Monday, July 6, 2020

George III – Not a Mistress in Sight, But a Prolific Parent

by Mike Rendell

The grandson of George II was twenty-two when he came to the throne. It is ironic that his reign coincided with an explosion in the trade of satirical prints. They mocked his avarice, they mocked his miserliness, they mocked his simple tastes, and his interest in agriculture, but the one thing they could not do was mock his family values and constancy to the woman who became his queen.

Not that this stopped a curious story emerging in 1770. This was to the effect that, as Prince of Wales, he had secretly married ‘a fair Quakeress’ by the name of Hannah Lightfoot on 17 April 1759, at Curzon Street Chapel, and that they had two children together.

In 1788 S.W. Fores published a caricature entitled The Fair Quaker of Cheltenham showing the young monarch addressing his ardour to a young lady under the shade of an overhanging tree. In the background, by way of being a complete anachronism, Queen Charlotte is spying on the couple. Not a shred of evidence supported this wild allegation, but ‘the story had legs’ to the extent that in the course of the next century various spurious claims were put forward. Futile applications were made through the courts, seeking to declare the children of Queen Charlotte illegitimate, on the basis that the King had married her bigamously. It shows the willingness of people to publish (and read) scandalous stories about the Royals. The idea that ‘truth should never get in the way of a good story’ is nothing new….

The legend of George Ill's attachment to the 'fair Quakeress' can be traced back to a paragraph in a newspaper from 1776, and it was not finally discredited until 1866. One rather suspects that the rumours started after King George had returned to Cheltenham at a time when he was suffering mentally, and perhaps he was overheard gabbling on about some imagined episode of his earlier life.

What appears to be the case is that George was faithful to Charlotte (and probably didn’t have the energy to be anything else, given that he gave her fifteen children). He had never met Charlotte until the occasion of their marriage on 8 September 1761. Mind you, she was not the first woman propelled in his direction. He had previously thought of marrying Lady Sarah Lennox, sister of the Duke of Richmond but Lord Bute managed to talk him out of the alliance, and she went off and married Sir William Bunbury. Her “disappointment” at failing to make it to the dizzy heights of Queen was lessened by the fact that, as she said, "Luckily for me, I did not love him, and only liked him." She was invited by the King to be one of his ten bridesmaids, which must have been a small consolation!

Whether he stayed faithful throughout his marriage to Charlotte I do not know, but certainly if there had been any whiff of scandal, the Press and in particular the caricaturists, would have surely alluded to it. After all, the King’s siblings were constantly in the news for their infidelities and peccadilloes, and no-one felt under any restraint in publicising the facts in great detail!

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The story of George III and of the bedspring-busting antics of his entire family, is featured in Mike Rendell's book In Bed with the Georgians, Sex Scandal and Satire in the Eighteenth Century, published by Pen & Sword Books.

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2 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading this Mike - although I think it might have been Charlotte who was the more tired after producing 15 children :) "Bedspring-busting" is a great expression - made me smile on a rainy Monday morning; thanks :)

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  2. Fun article, Mike! I once read that Queen Charlotte quipped something to the effect of, "Ours was a marriage made in bed." Can you verify that?

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