Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Queen Victoria, Part II: And the Winner is...

You’ve heard the expression that “truth is stranger than fiction,” haven’t you? The story of how Queen Victoria came to be born is one of the more improbable stories in history. Read this and let me know if you don’t think so too.

Now…let yourself drift back in time (cue woo-woo music) to the early nineteenth century…

It’s late 1817, and there's just been a death in the royal family of England. Poor Charlotte, granddaughter of King George III and heiress to the throne of England after her dad the Prince of Wales, has just died in childbirth. The country is devastated, because Charlotte was very popular. But more importantly, she had no brothers or sisters because her parents couldn’t stand each other.

So who was going to inherit the throne after the Prince of Wales?

Well…according to the rules in England, if the king’s eldest son has no legitimate children, then the throne is inherited by his next son (and that son’s legitimate children)…and so on down the line. George III had fifteen (that is not a misprint) children, twelve of whom were still living, so that was okay…there were plenty of spare heirs there, right? And most of those children had children of their own. In fact, by 1817 George III had fifty-six grandchildren. You’d think that the last thing anyone had to worry about was the heir supply…but in fact there was a problem.

The problem was that none of those fifty-six was legitimate. Not one. Charlotte had been the only one of George III’s grandchildren whose parents who were actually married to each other. Most of George’s sons had remained single for various reasons, but that hadn’t stopped them from raising fine families. One of them, the Duke of Clarence, had ten children with a famous actress of the day, Dorothy Jordan.

This just cracks me up. Fifty-six illegitimate grandchildren for a man who was, according to all accounts, as strait-laced and virtuous as they come. Go figure.

So early 1818 saw three unmarried middle-aged English princes rushing through Europe looking for young, healthy princesses to marry (a fourth had just married a couple years before). And after that, the race began to see who could produce a legitimate child first. Our Victoria was one of those babies, arriving on May 24, 1819. She wasn’t the first--a boy named (what a surprise) George had been born in March--but because her father was the older than that baby’s father, she won…

And eighteen years later became Queen.

In a few weeks look for Queen Victoria Part III: Poor Little Rich Girl

And in case you're wondering, that's Victoria as a toddler with her mother the Duchess of Kent in 1821, by W. Beechey.


Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Marissa. What a great post! Yes, it seems that George III's sons rebelled in a major way compared to dear old daddy's virtuousity. And don't forget he tried to keep his daughters from marrying! I'm curious though who was the father of George and what happened to him?

Marissa Doyle said...

Hi Elizabeth,

That particular George was the son of the Duke of Cambridge, the youngest of George III's surviving sons. He became Duke in his own turn as well as C-in-C of the British Army. He outlived Victoria by three years. One of his nieces was Princess May of Teck, who married George V and became Queen Mary.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Thanks for clearing that up Marissa. I just looked it up on Wikipedia as well. I've always thought that George III and his children are a total fascinating subject.