Saturday, March 7, 2020

Queen Adelaide

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 "You will do William good."  The words of comfort to Princess  Adelaide of Saxe- Meiningen came in a letter from her mother-in-law Queen Charlotte shortly after Adelaide's marriage to her son, Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence and St. Andrews.

Even King George III's formidable consort knew that the delicate task of restoring respect to the Royal Family's name rested with the young new Duchess of Clarence.  None of George III's sons had spotless reputations.  Nor for that matter did their wives. There was no question that the Prince Regent would ever reconcile with his wife, Caroline, even after their only child, Charlotte, had died in childbirth.  The Duke of York's wife preferred the company of her dogs to her husband. The reputation of the Duchess of Cumberland was considered so scandalous that Queen Charlotte refused to allow her daughter-in-law at court, even though Frederica was also her niece.

The Duchess of Clarence was a breath of fresh air for the House of Hanover.

Princess Amalie Adelheid Luise Therese of Saxe-Meiningen, Duchess of Saxony, was born at Meiningen on 13 August 1792.  Her birth brought great joy to her parents, Duke Georg I of Saxe-Meiningen, and his wife, Princess Luise Eleonore of Hohenlohe-Langenburg.  The Duke and Duchess had been married for ten years and had almost given up hope of ever having a child.  Two years later, a second daughter, Ida was born.  In 1800, the family's happiness was made complete when the much-wanted heir, Bernhard, was born.

Bernhard was only three years when his father died and he became the sovereign of the tiny duchy, north of Coburg and nestled deep in the Thuringian mountains.  Duchess Luise Eleonore was named Regent until Bernhard reached his eighteenth birthday.

Duke Georg had believed strongly in providing formal education for his daughters and insisted that Adelaide and Ida were taught Greek and Latin.  Reading the classics was a part of the princesses' formal education, although, for early 19th-century German princesses, this was not a normal or traditional education.

But even bluestocking princesses had few opportunities to avail themselves, apart from a marriage to a German prince from one of the neighboring duchies. When Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach came to Meiningen in search of a wife, Duchess Luise Eleonore hoped that he would choose the elder and plain Adelaide.  But it was the younger and prettier Princess Ida who accepted the Prince's offer of marriage, which took place in May 1816.  Adelaide was delighted by her sister's engagement.  As she approached her 25th birthday, she knew that her own chance of marriage was diminishing quickly.  What she did not know was that her mother and a family friend were conducting secret negotiations with King George III's third son, Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence.

The engagement between Prince William and Princess Adelaide was announced on 19 April 1818. If Adelaide had any apprehensions about her future life, she did not show it.  This well-read princess was no doubt aware of the dissolute nature of George III's sons.

The Duke of Clarence, at 52, was "the least educated of the British princes," while his future wife was described as a "small well-bred, excellent little woman."  Adelaide also had "a sense of duty [which] was one of the wonders of the age."
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William had very little to offer a wife except for the possibility of becoming Queen Consort of the United Kingdom and Hanover.  The third eldest of George III's son, William never expected to remain so close to the throne.  He had in fact chosen a career in the Royal Navy and was created Duke of Clarence and St. Andrews only after he threatened to stand for Parliament unless his father conferred on him a royal dukedom.

The death of George III's only legitimate grandchild, Princess Charlotte,  in childbirth in 1817, meant that Prince William was again in third place in the succession.

“Sailor Bill" or "Silly Billy" as William was known in the then tabloid press had enjoyed a series of love affairs before he settled down to comparative domesticity at Bushy Park with the actress Dorothy Jordan, who presented him with ten FitzClarences in fifteen years.  Supporting his mistress, their five sons, and five daughters, as well as Dorothy's children from previous relationships, was a costly endeavor.  To make ends meet, he would need to make a sacrifice, and that sacrifice was Dorothy Jordan, who after 20 years of living with William, was deserted by her royal lover. William needed a more permanent alliance.  In 1813, he began a serious search for a wife, preferably beautiful, young, and rich.

The deaths of Princess Charlotte and her stillborn son made William's search for a wife even more urgent.

Of George III's seven sons who were still alive in 1817, only three were legally married.  The Duke of York, who was now second in line, had no children by his wife.  Fourth in line was Edward, Duke of Kent, then living a contented life with his longtime mistress, Julie St. Laurent.  A glimmer of hope to the succession rested with the Duchess of Cumberland who expected a child early in the year, but in January the duchess gave birth to a stillborn daughter and at age 39, Frederica was not expected to bear another child.

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Realizing a contentious situation could be created by a throne without young heirs, Parliament ordered the unmarried royal dukes to marry at once or lose their allowances.

Every proposal William made to several singularly eligible heiresses was politely declined.  With `the desire of the Prince Regent', William even tried to woo the widowed Grand Duchess Catherine of Oldenburg, a sister of the Russian Emperor Alexander I declined the proposal stating that a son of George III was not good enough for his sister, while Catherine thought William vulgar.

William's cousin, Princess Sophia of Gloucester, was also considered, but she was already in her forties and past the age of childbearing.

The Duke of Kent, who thought nothing of abandoning his paramour for the sake of his creditors, was also now looking for a wife. But George III's youngest son, Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, wanted no part of the marital sweepstakes, although he offered his help in finding a bride for William.

The Duke of Cambridge, who served as his father's Viceroy in Hanover, decided that Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel would be the perfect bride for his brother.  Cupid's arrow struck Adolphus instead and the confirmed bachelor found himself falling in love with the attractive princess.  They were married in April 1818 with William's blessing.

Finding a wife was proving to be a daunting task. Several German princesses turned down William's proposal before Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen accepted.  Instead of an attractive, young heiress he had hoped to marry, the Duke of Clarence was now engaged to a plain and poor princess from a provincial German duchy.

According to tradition, William could not be present when Adelaide arrived in England.  The Prince Regent, standing in for the incapacitated George III, welcomed the princess to her new country.  Also present was William's eldest son, George who was two years younger than Adelaide. He described his future stepmother as "the best and most charming woman in the world."

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Adelaide was also presented to William's aging mother, Queen Charlotte.  For years the queen had suffered degradation and humility caused by her childrens' outrageous behavior and was only too pleased by her son's choice of a bride.  This felicitous welcome by Queen Charlotte and other members of the family came as a surprise to Adelaide.

The couple was married in a double ceremony at Kew Palace on 13 July 1818 in the presence of the approving Queen Charlotte.  To counter criticism of fiscal irresponsibility, the Duke of Kent was married at the same time to Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Saalfeld.  The Prince Regent gave away both brides, and the program for the ceremony was printed in both English and German because the two new Royal duchesses spoke very little English.

Although Adelaide came to love all things English, she always spoke the language with a distinct German accent and would prefer to converse in her native tongue.

Adelaide may not have shared Dorothy Jordan's vivacious beauty, but she made a deep and lasting impression on the Duke of Clarence and she succeeded in making an honest man out of him.  She cleaned up his language and even made him more considerate of others.

The couple's first home was in Hanover because it was less expensive to live there than in London.  William had to swallow his pride when they settled in the Fürstenhof where he would have to yield seniority to his younger brother, the Duke of Cambridge, who was Viceroy.

It came as no surprise that the three new royal duchesses were all pregnant in the first months of 1819. What was unexpected was the announcement that the Duchess of Cumberland was also enceinte.

The Duchess of Cambridge led off the race for an heir when she gave birth to a son, George, on 26 March 1819 in Hanover. 

Adelaide's pregnancy had not gone well. Early in the year, she caught a cold that soon developed into pleurisy. The day after the birth of Prince George of Cambridge, she was delivered prematurely of a daughter.

Princess Charlotte Augusta Louisa of Clarence lived for only seven hours and was buried next to the body of King George I in the royal crypt.  Prince George of Cambridge's place in the succession was soon superseded by the birth of a princess, Alexandrina Victoria, to the Duchess of Kent on the 24th of May at Kensington Palace.  Three days later, the Duchess of Cumberland gave birth to a son, George, in Berlin.  (This youngest prince was destined to become the last King of Hanover.  Because of Salic law, which barred females from succession, Queen Victoria was unable to succeed to the Hanover throne.  This crown passed to the next in line, the Queen's uncle, the Duke of Cumberland.)

The succession was again secure.  It was hoped that more babies would soon join the nurseries. The Duchess of Cambridge obliged by presenting the nation with two princesses, Augusta in 1822 and Mary Adelaide in 1833.  Both Drina of Kent and George of Cumberland was destined to be only children.

Adelaide and William were saddened by the death of their daughter. By late summer in 1818 Adelaide was again pregnant, but during a trip to Calais in September, she suffered a miscarriage.

In January 1820 the succession was altered by the deaths of the Duke of Kent and King George III. The Duke of Clarence was now second in line behind the Duke of York.  The fatherless Kent princess was third in succession.

Childbearing proved to be difficult for Adelaide as she was burdened with ill health.  On 10 December 1820, she again gave birth prematurely to a daughter, who was named Elizabeth Georgiana Adelaide.   The little princess was a delight to her parents and the hope for Britain, but on 4 March 1821, Elizabeth died "from an entanglement of the bowels."

  Over the next few years, there were several rumors of another royal birth, but a miscarriage of twins on 8 April 1882 was the Duchess of Clarence's final pregnancy. Unable to provide her husband with an heir, she gave her love to William's children and grandchildren, although she was often forced to mediate the petty squabbles that erupted between William and the FitzClarences.  She adored her nieces and nephews, especially Princess Luise of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, who suffered from a spinal disease.  Luise lived with her aunt and uncle until her death at age 14 in 1832.

William was desolate by his wife's inability to bear children. "I want to express my feelings at these repeated misfortunes to this beloved and superior woman," he wrote to George IV.

Adelaide was especially fond of the fatherless Kent princess, little Drina.  "My children are dead, but yours lives, and She is mine too," Adelaide wrote to the widowed Duchess of Kent soon after Elizabeth's death.  The estrangement between the Duke and Duchess of Clarence and the Duchess of Kent over the latter's insistence that Drina should be named as William's heir was yet to come.

The relationship between the two Royal Duchesses was still cordial when Adelaide arranged the marriage between her cousin Prince Ernst of Hohenlohe-Langenburg and the Duchess of Kent's elder daughter, Princess Feodora of Leiningen.  The couple was married at Kensington Palace in February 1828.  George IV offered to give the bride away, but when he failed to turn up for the ceremony, William stepped in.

By 1830 the friendship between the two women, born in neighboring German duchies, had deteriorated.  Determined to push for her daughter's status, the Duchess of Kent wanted William to proclaim Victoria as heiress presumptive.  The King declined. 

Young Victoria was not permitted to visit her aunt and uncle because her mother did not want her to be sullied by meeting William's illegitimate children.

In 1827 William was named Lord High Admiral and the couple moved from Clarence House to Admiralty House where the Duchess proved to be a popular hostess.

Only three years later on 26 June 1830, George IV died and William was proclaimed King.

King William IV and Queen Adelaide moved to Buckingham Palace.  During the first years of William's reign, Adelaide's popularity reached a zenith.  Her gentle manner and stabilizing effect on her husband pleased William's subjects.

"What a fortunate country this is to have such a queen.  She will be a saving angel for this country."     
But the domesticity of the royal couple sitting by the fire, Adelaide knitting and William napping and nodding "Exactly so, Ma'am," was not the scene in most of Britain's homes.  The Reform movement, which had its origins in Europe, had now spread to England. Adelaide, who feared reform, was convinced that the movement would mean the end of the monarchy.  She was encouraged in her beliefs by the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Howe, a fervent anti-reformer.

"We may think, we must think, we must not speak," the Duchess of Cambridge cautioned her sister-in-law in response to growing criticism of the Queen's comments.

Invective continued to flow.  One evening as she returned to the Palace from a concert, Adelaide was almost torn from her carriage by an angry mob.  Political cartoons depicted the queen and Lord Howe as lovers, although the accusation was without merit.

An editorial in The Times stated that  "a foreigner is not a very competent judge of English liberties and politics are not the field of female enterprise. " Another newspaper, with an equally derisive editorial, labeled Adelaide as "a nasty German Frau."

Adelaide did have her supporters.  One such group circulated a petition, "Appeal to the Honest Feelings on behalf of the Queen of England."  But after a long struggle in Parliament, the Reform Bill became law in 1832.  Lord Howe was dismissed from the court.  The Queen was furious.  "I have trusted in and built firmly on the king's love for me.  But unfortunately, he has not been able to resist the representation of his Ministers and yielded, and I fear it will be the beginning of too much evil," she wrote in her diary.

The queen's main concern remained with her family.  She was heartbroken when her niece Luise died and she was deeply frustrated by the Duchess of Kent who would not allow Victoria to visit Buckingham Palace.  Both Adelaide and William had enjoyed Victoria's presence.

  Adelaide continued to suffer from ill-health.  Following a visit to Meiningen in April 1837, she nearly died. The Duchess of Cambridge was asked to hold a drawing room for her.  William prayed that his wife would survive this illness.  Adelaide did recover, but soon afterward, William's own health began to decline.  He was determined to live long enough to celebrate Princess Victoria's eighteenth birthday on 24 May, when she would be free to reign without a Regent.  Less than a month later, on 20 June 1837, King William IV died in his wife's arms.

Victoria was now Queen and one of her first actions was to write a letter of condolence to her aunt Adelaide.

The Dowager queen soon withdrew from public life.  She moved into Marlborough House where William's children and grandchildren were welcome guests.  She visited Germany often to spend time with her family, but she preferred to travel further south to Italy where she could avoid the cold, damp British winters.  By tradition, Adelaide, as the Queen Dowager, was not present when Victoria was Crowned, but she was an honored guest at Victoria's wedding to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in February 1840.  And she was delighted when nine months later, Queen Victoria gave birth to her first child, the Princess Royal, who was christened Victoria Mary Adelaide Louisa.  The baby's third Christian name was given in honor of Adelaide being named one of the godparents.

Queen Adelaide died at the home of the Marquess of Abercorn, Bentley Priory, on 2 December 1849.  "She is a great loss to both of us," Queen Victoria wrote shortly afterward.  "And an irreparable one to hundreds and hundreds."  The Queen, who was pregnant with Prince Arthur, was unable to attend her beloved aunt's funeral.  Prince Albert led the many mourners, and two of William's sons served as pallbearers.  Most of Adelaide's possessions were sold at auction, although Marlborough House was given to Victoria's eldest son, the Prince of Wales.

But Adelaide's most priceless possession, the marble statue of her infant daughter, Elizabeth, was left to Victoria, which was a poignant reminder to the young queen of a cousin who might have been in her place.

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