Sunday, June 29, 2014

Queen Adelaide, the Last Georgian Queen

By Lauren Gilbert

Miniature of the Duchess of Clarence,

later Queen Adelaide, 1818, by Samuel Raven

When Queen Victoria took the throne of England in 1837, it was considered the beginning of a new era, a new beginning, moving away from the wild, wastrel ways of her immediate predecessors, especially the debauched King George IV.  However, the queen consort Adelaide was not to be lumped in with them.  

Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, wife of William III, was willing to accept William’s proposal in the royal marriage frenzy following the death of Princess Charlotte in 1817.    (William was promised debt relief and an increased income if he married.)  She did her best to curb William’s eccentricities, and ultimately became a beloved figure in her own right.  But who was she?

Adelaide was the elder daughter of George I, the reigning Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, and his wife Princess Louise Eleonore of Hohenloh-Langenburg, born after 10 years of childlessness on August 13, 1792 in Meiningen.  She was given the very grand name of Adelaide Louisa Theresa Caroline Amelia (originally Adelheid Luise Therese Caroline Amalie in her native German).  

A Protestant, she was christened on August 19 in the castle chapel with an imposing list of godparents that included the reigning Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg and the Crown Princess of Saxony.  Another daughter named Ida was born 2 years later and, after a still birth, a son, Crown Prince Bernhard was born in 1800.  

Duke George was very interested in his children’s education (Adelaide and Ida began their lessons before the birth of the prince), and drew up a program of education himself, with an emphasis on religion and morals.  Their lessons included French and Italian.  By all accounts, Adelaide was intelligent and well educated.
Meiningen was a small state with a paternalistic government.  Education was highly thought of, and there was great pride in the founding of a girls’ school in 1797 where the girls were taught by men and studied Latin and other subjects.  There were also industrial schools where orphans and poor children were taught trades.  

The Duke supervised the government and the people’s needs closely.  By all accounts, Adelaide was raised in a progressive but controlled, structured environment.  Her father died in December of 1803, and her mother ruled as regent for the young prince, continuing the firm leadership of the late Duke. 

The tranquillity of this small state was destroyed by the activities of Napoleon, crossing back and forth with his armies, quartering his soldiers on the local inhabitants, banning English goods, and causing great damage and suffering when Napoleon was not satisfied.  Meiningen joined the Confederation of the Rhine, and sent 300 men to join the Allied Army.  

There was great suffering and privation during these years, and it appears that Adelaide spent much of this period assisting her mother with her duties in trying to maintain the people’s morale and welfare.
Taxation was very high in post-war Meiningen, and Adelaide was much occupied with trying to relieve the conditions of the poor in the state, and formed an organization of women to work with the Poor-Law Commission to assist with providing food and work to those found deserving.    She was a significant support to her mother as well.  

Adelaide’s sister Ida was betrothed in 1816, and married the Duke of Weimar June 2 of 1816.  This was the first time she and her sister were separated. Then, in 1818, Adelaide was caught up in the search for a suitable bride for William, the English Duke of Clarence, son of George III.
William had considered marriage before, notably after quarrelling with his long-time mistress, Mrs. Jordan (with whom he had 10 children).  In 1811, he proposed to an heiress, Lady Catherine Long, who apparently lost no time in accepting someone else.  Subsequently, he proposed to another young woman of rank, Miss Elphinstone, who turned him down immediately.  

William then apparently lost interest in the marriage project until 1817, when the death of Princess Charlotte (the heiress to the throne behind her father George, Prince of Wales and later George IV) made it essential for the unmarried sons of George III to do their duty.  (Mrs. Jordan’s death in 1816 made it somewhat easier for William.)  

In 1818, it appeared that William was unlikely to ever marry but, to everyone’s astonishment, he proposed to an heiress named Miss Wykeham, who possessed an income of 16,000 a year and a passion for hard riding.  (She was supposed to have worn spurs).  To the dismay of his family and the government, William’s proposal was accepted. It took two Council meetings and the combined efforts of the Regent, Castlereagh, the Duke of York and Lord Liverpool to talk him out this unsuitable alliance.  

At this point, Queen Charlotte apparently took a hand in the search for a suitable bride for William.  (Apparently by now, no one trusted him to do it himself.) Once Adelaide was identified as an acceptable candidate, the financial negotiations began.  William drove a hard bargain, but finally accepted what the government offered and proposed to Adelaide, with their engagement being announced in Meiningen April 19, 1818.  

There are indications that she was not happy about the engagement, but marriage to a royal duke with the potential of being queen and the possible mother to an heir to the throne of England was too much to dismiss lightly.  Adelaide was 25 (almost 26) and William was almost 53 years old.
Adelaide started on her journey to England on June 20, 1818 accompanied by the Duchess of Meiningen and her ladies and gentlemen.  Although Queen Charlotte had written to Adelaide, William did not deem it appropriate for him to escort his bride.  They arrived in London 14 days later.  She does not appear to have created much interest at the time of her entry.

Adelaide married William on July 11, 1818, at Kew Palace with Queen Charlotte present.  Although William had parted from Mrs. Jordan, leaving her to die in penury, he had remained a devoted father to his children and expected Adelaide to welcome them as well.  There is a great deal of speculation on how she felt about this, but all accounts indicate she treated his children with great kindness and affection.
A few weeks after their wedding, the Duke and Duchess of Clarence settled in Hanover.  Although Adelaide was not considered a beauty (allegedly plain, thin and having some kind of skin problem), apparently she and William settled down contentedly to a quiet life in Hanover.   

Adelaide quickly became pregnant but unfortunately delivered her child prematurely in March of 1819.  The baby girl, who was baptized Charlotte Augusta Louisa, lived only a few hours. Adelaide was quite ill after the birth, and both she and William were devastated by the baby’s death. 

After she recovered, they left Hanover and travelled through Europe.  They visited her mother in Meiningen, and continued on to meet the royal yacht at Dunkirk.  Their sailing was, unfortunately, delayed by a miscarriage.   They finally reached Clarence House in November of 1819.  This is the beginning of Adelaide’s life in England.
A few months of marriage to Adelaide had apparently done much to calm William’s excitability and improve his manners, and they were apparently happy living a quiet life, dividing their time between Clarence House in London and Bushy Park.  

The Duke of Kent and his wife had produced a daughter, Victoria, of whom William and Adelaide were very fond. When the Duke of Kent died on January 23, 1820, Adelaide paid multiple visits to his widow.  Much is written about her good relationships with her husband’s family and her efforts to keep the peace.  

King George III also died on January 29, 1820 making the Prince Regent King George IV.  His already debauched court was further scandalized when George IV’s wife Caroline decided to return to England for the coronation.  With her reputation for morality and kindness, Adelaide may not have felt comfortable (or even particularly welcome) at George IV’s court.  

At any rate, she was pregnant and living an extremely quiet life at this time, although she was present at the marriage of William’s daughter Elizabeth at St. George’s Hanover Square in December 4th, 1820.
On December 10, 1820, Adelaide gave birth to another premature daughter.  She was named Elizabeth Georgina Adelaide.  Again, Adelaide was quite ill and took several weeks to recover.  

At the beginning of March of 1821 the weather turned extremely cold.  Little Princess Elizabeth became very ill and died March 4, 1821 at only 4 months old.  The baby’s funeral was March 10th.  This was a tragedy from which Adelaide never fully recovered.  

Although she did become pregnant again, her pregnancies ended in miscarriages, including one, supposedly, of twin boys.  William was very sympathetic and was also upset over the loss of his children with Adelaide.  

An affectionate note written by Adelaide a short time after her baby’s death to the two-year-old Princess Victoria illustrated the kindness and warm-heartedness of Adelaide.
In June of 1822, the Duke and Duchess travelled to Europe.  Their travels included a visit to Meiningen, where they were greeted by Adelaide’s younger brother, the duke.  She was also able to spend time with her mother.  Later they also visited the Duke and Duchess of Weimar (her sister Ida and her husband) and saw the battlefield of Waterloo.  

Adelaide and William left for England in September of 1822.  They returned to continue their quiet life at Clarence House and Bushy Park, with occasional visits to see George IV at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Apparently, she was able to spend time with her family in Europe at periodic intervals during this period.    

Adelaide and William, by all accounts, became extremely fond of each other and had a congenial marriage.  Their last visit to Europe lasted over six months, during which time Adelaide was able to participate in her brother’s wedding festivities among other family visits from which they returned to England in early summer 1826. 
Frederick, Duke of York and heir to George IV, became ill in December of 1826 and died in January of 1827, leaving William heir to the throne.  This was completely unexpected, and thrust the Duke and Duchess of Clarence from their quiet life into political and social prominence.    

William was also made Lord High Admiral in April, which appeared to be almost more important to him, as it gave him the opportunity to suggest reforms and improvements for the navy.  (He was also pleased when he was granted additional funds.)
William and Adelaide led much more active social lives, together and separately; they gave a ball at the Admiralty on the anniversary of Waterloo on March 18, 1828 and hosted receptions. Unfortunately, William’s views and renewed excitability (apparently resulting from his unexpected elevation) brought him into conflict with Sir George Cockburn, head of the Board of the Admiralty, and he was ultimately compelled to resign as Lord High Admiral, even though many of his suggestions and ideas had merit.   

Apparently, he was quite unstable for a time in 1828 resulting in the Duke of Cumberland declaring him as mad as their father.  Available information indicates a period of quiet at Bushy Park with Adelaide finally restored his equilibrium.
Adelaide and William remained at Bushy Park for the next year or so.  Adelaide enjoyed long walks, embroidery, and was very happy at Bushy Park.  Several accounts indicate she did not look forward to being queen.  

George IV was also living much retired and became very ill in early 1830.  An early harbinger of change was a visit paid by Lady Jersey to Adelaide. (Adelaide and Lady Jersey were not close, and Adelaide expressed her surprise at Lady Jersey’s new interest in her.)

William was very fond of his brother, the king, and his moods swung from anticipation of what was to come, then to grief for his brother’s condition. As the end approached, he took residence in Windsor on May 25, 1830 and visited his brother daily.  George IV died June 26, 1830.  It must be said that there was little mourning for him.
Adelaide stayed at Bushy Park while William entered into his new life in London with gusto.  She lived quietly, spending time with the Duchess of Kent (mother of Princess Victoria) and in her usual pursuits. She did not attend George IV’s funeral procession, although she did observe the funeral itself from the Queen’s Closet.  

There was concern about William’s state as he was again exhibiting a certain amount of agitation, and the Duke of Cumberland was again making comments about William’s fitness to rule.  The fact that William did get through this period and relations with his brothers were smoothed over (even with the Duke of Cumberland) was attributed to Adelaide’s kindness and her ability to calm William.
Adelaide and William preferred a simpler life, and it showed in their coronation at Westminster Abbey on September 8, 1831.  (William had no taste for pomp and had not wanted a coronation at all.)  It was a pared-down ceremony, and there was no banquet at Westminster Hall. Adelaide paid for her own crown, using some of her own jewels and paying for the setting.   

William’s lack of pretension, warmth and good nature were well received, and Adelaide shared in his initial popularity.  However, his long-winded, loud speech, his excitability and lack of dignity created concerns. He was also interested in issues and politics, which had been neglected by George IV.  He said too much, insulted and offended people, and made himself extremely visible. Ultimately, he became a laughing stock.
In the early 1830’s there was great pressure for reform. When a bill to reform parliament was defeated a month after the coronation, crowds were angry. With her conservative, sheltered background, Adelaide found the prospect of change difficult and opposed reform.  William, on the other hand, was an advocate of reform.   

When the conservative House of Lords rejected another reform bill, William threatened to create enough liberal peers to make sure it passed, and the reform bill passed in May, 1832.  William was pleased, but it made him unpopular in conservative circles.   

Adelaide was also unpopular, accused by the conservatives of wielding her influence to push the King toward this liberal stand and by the liberals of meddling too much with politics through expressing her conservative views which encouraged the conservatives to fight reform.  

William and Adelaide were also disappointed in their efforts to have a closer relationship with their niece (and his heir) Princess Victoria, because of long-running tensions with the Duchess of Kent and the duchess’ restrictions on Victoria’s activities. 
As 1832 progressed, William’s physical and mental health deteriorated under these pressures and he became irritable and forgetful.  Adelaide objected to the politically-motivated removal without warning of her chamberlain Lord Howe and refused to appoint another.  He continued to serve her household in an unofficial capacity, which resulted in rumours of an illicit relationship.
By 1835, William had become stubborn and almost impossible to get along with. He tried to circumvent his ministers at every opportunity (without success), cursing and abusing them. He was frightened for the future of the realm, afraid of foreign invasion (he was especially suspicious of Russia), and of the Duchess of Kent serving as regent for Princess Victoria if he were to die before her majority. He did not trust the government to protect the realm.  

However, his affection for his wife remained constant.  In 1836, he suggest that her name be given to a new colony in south Australia; the city still bears her name.
William was pleased when Victoria’s 18th birthday came on May 24, 1837, taking great satisfaction that the Duchess of Kent would be denied the position of regent.  His physical condition deteriorated, and his primary concern was surviving until the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on June 18.  

The few pleasures he had included visits from his children and grandchildren. This must have been an excruciating time for Adelaide, with all the bad feeling, arguing and in-fighting combined with watching the inevitable decline of her husband and the death of her mother in the spring.  

She lived her usual quiet life, giving receptions and drawing rooms.  She also suffered a period of extreme illness, during which she was unable to assist William.  

Once she was sufficiently recovered, she was with him constantly, not leaving to change clothes for the last 10 days or so of his life. William died in Adelaide’s arms June 20, 1837 at Windsor Castle.
William’s funeral was at Windsor on July 10, and Adelaide attended, sitting in the Royal Closet at St. George’s. Letters between Adelaide and the new queen, Victoria, show an affectionate relationship, with Victoria allowing Adelaide to stay in Windsor at her pleasure, allowing her to take what she wished (Adelaide took a cup that William had used and a picture of him with his children); Adelaide in her turn wrote warmly to Victoria, offering her blessings and prayers to the new queen, showing no signs of begrudging her niece anything. Adelaide retired to Marlborough House and her beloved Bushy Park with no sign of regret.
For a while after William’s death, Adelaide received no visitors. She had never fully recovered from her illness at the time of William’s last illness, and the strain of caring for him and his subsequent death resulted in a recurrence of her own illness. Custom prevented her from attending Victoria’s coronation, although she sent a lovely letter of congratulation and best wishes to her niece on that day.  She retained the servants who had worked for her when she was Duchess of Clarence.  
Adelaide became noted for her charitable work and became widely loved. According to one account half of her income was devoted to various charities, including several church funds. 

A year after William’s death, Adelaide cruised the Mediterranean and visited Malta, where she was received enthusiastically. Apparently there was no Anglican church at Malta, and she wrote to the queen and prime minister about the situation. She was ultimately responsible for founding and endowing the Anglican Cathedral of St Paul at Valetta, Malta (she laid the foundation stone in 1839).
Adelaide remained on excellent terms with her niece. After her return, she visited the Queen in her box at the opera, attended her wedding, and was one of the sponsors for the queen’s first child, Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise. (However, Adelaide did annoy Queen Victoria by writing to her, expressing strong Tory leanings.)  

Adelaide also remained on good terms with the dowager Duchess of Kent (Victoria’s mother) and other members of the royal family. Her own family spent much time with her, and she was still very involved with William’s children and grandchildren.   

She continued to have health problems, and she ultimately lost the use of one lung.  She changed residences frequently, apparently trying to find a place where she would improve to no avail. Her last residence was Bentley Priory, in Middlesex, where she died December 2, 1849. Her sister and her nephew were with her, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited her the week before she died. Adelaide was buried with William.    

 Sources include:
Crofton, Ian.  The Kings and Queens of England.  New York: Metro Books, 2011 (by arrangements with Quercus Editions Ltd).
Erickson, Carolly.  HER LITTLE MAJESTY The Life of Queen Victoria.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Erickson, Carolly.  ROYAL PANOPLY Brief Lives of the English Monarchs.  New York: History Book Club, 2003.
Williamson, David.  History of the Kings and Queens of England.  National Portrait Gallery, 1998 (Barnes & Noble edition 2003).
Sanders, Mary.  The Life and Times of Queen Adelaide. London: Stanley, Paul & Go, 1915.  On-line at
Britain Express website.  Dictionary of British History.  “Queen Adelaide 1792-1849.”
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (on-line).  Clerke, E. M. and Purdue, A. W.  Adelaide {Princes of Saxe-Meiningen}(1792-1849), queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, consort of William IV.
The Advertiser (on-line).  McGuire, Michael.  “How Well Do You Really Know Our Queen Adelaide?” May 3, 2013.
Lauren Gilbert, author of HEYERWOOD A Novel, lives in Florida with her husband.  A second novel is expected out later this year.  For more information, visit her website at      

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