Friday, October 3, 2008

Tart of the Week: Dorothy Jordan

elieve it or not, there were tarts that weren't named Elizabeth or Mary! Dorothea Bland was born in 1761 to a stagehand and his Welsh mistress, an actress in Waterford, Ireland. When Dorothea was 13 her father abandoned the family to marry an actress. Although he sent small amounts of money to support the family it was not enough and at 15 Dorothea's mother enlisted Dorothea to the only job she could teach her daughter, acting.

Dorothea had an knack for the art and a pretty face so her new profession proved a success. As with many past tarts, she was also smart and witty. Her first gigs were at the Theatre Royal, in Cork which was managed by Richard Daly. A relationship bloomed between the young actress and her boss and at the age of 20 Dorothea had her first child. Knowing her potential, and now having another mouth to feed, Dorothea made a decision to move to London to reach a greater audience and hopefully make more money. It is here that she transformed into Mrs. Dorothy Jordan. Many actresses would take on a married name so they wouldn't be viewed as a whore. It is rumored that Dorothy chose Jordan as a reference to her escape across the Irish Sea as the River Jordan.

She was met with more success in London. She was also met with more men to fool around with. Some she gave her heart to and some she didn't. She even moved in with one who promised to marry her. After three children and no ring, she said goodbye to him too. But she would move on to bigger men. Meanwhile, she had become one of the biggest names in acting. She was a leading comic actress and was working out of Drury Lane. Because she had hot legs she would get cast in many cross-dressing roles, known as "breeches' roles, which were usually written just as an excuse to show off actresses' legs.

Maybe it was those famous legs that attracted William, Duke of Clarence, and later King William IV to Dorothy. The two fell in love and began their live-in relationship, which would last over 20 years and produce 10 children. Despite the scandal, the common-law couple lived became the examples of domestic bliss. Even stuffy King George didn't seem to mind the scandalous couple because they were the model of loving, functional couple. Soon satirical prints veered from cracking jokes at Dorothy's promiscuity to how she was, shockingly, a good parent.

Unfortunately the affair was forced to come to an end when the amount of legitimate heirs was dwindling and William's debts were increasing. Like his brother with Mrs. Fitzherbert, William agreed to leave Dorothy and marry a princess in order to pay off the debts. They separated on the terms that he would have custody of the boys while she got the girls (typical). She would receive a stipend on the terms that she never acted again (harsh!). Dorothy sadly complied but when a son-in-law fell into debt in 1814 she returned to stage to help support her daughter. When William found out he not only haulted the stipend but took custody of the remaining daughters.

Dorothy had reached a low point in her life. She fled to France to escape debtor's prison and died there in 1816. However, there are rumors that she may not have actually died then and lived a few years longer under a different name.


  1. Heather, I've always loved the story of Dorothy Jordan ever since I read Goddess of the Green Room by Jean Plaidy. How sad that the Duke dumped her after 10 children, after she basically supported him by plying her craft on the stage. And her children were so ungrateful.

  2. I know, it was much worse than the Prince with Mrs. Fitzherbert because the two had an established life together! I feel so bad for Mrs. Jordan because she worked hard, she played hard, and she really never hurt a soul in the process.