Well, this certainly was not a proverbial rabbit hole I expected to find myself down when this beautiful portrait caught my eye. I simply wanted to know more about the young lady whose beauty had been captured by George Romney. The portrait is of ‘Elizabeth Ramus (1751-1848), the daughter of Nicholas Ramus and subsequently wife of Baron de Nougal’.
Instead the research took something of a curious turn that I really could not have foreseen, and led to an ongoing piece of potentially ‘fake news’ regarding the young Princess Elizabeth (1770-1840), the third daughter of King George III.
This story has been around for well over a century, but no-one knows from quite where it originated. The story goes like this – when in her teens, Princess Elizabeth had unlawfully married the mysterious George Ramus who worked in the royal household and in 1788 they had a child, Elizabeth Louisa, who was taken to India by her uncle, Henry Ramus of the East India Company where she was raised as his daughter.
The Royal Archives had checked their records and there was no sign of a George Ramus being employed in the Royal Household, so did George Ramus ever exist? Arthur Crisp in his, Visitation of England and Wales in 1896 also referenced the marriage of the princess to George Ramus, but never cited his source for this snippet of this information and therefore history has continued to repeat it as fact.
The story may have been true, but where was the supporting evidence. Despite Crisp being renowned for his accuracy I noted an error in that specific entry which has never been picked up, which for me, throws doubt upon the rest of it, but more about that later.
The story has continued to be retold in books and online, right up to this day, with most people, dismissing it as fiction, but with little supporting evidence either way and if it were fiction then why bother retelling it, or does it simply provide a salacious piece of Georgian gossip, with no substance?
When young, Princess Elizabeth was known to have issues with her health and especially her weight and was, according to the newspapers frequently ‘indisposed’ and regularly suffered from ‘fainting fits’ and ‘corpulency’ as the press referred to her weight gain. Could someone simply have been making mischief by saying that she looked pregnant and from there the Chinese whispers began?
At first sight I wondered if there could be even a grain of truth in the story, after all the child did exist, and she was born in 1788 and lived until 1869, so let’s see how this works out.
Henry Charles Ramus (1752-1822) was one of the sons of Nicholas Ramus (c1709-1779), a native of Switzerland and his wife Benedict nee Covert (? -1796).
Henry’s father, Nicholas, was employed in the Royal Household from 1748 as ‘page of the backstairs’ to King George III whilst he was still Prince of Wales, and then from 1756-1760, he became ‘page of the bedchamber’. On his death his obituary confirmed that he had worked for the royal family for nearly 40 years.
Apart from his father, several members of the Ramus family were also employed in a variety of positions within the royal household, his uncle Louis was the purveyor of cheese, butter, eggs, oatmeal and dried pease and his other uncle, Charles appears to have been employed in the household of Augusta, Princess (later Princess Dowager) of Wales 1736-1772 as Clerk to the Vice Chamberlain.
Henry’s cousin, Joseph (1747-1818), son of his uncle Charles, ultimately became Gentleman of the royal wine cellar and his brother William (1751-1792), was first page to his majesty until being dismissed in 1789 during the King’s illness for offensive curiosity about ‘His majesty’s looks and gestures’.
William, who apparently had no idea what he done wrong packed his bags and set off for the East Indies, but not before taking with him a glowing reference from the Prince of Wales, of whom he was a favoured courtier.
Rather than joining the Royal Household, Henry left England having joined the East India Company. He left behind several siblings – George (1747-1808), who was, by 1785 one of the Chief Clerks to the Treasury and it was he that was reputedly the ‘husband’ of Princess Elizabeth; Benedette (c1752-1811) who we see below, (also painted by Romney, sadly the original of her portrait was destroyed in a fire) who married Sir John Day in 1777, and Elizabeth, who was the original protagonist of this story until it was hijacked. Elizabeth married Baron Pierre Augustin De Nougal de la Loyne in 1797.
Once in India Henry Charles Ramus met and married, Miss Joanna Vernet daughter of the Honourable George Vernet, who ultimately became Governor and Director of Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, more commonly known as the Dutch East India Company.
Henry and Joanna spent much of their married life in India, where they had four legitimate daughters, Marian, Louisa, Harriot and their youngest daughter, born 1791, Isabella and one son, John Henry. In addition to these, Henry also fathered an illegitimate daughter, Maria.
All of their children were born in India, so where did this other daughter, Elizabeth Louisa materialise from? If they spent all their lives in India, then how did they acquire her? I was beginning to think there was some truth in the story after all.
Did they really make the long journey to England after Princess Elizabeth had given birth and take the child to India with them or did someone take her out to India? Records tells us that Elizabeth Louisa was certainly raised in India and married her husband James Money in Bengal in 1804.
This really wasn’t adding up. However, trawling through the newspapers an interesting article came to light. No, they didn’t stay in India permanently, in fact in 1787 they made a trip to England. According to the Calcutta Gazette 15 November 1787:
At three o’clock yesterday morning, the Honourable Company’s Ship the Ravensworth, Captain Roddam, weighed anchor and left the roads for Europe. Henry Ramus Esq and Lady; Thomas Henchman Esq. and Messrs Dent and Yonge, are passengers.
The Derby Mercury 27 March 1788 also provided the route for the Ravensworth
Arrived in England on 23 March 1788. She left Bengal on 7 October 1787, then at Fort St George on 23 October 1787, sailing on to arrive in St Helena on 29 January 1788, then left on 3 February 1788. The ship eventually arrived in Dover 23 March 1788.
So how was Princess Elizabeth spending her time around this period? I’ve decided to try to trace her public engagements to see whether being pregnant she had been taken away to a secret location out of the public gaze.
Another newspaper article 5 June 1788 provides a glimpse of Prince Elizabeth attending a party for her father’s 51st birthday at which the whole family were in attendance along with other aristocrats. Princess Elizabeth was described as:
wearing body and train laylock and white, the petticoat richly embroidered, with a sash of crape fastened on one side with a plume of white feathers, green spangles and bunches of roses.
If the myth had any grain of truth in it, then by the King’s birthday, Elizabeth would have been about 6 months pregnant – I rather think this would have been highly visible for all to see.
Other later newspaper articles confirms that in between bouts of illness Princess Elizabeth was publicly visible during this reputed pregnancy, attending the theatre, meeting with members of the nobility, taking a trip along with most of the other royals to Cheltenham in July. She was also present in August to celebrate her brother, the Prince of Wales birthday.
Given that Elizabeth Louisa was born on 12 September 1788, she must, assuming she was carried full term, have been conceived around Christmas 1787. This would place Henry and Joanna at sea enroute from Fort St George and St Helena.
Henry and Joanna presented the child, theirs or otherwise, for baptism at St George’s Hanover Square on 17 October 1788 before returning to India. Would they really have presented a child for baptism that wasn’t theirs? To me, that seems somewhat unlikely, unless the Ramus family would do anything to protect the royal family’s reputation.
With a little stretching of the imagination, it’s just about plausible that the child was Princess Elizabeth’s and that royal family and the entire household and employees including the likes of Frances Burney, Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte and Mrs Papendiek, Queen Charlotte’s lady-in-waiting, were all aware of it and sworn to secrecy, and that the Ramus’s collected the child after she was born and that their being in England at the right time was simply extremely fortuitous, as they had set off from India prior to the child’s conception, but sorry, no, I simply don’t buy into the story. In my opinion the child was Henry and Joanna’s.
I would also question the likelihood of Princess Elizabeth having had any kind of relationship with a Treasury Clerk who was almost double her age as I’m struggling to see any way in which their paths could have crossed.
Hopefully, this has provided a little more padding on the bare bones of this story, but there still remains no conclusive answer either way, but perhaps a little more evidence for readers to make their own judgement.
Just one final observation, when Henry Charles Ramus died, he left a legacy for his wife Joanna, and his sister, Elizabeth who I began this story with.
Other beneficiaries included his illegitimate daughter, Maria, now married to William Bertram, Marian Helen who was married Edward Stopford and Isabella who had married Robert Keate and finally his son John Henry. We know that Elizabeth was still very much alive, why was she ignored in his will, because she wasn’t actually his daughter perhaps or perhaps there was some other unexplained reason that hasn’t come into view yet.
I did say I would come back to the entry by Crisp about Princess Elizabeth’s reputed daughter, the error was in the naming of Elizabeth Louisa’s daughter, he referenced her as Marian Martha Money, she was actually Marian Patty (1805-1869), and there was another daughter, Charlotte Eliza Money (1807-1886).
Kentish Gazette 28 September 1792
London Chronicle 9 February 1779
Morning Post 24 March 1789
The World 20 August 1788
Burney Fanny. The Court Journals and Letters of Frances Burney: Volume II
Burney, Fanny. The early diary of Frances Burney, 1768-1778
Childe-Pemberton, William. The Romance of Princess Amelia, daughter of George III (1783-1810) including extracts from private and unpublished papers
Papendiek, Charlotte. Court and Private Life in the Time of Queen Charlotte: Being the Journals of Mrs. Papendiek
Stuart, Dorothy Margaret. The Daughters of George III
Jackson, Joseph. Harris George William. Crisp, Frederick Arthur. Visitation of England and Wales Volume 5. 1897
The Royal Family of England in the year 1787 Royal Collection Trust. Princess Elizabeth is on the right of the painting