Victoria, Duchess of Kent with Princess Victoria (holding a miniature of her late father, Edward, Duke of Kent) by Sir William Beechey, 1821.

The scramble for a royal heir

Although George III had 15 children, and all but two of them survived to adulthood, grandchildren – at least legitimate ones – were thin on the ground. In 1817, when the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales died in childbirth (her son was stillborn), there was something of a constitutional crisis.

Princess Charlotte of Wales, after George Dawe, 1817.
Princess Charlotte of Wales, after George Dawe, 1817. Royal Collection Trust.

Three of the king’s daughters had married, but none of them had any surviving issue.  The two eldest sons, George, the Prince Regent (and future George IV) and Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany had both separated from their wives long before; both were now childless, and weren’t in a position to provide an heir.

The Soldier's Return: Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albay and his wife, Princess Frederica.The Soldier's Return.
The Soldier’s Return: Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albay and his wife, Princess Frederica.The Soldier’s Return. © British Museum

Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex was married and had children, but as he had married secretly and in contravention of the 1772 Royal Marriages Act, his union was deemed invalid and his children barred from the line of succession.

Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843). Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843). Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland was also married, to his first cousin, Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, but the couple – at that time – had no children (a daughter had been stillborn in 1817).

And so, an unseemly scramble to a) marry and/or b) beget an heir to the throne broke out. In 1818, there were three royal marriages.

Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, the king’s youngest surviving son (he was 44), was first off the starting block; he married Augusta of Hesse-Kassel in her homeland on 7 May 1818, and again in London (at Buckingham Palace) on 1 June. In a recurrent theme for the family, this marriage would, however, prove childless. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent was only a few weeks behind his younger brother; he settled on Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and married in Coburg on 29 May, and again at Kew Palace on 11 July. The royal family tree is a tangled one and this marriage is a perfect example. The new Duchess of Kent had been the sister-in-law of the duke’s deceased niece, Princess Charlotte of Wales.

Victoria, Duchess of Kent (Queen Victoria's mother)
Victoria, Duchess of Kent. © Royal Collection Trust

Rounding up the year’s royal weddings was the king’s third son, Prince William, Duke of Clarence who already had a brood of ten children by his long-term mistress, the actress Dorothea Jordan, all born illegitimately and given the surname FitzClarence. He married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen at Kew on 11 July in a double ceremony with his brother, Prince Edward.

La promenade en famille: a sketch from life. The Duke of Clarence (later William IV), Dorothea Jordan and some of their brood of children.
La promenade en famille: a sketch from life. The Duke of Clarence, Dorothea Jordan and some of their children.

The race to produce an heir was well and truly on. So, how did it play out?

After three weddings in 1818, several royal children were born the following year. The Duke and Duchess of Cumberland had a daughter, but she lived only a few hours and the Cambridges had a son. On 24 May 1819, Princess Alexandrina Victoria, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent was born and, three days later, the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland had a boy, Prince George. The little princess took priority over the princes in the succession because her father, the Duke of Kent, was older than the Dukes of Cumberland and Cambridge.

Edward, Duke of Kent, 1818.
Edward, Duke of Kent, 1818. © Royal Collection Trust

George III died in 1820, and the Prince Regent took the throne as King George IV. At his death, ten years later, the Duke of Clarence was next in line and he ruled as William IV (the second son, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany had died in 1827, still estranged from his wife). William IV’s wife and queen, Adelaide, suffered a succession of miscarriages and stillbirths, and the couple had no living children.

George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1821. © Royal Collection Trust
George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1821. © Royal Collection Trust

Princess Alexandrina Victoria, born because of that mad scramble for an heir, was next in the line of succession. Her father, the Duke of York, had died of pneumonia before she was a year old. In the portrait of her as a child with her mother (below), the young princess holds a miniature of her father.

Victoria, Duchess of Kent with Princess Victoria (holding a miniature of her late father, Edward, Duke of Kent) by Sir William Beechey, 1821.
Victoria, Duchess of Kent with Princess Victoria (holding a miniature of her late father, Edward, Duke of Kent) by Sir William Beechey, 1821. © Royal Collection Trust

Princess Alexandrina – known to her close family as Drina – is obviously much better known as Queen Victoria. She came to the throne on 20 June 1837 upon the death of her uncle, William IV, but as a woman was unable to also inherit Hanover which since George I had been held dually with the British crown. That went to the next male heir, her uncle Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland who became King of Hanover. Victoria’s cousin, Prince George, who was born just three days after her own birth, would in time become the last King of Hanover.

Hanoverian Family Tree. (Image sourced via the National Archives, © Royal Family History)
Hanoverian Family Tree. (Image sourced via the National Archives, © Royal Family History)

La promenade en famille: a sketch from life. The Duke of Clarence (later William IV), Dorothea Jordan and some of their brood of children.

The Duke of Clarence’s Views on Marriage

For those familiar with this period of history, you will no doubt be well aware of the relationship the Duke of Clarence had with the actress Dorothea Jordan and that she had 10 illegitimate children with him.

Romney, George; Dorothea Bland (1762-1816), 'Mrs Jordan', as 'Peggy' in 'The Country Girl'; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
Romney, George; Dorothea Bland (1762-1816), ‘Mrs Jordan’, as ‘Peggy’ in ‘The Country Girl’; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

To ensure the continuity of the family line though, William, Duke of Clarence was persuaded/coerced/cajoled/bullied into marrying, take it as you will.

Johann Georg Paul Fischer (1786-1875)William IV (1765-1837) when Duke of Clarence  Engraved 1818. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420217
Johann Georg Paul Fischer (1786-1875)William IV (1765-1837) when Duke of Clarence  Engraved 1818. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420217

We came across this extract from a letter in The Georgian Papers written by his mother Queen Charlotte to Prinny (George, Prince Regent) in 1817 which we thought would be of interest and quite clearly shows Queen Charlotte’s view of the Duke of Clarence’s illegitimate offspring.

I doubt he will think it advisable to marry by that I mean his pecuniary affairs which lay heavy at his heart as to what relates to his children I should think that is a point which if he marries must be settled amongst themselves, for as they are not to live under the same roof I cannot see why if the princess is reasonable she should object to see those children. I enclose the copy and make no further comments upon it as it will explain the whole.

Next, we have Williams extremely heartfelt view about any possible marriage. The underlined words are of his doing, not ours.

Bath December 18th, 1817

Dear Madam

Your Majesty having requested me to put my thoughts in writing on the subject of the letter from the Prince Regent I take up my pen to state as clearly as I can my sentiments and real situation.

I acknowledge a private and public duty and only wish to reconcile the two together: if the cabinet consider the measure of my marrying one of consequence they ought to state to me what they can and will propose for my establishment for without previously being acquainted with their intentions as to money matters I cannot and will not make any positive offer to any Princess: I have ten children totally and entirely dependent on myself. I owe forty thousand pounds of funded debt for which of course I pay interest, and I have a floating debt of sixteen thousand pounds: in addition to all which if I marry I must have a town house and my house at Bushy completely repaired and entirely new furnished: thus situated and turned fifty it would be madness in me to marry without previously knowing what my income would be: If that settlement is made which I can consider adequate I shall only have to explain my real situation as the fond and attached father of ten children to the Princess whom I am to marry: for without a complete understanding of my full determination to see when and where I please my daughters I cannot and will not marry. As for the Princess, I think under all consideration the Princess of Dannemark (sic) is probably the most proper provided her character is that which I should trust will bear investigation.

I hope I have expressed myself to your Majesty’s satisfaction: one comfort at least I have that I have opened my heart most fully and entirely and shall therefore leave in your Majesty’s hands these lines as the complete sentiment that must ever dictate my line of conduct on a measure in which both my public and private duty is concerned.

I remain

Dearest Madam

Your Majesty’s most affectionate and dutiful son

William

Clearly, the suggestion of him marrying the Princess of Dannemark fell on deaf ears, but marry he did, for in July 1818 a suitable match was found for him – Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen who was half his age.

Queen Adelaide (1792-1849) C. 1833. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420661.Courtesy of the Royal Collection
Queen Adelaide (1792-1849) C. 1833. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420661.Courtesy of the Royal Collection

Hereford Journal July 8th, 1818 announcing the arrival of Princess Adelaide
Hereford Journal July 8th, 1818 announcing the arrival of Princess Adelaide

The couple married only a week or so after having met. Was it a happy marriage? Well, apparently so as it lasted until his death in 1837.

Featured Image

La promenade en famille: a sketch from life by James Gillray. The Duke of Clarence, Mrs Jordan and some of their children.

 

Great Tom the Christ Church Belle: Valentine’s Day 1816

Great Tom is the name of the bell which hangs in Tom Tower at Christ Church, one of the colleges at Oxford University. The following print was produced for Valentine’s Day in 1816, playing on the names, with two Oxford men fleeing underneath Great Tom away from a Christ Church Belle.

A View of great Tom the Christ Church Belle, from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Ohio State University.
A View of great Tom the Christ Church Belle, from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Ohio State University.

We were drawn to this print as it relates, in a loose way, to our book, A Right Royal Scandal. Valentine’s Day 1816 found Lord Charles Bentinck, a younger brother of the Duke of Portland, embroiled in a highly scandalous Criminal Conversation trial following his elopement the previous year with the wife of Sir William Abdy. The lady was the niece of the famed Duke of Wellington and the amorous couple had eloped just weeks after his triumph at the Battle of Waterloo. Tongues had not stopped wagging since!

A divorce and a swift remarriage followed and for a while, the Bentincks lived quietly and tried to let the scandal die down.

But it was the eldest son of Lord and Lady Charles Bentinck who we think of when we see the print above. Charley Cavendish Bentinck did not attend Christ Church, instead he studied at Merton from 1837, and he did not flee from his Belle: instead, he ran directly into her arms! In the village of Summertown, just outside Oxford and nestled against the Cumnor Hills, lived the Lambournes, a humble working-class family.

Winter view of Great Tom via Wikimedia
Winter view of Great Tom via Wikimedia

James Lambourne was a horse dealer known to settle disputes with his fists and his wife Sinnetta was a full-blooded gipsy who had left her family and peripatetic way of life upon her marriage. The couple had a daughter, named Sinnetta like her mother, who was a dark-haired beauty, and she captivated not only the aristocratic Charley but a rival too. Charley won her heart but it was a romance which had to be kept secret and one which had devastating consequences for the two star-crossed lovers.

Not a few Oxford men, of nine or ten years’ standing, could tell a tale of frantic passion for a Gipsy girl entertained by two young men at one time, one of them with ducal blood in his veins, who ultimately wooed and wedded his Gipsy love. So that it is no way impossible (the heirs to the dukedom being all unmarried, and unlikely to marry) that the ducal coronet of ____ may come to be worn by the son of a Gipsy mother

And why was it a right royal scandal? Because Charley Cavendish Bentinck is the great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II. Our book looks at the Cavendish Bentinck and Wellesley families, at their ‘scandalous marriages’ and shows how our modern history, as it concerns the British royal family, could look very different indeed, if not for a young gipsy girl.

A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Right-Royal-Scandal-Marriages-Changed/dp/1473863422
Available  from Amazon and other leading booksellers

Reviews of A Right Royal Scandal

…Major and Murden keep their text entertaining and light throughout, making for an easy read of a subject that keeps you engrossed from start to finish. This book is brilliant for those who enjoy the scandals of historical television, with the added authenticity of historical fact. History of Royals, February 2017

Awesome real life biography that could be a scandalous historical romance novel. Loved it. NetGalley, reviewed by Nikkia Neil

The biography reads like a saucy Regency/Georgian novel with love affairs, mistresses, illegitimate offspring, elopements and unsuitable (and unhappy) marriages galore. A golden thread weaves through this colourful tapestry of indiscretions leading us from the Battle of Waterloo to the present day, from the Duke of Wellington’s niece to our very own Prince William… Buy it, read it, you won’t be disappointed – a true 5* gem of a book! Amazon, reviewed by Lally Brown

This really is a case of ‘You couldn’t make it up’. The plots may seem to come straight out of the world of Regency Romance but they are all true, and carefully annotated and verified by Major and Murden. Amazon review – reviewed by Nomester

Berkeley Square, 1813.

The publication date for ‘A Right Royal Scandal’ draws close

We’re now just a few weeks away from the publication in the UK of our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: two marriages that changed history (in the US it will be out on the 14th April 2017). Obviously we are very excited to share our work with you and thought we’d go into a little more detail today about what the reader can expect.

A Right royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History

 

A Right Royal Scandal starts in 1815, just a matter of weeks after the Battle of Waterloo, with a Regency scandal in London when the widowed Lord Charles Bentinck (brother to the Duke of Portland; his first wife had been Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s daughter by George IV) eloped with Wellington’s niece, the haughty but beautiful Anne Abdy née Wellesley, wife of Sir William Abdy, Baronet. As you might imagine, tongues were set wagging the length and breadth of the ton and, with the ensuing Criminal Conversation case and divorce, the gossip continued into the next year before the first of the two marriages that ‘changed history’. Anne Abdy became the second Lady Charles Bentinck.

Lady Anne Abdy as a Bacchante. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016
Lady Anne Abdy as a Bacchante.
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

In time, Lord and Lady Charles Bentinck’s eldest son, Charles Cavendish Bentinck (Charley) fell in love with a girl deemed unsuitable by his family. Sinnetta Lambourne was of humble working class stock and had gypsy blood running through her veins courtesy of her Romany mother. They married, despite the opposition to their union.

Charley’s granddaughter and great-granddaughter were to sit upon the throne of Great Britain, but it was the tragic life and death of a young gypsy girl which lay behind the greatness.

Although A Right Royal Scandal is something of a family saga stretching from the Regency into the Victorian era and beyond – we also document the life of Lord Charles Bentinck’s daughter by his first marriage (Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s granddaughter) – it is also a thoroughly well-researched biography of two generations of this family, and a chapter in the history of the British royal family which has never been examined closely until now. We also delve a little into the background of Anne Wellesley and her parents, Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess, and his wife (and former mistress), Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland. We are pleased to have been able to add a little new information to the Marquess’ story in the addition of some biographical detail on his illegitimate son (by another mistress), Edward John Johnston. The monarchy as we know it now would have looked very different but for Sinnetta Lambourne’s death, and we end our book by looking at the royal family today, Charley Cavendish Bentinck’s descendants.

Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland, Marchioness Wellesley by Vigée-Lebrun via Wikimedia.
Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland, Marchioness Wellesley by Vigée-Lebrun via Wikimedia.

If you have already read our first book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, then A Right Royal Scandal forms a sequel to Grace’s story, continuing the life of her granddaughter through to the publication of Grace’s memoirs (set during the French Revolution), and beyond and the second family of Grace’s son-in-law, Lord Charles Bentinck. But A Right Royal Scandal can also be read as a stand-alone book. It is available now to pre-order (both here, in the US and elsewhere) from our publisher Pen and Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

(Readers outside the UK might find Book Depository useful, as they ship free worldwide and have competitive prices.)

Reviews for An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott:

Courtesan. Spy. Survivor. A gripping and meticulously researched account of the swashbuckling life of one of history’s most overlooked heroines. – Hallie Rubenhold, author of The Scandalous Lady W

An Infamous Mistress is a fascinating read, yet it’s more than that. If anything, it’s a shining example of research done well, presented coherently on the perfect subject: a powerful courtesan that time forgot. – History of Royals magazine

This major new biography explores the life, loves and family of this celebrated personality who ended up as a prisoner of war during the French Revolution. Set for the first time in the context of Grace’s wider family, this is a compelling tale of scandal and intrigue. – Scots Heritage magazine

This tale of scandal and intrigue will not only appeal to history buffs, but to those who enjoy a ripping yarn. As well as being an in-depth social and family history, An Infamous Mistress is simply a great story. – Scottish Field