The Royal Diets of George III and George IV

Unlike George IV, known for his excesses in all matters, his father was the complete opposite and abstained from any form of excess in the food department, so much so that even the newspapers felt obliged to write about it. George III was a creature of habit and had a routine that was only ever to be disturbed by special events or meetings that he had to attend.

George III on on of Windsor Castle's terraces; Peter Edward Stroehling, c.1807
George III on on of Windsor Castle’s terraces; Peter Edward Stroehling; Royal Collection Trust

His day typically began at 7am and after washing and being dressed his majesty would take a walk before breakfast. If they were are Windsor he would spend time at the stables checking over his horses, but when at Kew he would inspect his workmen and suggest ideas for improvement – clearly he did his best thinking first thing in the morning.

He used to take breakfast alone, but as he got older he would dine with the rest of the family. It was a frugal affair but with the added luxury of a cup of cocoa (my kind of breakfast!)

The Chocolate Maiden; M. Beaune; Museums Sheffield
The Chocolate Maiden; M. Beaune; Museums Sheffield

The Queen and Princesses would enter the breakfast parlour at nine o’clock precisely and about 10 o’clock they would retire to do their own thing. The King would take a ride or deal with paperwork in his study. The Queen and the princesses would take a ride in the royal carriages.

Dinner would be served at exactly 1 o’clock, early but Georgian standards, at which time he ate the plainest food – beef, mutton and very occasionally fish.  As a special treat the King would eat boiled chicken, followed by a pudding.

Frogmore House: The Dining Room c. 1819. Royal Collection Trust
Frogmore House: The Dining Room c. 1819. Royal Collection Trust

His favourite drink was orange juice, but he also enjoyed a simple beverage called a ‘cup’, which was distilled from the herb, borage, which was then mixed with white wine – perhaps to make it more palatable. Borage was traditionally used to treat a whole host of conditions – the digestive system, asthma, the heart, urinary system – so basically a good all round tonic. It was also believed to have a calming effect for different types of mania – so possibly prescribed by the King’s doctors to keep him calm (today it’s often used to treat menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes).

Temperance enjoying a frugal meal. British Museum
Temperance enjoying a frugal meal. British Museum

At four o’clock the Queen and Princesses dined separately, but even before the table was cleared the King would arrive for a chat about the favourite topic of the day taking tea or coffee with them.

This passed the time until about 6 o’clock when they separated and got ready for the evening parties.  The day typically ended with either cards or music. Sometimes Princess Amelia would play the piano accompanied by her sister Princess Mary who apparently was an excellent singer.

Now we know that the Prince Regent, later George IV, had quite an appetite, but we we took a closer look at a book which gave a full breakdown of what everyone ate, from the Prince down to the lowliest of the royal kitchen maids. Overall, the sheer volume of food consumed almost defies belief.

A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion. Lewis Walpole Library.
A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion. Lewis Walpole Library.

George’s favourite breakfast consisted of two pigeons, three beefsteaks, three parts of a bottle of white wine, a glass of dry champagne, two glasses of port and a glass of brandy. It should come as no surprise then that George was indeed rather rotund in stature.

From household accounts though, it would appear that George himself made an occasional attempt at dieting, probably following advice from his doctors. Sober meals of plain boiled salmon and rice soup appeared on dinner menus, but one can only assume that these half-hearted attempts at dieting failed; especially considering that alongside these dishes were the somewhat less slimming sweetbreads and lobster-au-gratin.

Thomas Coutts (1735-1822) by William Beechey. City of Edinburgh Council
Thomas Coutts (1735-1822) by William Beechey. City of Edinburgh Council

We came across this amusing little anecdote about the extremely wealthy banker Thomas Coutts who was staying as a guest of the Prince of Wales in Brighton. The story goes that the morning after the night before, Thomas Coutts, nursing something of a hangover, decided to take a breath of air and was sitting outside the pavilion when an eccentric elderly lady approached him, assuming he was a beggar due to his attire (it had clearly been quite a party), she handed him a token for five shillings issued by Coutts bank to buy himself breakfast. She also said she would speak to her friends as she felt sure that between them they could raise enough money to buy him a dinner. Coutts thanks her profusely and said he would wait for her on the same bench that evening.

Sure enough, in the middle of the Prince’s banquet, Coutts slipped out unnoticed and returned to the same bench. The elderly lady and her friends soon appeared and she cried out, ‘there’s my distressed old friend for whom I ask your charity’That’, exclaimed one of the ladies, ‘ why that’s Mr …’ but before she could utter the great banker’s name, the Prince of Wales appeared from behind, and to the amazement of the benevolent lady, slapped the poor old man on the back and shouted loudly ‘ Tom Coutts, we have  fined you a bottle for leaving your glass’, Thus leaving the elderly lady speechless and embarrassed. We never did find out whether he returned her initial five shillings or not – presumably not, that’s why he remained so wealthy!

He Stoops to Conquer or Royal George Sunk. Brighton Museums
He Stoops to Conquer or Royal George Sunk. Brighton Museums

All in all, George was destined for greatness, quite literally. And it was a fact that didn’t go unnoticed. His wife Caroline, on first meeting him, commented “he is very fat, and he is nothing like as handsome as his portrait”; perhaps why the famously unhappy marriage didn’t work.

The Duchess of Gloucester drew the comparison between George and “a great feather bed”.

It supposedly took three hours to lace him into his girdle and whale bone corset due to all the “bulging”. Once girdled his waist measured 55 inches, however, this feat of engineering was such that the tightness of the girdle almost caused George to faint during his own coronation and contemporaries are recorded as saying that his natural stomach hung between his knees. Someone else, rather unkindly likened him to a “great sausage stuffed into the covering”.

It was most definitely not a case of ‘like father, like son’!

Sources

Brighton Museums

The Ipswich Journal 11 October 1788

Morning Advertiser 19 February 1827

London Courier and Evening Gazette 1 November 1805

Manchester Mercury 14 January 1812

Featured Image 

 

George III's Procession to the Houses of Parliament in his new State Coach, attributed to John Wootton.

The Gold State Coach

LONDON, January 8.

Yesterday the old State Coach, built for King George I and the Carriages of his late Majesty, given by the late Master of the Horse to the Servants, were sold at Bever’s Repository; it is remarkable the Gold Lace of the State Coach, which was taken off before the sale and burnt, amounted to 53l. 19s.

A new superb State Coach is building for his Majesty, which, when finished, will be the most magnificent ever seen in this Kingdom.

(Derby Mercury, 9 January 1761)

George III had taken the throne on 25 October 1760, upon the death of his grandfather, George II (George III’s father, the old king’s eldest son, had died in 1751). His coronation took place almost a year later, on 22 September 1761, but if he was hoping that his new State Coach would be ready for the occasion, then he was going to be sorely disappointed. It took almost two years for the coach to be completed, for it was no ordinary coach. It would be, the new king decided, the most elegant and magnificent coach that had ever been seen in his kingdom.

George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.
George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.

It is said a new State-Coach is going to be built (from a design already made by a celebrated English Artist) which for elegance, taste, and grandeur, will, it is thought, excel any thing of the kind ever yet doe in Europe; and we have the pleasure to add, that the construction, painting, and every other part of the same, is to be the work of our own countrymen.

(Leeds Intelligencer, 20 January 1761)

Sir William Chambers, a Scottish/Swedish architect was responsible for the original design, while the contract for building the vehicle was given to the coachmaker, Samuel Butler. Then came the ornamentation, carved sculpture by Joseph Wilton which was then gilded by Henry Pujolas and decorated by the metal chaser, George Coyte.

Sir William Chamber's design for the new State Coach, 1760.
Sir William Chamber’s design for the new State Coach, 1760. © Royal Collection Trust

The whole concept was for the coach to be the most wonderful – and therefore the most expensive – ever to have been built in England, and the decoration was full of symbolism. It was intended that ‘when riding in the coach, the King would appear as Neptune, monarch of the seas, and also Apollo, leader of the muses of artistic innovation’.

There are four Triton, mythical sea-gods placed on the body of the coach and, at the front, almost appear to be pulling the coach. Whether it was intended or not, in motion the coach rocked about as if it was rolling on the high seas, to the distress of those inside! When George III’s younger son, William IV used the coach during his reign in the 1830s, he complained that it was just like being on board a ship ‘tossing in a rough sea’, and as he’d served in navy for many years, he ought to have known.

The Gold State Coach, built in 1762.
The Gold State Coach, built in 1762. © Royal Collection Trust

The first outing of this magnificent new state coach was on 25 November 1762 when the king travelled in it to the State Opening of Parliament. So great was the public interest, that anyone with rooms in and around Parliament Street were able to rent them out at exorbitant rates for the day, and those ladies and gentlemen lucky enough to get one leaned out of the windows to watch the king pass by in his state coach, drawn by eight horses. As it turned out, watching from above was by far the safest vantage point.

London, November 25

This Day, about two o’clock, his Majesty went to the House of Lords from St James’s in his new State Coach, drawn by eight fine cream coloured horses, ornamented with blue ribbands and Morocco trappings. His Majesty went through the Park, and was attended by the Lords Oxford and Cadogan, the Master of the Horse and other principal Officers of State. The crowd was so great on this occasion, and carriages so numerous, that they extended quite from St James’s to the Parliament House, and it was with great difficulty that foot passengers could pass along the streets. In Parliament Street, one of the horses which drew his Majesty’s Coach fell down, and occasioned some little confusion, but we do not hear of any damage.

(Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 2 December 1762)

George III's Procession to the Houses of Parliament in his new State Coach, attributed to John Wootton.
George III’s Procession to the Houses of Parliament in his new State Coach, attributed to John Wootton. © Royal Collection Trust

The crowds were so great that they led to injuries and even – reportedly – to death. The first accident occurred just as the coach left the gates of the Royal Mews on Charing Cross when a young woman fell beneath the hooves of one of the Life Guards horses. We haven’t found any further report on her, but it reads as if she survived her accident. The deaths were due to the immense press of people in confined spaces.

In the narrow passage leading from Spring Gardens into the park, a woman and child were crushed to death, and their bodies were laid on the grass in the park; another woman and a lad are said also to have been crushed to death near the Horse Guards, and several were beat down and trampled on, and had their arms broke, and otherwise much bruised; and divers women lost their hats, capuchins, gowns, shoes, &c. I the crowd.

(Derby Mercury, 26 November 1762)

The Gold State Coach is still used for ceremonial occasions, but has been modernised over the years to give a (slightly!) more comfortable ride.

Sources not mentioned above:

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 2 September 1762

Derby Mercury, 26 November 1762

Leeds Intelligencer, 20 January 1761

Royal Collection Trust: notes against object RCIN 917942, Design for the State Coach by Sir William Chambers and object RCIN 5000048, the Gold State Coach.

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)
Frederick and Augusta, Prince and Princess of Wales by Gaetano Manini, 1758. © Royal Collection Trust

The First Duke of Edinburgh

In 1726, a new title was created in the peerage, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the recipient was Prince Frederick Louis, George I’s grandson.

The new duke was second in the line of succession to the throne behind his father, George Augustus who was, in 1726, the Prince of Wales.

Prince Frederick Louis, c.1720-1725. © Royal Collection Trust
Prince Frederick Louis, c.1720-1725. © Royal Collection Trust

News of his new title had to be carried to Hanover, for that was where Frederick lived. In 1714, when Queen Anne had died and his grandfather had taken the British throne as George I, Frederick’s parents, George, Prince of Wales and Caroline of Ansbach, the new Princess of Wales, had been forced to travel to England and leave their eldest son behind to represent the dynasty in Hanover (despite the fact that he was only seven years old).

Delighted with the news from England, celebrations were prepared at the Hanoverians’ summer residence, Herrenhausen Palace.

Hanover, Sept. 20. One the 12th inst. there was a great Entertainment at Herrenhausen, on Prince Frederick’s being created Duke of Edinburgh. There was a numerous Court, and at Night a fine Firework at the End of the Garden.

(Caledonian Mercury, 27 September 1726)

Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover, c.1708
Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover, c.1708 (via Wikimedia)

At the same time as Frederick had been created Duke of Edinburgh, his younger brother, William (who had been born in England) was made Duke of Cumberland, a title which had first been held by his 2x great-uncle, Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Prince William was only five years old, while Frederick was nineteen; the former was the focus and the favourite of the British royal court while Frederick, overseas and out-of-sight, was overlooked and becoming ostracized.

Frederick did not use his new title for long; on 11 June 1727 George I died, and Frederick’s father took the throne as George II. Frederick was – finally – brought to Britain, but father and son rarely saw eye-to-eye. On 8 January 1729, Frederick was invested as the Prince of Wales and his eldest son, George, was given the Edinburgh dukedom.

Frederick and Augusta, Prince and Princess of Wales by Gaetano Manini, 1758. © Royal Collection Trust
Frederick and Augusta, Prince and Princess of Wales by Gaetano Manini, 1758. © Royal Collection Trust

Frederick never became king; he predeceased his father, George II and instead his son, George, the 2nd Duke of Edinburgh (and Prince of Wales after Frederick’s death) succeeded as George III, and so we have the unbroken reigns of the four Georges which give the period it’s moniker, the Georgian era.

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

The title of Duke of Edinburgh fell into abeyance in 1760 with George III’s accession to the throne, but was resurrected by Queen Victoria for her second son, Prince Alfred (although the monarch’s second son is traditionally created Duke of York). And, in 1947, in its third creation, the title was bestowed on Prince Philip.

A drawing room at St James's Palace from the Microcosm of London (1808-1810)

King George III’s 70th birthday

King George III celebrated his 70th birthday on 4 June 1808.

George III on on of Windsor Castle's terraces; Peter Edward Stroehling, c.1807
George III on on of Windsor Castle’s terraces; Peter Edward Stroehling; Royal Collection Trust

The king was losing his eyesight and, because of this, wasn’t present at his birthday court at St James’s Palace, but did receive several members of the nobility at Buckingham House (as Buckingham Palace was then known).

The morning was, as usual, ushered in with the ringing of bells, at noon the Park and Tower guns were fired, the ships in the Thames displayed their colours, and the flags and standards of the United Kingdom were hoisted on the different churches and public buildings. The streets in the neighbourhood of the Palace were crowded to an excess, and the windows in St James’s Street in particular, exhibited a display of beauty and splendour rarely to be witnessed in any country.

The royal family – minus the king – all began to arrive throughout the day, and assembled for ‘Her Majesty’s drawing-room’. The Prince of Wales, predictably, made sure everyone noticed his entrance.

At two o’clock the Prince of Wales and his Suite, in three carriages, and servants in state liveries, dress hats and feathers, proceeded from Carlton House to the Drawing Room, and entered by the private door in the Park. His Royal Highness was attended by the Duke of Clarence, Lords Keith and Dundas, Generals Lee and Hulse, and Colonels McMahon, Lee and Bloomfield.

The music playing had been specified by the king, but it was the queen who received the company, and all the nobility were present. Everyone had to wear full court dress and the queen continued to stipulate that ladies had to wear full hoops under their skirts, in an echo of the fashions of several decades earlier. Coupled with the trend for gowns with a slim silhouette in the early years of the nineteenth-century, the full skirts of the dresses which had to be worn at court looked ridiculously cumbersome. They certainly weren’t the most flattering of dresses to wear!

A drawing room at St James's Palace from the Microcosm of London (1808-1810)
A drawing room at St James’s Palace from the Microcosm of London (1808-1810)

A sketch of one of the dresses worn has survived at this particular Drawing Room, and it was worn by the Countess, later Marchioness of Cholomondeley, someone we’ve written about at length. The Earl of Cholmondeley had, a few years prior to his marriage, been the lover of that ‘infamous courtesan’, Grace Dalrymple Elliott. And Grace had also, for just a few weeks in 1781, been the mistress of Cholmondeley’s boon friend, the Prince of Wales, and had subsequently given birth to the prince’s daughter. That girl, Georgiana Seymour (no, we don’t know why she had the surname Seymour either!) was brought up by the Cholmondeleys, treated as their own daughter. Georgiana, 26-years-of-age, couldn’t attend the court, however. The queen had agreed with her son that she should not be presented until she was married, lest the king realise exactly who she was. (Georgiana married in September 1808, and she was present at King George’s 1809 birthday court, as you can discover in our first book, An Infamous Mistress.)

The newspapers described the Countess of Cholmondeley’s dress as follows:

A yellow satin petticoat, covered with a rich Brussels point lace, with a rich border; the train of yellow satin; the sleeves ornamented with rich lace.

La Belle Assemblée magazine went into more detail.

Explanation of Lady Cholmondeley’s Court-Dress: A bright primrose-coloured sarsnet petticoat trimmed full round the bottom with point lace, and a rich drapery of the same, most tastefully festooned with diamond chains, and ostrich feathers in the form of the Prince’s plume reversed. Body and train of primrose sarsnet; the latter trimmed with lace, and the former ornamented with the most splendid diamond wreath to represent the oak leaf and fruit, placed obliquely across the front of the bust; the sleeves finished to match, and the bottom of the waist confined with a diamond cestus. Head-dress court lappets of point; a diamond bandeau and rich coronet, with four ostrich feathers of unequal lengths, most tastefully disposed. Splendid earrings of the oval form; necklace and bracelets also of brilliants. Gloves of French kid, considerably above the elbow. Shoes of white satin with silver trimming.

And, here is the dress:

Georgiana Charlotte (née Bertie), Countess (later Marchioness) of Cholmondeley's Court Dress as worn on his Majesty's Birthday, June 1808. La Belle Assemblée.
Georgiana Charlotte (née Bertie), Countess (later Marchioness) of Cholmondeley’s Court Dress as worn on his Majesty’s Birthday, June 1808. La Belle Assemblée. © National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Sources not mentioned above:

Morning Post, 6 June 1808

The fête at Frogmore, 1795.

The fête at Frogmore House, 19 May 1795

On Tuesday 19 May 1795, King George III held a grand fête at Frogmore House in the grounds of Home Park, Windsor (around half a mile from Windsor Castle), celebrating both Queen Charlotte’s 51st birthday and the recent arrival and marriage of his new daughter-in-law, Caroline, Princess of Wales (she’d married the Prince of Wales, later George IV, just weeks earlier, on 8 April).

Oil sketch of the Marriage of George, Prince of Wales, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick c. 1795-7 by William Hamilton
Oil sketch of the Marriage of George, Prince of Wales, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick c. 1795-7 by William Hamilton; Royal Collection Trust

The fête was in the style of a Dutch Fair. This was in honour of some recent guests: William V, the Prince of Orange and Nassau-Dietz and his family had fled their Netherlands home after the French army had invaded, and headed for exile in England. (The Prince of Orange’s wife, Wilhelmina of Prussia, was the aunt of Princess Frederica Charlotte, the wife of George III’s second son, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany.)

William V, Prince of Orange c.1800, after John Hoppner.
William V, Prince of Orange c.1800, after John Hoppner. Royal Collection Trust

Their Majesties and the Orange Family, &c. &c. dined at half past three in a grand saloon, superbly ornamented, in Fête Champêtre. Four tents were fitted up in front of the saloon for the reception of their noble guests.

Wilhelmina, Princess of Orange, c.1800, after John Hoppner.
Wilhelmina, Princess of Orange, c.1800, after John Hoppner. Royal Collection Trust

The presence of one guest was extremely contentious. Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey was there, the Prince of Wales’ mistress despite his recent marriage. The prince famously hated Caroline, his wife, disliking her at first sight while Lady Jersey reigned supreme in his affections for some time. It was reported – wrongly, as it turned out – that Lady Jersey was pregnant with the prince’s child, and was ‘particularly distinguished’ at the fête held at Frogmore House. In fact, it was not Lady Jersey who was with child, but Caroline, Princess of Wales.

Frogmore by Samuel Howitt, 1801.
Frogmore by Samuel Howitt, 1801. Royal Collection Trust

Dancers and singers from Windsor and Covent Garden, dressed in rustic character formed part of the day’s entertainment. The pastoral idyll was thrown into chaos and gales of laughter though, when the pretend haymakers were interrupted by ‘a set of ass-racers, whose obstinate steeds, in the confusion, threw some of the blushing maids on the very haycocks they had just been raising’.

George III’s eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth had been the brains behind the Dutch fair, organising the day with the assistance of the Orange family.

The booths, which were numerous, displayed a collection of articles for sale, from the dairy to a lady’s toilet; the purchase money, which was voluntary, was dropt by the purchase into boxes appropriated for the charity schools of Windsor.

The fête at Frogmore, 1795.
The fête at Frogmore, 1795. Royal Collection Trust.

While the fair continued into the evening, the royal family and their especial guests gracefully retired from the gardens of Frogmore House and made their way to Windsor Castle where a ball and supper was held.

Queen Charlotte in the grounds of Frogmore House by William Beechey, 1796
Queen Charlotte in the grounds of Frogmore House by William Beechey, 1796; The Courtauld Gallery

The Frogmore Estate has been owned by the royal family from the 1500s, although Frogmore House dates from the late seventeenth-century. Various tenants lived there (including one of Charles II’s illegitimate sons) until Queen Charlotte bought the house in 1792, as an idyllic and peaceful country mansion to which she and her unmarried daughters could retreat from court life.

After the 1795 fair, a nine-year programme of alterations was embarked on; the house was enlarged and extended, and pavilions added at the wings.

Her Majesty's Lodge at Frogmore, near Windsor, 1793, after Richard Cooper the younger.
Her Majesty’s Lodge at Frogmore, near Windsor, 1793, after Richard Cooper the younger. Royal Collection Trust

Of course, the Frogmore Estate is back in the news right now as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (and their new baby, Archie), have made Frogmore Cottage their new home.

Sources:

Norfolk Chronicle, 23 May 1795

The Times, 25 May 1795

An Eighteenth Century game of ‘Degrees of Separation’

In this post, we thought we would play a quick game of ‘six degrees of separation’. For anyone who is unaware of the concept, you will no doubt be familiar with the phrase ‘it’s a small world’ and it so it is. It’s been quite surprising that throughout our research, we’ve noticed just how relatively small London was in the 18th century. Everyone who was anyone knew each other and this has become quite obvious whilst exploring the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

So, in today’s game we show the close connection between Prince George (later George IV) and Dido Elizabeth Belle. On the face of it, they would appear to be poles apart, George, the then-future monarch and Dido the daughter of a ‘mulatto slave’. But the distance between them is only a few steps.

George IV when Prince of Wales by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782
by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782

We begin the game with Prinny, who, in the early 1780s had a relationship with our lovely courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, who gave birth to a daughter who, Grace claimed was his. Georgina was the only illegitimate child that Prinny made payments to, so perhaps that was his way of acknowledging that she was his.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough.
The Frick, New York.

Now, Grace counted amongst her closest friends, Lady Seymour Worsley, for those who haven’t come across her before, she’s the one who found herself in court in February 1782, for criminal conversation, a euphemism for sex.

Amongst the men with whom Lady Worsley allegedly had an affair, was George, Viscount Deerhurst, later to become the 7th Earl of Coventry.  Deerhurst was a bit of a ‘player’ and had previously eloped to Gretna Green with Lady Catherine Henley.

George, 6th Earl of Coventry. National Trust.
George, 6th Earl of Coventry. National Trust.

His father the then, 6th Earl of Coventry, totally disapproved of his son’s behaviour and banished him from the family home, so George took himself off to stay on the Isle of Wight, at Appuldurcombe, the home of Sir Richard Worsley and his wife, Lady Seymour Worsley – big mistake! He apparently ended up having a relationship with Lady Worsley (he was one of many, she was rumoured to have had well in excess of 20 lovers), but it was her infidelity with George Maurice Bisset that was the final nail in her coffin and she found herself in court, but George, Viscount Deerhurst, also found his name on this list of people with whom she had allegedly had ‘criminal conversation’.

Lord Mansfield was the trial judge in the case of Crim. Con. and he was also the guardian of Dido Elizabeth Belle. The trial took place in February 1782, so no doubt Dido, aged 20 would have been fully aware of it.

Dido Elizabeth Belle. Scone Palace.
Dido Elizabeth Belle. Scone Palace.

To add to the royal connection, Lord Mansfield, counted George III amongst his friends and a regular visitor to Caenwood (Kenwood) House, so it’s perfectly feasible that the royal family would have met or at least seen Dido.  So it really was a small world.

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield by Jean Baptiste van Loo
William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield by Jean Baptiste van Loo. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Try this game for yourselves and if you can make connections like this from people in the 18th century we would love to hear from you as there must be plenty more out there.

View of Bath by Edmund Garvey

How George III’s 1809 Golden Jubilee was celebrated in Bath

On the 25th October 1809, the jubilee of King George III was celebrated across the nation. Opinion was divided as to whether the jubilee had been celebrated a year too early; 25th October 1809 was the first day of the 50th year of George III’s reign, he had not actually reigned yet for a full fifty years. It was a grand project instigated – and to a large degree planned – by a middle-aged, middle-class lady living in the Welsh borders, a truly amazing woman who is the subject of our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs.

George III (1738-1820) by Edward Bird, c.1810-1815
George III (1738-1820) by Edward Bird, c.1810-1815; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.

The jubilee was celebrated across the nation, and even on board ships and in foreign territories under British rule. Today, we are going to look at the celebrations that took place in Bath 209 years ago today.

Bath Abbey by an unknown artist
Bath Abbey; Victoria Art Gallery

The Jubilee was this day celebrated here with every demonstration of loyalty. The festival was ushered in by the ringing of bells, and display of flags on the different churches. At eleven o’clock the Mayor and Corporation, accompanied by the Bath Volunteer reg. of Infantry, the Young Gentleman of the Grammar School, the children of the Charity Schools, and the Friendly Societies, (33 in number, containing 2,487 members, each Society distinguished by its particular banner and colours,) went in grand procession to the Abbey Church where an admirable sermon was preached by the Rev Mr Marshall. Part of the Societies went to Walcot Church, where an equally excellent discourse was delivered by the Rev Mr Barry. Collections were made at the doors of both churches for the benevolent purpose of releasing the debtors in the County Gaol.

Looking down Grove Street to Walcot Church.
Looking down Grove Street to Walcot Church. Victoria Art Gallery

On returning to the Hall, cakes and wine were given to the juvenile part of the procession. The Volunteers marched to the Crescent Field, where they fired a feu de joie; and the members of the Friendly Societies departed to their respective club-rooms, in which they dined together in much harmony; each man received towards his expenses 1s. 6d. from the public subscription for that purpose. The Children of the Blue Coat Charity School, about 120 in number, sat down in their school-room to a plentiful dinner of roast beef and plumb pudding, provided at the expense of a highly-respected and loyal gentleman, a resident of this city.

The Crescent at Bath
The Crescent at Bath. Victoria Art Gallery

The Mayor and Corporation, the clergy, with a select party, dined at the White Hart. In the evening there was a ball at the Town Hall. Jubilee medals, with ribbons having suitable mottos in gold letters, were generally worn.

The 'White Hart' Inn, Bath by John Charles Maggs
A slightly later view of the ‘White Hart’ Inn, Bath by John Charles Maggs; Victoria Art Gallery

John Jones, esq, of Woolley, near Bradford, gave to 800 poor persons of that neighbourhood, a sufficient quantity of bread, strong beer, and mutton, in the presence of a large concourse of loyal subjects.

Messrs Divett, Price, Jackson, and Co. regaled nearly 500 persons employed in their manufactory at Bradford by giving them three fine fat sheep roasted whole, plenty of bread, and a large potion of good Wilthshire strong beer.

Bradford, Wiltshire, c.1805.
Bradford, Wiltshire, c.1805. Victoria Art Gallery

The debtors in our city gaol, five in number, were this morning liberated from confinement by the munificence of the sheriffs, Geo. Crook, and Geo. Lye, esqrs, who, from their private purse, settled the creditors’ claims, amounting to 80l.

Mrs Biggs was no radical in her political views, and she initially fought against the jubilee being used for charitable aims; she wanted to see grand and joyous celebrations, with people feasting well and toasting their king with a mug of ale or a glass of wine. Her plans were hijacked to a certain degree and she had to accept that money was put to other uses than celebrating on the day, but she lobbied – anonymously and successfully – for the continuation of her original aims. You can discover how in our book, A Georgian Heroine.

As some of our long-term readers will know, we also host a ‘sister-blog’, The Diaries of Fanny Chapman. Fanny was a middle-class spinster who lived in Bath through the late Georgian and into the Victorian eras, often in company with her aunts. Her diaries from 1807-1812 and 1837-1841 have survived and we were given permission to publish them; they are a wonderful first-hand resource.

Unfortunately, while Fanny heard the jubilee celebrations in Bath, and no doubt was told all about them by the family servants who took advantage of the impromptu holiday, she herself largely stayed indoors, only venturing out for a quick errand. Still, we thought it might be interesting to read her diary entries for the relevant days.

An Account of the Celebration of the Jubilee on the 25th October 1809

Tuesday, 24 October, 1809

A most beautiful day.  My Aunt was so unwell she did not get up till near dinner time.  Admiral and Mrs Phillip calld and sat some time.  He came up stairs.  They were both very friendly and kind.  I went to Mrs Vassall’s to ask if she intended to fulfill her engagement of dinner with us today.  She said she did.  Saw Mrs Horne with her.  I went and ordered a couple of chicken and then calld at my mother’s, but they were not at home.  Only Mrs Vassall and Betsey dined here.  Mr Wiltshire came in while we were at dinner, but did not stay long.  It raind fast in the evening and Mrs Vassall and Betsey went home in a Chair between eight and nine o’clock.  We went to bed early, but were disturbed after twelve o’clock by the ringing of bells and firing of guns to usher in the Jubilee, which is to take place tomorrow on the King’s entering the 50th year of his Reign.  My Aunt heard from Cooper!!!

View of Bath by Edmund Garvey
View of Bath by Edmund Garvey; Number 1 Royal Crescent

Wednesday, 25 October, 1809

A beautiful day.  The whole town was in motion early to see the Processions of the Corporate Volunteers and different Clubs to Church.  All the servants, except Kitty, went out before breakfast and did not return till after two o’clock.  Mrs Gibson calld (for the first time) and sat an hour here.  Miss Workman came in the morning, before we were up, to say she had got a room in the square to see the Procession, where she wishd us to come.  My Aunt P was not well enough to go, but tried to persuade me.  However, I had not the least inclination and was not sorry to be able to stay at home.  I was obliged to go to the Sidney Hotel before dinner to enquire if Mr Gale had heard any thing about the house he mentiond to my Aunt. He told me the proprietor of it was come to Bath and would call on my Aunt today or tomorrow. There was a constant noise of ringing of bells and firing guns the whole day and the bouncing of squibs and crackers in the evening.  I heard from my Uncle James to say all our shares, except one, were blanks and that one was only fifteen pounds.  It began to rain about ten o’clock and continued, I believe, most part of the night.

The Sydney Hotel, Bath
The Sydney Hotel, Bath. Victoria Art Gallery

(To discover more about Fanny Chapman and her diaries, follow the link at the bottom of this page.)

Sources not mentioned above:

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 26th October 1809

Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg, probably by Daniel Woge, painted after January 1766 as Christiana wears the red sash denoting the Order of St Catherine.

Queen Charlotte’s sister: Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Princess Christiane Sophie Albertine of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the elder sister of Queen Charlotte, consort of George III.

Born on the 6th December 1735 at Mirow (in north east Germany, then in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), Christiane (also known as Christiana) was destined to have her heart broken, and it was all because of the good fortune of her sister, Charlotte.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school, 1766 or later (as she is wearing the Order of St Catherine).
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school, 1766 or later (as she is wearing the Order of St Catherine). Royal Collection Trust

Duke Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg and Princess Elisabeth Albertine of Saxe Hildburghausen had ten children, six of whom survived infancy. Christiane was the first born, and after her came:

Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1738-1794)

Charles II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1741-1816)

Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg (1742-1814)

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen Consort to George III (1744-1818)

Duke George Augustus of Mecklenburg (1748-1785)

Lid of a snuff box, c.1770 depicting Queen Charlotte (seated, centre left), her sister, Princess Christiane (wearing a blue dress and the red sash of the Order of St Catherine), their brothers, Charles, Ernest, George and Adolphus and on the far right is Charles' wife, Frederica and their infant daughter.
Lid of a snuff box, c.1770 depicting Queen Charlotte (seated, centre left), her sister, Princess Christiane (wearing a blue dress and the red sash of the Order of St Catherine), their brothers, Charles, Ernest, George and Adolphus and on the far right is Charles’ wife, Frederica and their infant daughter. Royal Collection Trust

Together with her sisters, Christiane received a rudimentary education; Charlotte’s upbringing was later described as one similar to an English country gentleman although accounts suggest the girls were taught Latin, French and Greek as well as botany and history. With a good grounding in how to run a household and, as the eldest daughter, Christiane could perhaps have expected to make a highly advantageous marriage. However, by 1761 – aged 25 years – she was still unwed.

Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg, probably by Daniel Woge, painted after January 1766 as Christiana wears the red sash denoting the Order of St Catherine.
Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg, probably by Daniel Woge, painted after January 1766 as Christiana wears the red sash denoting the Order of St Catherine. Staatliches Museum Schwerin

In the early 1760s, John Ker, the young 3rd Duke of Roxburghe, was undertaking the Grand Tour. Travelling through Europe, in 1761 he met Christiane, and fell in love.  Christiane returned his affection and the romance between them progressed far enough for an engagement to be proposed.

John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Thomas Patch, 1761.
John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Thomas Patch, 1761. National Portrait Gallery

But, a spanner was about to be thrown into the works. In England, George III had ascended the throne and started to search for a wife amongst the European royalty and nobility. His choice eventually settled on the 17-year-old Princess Charlotte and a proposal of marriage was made, and accepted in the summer of 1761, at exactly the same time that the Duke of Roxburghe was negotiating for the hand of Christiane.

Queen Charlotte, when Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz c.1760. Royal Collection Trust. This portrait may be the one sent from Mecklenburg to George III before Charlotte's arrival in England for her marriage.
Queen Charlotte, when Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz c.1760. This portrait may be the one sent from Mecklenburg to George III before Charlotte’s arrival in England for her marriage.

The younger sister’s marriage proved to be a detrimental and insurmountable barrier to the elder’s; German etiquette precluded Christiane, almost a decade Charlotte’s senior, becoming the new British queen’s subject… and George III quite possibly disliked the idea of one of his subjects, albeit one who was high in his favour, becoming his brother-in-law. Reluctantly, Christiane and the duke took the decision to part.

Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Royal Collection Trust

While George III and Queen Charlotte had a long and very happy marriage (they fell deeply in love with one another), neither Christiane nor the duke ever married. It is believed that, having suffered the loss of each other, they never found anyone else who matched up to their ideal. Sir Walter Scott knew the duke personally, and said of him that:

Youthful misfortunes, of a kind against which neither rank nor wealth possess a talisman, had case an early shade of gloom over his prospects, and given to one so splendidly endowed with the means of enjoying society that degree of reserved melancholy which prefers retirement to the splendid scenes of gaiety.

John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Pompeo Batoni, 1761.
John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Pompeo Batoni, 1761. Scottish National Gallery

A personal friend of George III, Roxburghe was rewarded with positions at court. Christiane lived for a time in Neustrelitz with her brother, Adolphus. As he too was unmarried, Christiane acted as his representative when necessary and later she was made a canoness in Herford Abbey (an ancient religious establishment for women in the Duchy of Saxony), although she continued to live with her brother rather than enter the abbey’s precincts. On the 13th January 1766, Empress Catherine II (the Great) of Russia bestowed the Order of St Catherine on Christiane.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wearing the badge, star and ribbon of the Order of St Catherine of Russia, c.1766. Previously attributed to Daniel Woge.
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wearing the badge, star and ribbon of the Order of St Catherine of Russia, c.1766. Previously attributed to Daniel Woge. Royal Collection Trust

Christiane died on the 31st August 1794. Her younger sister, Queen Charlotte, was in Weymouth with the royal family when she heard the news; the court was ordered to go into mourning.

The ladies to wear black silk, plain muslin or long lawn, crape or love hoods, black silk shoes, black glazed gloves, and black paper fans.

Undress, black or dark-grey unwatered tabbies.

The gentlemen to wear black cloth, without buttons on the sleeves or pockets, plain muslin or long lawn cravats and weepers [strips of cloth sown onto coat cuffs], black swords and buckles.

Undress, dark-grey frocks.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school c.1775.
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school c.1775. Royal Collection Trust

The Duke of Roxburghe, who became a noted bibliophile, died in 1804.

 

Sources:

Hillyard, B. (2004-09-23). Ker, John, third duke of Roxburghe (1740–1804), book collector. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Stamford Mercury, 19th September 1794

Бантыш-Каменский Н.Н. Списки кавалерам российских императорских орденов Св. Андрея Первозванного, Св. Екатерины, Св. Александра Невского и Св. Анны с учреждения до установления в 1797 году орденского капитула. Издание подготовил П.А. Дружинин. Москва, «Трутень»®, «Древлехранилище», 2005. – 228с. 500 экз. Тв. переплет. (Типогр. «Гриф и Ко», г. Тула). ISBN 5-94926-007-4.

An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751

Conjugal bliss and a flitch of bacon

An old custom, practised in Dunmow in Essex, entailed the award of a flitch (or side) of bacon (essentially half a pig, cut sideways) to any couple who had been married for at least a year and a day and who could prove that they had never had a cross word nor repented of their marriage.

The origins of this custom are murky. It may date to as early as 1104 and the foundation of Little Dunmow Priory by Lady Juga Baynard and as a practice to encourage church weddings as opposed to less formal marriage contracts like handfasting. Other sources say that Reginald Fitzwalter, the Lord of the Manor, and his wife appeared at the gates of the Priory a year and a day after their marriage, dressed as peasants and begging the Prior’s blessing. The Prior did not recognise the petitioners and – impressed by their devotion – he made a gift to them of a flitch of bacon. Fitzwalter, in return, bestowed land on the Priory with one very explicit condition: a similar flitch must be awarded to any couple who presented themselves at the Priory and could claim, after a year and a day’s marriage, to be as devoted as he was to his own wife.

Whatever its origins, the Dunmow flitch was well known enough by 1387 to be mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer in Canterbury Tales. The wife of Bath said:

The bacon was not set for him, I trow,

That som men have in Essex at Dunmow.

Little Dunmow Priory fell victim to the dissolution of the monasteries in the sixeenth-century and the custom lapsed into abeyance until 1701.

The Dunmow Flitch; Robert Alexander Hillingford
The Dunmow Flitch; Robert Alexander Hillingford; Museums Sheffield

That year, at Dunmow, the flitch of bacon was awarded twice, once to John Reynolds of Hatfield Regis and his wife Ann, wed for ten years, and secondly to a butcher from Much Easton named William Parsley and his wife Jane who had been married – quietly, peaceably, tenderly and lovingly – for around three years. (The Parsley’s marriage is probably the one which took place at Hatfield Broad Oak in 1698, between Will. Parsley and Jean Judd.)

Bringing witnesses with them to prove their marriage and their fidelity to each other, and to their conjugal bliss in their marriage, the couples were brought before a ‘judge and jury’ where they were questioned.  The jury who sat to decide if the Parsleys qualified for the flitch of bacon were five spinsters, Elizabeth, Henrietta, Annabella and Jane Beaumont, and Mary Wheeler. Upon passing this ‘trial’ the man and wife knelt on two pointed stones placed near the door of the church and an oath was administered (the Lady Chapel of the old Priory remains in use as the parish church).

Remains of Dunmow Priory, Essex

You do swear by custom of confession

That you ne’er made nuptual transgression

Nor since you were married man and wife

By household brawls or contentious strife

Or otherwise in bed or at board

Offended each other in deed or in word

Or in a twelve months time and a day

Repented not in any way

Or since the church clerk said Amen

Wish’t yourselves unmarried again

But continue true and in desire

As when you joined hands in holy quire.

After the oath came the sentence. Then, the pair were borne aloft in a wooden chair and carried around the village to the general acclaim of the gathered crowd, and merry-making commenced.

Since these conditions without any fear

Of your own accords you do freely swear

A whole Flitch of Bacon you do receive

And bear it away with love and good leave

For this is the Custom of Dunmow well known

Tho’ the pleasure be ours, the Bacon’s your own.

The chair in which the couples obtaining the bacon were carried.

Next to receive a flitch of bacon in Dunmow were Thomas Shakeshaft and his wife, Anne, née Amis, who had married in the village of Wethersfield in Essex in 1744. Thomas, an eminent weaver (or woolcomber) was, in one report, said to be 80 years of age and Anne was his second wife. After they had been married for seven years, on the 20th June 1751 they journeyed to Dunmow together with witnesses to make their oath.

It had been fifty years since the last claimants, and the Shakeshafts were treated as minor celebrities. Supposedly a crowd of 5,000 people from all over the country came to see the ceremony and when Anne was examined by a jury she admitted that she had only repented once since her marriage; she wished that she had married sooner.

Taking the oath for the gammon of bacon, Thomas Shakeshaft, and Ann, his wife, on June 20th, 1751.

The canny couple cashed in on their windfall. They sold slices of their ham to several of the ladies and gentlemen who had come to Dunmow to join in the celebrations, most of whom were ‘whimsically merry on the occasion’. On returning to their cottage in Wethersfield, the Shakeshafts were £50 richer than when they had set off.

An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751
An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

If the newspaper who reported Thomas’ age as 80 was anywhere close, then his second wife must have been quite a few decades younger: it was claimed that, on the 18th July 1753, Anne and Thomas became the proud parents of twin sons, named George and Edward. Supposedly baptised at Wethersfield (we have been unable to verify this), their godfathers were the Hon Charles Grey, Esq and Hugh Brampton, Esq and Lady Abdy was godmother (the Abdy’s estate was Felix Hall in Essex). (NB. there is a burial at Wethersfield in 1773 for a Thomas Shakeshaft; unless he reached his centenary and then some, it is likely he was, in fact, a fair bit younger than 80 when he journeyed to Dunmow with his wife.)

Although there are reports of other couples claiming the flitch of bacon at Dunmow during the Georgian era, they appear to be fictional. In 1767 it was said that an Irish nobleman and his wife had headed to the village to undertake the trial, the first instance of anyone of rank to do so.

Claiming the Flitch of Bacon, 1796. A justice tricks a married couple who claim never to have quarrelled in seven years out of their claim to the flitch of bacon.
Claiming the Flitch of Bacon, 1796. A justice tricks a married couple who claim never to have quarrelled in seven years out of their claim to the flitch of bacon. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Five years later, the lord of the manor refused admittance to John and Susan Gilder of Tarling in Essex when they made a very public entry into Dunmow at the head of a great concourse of spectators and supporters, demanding to be allowed to take the oath and receive the bacon. They found the gates of the old priory nailed shut and returned home empty handed.

Montagu Burgoyne by George Ramsay, c.1782
Montagu Burgoyne by George Ramsay, c.1782, via Wikimedia

The last noted report concerned Montagu Burgoyne, Esq, named as a commissioner with the Victualling Board and who was later a politician. He had actually demanded – and, it is claimed, received – the flitch, after going through all the requisite ceremonies and oaths. The Burgoynes’ marriage was described as a ‘pattern of conjugal affection’ and so perhaps that gave rise to the notion that the couple had journeyed to Dunmow.

Elizabeth Burgoyne née Harvey by George Romney, c.1785
Elizabeth Burgoyne née Harvey by George Romney, c.1785, via Wikimedia.

Even King George III and Queen Charlotte were not immune to the tradition. A paragraph had appeared in a newspaper suggesting that ‘two Great Personages’ who intended to tour England during the summer of 1770 would make a stop at Dunmow to claim the flitch of bacon.

The Great Personage on reading it shewed it to his consort, who smiled and said, on its being explained to her, that his Majesty should not have it all, for she would have half of it. The person who was in waiting at the time, said, he supposed it was some nonsense of Mr Such-a-one’s. Nonsense, replied the Great Personage, you may call it what you please, but whoever the author of it is, he has paid me a greater compliment than I have ever received since I was King of England.

Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Royal Collection Trust

The eighteenth-century gossip, Horace Walpole, noted that in Wychnor, Staffordshire where the tradition was also reputedly followed, a flitch was awarded c.1730. However, after 1760 Wychnor didn’t even bother to keep a flitch ready at the manor for any claimants but instead merely displayed a carved wooden replacement over the fireplace in the main hall to pay lip service to the old custom.

Claiming the Wychnor Flitch; John Massey Wright, 1817
Claiming the Wychnor Flitch; John Massey Wright, 1817; Brampton Museum

In the Victorian period, the tradition was revived at Dunmow and continues to this day with the ‘trials’ now carried out every four years (in mid-July during a leap year).

Sources:

History of the Dunmow Flitch of Bacon, William Andrews, 1878

Popular Antiquities, vol 2, J Brand, 1841

Derby Mercury 7th June 1751, 3rd August 1753 and 6th July 1764

Ipswich Journal 29th June 1751

Caledonian Mercury, 13th June 1767

Kentish Gazette 18th September 1770

Hereford Journal 12th October 1786

[Anon.] (2004-09-23). Burgoyne, Montagu (1750–1836), politician. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Dunmow Flitch Trials (website)

Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) c.1792-3. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The First Duke of Sussex

In light of the news that His Royal Highness, Prince Harry, will become the Duke of Sussex upon his marriage to Meghan Markle, we thought we should take a brief look at the previous holder of the title.

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 Augustus Frederick was the sixth son of King George III and had this title conferred upon him in November 1801. Even then there was fake news, as we quickly found out. The media were frantically reporting that Prince Augustus Frederick was to become the Duke of Cambridge and that his brother Adolphus was to be the Duke of Sussex. Quite how the media managed to get it back to front we’re really not sure, but it took them almost a month to get the titles correct. Either way, we have two brothers granted the titles Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex.

Finally, on 30th November 1801, this statement appeared naming the correct holders of the titles

The King has been pleased to grant his most dearly beloved son Prince Augustus Frederick and to the heirs male of his Royal Highness’s body lawfully begotten, the dignities of Baron of Arklow, Earl of Inverness and Duke of Sussex, of the United Kingdom and Great Britain and Ireland.

The King has also been pleased to grant to his most dearly beloved son Prince Adolphus Frederick and to the heirs male of his Royal Highness’s body lawfully begotten, the dignities of Baron of Culloden, Earl of Tipperary and Duke of Cambridge, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The conferring of the title upon Prince Augustus Frederick meant that his heirs would also automatically be granted the title, but this was not to be the case as the prince married Lady Augusta Murray. Their marriage contravened the Royal Marriages Act as they were first married abroad, then married in England but without fully identifying themselves, nor did they seek permission from the monarch.

Lady Augusta Murray by Richard Cosway. Gregory Allicar Museum of Art at Colorado State University
Lady Augusta Murray by Richard Cosway. Gregory Allicar Museum of Art at Colorado State University

The couple did, it was reported, attend church three times to have their banns read, but the clergyman who married them assumed that Frederick was the prince’s surname as no title was given. They married, on the 5th December 1793, at St George’s, Hanover Square, as Augustus Frederick and Augusta Murray.

It’s interesting to note that Dido Elizabeth married John Davinière,  married at the same church on the same date.

This married was annulled but the couple remained together and had two children, both of whom would of course now be illegitimate. However, the union was not to last and in 1801, the couple went their separate ways.

Prince Augustus was married a second time in 1831, to Lady Cecilia Gore, but managed a second marriage that contravened the Royal Marriage Act as once again he did not seek royal approval also and possibly, more importantly, the marriage was morganatic, i.e. she was not a royal princess. Despite this, they remained together until his death in April 1843.

Cecilia, Duchess of Inverness, miniature by Jane North. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Cecilia, Duchess of Inverness, miniature by Jane North.
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

It has been announced that Apartment 1 at Kensington Palace is being renovated ready for the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex to move into. Interestingly, this apartment was the former home of the first Duke of Sussex and his second wife, Cecilia, too.

His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex left town yesterday morning for Windsor, on a visit to Their MAJESTIES. His Royal Highness will reside for the future at Kensington Palace

London Courier and Evening Gazette, 7 January 1805

When they occupied it the apartment was much larger and encompassed the one now known as 1A, which is currently the home of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and his family.

A Front View of the Royal Palace of Kensington, 1751. At the far left, at right angles, stands what is now Apartment 1 which is being renovated for the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Linking that to the main palace is the apartment now occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Apartment 1A.
A Front View of the Royal Palace of Kensington, 1751. At the far left, at right angles, stands what is now Apartment 1 which is being renovated for the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Linking that to the main palace is the apartment now occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Apartment 1A. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

We have written about other royal marriages too. Did you know that a Romany girl married one of Prince Harry’s direct ancestors? Which scandalous elopement is one of the skeletons in the royal family’s closet? Click here to find out more.

Sources Used 

Kentish Gazette 31 January 1794 

Chester Chronicle 31 January 1794

Featured Image

Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843)  c.1792-3, Watercolour on ivory | RCIN 420975 by Edward Miles (1752-1828). Courtesy of the Royal Collection.

 

The Marriage of George IV when Prince of Wales by Henry Singleton, 1795.

Royal weddings in the Georgian era

On Tuesday 8th September 1761, in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, the new King George III (he had ascended the throne a little less than a year earlier) married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The wedding took place only a few hours after their initial meeting.

The marriage ceremony began at 9 o’clock in the evening; beforehand the princess, attended by ten bridesmaids, sat under a white and silver canopy until the Duke of Cumberland conducted her to the side of the king and gave the bride’s hand to the bridegroom. Charlotte was nervous, and uncomfortably dressed on a hot evening in a heavy, sumptuous gown with a purple mantle laced with gold and lined with ermine, a diamond studded cap and small crown on her head. She spoke no English but was only required to say two words during the wedding; at the appropriate time and at the king’s prompting, she declared, ‘Ich will‘.

Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Royal Collection Trust

The new queen was just seventeen years old. Horace Walpole said of her that:

She is not tall nor a beauty. Pale and very thin; but looks sensible and genteel. Her hair is darkish and fine. Her forehead low, her nose very well except the nostrils spreading too wide. The mouth has the same fault, but her teeth are good. She talks a great deal, and French tolerably.

A kinder report, by the daughter of Charlotte’s German page, described Charlotte as having an ‘expressive and intelligent countenance… not tall, but of slight, pretty figure; her eyes bright and sparkling with good humour and vivacity’. Still, this same girl also claimed that George III was initially disappointed in his choice and by the bride’s appearance. In the end, however, none of this nor Walpole’s catty comments mattered: despite it being an arranged marriage, the royal couple quickly fell deeply in love with one another.

Queen Charlotte, when Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz c.1760. This portrait may be the one sent from Mecklenburg to George III before Charlotte's arrival in England for her marriage.
Queen Charlotte, when Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz c.1760. Royal Collection Trust. This portrait may be the one sent from Mecklenburg to George III before Charlotte’s arrival in England for her marriage.

George III and Queen Charlotte’s long marriage produced a large family. In 1795, their eldest son, George, Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent and George IV) married Caroline of Brunswick. There has always been intense interest in a royal bride’s wedding dress and in 1795 it was no different. This is how the media of the day reported on it.

The Princess of Wales was very superb indeed, and the dress was the most costly that could be made. The body and train were of silver tissue festooned on each side, and tied up with rich cord and tassels. The sleeves, and round the bottom of the robe, were covered with rows of the finest point lace. The petticoat was likewise of silver tissue, covered all over with silver Venetian net, and tassels hanging down the sides. The waist was not more than six inches in length. In the procession to the chapel, and during the ceremony, her Royal Highness wore a crimson velvet mantling, trimmed with ermine, and over the shoulders hung a rich silver cord and tassels. The hoop was very small, such as is used for morning dresses; and so were the hoops of the Bride-maids, that they might be as unencumbered as possible in the procession. Her Royal Highness wore a superb coronet of diamonds. She had on a very rich ornament of brilliants, resembling a knight’s collar, fastened upon the right shoulder by a brilliant bow, and long brilliant tassels; and on the left shoulder by a rich epaulette of brilliants; and in the centre, in the place of a stomacher, was the Prince’s picture richly set in brilliants.

Caroline of Brunswick when Princess of Wales, depicted in her wedding dress by Gainsborough Dupont, 1795-96. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Caroline of Brunswick when Princess of Wales, depicted in her wedding dress by Gainsborough Dupont, 1795-96. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The marriage took place on the evening of Wednesday, 8th April 1795, again in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. Crowds lined the streets on the approach to the palace, and it was standing room only in the two ante-chambers leading to the drawing room where those lucky enough to have been issued with tickets to the event were congregating.

The king and queen, the Prince of Wales, Caroline and the rest of the royal family had dined at the Queen’s House (now Buckingham Palace), and around 6pm they left there in a procession of coaches for St James’s (or Carlton House in the case of the prince) where they dressed for the wedding.

The Prince, on leaving the Queen’s House, had a hearty shake of the hand from the King, which brought tears into his eyes. His Majesty saluted the Princess in the Hall, and then got into his carriage, The Prince, after seeing the Princess home, went to Carlton House.

George IV when Prince of Wales, miniature by Richard Cosway, 1792.
George IV when Prince of Wales, miniature by Richard Cosway, 1792. National Portrait Gallery

The Prince of Wales wore a blue Genoa velvet coat and breeches, with a silver tissue waistcoat, and coat cuffs richly embroidered with silver and spangles. His Royal Highness wore a diamond star, with an embroidered garter at the knee; diamond shoe and knee-buckles and rich diamond hilted sword, and button and loop. His Royal Highness looked uncommonly well.

It was gone 9 o’clock before everyone was ready and the procession left the drawing room for the Chapel, the Duke of Clarence (later William IV) leading the bride. There was only one mishap. During the marriage ceremony, while kneeling in front of the Archbishop, the prince tried to stand up too soon and the service was stopped; the king noticed the dilemma, rose from his seat and whispered in his son’s ear. George kneeled once more and the service was concluded… was the Prince of Wales in a hurry to get the ceremony over and done with?

Oil sketch of the marriage of George, Prince of Wales, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick c. 1795-7 by William Hamilton
Oil sketch of the marriage of George, Prince of Wales, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick c. 1795-7 by William Hamilton; Royal Collection Trust

The wedding had been highly anticipated by everyone but the Prince of Wales! The following passage is from our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, which gives a different view of the wedding from that reported by the newspapers.

George IV, when the Prince of Wales, had married his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, under duress and because his father promised to sort out his debts and increase his allowance once he was wed. The marriage, as may have been predicted, was a total disaster. The exuberant Caroline was tactless and had a poor grasp of personal hygiene (she boasted that her personal toilette was but a ‘short’ one). The prince was rolling drunk during the wedding ceremony, recovering enough to consummate his marriage on the wedding night before falling drunk into the grate of the fireplace where Caroline left him. Later he was to claim that he had been intimate with his wife on only three occasions, twice on their wedding night and once on the following night but it proved enough and nine months later Caroline gave birth to a daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales.

The Marriage of George IV (1762-1830) when Prince of Wales by Henry Singleton, 1795.
The Marriage of George IV (1762-1830) when Prince of Wales by Henry Singleton, 1795. Royal Collection Trust

To end this blog, we’ll also share with you an extract from the pages of our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, an anecdote relating to the marriage of George IV’s only legitimate child, his heir, Princess Charlotte of Wales. (George had several reputed illegitimate children; one that he acknowledged privately, if not publicly, was his daughter Georgiana Seymour whose mother was ‘the celebrated’ Grace Dalrymple Elliott.)

Back in London preparations were under way for the wedding of the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte, to the impoverished but handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (later known as Saxe-Coburg and Gotha); they married at the beginning of May 1816 in the Crimson Drawing Room at the regent’s London residence, Carlton House. The young bride was heard to giggle during the marriage ceremony, which took place on 2 May 1816, when Prince Leopold promised to endow her with all his worldly goods.

The Marriage of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold in the Crimson State Room, Carlton House, 1816
The Marriage of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold in the Crimson State Room, Carlton House, 1816; British School; National Trust, Croft Castle

Sources:

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Joanne Major & Sarah Murden, Pen & Sword, 2016

A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, Joanne Major & Sarah Murden, Pen & Sword, 2016

A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, Joanne Major & Sarah Murden, Pen & Sword, 2017

Scot’s Magazine, September 1761 and April 1795

George III: A Personal History, Christopher Hibbert, Viking, 1998

Landscape with Carriage and Horses by William Ashford (1746-1824).

The Georgian Landau

It has been announced that HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have chosen to use the Ascot Landau carriage at their wedding, assuming the weather stays fine, so we thought we would take a very quick look at the Landau, as it was first used in Britain in the 18th-century, but  was named after the German city of Landau in the Rhenish Palatinate where it was first produced. Today, the royal family presently have five Landau’s, all of which are post-Georgian.

Miseries of human life, 1808.
Isaac Cruikshank c1808. Lewis Walpole Library

A Landau is a coachbuilding term for a four-wheeled luxury convertible carriage. Its main feature was that it had a low body which gave maximum visibility of the occupants and their clothing, so ideal for processions and for the gentry in all their finery to be seen by onlookers.

1827-1828 Landau. British Museum
1827-1828 Landau. British Museum

The earliest reference to a Landau being used in England that we have found dates to July 1738 in the London Evening Post.

Last night his Grace the Duke of Marlborough, accompanied by Lord Hervey, Henry Fox Esq and another person of distinction, arrived in town in a landau and six, from Sir Robert Walpole’s seat at Houghton Hall in Norfolk.

Princess Amelia (1711-1786) by Christian Friedrich Zincke, c.1729-30.
Princess Amelia (1711-1786) by Christian Friedrich Zincke, c.1729-30. Royal Collection Trust

Clearly even in the 1750s the public enjoyed catching a glimpse of members of the royal family as this report from Bath in August 1752 describes.

Princess Amelia, (daughter of George II) arrived here in an open Landau, attended by a large retinue, and escorted by some of the Oxford Blues. Her Royal Highness passed through the city and went on to the seat of Ralph Allen Esq. The bells rang, the cannon were fired, and the flag was displayed on the Tower. Her Royal Highness walked publicly about on Saturday and yesterday, and numbers of people flocked from all parts of the country to see her.

1809 - Patent Landau - Ackermann's Repository
1809 – Patent Landau – Ackermann’s Repository

Ascot, was, as it is today, the place to see and to be seen. Amongst others was have a report from June 1786 in the London Chronicle that ‘their majesties were yesterday on the Ascot race ground, in an open Landau, with the younger branches of the Royal family. They partook of a cold repast in their carriage, consisting of ham and chicken’. It seems highly unlikely that Prince Harry and his new bride will be dining in theirs, to be honest!

One clearly had to be looking at one’s best when on display as the comment about the Prince of Wales showed in this report from the Whitehall Evening Post of May 1800 ‘The Prince of Wales, on Friday, took an airing in his open landau and looked considerably better than his Royal Highness has been for some months past.’

The Vis-a-Vis Bisected

It was quite common for the newspapers to report when a member of the aristocracy had a new landau built as can be seen here in this advertisement in the Morning Post, 4th November 1818.It was quite common for the newspapers to report when a member of the aristocracy had a new landau built as can be seen here in this advertisement in the Morning Post, 4th November 1818.

This one gives you an idea of how much they cost from The Suffolk Chronicle; or Weekly General Advertiser & County Express. 13 April 1816

TO BE SOLD

A very handsome Landau Barouche, town-built, nearly new, the property of a gentleman going abroad. Price 80 Guineas.

1816 Landau, wind-up side windows and fore-runner to the convertible car
1816 Landau, wind-up side windows and fore-runner to the convertible car

That was a cheap one in comparison to this one in the Hampshire Chronicle of July 1816 for a Landaulet, which was a cutdown or coupe version of the Landau

TO BE SOLD A BARGAIN

A handsome Landaulet, nearly as good as new on its first wheels; cost 320 guineas – lowest price 200 guineas.

It seems that no expense was spared when a new landau was required.

It seems that no expense was spared when a new landau was required.

Our final image is a sketch of  Landau by the coachbuilders Hooper & Co. Unfortunately, this sketch is not dated, but the company was founded in 1805. The seal says that by then they were ‘coachbuilders to her Majesty and the Prince of Wales’.

Carriage Design: A Square Landau undated Pen and black ink, watercolor and collage Sheet: 5 1/2 × 10 1/4 inches (14 × 26 cm) Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Carriage Design: A Square Landau undated Pen and black ink, watercolor and collage Sheet: 5 1/2 × 10 1/4 inches (14 × 26 cm) Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Sources used

London Evening Post (London, England), July 20, 1738 – July 22, 1738

General Advertiser (1744) (London, England), Thursday, August 13, 1752

Featured Image

Landscape with Carriage and Horses – William Ashford – Ulster Museum

Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs: A Georgian Heroine

We’re celebrating the release of our third biography, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs which is out now in the UK (and coming soon worldwide) and can be found at Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

"A remarkable story, beautifully told." A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs.

It has been an immense pleasure to research Charlotte’s life even if, at times, she has frustrated us beyond measure. Her almost pathological desire to remain anonymous in her lifetime tested our abilities to the limit, but we rarely admit defeat and eventually, we managed to piece together Charlotte’s story. And what a story it is!

If we had written her life as a novel, we’d probably have been accused of being too far-fetched but – amazingly – Charlotte’s story is all true, in parts tragically so but she triumphed over her adversities, continually adapted to her circumstances and succeeded in the most audacious ways possible.

Three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust
Three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust. Charlotte came to the attention of the royal princesses.

We are also delighted to have finally given Charlotte ownership of her voice which, while it was heard during her lifetime across the country and in establishments ranging from the Houses of Parliament to royal palaces, was always heard anonymously, or at least so discreetly that the public at large were unaware of Charlotte’s identity. Because of this, she has been overlooked by history and her achievements remain largely unrecorded and, in some cases, wrongly ascribed to other women of her generation. Now we can finally put the record straight with the release of A Georgian Heroine.

 Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs lived an incredible life, one which proved that fact is often much stranger than fiction. As a young woman she endured a tortured existence at the hands of a male tormentor, but emerged from that to reinvent herself as a playwright and author; a political pamphleteer and a spy, working for the British Government and later singlehandedly organising George III’s jubilee celebrations. Trapped in France during the revolutionary years of 1792-95, she published an anonymous account of her adventures. However, was everything as it seemed? The extraordinary Mrs Biggs lived life upon her own terms in an age when it was a man’s world, using politicians as her mouthpiece in the Houses of Parliament and corresponding with the greatest men of the day. Throughout it all though, she held on to the ideal of her one youthful true love, a man who abandoned her to her fate and spent his entire adult life in India. Who was this amazing lady?

In A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, we delve into her life to reveal her accomplishments and lay bare Mrs Biggs’ continued re-invention of herself. This is the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.

Featured image: Hotwells and Rownham Ferry by William Williams; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives. Charlotte lived in Bristol in later life.

Bude Haven by Joseph Stannard.

The Ringers of Launcells Tower

The Ringers of Launcells Tower; Frederick Smallfield. This painting was inspired by a poem called 'The Ringers of Launcells Tower' by Reverend Hawker of Morwenstow. The bell ringers who had rung the bells at the accession of George III in 1760, were still alive and able to ring the bells on his Golden Jubilee in 1810. The church of Launcells is midway between Stratton and Bude. As the painting was done 77 years after George III's Golden Jubilee, it is a reconstruction.
The Ringers of Launcells Tower; Frederick Smallfield; Royal Institution of Cornwall

We came across this piece of art whilst researching the heroine of our latest book, Mrs Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs. The painting was inspired by a poem called ‘The Ringers of Launcells Tower’ that was written, some decades after the event, by Reverend Hawker of Morwenstow and which we thought we would share with you.

Reverend Hawker of Morwenstow in 1864, who wrote a poem called ‘The Ringers of Launcells Tower’.

The Ringers of Launcells

They rang at the Accession of George the Third and lived to ring again at the fiftieth anniversary of his reign.

They meet once more! That ancient band –

With furrowed cheek and failing hand, –

One peal today they fain must ring

The Jubilee of England’s King!

*************

They meet once more – but changed are now

The sinewy arm and laughing brow:

The strength that hail’d in former times

King George the third with lusty chimes!

*************

Yet proudly gaze on that lone tower!

No goodlier sight hath hall or bower, –

Meekly they strive – and closing day

Gilds with soft light their locks of gray!

*************

Hark! Proudly hark! With that true tone

They welcomed Him to Land and Throne,

So ere they die they fain would ring

The Jubilee of England’s King!

*************

Hearts of old Cornwall! Fare ye well,

Fast fade such scenes from field and dell,

How wilt thou lack, my own dear land,

Those trusty arms, that faithful band!

*************

Launcells is a rural hamlet between Stratton and Bude in Cornwall where, during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, there lived six bell ringers. The six men are identified as John Lyle (1736-1832), Richard Hayman (1739-1816), John Ham (1742-1825), Richard Venning (1744-?), Henry Cade and John Allen.

Stratton by Charles Henry Branscombe
Stratton by Charles Henry Branscombe; Bude-Stratton Town Council

John Lyle was the longest living member of the group and was born and bred in Launcells and remained there his entire life. He was reputed to have rung a merry peal for King George III’s coronation in 1760, then again for his golden Jubilee in 1810, then for the coronation of King George IV in 1821 and, as unlikely as it seems, also for the coronation of King William IV in 1831, just one year before he died at the ripe old age of 96. That was quite some achievement. Two others also lived long enough to join John Lyle in ringing the peals for George IV’s coronation, Richard Hayman and John Ham.

George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.
George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.

The only other member we managed to find out anything about was John Ham who began his working life as an apprentice cooper to the Lyle family in 1754 and who married Anna Maria Lisle in 1761 at the parish church in Launcells.

The painting was a reconstruction of the scene as Frederick Smallfield imagined it would have looked, depicting the six bell ringers ringing the bells as part of the celebrations for the golden jubilee of King George III. It was clearly important to Smallfield that he captured everything correctly so he studied bell ringers at his local church as well as visiting the church tower in Launcells.

Bude Haven by Joseph Stannard.
Bude Haven, Cornwall by Joseph Stannard; Newport Museum and Art Gallery

We know that great celebrations were held across the country to celebrate the jubilee of King George III in 1809 as it was our very own heroine who instigated them. References to this painting seem to confirm though that the bell ringing took place in 1810, i.e. at the end of King George III’s 50th year on the throne.

The Apotheosis of Prince Octavius (1779-83) by Benjamin west, 1783. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The Death of Princes Alfred & Octavius and Queen Charlotte’s mysterious pregnancies

Our present Queen was not the only one to have an ‘Annus horribilis’, for King George III and Queen Charlotte theirs, however, lasted somewhat longer than one year. For them, the years between 1781-1783 could, without a doubt be described as being some of the worst years of their lives with the loss of their two youngest sons. Both parents were devastated by such tragic events.

We begin at the end of March 1781 when the newspapers reported that the queen was once again pregnant with what would be her fifteenth child and that a public announcement would be made at court after the Easter holidays. No announcement came – did the queen miscarry or was it merely ‘fake news’?

Her Majesty is said to be certainly pregnant of her fifteenth child a piece of intelligence that will be publickly communicated at Court after the Easter holidays.

Kentish Gazette, 28 March 1781

Early autumn of 1781 it was reported that young Prince Alfred (born 1780) was dangerously ill and that the queen was constantly attending to her youngest children in the nursery. By October Alfred was deemed to be much better and out of danger. All fourteen children were now doing well, even if the Prince of Wales (later George IV) was giving concern to his parents over his scandalous relationship with Grace Dalrymple Elliott who, at the end of March 1782, produced her one and only daughter reputedly as a result of her liaison with the Prince.

Prince Alfred (1780-1782). Miniature painted c.1782, British School. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Prince Alfred (1780-1782). Miniature painted c.1782, British School. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Prince Alfred’s health remained something of a cause for concern and in May 1782, it was agreed that he should be taken to Deal Castle to make use of the salt water there for the benefit of his health. Mid-August his health again deteriorated and on August 20th, 1782, despite Dr Heberden attending to him throughout the night, young Prince Alfred, aged one year and eleven months died of ‘a consumption’; other reports stated that whilst perfectly healthy when he was born, he became weak and died from ‘an atrophy’. A report given in the Reading Mercury amongst several other newspapers stated that:

The queen is much affected at this calamity, probably more so on account of its being the only one she has experienced after a marriage of 20 years, and have been the mother of fourteen children. There will be no general mourning for the death of Prince Alfred, it being an established etiquette never to go into mourning for any of the royal blood of England under fourteen years of age, unless for the heir apparent to the crown.

The young prince’s body will be removed from Windsor to the Prince’s chamber next the House of Lords, where it will be till the time of internment in Henry the VIIth chapel, Westminster Abbey. The queen is now pregnant of her fifteenth children, thirteen of which are living.

The queen – pregnant! We had to find out more.

Her Majesty is now in the seventh month of her pregnancy with her fifteenth child.

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 29 August 1782

A lock of Prince Alfred's hair given to Lady Charlotte Finch
A lock of Prince Alfred’s hair given to Lady Charlotte Finch (Royal Collection)

History tells us that the next child born to Queen Charlotte was Princess Amelia in August 1783, so what of the reported pregnancy in 1782. We thought it must be another piece of ‘fake news’, but seemingly not. The Norfolk Chronicle at the end of April 1782 stated that the queen was ‘in her fifth month of her fifteenth child’.

Another newspaper report regarding the death of Prince Alfred also pointed out that the queen was now ‘big with her fifteenth child’ and another confirmed her to be ‘in the seventh month of her pregnancy’ at that time. So, you would have expected reports in the press about the birth of this child about September or even October – but nothing, not a word, and if a royal child was stillborn, confirmation would still usually appear in the newspapers – very strange!

Although there was no official period of mourning the Royals were not seen out until 7th September when they travelled to Buckingham House from Kew. There are several reports of the queen continuing with her usual duties but still no mention of the pregnancy.

The Apotheosis of Prince Octavius (1779-83) by Benjamin west, 1783. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
The Apotheosis of Prince Octavius (1779-83) by Benjamin West, 1783. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Early May 1783, disaster struck the royal family again when the young Prince Octavius was taken from them.

The queen never left him from Thursday night till Saturday, when he died; his majesty also continued with him from Friday evening till his death. Their majesties are almost inconsolable for the loss of the amiable young prince. Princess Sophia, who was inoculated at the same time it was feared would not recover; but yesterday it was thought the disorder had taken a favourable turn. Prince Octavius is to be interred privately in Westminster Abbey with his late deceased brother Alfred.

The Three Youngest Daughters of George III, John Singleton Copley, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
The Three Youngest Daughters of George III, John Singleton Copley, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

After these tragedies, life was to improve for the royal family with the birth of Princess Amelia almost one year after the death of Prince Alfred meaning she was conceived just after the queen would have given birth to the child she had been reported to have been bearing in 1782 – all very strange!

Three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust

A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs – cover reveal

We’re massively excited to reveal the cover for our next book A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs which is due to be published later this year, again by Pen & Sword Books. It is now available to pre-order via Pen & Swords Books or Amazon and all other bookshops.

Rachel or Charlotte as she preferred to be known, really has tested our detective skills as she spent her life ‘under the radar’ despite everything she actually achieved in life and remained something of an enigma.

Lambeth Palace and St Mary's Church with St Paul's by William Marlow
Lambeth Palace and St Mary’s Church with St Paul’s by William Marlow; Government Art Collection

This book really has been a long time in the writing, as every time we thought we had found out all there was to know about her, Charlotte threw us another snippet, as if from nowhere, and off we disappeared again down yet another rabbit hole.

Putney Bridge and Village from Fulham, London
Putney Bridge and Village from Fulham, London; Museum of London

We thought we would share with you a little about how we came across Charlotte and what a complete nightmare and joy she has proved to be. We have gone through so many emotions we can’t begin to describe whilst piecing together her life.

Briton Ferry, Glamorgan by Julius Caesar Ibbetson
Briton Ferry, Glamorgan by Julius Caesar Ibbetson; Tate

Whilst researching Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s life (for our first book, An Infamous Mistress) we came across Charlotte’s name in connection with the home of one of Grace’s relatives. Our first thought was that it was a vaguely interesting snippet of information and perhaps worth, at the very most, a paragraph in Grace’s book, but absolutely nothing more than that.

An Account of the Celebration of George III's Jubilee in 1809

We then came across Charlotte’s ‘Testament’, her version of events that took place during her teenage years. At this point we knew her full life story needed to be told – she would either be immensely proud or absolutely furious that we haven’t left her to rest in peace (probably the former, if we’re honest).

Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library
Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library

At first, we couldn’t decide whether her Testament was a work of fiction or a factual account of shocking events that took place during her teenage years. We debated for months about her, swaying from completely believing her account, to thinking it was mere fiction as it read so much like a tragic Samuel Richardson novel.

Hotwells and Rownham Ferry by William Williams; Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives
Hotwells and Rownham Ferry by William Williams; Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives

I (Sarah) was less convinced than Jo that she was telling the truth, but the more we uncovered the more persuaded I became that the majority of it was true, too many of the facts checked out for it to be fiction.

House of Commons from Microcosm of London. Courtesy of the British Library
House of Commons from Microcosm of London. Courtesy of the British Library

So, with that one part of her life pieced together, in our usual detective fashion we simply had to find out more, where did she come from and what happened to her after this shocking ordeal? So off we went, desperate to find the missing pieces of the jigsaw.

The Conciergerie, Paris, by Henry Edridge,. Courtesy of The Yale Center for British Art
The Conciergerie, Paris, by Henry Edridge,. Courtesy of The Yale Center for British Art

What we discovered about her was far from anything we could ever have imagined. After a horrendous ordeal, she completely reinvented herself.

The York to London Coach at Bedale, c.1840; The British Postal Museum
The York to London Coach at Bedale by Anson Ambrose Martin; The British Postal Museum & Archive; c1840 (not quite Georgian)

We came across Professor Linda Colley’s book ‘Britons: Forging The Nation 1707-1837’ in which our heroine gets a mention. Colley describes her as:

an obscure, middle-class widow from the Welsh border’

From the Welsh borders – almost true. Obscure – well perhaps, she shunned the limelight, not that limelight was easy to achieve at that time for a woman. Middle class – probably. A widow – well, that’s another mystery which we’ll reveal in our book!

Rather than tell you more about the story itself we have included rather a lot of what appear to be random images, for which we offer no explanation, apart from to say that if you read the book they will make sense to you.

Louis XVI of France bids his farewell to the people of Paris, 1793. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Louis XVI of France bids his farewell to the people of Paris, 1793. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Charlotte was in fact, the instigator of our ‘All Things Georgian‘ blog as we needed to find somewhere to store pieces of information we had found about her, so we have been writing about events in Charlotte’s life in a variety of blogs for quite some time now as we’ve pieced together her life, these include:

Reverend William Dodd

‘Clarissa’ and ‘ Pamela’ by Samuel Richardson

Countess Leonor D’Oeynhausen (1750-1839)

Rolinda Sharples (1793-1838)

Helen Maria Williams

Arabella Williams – Le Petit Matelot

Robert Carpenter, Drury Lane actor

Rehab for 18th-century prostitutes – The Magdalen Hospital

The Dunston Pillar: celebrating the 50 year reign of King George III

Finally, to whet your appetite we’ll leave you with the back of the jacket.

A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Header image: The three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust.

The many faces of George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte

With so much interest in the Royal Collection’s Georgian Papers Project,  we thought we would examine some of the portraits of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz who was also patron of the arts. We took a brief look some time ago at some of the portraits of George III’s children, so other portraits of the Queen with her children can be found by following this link.

As you would imagine, both the King and Queen were painted by many of the leading artists of the day so we’ll take a look at just a few of them.

We begin with a miniature of Queen Charlotte by the artist Jeremiah Meyer, who was appointed miniature painter to her majesty.

Meyer, Jeremiah; Profile of Queen Charlotte (1744-1818); York Museums Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/profile-of-queen-charlotte-17441818-7868
Meyer, Jeremiah; Profile of Queen Charlotte (1744-1818); York Museums Trust

Our next portrait is attributed to Johann Zoffany, 1766. According to John Zoffany, His Life and Works by Lady Victoria Manners and Dr. G C Williamson:

Unfortunately for our artist he was addicted to the practical joke of introducing into his groups ‘without the permission of the original and often in unflattering guise‘ the representations of living persons with whom he had quarrelled or against whom he had  grievance. He is said to have scandalised the English Court by sketching out and showing to his friends a bold replica of his ‘Life School’ in which he had introduced a portrait of Queen Charlotte before she was married and had placed it opposite to the figure of one of her former admirers in Germany.

As Zoffany’ s Life School wasn’t painted until after this portrait of Queen Charlotte, it rather begs the question as to what she had done to upset him – perhaps she didn’t think he had captured her likeness in this portrait! We will probably never know.

som_hm_a359
Queen Charlotte (1744–1818) Johann Zoffany (1733–1810) (attributed to) The Holburne Museum

In 1789 Queen Charlotte sat for the artist Thomas Lawrence but, according to the National Gallery,  apparently unwillingly, having recently undergone the shock of George III’s first attack of apparent insanity. The pearl bracelets on Queen Charlotte’s wrists were part of the king’s wedding gift to her; one clasp contains his portrait miniature, the other his royal monogram. Although Lawrence’s portrait was considered to be very like Queen Charlotte, it failed to please the king and queen and remained in the artist’s possession

Lawrence, Thomas; Queen Charlotte; The National Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/queen-charlotte-115071
Lawrence, Thomas; Queen Charlotte; The National Gallery, London

This next painting is by one of the monarch’s favourite artists, William Beechey. In the biography of William Beechey R.A. written by W. Roberts in 1909, he notes that in 1793 Beechey painted a full-length portrait of Queen Charlotte, the Queen, in turn, honoured him by the appointment of Her Majesty’s Portrait Painter.

Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) by William Beechey; National Trust, Upton House
Beechey, William; Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818); National Trust, Upton House

Interestingly, there is another copy of this portrait at the Courtauld Gallery, dated somewhat later – 1812 – and with slightly different dimensions.

Beechey, William; Queen Charlotte; The Courtauld Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/queen-charlotte-207040
Beechey, William; Queen Charlotte; The Courtauld Gallery

Probably one of the most well-known portraits of her is the one by Allan Ramsay.

Ramsay, Allan; Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of George III

 

Reynolds, Joshua; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818), Queen Consort of King George III; Government Art Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/charlotte-sophia-of-mecklenburg-strelitz-17441818-queen-consort-of-king-george-iii-29112
Reynolds, Joshua; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818), Queen Consort of King George III; Government Art Collection

And finally, a portrait after Thomas Gainsborough.

Gainsborough, Thomas; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818); National Trust, Wimpole Hall; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/charlotte-sophia-of-mecklenburg-strelitz-17441818-171645
Gainsborough, Thomas; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818); National Trust, Wimpole Hall

Featured Image:

The Earl and Countess of Mexborough, in their coronation robes, with Their Son, Lord Pollington by Joshua Reynolds; Doddington Hall

Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s aunt and uncle at the coronation of George III in 1761

Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the subject of our book An Infamous Mistress, was only around seven years of age at the time of the coronation of King George III on the 22nd September 1761 at Westminster Abbey.

George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.
George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.

Grace, living in Scotland with her maternal relatives after her father had abandoned his young family, might just have had a first-hand account of the ceremony from her aunt, Robinaiana, Countess of Peterborough, who attended the coronation.

Ramsay, Allan; Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of George III; National Galleries of Scotland; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/queen-charlotte-17441818-princess-sophia-charlotte-of-mecklenburg-strelitz-queen-of-george-iii-213105
Ramsay, Allan; Queen Charlotte in her coronation robes (1744-1818), Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of George III; National Galleries of Scotland

As Peers of the Realm, the Earl and Countess of Peterborough would have been expected to wear their robes of state and coronets. An Earl’s coronet was a:

 . . . circle [of gold], richly chased, having eight pearls raised upon high points of gold, which spring out of the upper rim, with an equal number of strawberry leaves, formed of the same metal, standing upon lower points between them. It has also a doubling of Ermine, cap and tassel . . .

The Earl of Peterborough’s robes would have been of crimson velvet, lined with white sarcenet and with three guards of Ermine. Robinaiana’s state robe too would have consisted of crimson velvet and ermine, with her coronet having a cap also of crimson velvet turned up with Ermine and a button and tassel of gold on the top. The length of the train of the robe was regulated by the rank of the wearer; a Countess was allowed a train of up to a yard and a half in length.

Form of the Procession to the Coronation of the Sovereigns of England, 1760. (University of Virginia)
Form of the Procession to the Coronation of the Sovereigns of England.
(University of Virginia)

Whilst we know of no picture representing the Earl and Countess of Peterborough dressed for the coronation, there is one hanging at Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire which shows the Earl and Countess of Mexborough dressed for the occasion.

The Earl and Countess of Mexborough, in their coronation robes, with Their Son, Lord Pollington by Joshua Reynolds; Doddington Hall
The Earl and Countess of Mexborough, in their coronation robes, with Their Son, Lord Pollington by Joshua Reynolds; Doddington Hall

Horace Walpole mentioned Robinaiana, Countess of Peterborough’s appearance at the coronation, and you can read more about that in our book An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, available now from Pen and Sword Books and all good bookshops.

 

Sources:

A Faithful Account of the Processions and Ceremonies observed in the Coronation of the Kings and Queen of England: exemplified in that of their late most sacred Majesties King George the Third and Queen Charlotte with all the other interesting proceedings connected with that magnificent festival. Edited by Richard Thomson, 1820.

The Royal Babies of King George III & Queen Charlotte

George III (1738-1820), Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) and their Six Eldest Children. Zoffany
George III (1738-1820), Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) and their Six Eldest Children. Zoffany Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

The arrival of a baby at any time is a joyous event and with the arrival of the latest royal babies, we thought we would take a look back at the children of King George III and his consort Queen Charlotte. They produced a staggering 15 children. So here’s a brief look at them all through their portraits.

1. Their eldest child and first in line to the throne was George, later to become the notorious King George IV (1762 – 1830). As you may know, George, Prince of Wales, was named as the father of our favourite Georgian courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s daughter, but that’s another story, with Prince George featuring in our book An Infamous Mistress.

2. Frederick, Duke of York, now gave the couple the requisite ‘heir and a spare’. (1763 – 1827).

Royal baby - Buckingham Palace
Queen Charlotte with her Two Eldest Sons (Artist, Johann Zoffany)

At number 3  we have William, who would eventually become William IV (1765-1837). So the monarchy was safe, ‘an heir and now 2 spares’.

Prince William (1765-1837), later Duke of Clarence
Prince William (1765-1837), later Duke of Clarence, King William IV. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

As if three children weren’t enough the couple produced their first daughter, Charlotte, The Princess Royal  (1766 – 1828).

Princess Royal
Queen Charlotte with Charlotte, Princess Royal (Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014)

The couples fifth child was to be yet another son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (1767 – 1820). In due time, Edward’s daughter Victoria, born 24th May 1819, would ascend to the throne, and you can discover more about Queen Victoria and her descendants here.

Portrait of a Baby, possibly Prince Edward (1767-1820), later Duke of Kent
Portrait of a Baby, possibly Prince Edward (1767-1820), later Duke of Kent. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

At number six and almost a year to the day, Augusta Sophia was to make her appearance into the royal family, followed by their seventh child, another daughter,  Princess Elizabeth  (1770 – 1840).

Princess Augusta, Princess Elizabeth, Prince Ernest, Prince Augustus, Prince Adolphus and Princess Mary
Princess Augusta, Princess Elizabeth, Prince Ernest, Prince Augustus, Prince Adolphus and Princess Mary, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Numbers eight & nine were  Prince Ernest (1771 – 1851) and  Prince Augustus Frederick (1773-1843), who was to become the 1st Duke of  Sussex, the title being conferred upon him on 24th November 1801. This was the last time this title was used, but it is now the title that has been bestowed upon Prince Harry when he married Meghan Markle (19th May 2018) at Windsor Castle. If you’d like to find out more about the unconventional marriage of Prince Harry’s great, great, great grandfather to a Romany girl, you can discover all in our book, A Right Royal Scandal.

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

These two were followed a year later by their tenth child Prince Adolphus (1774 – 1850). At number eleven there was Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (1776 – 1857) and at twelve,  Princess Sophia (1777 – 1848).

The Three Youngest Daughters of George III
The Three Youngest Daughters of George III, John Singleton Copley, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

At thirteen we have the young  Prince Octavius  (1779 – 1783) whose life was tragically cut short only six months after the death of his younger brother Prince Alfred. To find out more about the tragically short lives of Octavius and Alfred and the Queen’s mysterious pregnancies click on this link.

Prince Octavius (1779-1783)
Prince Octavius (1779-1783), by Benjamin West. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

14. Prince Alfred (1780 – 1782)

Prince Alfred (1780-1782). Miniature painted c.1782, British School. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Prince Alfred (1780-1782). Miniature painted c.1782, British School. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Finally, at number fifteen there was  Princess Amelia (1783 – 1810).

Princess Amelia by Hoppner, 1785.
Princess Amelia by Hoppner, 1785. Wikimedia

Our final offering, King George III, Queen Charlotte, the group portrait, accompanied by their surviving 13 children.

Murphy_-_George_III_and_Queen_Charlotte_with_their_thirteen_children
George III and Queen Charlotte with their thirteen children by John Murphy
We have written extensively about the British royal family, revealing new – and surprising – information, and you can discover all here.

Margaret Nicholson: the woman who attempted to assassinate King George III

On the 2nd August 1786, a woman named Margaret Nicholson was arrested for making an attempt on the life of King George III. Judged to be insane, and committed to Bedlam for the remainder of her life, it turned her into an instant celebrity. No fewer than five hastily printed books and pamphlets proclaiming to be accounts of her life were printed and rushed out for sale, one of these being written by her landlord, Jonathan Fiske, who was conveniently a bookseller and stationer. These books, even Fiske’s, were largely copied from the newspaper reports which appeared after the assassination attempt and salacious gossip and incorrect facts were copied time and again, and still persist today.

Margaret Nicholson was not born in 1750, the daughter of George Nicholson a barber from Stockton-on-Tees, as stated in most sources including the much respected Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Nor was she born in Stokeswell in Yorkshire, as stated by Fiske. She was, in fact, the daughter of Thomas and Ann Nicholson of Stokesley in North Yorkshire, born in 1745 and baptised there on the 9th December 1745, the fourth child of the couple. Thomas Nicholson was, however, a barber, that bit of information was correct.

Her brother, named in the newspaper report below and who gave evidence at his sisters trial, was George Nicholson, landlord of the Three Horseshoes public house in Milford Lane on the Strand, a lane leading down from St Clement’s Church to the River Thames.

Margaret had left Stokesley for London when she was just twelve years of age, finding employment in several respectable houses before achieving her notoriety at the age of forty years.  She died at Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam) in St. George’s Fields, being buried there on the 21st May 1828, her age erroneously given as 90 years.

The following newspaper article details her attempt on the King’s life and, written just hours after the event and in an attempt to quash the rumours which were already starting to flow through the streets of London, can be taken as an authentic account.

THE SCOTS MAGAZINE, August, 1786.

Particulars of MARGARET NICHOLSON’S Attempt to assassinate his MAJESTY.

LONDON GAZETTE EXTRAORDINARY.

St. James’s, Wednesday, Aug. 2.

This morning, as his Majesty was alighting from his carriage at the gate of the palace, a woman, who was waiting there under pretence of presenting a petition, struck at his Majesty with a knife; but providentially his Majesty received no injury. The woman was immediately taken into custody; and upon examination appears to be insane.

An extraordinary Gazette gives importance to a subject; but this gazette is so very short, that some further particulars of this very interesting fact appear to be necessary.

It was at the garden-door opposite the Duke of Marlborough’s wall, that the woman, who appeared decently dressed, presented to his Majesty a paper folded up in the form of a petition. His Majesty, in stooping to receive it, felt a thrust made at his belly, which passed between his coat and his waistcoat. The King drew back, and said, “What does this woman mean!” At that instant one of the yeomen (Lodge) laying hold of her arm, observed something drop out of her hand, which another person taking up, said, “It is a knife!” The King said, “I am not hurt – take care of the woman – she is mad – do not hurt her *.”

His Majesty then went forward into the palace; and, when he had recovered his surprise, appeared to be greatly affected, expressing in a kind of faultering voice, that, “surely! he had not deserved such treatment from any of his subjects.” On opening the paper, when he entered the royal apartments, there were found written “To the King’s Most Excellent Majesty,” the usual head to petitions, but nothing more.

The woman was immediately taken into custody, and carried to the inner guard-chamber. Being questioned how she could make such a wicked and daring an attempt, her answer was, that “when she was brought before proper persons, she would give her reasons.”

She was then taken to the Queen’s antichamber, where she remained from twelve till near five, during all which time, though spoken to by several of the nobility, she did not condescend once to open her lips, but appeared totally unmoved by any representations of the atrocity of her crime.

At five o’clock she was taken to the board of green cloth for examination, where were present the Attorney and Solicitor Generals and Master of the Rolls, Mr Pitt, the Earl of Salisbury, Marquis of Caermarthen, Lord Sydney, Sir Francis Drake, and several magistrates.

Being interrogated, she said, her name was Margaret Nicholson, daughter of George Nicholson of Stockton-upon-Tees in Durham; that she had a brother who kept a public house in Milford-lane; that she came to London at twelve years of age, and had lived in several creditable services. Being asked, where she had lived since she left her last place? to this she answered frantically, “she had been all abroad since that matter of the Crown broke out.” – Being asked what matter; she went on rambling, that the Crown was her’s – she wanted nothing but her right – that she had great property – that if she had not her right, England would be drowned in blood for a thousand generations. Being further asked where she now lived; she answered rationally “at Mr Fisk’s, stationer, the corner of Marybone, Wigmore-street.” On being questioned, as to her right; she would answer none but a judge, her rights were a mystery. Being asked, if she had ever petitioned; said she had, ten days ago. On looking back among the papers, such petition was found, full of princely nonsense about tyrants, usurpers, and pretenders to the throne, &c. &c.

Mr Fisk, being sent for and interrogated, said, she had lodged with him about three years; that he had not observed any striking marks of insanity about her – she was certainly very odd at times – frequently talking to herself – that she lived by taking in plain work, &c. Others who knew her said, she was very industrious, and they never suspected her of insanity.

Dr Monro being sent for, said, it was impossible to discover with certainty immediately whether she was insane or not. It was proposed to commit her for three or four days to Tothil-fields Bridewell. This was objected to, because it was said, she was a state prisoner. At length it was agreed to commit her to the custody of a messenger.

Her lodgings being examined, there were found three letters written about her pretended right to the crown, one to Lord Mansfield, one to Lord Loughborough, and one to Gen. Bramham.

His Majesty’s presence of mind, and great humanity, were very conspicuous in his behaviour upon this shocking and terrifying attempt to take away his life. And if he had not instantly retreated, or if the wretch had made use of her right hand instead of her left, the consequences might have been of a most fatal nature.

It has been said, that the knife was concealed in the paper; but the fact was it was under her cloak; and when she presented the paper with her right hand, she took it and made a thrust with her left.

The instrument she used was an old ivory handled desert knife, worn very thin towards the point; so thin, that a person pressing the point against his hand, it bent almost double without penetrating the skin.

This attempt circulated through the city with amazing rapidity, and, gathering as it flew, a thousand fictions were added. The instant publication of the GAZETTE EXTRAORDINARY stopt at once their mischievous effect.

* The Earl of Salisbury ordered a gratuity to the yeoman of the guard, and the King’s footman, who first secured Mrs Nicholson after her attempt on the King; the rewards were 100 l. to the first, and 50 l. to the other.

In writing this article we have to acknowledge our debt to the following source:

Narrating Margaret Nicholson: A Character Study in Fact and Fiction by Joanne Holland, Department of English, McGill University, Montreal, August 2008