10 February 2017

Mistresses: Mrs. Dorothea Jordan & King William IV

They nicknamed him "Silly Billy". A more flattering nickname was "The Sailor King". Sandwiched between such iconic monarchs as George IV, whose extravagant lifestyle defined the aesthetics of the Regency Era, and his Queen Victoria, King William IV, former Duke of Clarence (1765-1837) easily gets lost. There is no label attached to his reign. One could call it either "post-Regency" or "pre-Victorian". That period is not covered in literature extensively. And yet, the time between 1830 and 1837 was a time of transition and transformation. The reforms put in place by William IV paved the road for Queen Victoria. He was the last king of the Hanoverian Dynasty and the oldest king to ascend the throne. It was a case of somewhat surprising late-in-life rise power.

William IV; source -
Wikimedia Commons
William IV spent his early years in the Royal Navy, stationed in North America and the Caribbean. Apart from having a personal tutor present on board, William did not enjoy any privileges that would set him apart from the rest of the sailors. He did his share of heavy physical work. During the American War of Independence, he was stationed in New York. Allegedly, George Washington had attempted to kidnap him, knowing that the young man had a habit of walking out unescorted. Fortunately for William, the plot did not come to fruition. Decades later, William endeavored to repair the Anglo-American relations. His subsequent commanding officer, Horatio Nelson, praised him, "In his professional line, he is superior to two-thirds, I am sure, of the Naval list; and in attention to orders, and respect to his superior officer, I hardly know his equal." In 1789 William’s father, George III, made him Duke of Clarence and St. Andrews. Following an arm injury a year later, William was removed from active naval service. The Admiralty did not honor his requests for reinstatement. It must have been agonizing for William to stand on the sidelines during the Napoleonic Wars.

Actress Dorothea Jordan: source -
Wikimedia Commons
Being the third son, William assuming that his chances of becoming a king were very slim, so he did not feel the pressure to get married and produce legitimate children. So he cohabited with an Irish-born actress whose stage name was Mrs. Dorothea Jordan (1761-1816) known for her long and gorgeous legs. She was a few years older than William and had a track record of love affairs with some pretty high-profile individuals that had resulted in three out-of-wedlock births, so she did not exactly fit the image of a seduced and discarded ingenue. Their affair lasted for twenty years and produced ten children, all of whom took the surname of FitzClarence - a homage to Dorothea's Irish roots combined with William's title as the Duke of Clarence.

Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen:
source: Wikimedia Commons
His favorite daughter Sophia went on to marry Philip Sidney, a relative of the famous poet Percy Shelly. The rest of his daughters went on to marry lords and politicians. William and Dorothea enjoyed a surprisingly normal domestic life, but they ended up separating over financial disputes. Dorothea was given custody of her female children and a stipend on the condition that she would not return on stage. When she violated the stipulation and resumed acting in order to pay off some debt, William seized custody of the girls and withdrew his allowance. Dorothea ended up moving to France and dying in poverty - a distressing end for what had started as an illicit fairy-tale.

After parting with his long-time mistress, William embarked on a wife-hunt. After several years of looking for a suitable candidate, he married a 25-year old Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, who welcomed his illegitimate children but could not produce an heir - her own children all died in infancy. One positive thing that came out of William's marriage to Adelaide was that he became frugal and disciplined, which worked in his favor when he became monarch.


*This article is excerpted in part from the original post by M.J. Neary at: http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2016/06/king-william-iv-gap-monarch.html 

1 comment:

Anna Lowenstein said...

I am a volunteer at Kenwood House, an 18th century house in London. We have an original portrait of Dorothea Jordan by John Hoppner, which you can see if you scroll down at http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/kenwood/history-stories-kenwood/history/collections. I'm very glad to learn more about her, as this is information I can pass on to visitors to the house who stop to look at the painting.