointed puppet representing the Prince of Orange in military dress, holding a flag inscribed “Orange Boven”. Across her knees rests a miniature portrait of a man, inscribed “Fitz Mo” (the rest of the name is illegible). At her feet lies an open book inscribed “Clarence’s Dream”. In the garden, we can see a fountain, with water spurting from a cupid seated on a swan. Is Charlotte serious about the Prince of Orange, or is she just toying with him?

The Dutch toy

Princess Charlotte is raising a whip to lash a top spinning on the floor, on which sits the Prince of Orange smoking a pipe. In his pocket, he carries a piece of paper inscribed “Contract”. The Princess says: “Take this for Ma! and this for Pa!—and this! and this! for myself, you ugly thing you!—”

From the open door, we can see the leg and arm of the concealed Prince Regent, Charlotte’s father. He’s holding a birch-rod tied with orange ribbon, and, with a threatening voice, says: “If you don’t find pleasure in whipping the Top, I shall whip the Bottom!”

Behind Charlotte, there’s a piano, on which lies a copy of “School for Wives”, a comedy by Hugh Kelly, and an open music-book, inscribed with the words and music of a song:

“An Obstinate Daughter’s the plague of you [sic] life
No rest can you take tho your rid of your Wife
At twenty she laughs at the duty you taught her
Oh! what a plague is an obstinate Daughter.”

On the wall, hangs a portrait of Cupid. He’s standing on his head on a terrestrial globe, in the country of Holland, aiming his arrows at England.

Miss Endeavouring to excite a glow with her Dutch Play thing-

Printed one month after the previous print, Miss Endeavouring to excite a glow with her Dutch Play thing depicts Charlotte, still with a whip in her hand, standing over and pointing at the “Dutch Toy”, who is falling forward. The Prince of Orange is still smoking and carrying the contract in his pocket, but he’s now resigned he’s never going to marry Charlotte. Between his knees, he holds a bottle.

The Princess says: “There, I have kept it up a long while you may send it away now, I am tired of it, Mother has got some better play things for me.” The Regent replies, “What are you tired already? Take another spell at it, or give me the whip.” But Charlotte refuses: “No, No, you may take the Top, but I’ll Keep the Whip.”

At the Regent’s feet lies an open book titled The Way to Teaze him a Play in V acts’. On the wall hangs another portrait of Cupid. This time the god of love, who has dropped his bow and broken arrows, is resting his head on a large orange inscribed “Orange Boven”.

What do you think of these prints?

Celebrity Sightings At Vauxhall Gardens

Vauxhall Gardens, a pleasure garden located in Kennington on the south bank of the River Thames, was one of the leading venues for public entertainment in London, from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century. Initially entrance was free. The owners made money by selling food and drinks. But as its attractions expanded, an admission fee was charged too.

The gardens boasted a rococo Turkish tent, a Rotunda, several buildings in the chinoiserie style, a statue of George Frederic Handel, and walks so intricate and private they were often used for romantic assignations. Performances were frequent. Crowds gathered to watch tightrope walkers, fireworks, concerts (the most famous singers and musicians of the day, such as Handel, played there), and hot-air balloon ascents. In 1817, they even hosted a re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo.

All the most popular celebrities of the day could be frequently seen at Vauxhall Gardens. This print by Thomas Rowlandson has immortalized quite a few. In the centre, wearing a white dress, there’s Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. She’s with her sister Harriet, who’s wearing a blue riding habit. The two sisters, who were very close, are no doubt gossiping about their acquaintances, who are, in turn, talking about them.

Everything the Duchess did interested the papers and their readers. Next to the sisters, we can see Sir Henry Bate, the editor of the Morning Herald, and James Perry (he’s wearing a kilt), the editor of The Morning Chronicle, a rival publication. You can bet the sisters’ outing at Vauxhall Gardens will be reported by their papers the following day, hopefully accompanied by some juicy bits of gossip, if they can overhear any worth reporting from the ladies’ own lips.

Farther to the right, the Prince of Wales, future George IV, is whispering something romantic into the gorgeous Perdita’s ear. Mary Perdita Robinson and the Prince were lovers, but their affair had ended by the time Rowlandson draw this picture. Next to them stands Perdita’s husband, but no one is paying much attention to him.

In the dining box, enjoying a hearty meal, is Samuel Johnson, the author of the famous “Dictionary”. He’s eating with writers Mrs Thrale, Boswell, and Goldsmith. Jonhson’s friend Topham Beauclerk, a famous wit, is observing some ladies with his monocle.

More difficult is the identification of the performers. Some historians believe the singer to be Mrs. Weichsel, others her daughter, Elizabeth Billington. The identity of the composer leading the orchestra, instead, is certain. He’s François-Hippolyte Barthélémon.

Can you identify any other celebrity?

The Mysterious Fair One, Or The Royal Introduction To The Circassian Beauty

George, the Prince Regent, loved women. All but his own wife, Caroline of Brunswick. The Prince was disgusted by her coarse manners and poor personal hygiene and refused, after their wedding night, to consummate the marriage again. For the rest of her life, he would try to get rid of her, which elicited people’s compassion for the slighted Princess, and instigated a slew of satirical prints about their marriage.

One of these prints, created by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, is titled The Mysterious Fair One, or – the Royal Introduction to the Circassian Beauty. The Persian Ambassador introduces a fair Circassian to the Regent with the hope she will join his harem. At first, the Prince is enthusiastic and declaims, “Oh what a form? What Symetry, what Elegance of manners ; in every gesture dignity and Love, –Oh how I long to have my Eyes gratified with a sight of that much injured fair one – a Slave indeed –no she shall not be a Slave to any Mans Passions, I’ll take care of that; for I’ll Marry her myself!!!”

At this the fair Circassian raises her veil and exclaims, “you have married her!”. The exotic foreigner turns out to be none other but his wife, the Princess of Wales. The Regent is horrified and cries out: “What, what, save me, hide me from – from –from – Myself.” Only the Persian ambassador isamused. He laughs: “What your own Wife ha- ha”.

Further reading:
English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century. How they Illustrated and Interpreted their Times, by Graham Everitt

Movie Review: The Madness Of King George

King George III is remembered for two things: losing the American colonies and going mad. It’s his first bout of madness that is the subject of “The Madness of King George”. Although described as a comedy (and it does have lots of funny and witty scenes in it that will make you laugh out loud), it often feels more like a tragedy. Nigel Hawthorne does an excellent job at portraying the irascible and moral, stubborn and modest King as he descends into madness.

Hawthorne’s portrayal is very nuanced and vividly expresses the ranges of emotions, from anger to confusion and pain, the King experienced as his illness degenerated, as wells as the suffering and humiliation he felt as he submitted to the strait jacket and the harsh treatments his doctors employed to try and cure him. And, unlike the real King George, whose submissive and obedient wife became despondent and depressed at the first signs of his illness, Nigel’s King has a devoted Queen, brought to life by the brilliant Helen Mirren, who is determined to do what it takes to make him well. And when she is prevented from even seeing him, her pain is heartbreaking.

The Prince of Wales, played by Rupert Everett, is cast as the villain. Pleased at the King’s malady, he is busy conniving with politicians to be proclaimed regent and rule in his father’s place, and enjoying his time with his morganatic Catholic wife Maria Fitzherbert. I though this one-sided portrait of him quite lacking, as it didn’t show the viewer the conflicting feelings Prince George experienced at this time. In him, the genuine concern for his father was at war with the ardent desire to finally exercise some real power. In the movie, the frustrated prince keeps asking his father for something meaningful to do, but the only reply he gets is: “Smile and wave to the crowd, it’s what you’ re paid for!”. It’s quite hilarious.

Despite several inaccuracies, lots of attention is paid to detail to ensure that the court and the world George III inhabited were represented in as much an authentic way as it is possible. The costumes, complete with wigs, and the customs and etiquette of the time are fairly accurate. Overall, this is a wonderful movie that deals with some important themes, such as mental illness and the harsh way the patients were treated in the past, the loss of power and its shift from monarchy to parliament, and family feuding. Highly recommended.

Lines To A Lady Weeping

George III’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales, had been a Whig until 1811, when the Regency Act, allowing him to rule during the mental illness of his father, became law. At the time the Tories were in power but everyone, knowing his political leanings, expected him to replace the current government with a Whig one, led by William Wyndham Grenville. Much to the Whig’s disappointment, that didn’t happen, and during the years, the Prince became increasingly pro-Tory.

This grieved his daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales, who was a fervent Whig. At one dinner the Princess, distressed at hearing her father launch a scathing attack on the Whigs and their leader, burst into tears and left the room. At the time, the Princess saw Lord Byron, who was a known Whig as well, quite a lot. In a poem, published anonymously, the poet recalled the incident thus:

Lines To A Lady Weeping

Weep, daughter of a royal line,
A Sire’s disgrace, a realm’s decay;
Ah! happy if each tear of thine
Could wash a father’s fault away!

Weep–for thy tears are Virtue’s tears­
Auspicious to these suffering isles;
And be each drop in future years
Repaid thee by thy people’s smiles!

Further reading:
Charlotte & Leopold by James Chambers

Princess Charlotte Of Wales Turns Down The Hereditary Prince Of Orange

Charlotte, Princess of Wales, was one of the few lucky royal ladies to have married for love. But before she tied the knot with her beloved Prince Leopold, she had been briefly engaged to William, Hereditary Prince Of Orange. That marriage, however, was arranged for political reasons. William’s father had been contemplating an alliance with Britain since 1807. Napoleon had kicked him off the throne, giving it to his brother Louis, and he knew that, without help, he would never get it back. The British had a lot to gain from the match too: Holland laid between Britain and Hanover (then ruled by the same king), and an alliance would have made their country stronger. Plus, combining the British Navy with the Dutch fleet would have made Britain invincible on the sea.

So, Prince William was duly dispatched to Oxford to get an English education, and in 1811 he entered the British army. But by the spring of 1813 things were changing. Napoleon’s luck turned and he was eventually defeated. The exiled monarchs regained their thrones, but the project of a marriage between the Hereditary Prince of Orange and Princess Charlotte didn’t vanish. Holland, a new buffer state between France and Prussia, was created to maintain peace in Europe. The British, hoping to influence its politics, still pushed for the marriage.

Too bad no one had bothered to tell the intended bride and groom. Charlotte, however, suspected it. Too many rumours were flying around for it not to be true. The Princess had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, she knew that her mother detested the Orange family, but on the other, she declared she was prepared to give him a chance and judge for herself whether she could be happy with him.

After all, he may offer a chance to change her life for the better and get some freedom. Her father still treated her like a child and she was sick of it. But when the prince was summoned to London, Charlotte declined to attend any event where she might meet him. She was curious enough to ask about him, though. She was told that he was very thin and plain, but danced well and behaved like a gentleman. After a month, the prince left without being introduced to Charlotte. They were both relieved.

But the plan wasn’t dropped. On 14 October, Charlotte was asked what she thought about the Hereditary Prince of Orange. She replied that she would never marry him, and much preferred the Duke of Gloucester, a nephew of King George III, instead, hoping this would scare them into renouncing the affair. When news reached the Prince Regent, Charlotte’s father, he was furious. Charlotte, though, kept playing for time. But time was running out. The Hereditary Prince of Orange was coming to England again. The Prince Regent, changed tactics. He started being nicer to his daughter, in an attempt to influence her into marrying Prince William.

But eventually, it was Charlotte’s duty, and the realization that the marriage was in her country’s interest, that convinced her to give the prince a chance. She would finally meet him at a dinner party on 11 December. That morning, the Prince Regent came to her house and put extra pressure on her, telling her that after the dinner, she was to give him an answer “one way or the other”. Charlotte, dressed in a beautiful violet satin gown trimmed with black lace, arrived at the dinner party pale and agitated. She sat down next to Prince William, and, despite her misgivings, had a lovely time.

She later wrote to her friend Mercer: “He struck me as very plain, but he was so lively and animated that it quite went off… It is really singular how much we agreed together in allmost everything.” Once the dinner was over, the Prince Regent approached his daughter to get his answer. Although Charlotte didn’t commit, she said that she had liked “his manner very well, as much as I have seen of it”. The Prince Regent took that as a yes and, summoning Prince William, he joined his hand with Charlotte’s and gave them his blessing. It was too late now to turn back.

The engagement was, however, to be kept secret for the time being. The Prince was allowed to visit his betrothed and the very next day, went to her house. Left alone with her (but with the door open for propriety’s sake) he already made her cry. Charlotte was distraught at learning she was expected to spend two to three months a year in Holland. As the future Queen of England, she didn’t feel she could do that. Besides, she loved her own country and had no desire to leave it. The Prince was sympathetic and promised her that maybe she would be required to spend only two or three weeks in Holland after all, and that she could take all the ladies she wanted with her. This made her feel a little better. After much discussion, though, Charlotte had her way: the marriage contract, which she signed on 10 June, stipulated that she would never have to leave England against her will.

Charlotte, however, still had reservations about her engagement. She was mad at her father for having trapped her that night, leaving her with no choice. The Radicals Whigs were against the marriage too. For years they had embarrassed the Prince Regent and his government by exposing the cruel way in which Princess Caroline, Charlotte’s mother, was treated (she was banned from court and was allowed to see her daughter only for a very few short hours every now and then) and didn’t want to lose this political weapon. So, they warned the young princess that if she married, her mother wouldn’t have a reason to remain in England anymore. Her husband may even bribe her to go. And with Caroline out of the way, support for her in England would wane, and the Prince Regent would be able to divorce her quietly and remarry. His new wife may then give him a son, which would inherit the crown in her place. It was thus her duty not to marry.

Charlotte used this as an excuse to get out of her engagement. She summoned Prince William to her house and told him that she would marry him only if her mother would always be a welcome visitor in their home, a condition she knew he would never accept. He begged her to reconsider, and left. That night, she sent him a letter telling him that “from recent circumstances that have occurred I am fully convinced my interest is materially connected with that of my mother… After what has passed upon this subject this morning between us (which was much too conclusive to require further explanation) I must consider our engagement to be totally and for ever at an end. I leave the explanation of this affair to be made by you to the Prince…”

Prince William refused to tell the news to the Prince Regent so Charlotte had to write to him herself. She did so, blaming her ex-fiancé for the breakup: “He told me that our duties were divided, that our respective interests were in our different countries… Such an avowal was sufficient at once to prove to me Domestick happiness was out of the question.” But that wasn’t the end of it. The Prince Regent still tried to force his daughter to marry Prince William. He treated her harshly, dismissed her ladies and confined her home, keeping her in isolation as much as possible. Charlotte had to run to her mother’s house, hoping to live with her.

Princess Caroline had other ideas. She wanted to travel on the continent instead than staying at home with her daughter. Eventually, Charlotte was prevailed upon to go back to her own home, but not before writing down a declaration that said “if ever there should be an announcement of such a match, it must be understood to be without her consent and against her will”. Then, six copies were made. She signed them all and gave them to the people present. That wasn’t enough to deter the Prince Regent either and Charlotte was starting to despair that nothing would make him back down.

She would eventually be released by the Hereditary Prince of Orange. Realizing that Charlotte wouldn’t have him, he had become engaged to the Grand Duchess Anne, the Tsar’s youngest daughter. In the meantime, Charlotte had met her soulmate, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Soon, they too would be married.

Further reading:
Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of The Original People’s Princess by James Chambers

Beau Brummel Quarrells With The Prince Regent

Beau Brummell, the arbiter of fashion in Regency England, was a good friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. Both men loved fashion, although Brummel favoured and made fashionable a sober style of clothing, while the Prince preferred luxurious outfits in bright colours. The Prince Regent also liked Brummell’s personality: he knew how to tell a story, was a good conversationalist, and was very witty. His sarcastic remarks were, however, sometimes too honest and brutal and, in the end, some of them may have ruined their friendship.

No one knows for sure what the cause of their falling out was. The official version states the Prince took offence when Beau Brummell asked him to ring the bell. This version of events was denied by Brummell who, instead, stated that they had quarrelled over he having offended, in some way, Mrs Fitzherbert, the Catholic widow the Prince Regent had secretly married. Here’s what William Jesse says of the affair in his biography of Brummell:

Not Withstanding the great disparity of rank, the intimacy that was formed between Brummell and the Prince of Wales continued for some years uninterrupted. He was a constant guest at Carlton House, and was distinguished by many marks, never pecuniary ones, of his royal friend’s partiality for him. At length, however, a rupture took place, but it was not caused by the circumstance to which it is usually attributed. The story of” Wales, ring the bell!” was always denied by Brummell: indeed, he seemed indignant at its being generally credited; and I have heard him, in explanation of the subject, say, “I was on such intimate terms with the prince, that if we had been alone I could have asked him to ring the bell without offence; but with a third person in the room I should never have done so; I knew the regent too well.” The vulgar impudence of the action itself, without Brummell’s denial of it, makes the anecdote extremely improbable; and he was also too good a judge of his own interests, to run the risk of being turned out of the prince’s society for the mere fun of enacting such a piece of tomfoolery.

Another version of the story is, that one evening, when Brummell and Lord Moira were engaged in earnest conversation at Carlton House, the prince requested the former to ring the bell, and that he replied without reflection, ” your royal highness is close to it;” upon which the prince rang the bell and ordered his friend’s carriage, but that Lord Moira’s intervention caused the unintentional liberty to be overlooked.

This act of folly has, and I believe with more truth, been attributed to a young relation of Captain, afterwards Admiral Payne’s,” and under circumstances far more creditable to the prince’s good taste and good feeling. Admiral Payne, a wit and bon vivant, was comptroller of the household; and, owing to the position he occupied, and his intimacy with the prince, this lad, a midshipman in the navy, was sometimes asked to dine at Carlton House. Of course, boy like, he boasted of the honour in the cock-pit; and one day, when rallied by his companions on the extremely easy terms that he represented himself to be upon with his royal friend, he made a bet, that, the next time he dined with the prince, he would tell him to ring the bell. A few days after he was again invited to Carlton House, and, having primed himself with champagne, actually did ask the regent to ring the bell. His royal highness immediately complied, and when the page in waiting, or some other subordinate, made his appearance, said good humouredly, “Put that drunken boy to bed.”

Brummell, as well as his friends, attributed his quarrel with the Prince of Wales to a series of sarcastic remarks, in which he had indulged at the expense of Mrs. Fitzherbert; indiscretions that he was led into by foolishly espousing the part of a noble lady, her rival: but his talent for ridicule once enlisted in her cause, he did not spare even the prince himself. There was at that time a burly porter at Carlton House, nicknamed ” Big Ben,” who was so tall that he could look over the gates, and as the regent was then increasing in size, Brummell often designated the master, by the appellation of the servant— and Mrs. Fitzherbert, by that of “Benina.” It is also said, that he annoyed her by various remarks of the same kind; and that, when desired by the regent, at a ball at Lady Jersey’s, to call her carriage, he obeyed, but in doing so, substituted the word mistress for the usual one of Mrs., and laid a strong emphasis on the insulting epithet. If this anecdote is true, no wonder that, when it came to the lady’s ears, as well as the prince’s, with the allusions to their embonpoint, (upon which subject they were, as people frequently are, extremely sensitive,) such ill-timed jokes were resented; and that Brummell was dismissed: — he always, however, considered that the continuation of the regent’s anger was owing to Mrs. Fitzherbert, whose absurd vanity in identifying herself with the crown of England—for it was that or nothing—made her peculiarly unforgiving on this subject; and her dislike to Fox renders it probable that Brummell’s opinion was correct. Moore, however, in a parody on a celebrated letter from the prince regent to the Duke of York, on the 13th of February, 1812, gives the former the credit of all the indignation against Brummell, and adduces another well-known mot of the Beau’s as the reason of it.

“Neither have I resentments, nor wish there should come ill
To mortal, except, now T think on’t, Beau Brummell;
Who threatened last year, in a superfine passion,
To cut me, and bring the old king into fashion.”

But, whatever the causes of offence may have been that led to the quarrel, the Beau treated the affair with his usual assurance; and waging war upon his royal adversary, assailed him with ridicule in all quarters, and affected to say, that he had himself cut the connection: it was in this spirit, no doubt, that he said to Colonel McMahon, “I made him what he is, and I can unmake him.” Of course, after this break, the regent determined to take advantage of the first opportunity that occurred, of showing the world that he was no longer anxious to continue the acquaintance. An occasion for his so doing presented itself not long after in a morning walk, when the prince, leaning on Lord Moira’s arm, met Brummell and Lord A, coming in the opposite direction, and, probably with the intention of making the cut more evident, his royal highness stopped and spoke to his lordship, without noticing the Beau—little thinking that he would resent it; great, therefore, must have been his surprise and annoyance, as each party turned to continue their promenade, to hear him say in a distinct tone, expressive of complete ignorance of his person, ” A, who s your fat friend?” But Brummell was sometimes in a humour to adduce other reasons than the right one for the fracas, which led to his final rupture with the regent, and the favourite fiction that he then palmed upon his most eager listeners was, that they had been rivals in a love affair, in which the prince was of course the unsuccessful suitor.

When Brummell found that his royal highness had really closed the doors of Carlton House against him, he cultivated with greater assiduity the friendship that had always existed between himself and the Duke of York, who was never known, in good or ill report, to desert a friend; and his conduct, and that of the duchess, to the Beau in his exile*, were striking instances of the steadiness and sincerity of their friendship.

Note:
*Beau Brummell had to flee England in 1816 due to his heavy gambling debts.

Further reading:
The life of George Brummell, Esq., commonly called Beau Brummell by William Jesse

The Earl Of Malmesbury On Caroline Of Brunswick

In the autumn of 1794, the Earl of Malmesbury was despatched to Brunswick to escort Princess Caroline, who was engaged to the Prince of Wales, the future George IV, to England. He completed his mission but, from his first meeting with the Princess, Malmesbury started to doubt she would be a suitable wife for the fastidious Prince of Wales, who was admired for his fashionable clothes and courtly manners.

Caroline was the opposite. She was coarse, didn’t take much care in her appearance and rarely washed herself. The Earl recalled that, when he met Caroline, her clothes were dishevelled, which suggested that not only she wasn’t helped in getting dressed, but she wasn’t even taught how to do so properly on her own. He wasn’t impressed, but what could he write in his report home? In the end, he settled for a general, matter-of-fact description:

“Pretty face – not expressive of softness – her figure not graceful – fine eyes – good hands – tolerable teeth but going – fair hair and light eyebrows, good bust…*”

What about her personality? The Princess’s father told Malmesbury that his daughter was “no fool, but lacks judgement”. She also lacked discretion. She was very familiar with everyone and often said tactless things. She was even rumoured to have had several affairs. Malmebsury had to spend most of his time with her teaching her how a princess should behave, but she didn’t seem to have profited much from these lessons. However, Princess Caroline had courage. When, on their way to England, they passed closely to the French lines (Revolutionary France was at war with Europe at the time) and heard cannonfire, Caroline wasn’t scared.

But how could such a woman have been picked up as a wife for George, the Prince of Wales, especially when his mother and many other people at court preferred the other candidate, his cousin Princess Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz? It was Lady Jersey, George’s mistress, who influenced his choice in favour of Caroline, whom she knew wouldn’t be a threat to her. In the words of the Duke of Wellington, she chose a woman “of indelicate manners, indifferent character and not very inviting appearance, from a hope that disgust with a wife would secure constancy to a mistress.”

Of course the Prince of Wales wasn’t much of a catch himself. He was fat, ugly, indulged in drinking and gambling and spent way too much… but that’s a subject for another post. Here suffice it to say that the marriage never stood a chance from the start..

Notes:
Charlotte and Leopold by James Chambers, Chapter 1

Further reading:
Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of The Original People’s Princess by James Chambers

George Prince of Wales Secretly Weds Maria Fitzherbert

George, Prince of Wales (the future George IV, also nicknamed Prinny) loved women. He had a tendency to fall in love easily and had affairs with numerous ladies. But the only woman he really loved was Mrs Maria Fitzherbert. Six years older than George, Maria was a pretty woman with a nice figure and beautiful complexion, who had already been widowed twice. When her second husband died, she moved to London where she entered its society and one day, while at the opera, she was introduced to the Prince of Wales. George was instantly smitten with her and Maria, though flattered by his attentions, wasn’t interested in becoming a royal mistress and kept him at arms’ length for months.

Undeterred, the Prince decided to employ more drastic measures. In 1784, Maria received a visit from the royal physician and two messengers. They told Maria the Prince had stabbed himself and that his dying wish was to see her. Maria agreed to go but only if Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, agreed to come with her. Georgiana was having a party when she was called away but, feeling she really had no choice, she agreed to go with them, leaving her sister Harriet in charge at Devonshire House. It was dark when they arrived at Carlton House, the residence of the Prince of Wales.

Here, the two women found Prinny sprawled across the sofa and covered in blood, crying and breathing with difficulty. Moved at the scene, Maria agreed to marry him. All that was needed to seal the pact now was a ring which Georgiana reluctantly provided. Now, Prinny fell back on the sofa and seemed to rest more easily. The two women returned home. In the morning, Maria fled the country and went to France. It wasn’t just the realization the stunt was probably staged that made her pack her bags, she also knew their marriage wasn’t valid for the law.

The Royal Marriages Act, a law passed by George’s father, stated that members of the Royal Family couldn’t marry without the King’s consent. In addition, Maria was a Catholic and the English law banned those in the line of succession to the throne from marrying a Catholic. But in this case the saying “out of sight, out of mind” didn’t prove true for Prinny. He was still in love with Maria, who, tired of spending time on the continent, returned to London in November 1785. She now agreed to marry him properly. On 15th December 1785, in her London home, the couple was married by Mr Bart, an Anglican priest. It was rumoured that he agreed to celebrate the wedding because the Prince had promised to pay his debts or even bail him out of prison.

The Devonshires had been invited to the wedding but thought best not to go. Instead, the bride’s brother Jack Smythe and uncle Henry Errington served as witnesses. Although the marriage was null and void by English law, both the Catholic and Anglican Churches considered it legal and, for the rest of her life, Maria considered herself George’s true wife. After living together (but not openly) for several years, the Prince, who had extravagant tastes and spent lavishly, was forced by the government to marry Princess Caroline of Brunswick and beget an hair in exchange for his debts being paid off. The marriage was a disaster though and Prinny continued to see Maria. When he died he wore a miniature of her. He was buried with it.

Further reading:
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman
Mrs.Fitzherbert: A Biography
Maria Fitzherbert: The Secret Wife of George IV