Friday, July 4, 2008
Tart of the Week: Mrs. Fitzherbert
It's time to talk of the black widow, Maria Fitzherbert. Well, I guess calling her the black widow is a bit of an embellishment, she really wasn't that evil. Or even that tartly, but she's a tart just the same. Maria is mostly guilty by association, but don't worry she had some tart-like qualities.
Maria was a Catholic commoner educated in Paris. She married Edward Weld when she was 18 who was almost twice her age. He then died from falling off his horse three months later. Maria recuperated from her grief three years later and married Thomas Fitzherbert who was only ten years older than her. After three years of marriage he died. Maria said "screw this marriage business" and proceeded to London to spend her money on fun things such as balls and pretty shoes. She was a blonde who was ready to have her fun!
She entered London society and was quickly swept up into it. She has been described as heavy; her figure, her walk, even her conversation was too heavy to be welcomed in the gossiping, light-hearted Devonshire House circle. Still, she fit in well and had an ego to prove it. In 1784, while attending the opera she was introduced to the Prince of Wales and he fell madly in love with her. Which, really, wasn't unusual for him. But, strangely enough, this one was different. Maria welcomed the attention but had no interest in being a royal mistress. This only made George want her more. He offered her marriage and even is reported to have thrown himself at the floor screaming and pulling his hair and proclaiming he would die if she was not his wife (can't you just see this in an episode of Blackadder?). This could obviously not come to be. First of all Maria was Catholic, secondly George needed the king, his father's, permission to wed. Therefore the marriage was impossible.
One nice July evening Georgiana was on a balcony on Devonshire House having a few drinks with some friends. A footman called her inside to inform her two men were waiting to see her. They were the Prince's cronies and they told her George had stabbed himself with his sword and his dying wish was to see Maria who would not go unless Georgiana accompanied her. Georgiana was distressed about the prince but pissed off about Maria, who she really did not care for. The two women were escorted to the bloody dying prince who said in order to die in peace he needed to marry Maria. She panicked and agreed and he insisted on a ring to seal the deal. Everyone looked around blankly at each other and Georgiana rolled her eyes and begrudgingly slipped a ring off her finger. And so they were, ever so illegally, married.
Oh, and the prince was fine.
After this show from the prince Maria had quickly fled to France in hopes of him being diverted with other women. After 18 months she grew bored and lonely and returned to the waiting Prince of Wales. Maria enjoyed her place as the secret and illegal wife of George until 1794, when he agreed to leave her in order to please his father and therefore have his debts paid off. Until then, Maria had been aiding him in the attempt to pay them. He soon married Caroline of Brunswick which proved to be an unsuccessful match. He rekindled their romance and began an affair with Maria in 1800. She didn't see it as such since she had been married to the Prince and felt she still was. The Pope even backed her up on this. However since the married was illegal twice over it was considered null and void.
After George's coronation and subsequent death, the older Maria lived on. King William IV even proposed to make her a duchess after all she had been through as his predecessor's mistress/wife to which she responded that she 'had borne through life the name of Mrs Fitzherbert; that she had never disgraced it, and did not wish to change it.'