Friday, May 22, 2009

Tart of the Week: Maria Duchess of Gloucester

Many of our tarts are rule-breakers; rebels if you will. That is part of their appeal. So this week's tart should prove to be very appealing.

Maria Walpole (yes, Horace Walpole's niece) was the second daughter of Edward Walpole, an MP and son of the first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole. Normally, this would mean Maria and her sisters would grow up with good prospects but there was a problem. Maria's mother, Dorothy Clements was a milliner and not married to Edward. She wasn't, however, just some mistress; Edward loved her, he didn't marry her out of fear of it hurting his family's reputation. Well, her daughters, although Walpoles and loved by their family, did have a ruined reputation. They struggled to be accepted by society. Eventually a few brave members of the gentry opened up to them and they were introduced to court.

Maria stood out from her sisters in both beauty and personality. So when the twenty-two year old Maria was introduced to Lord Waldegrave, the forty-three year old was smitten. Not only was James almost twice Maria's age but he was known for poor personal hygiene. But a girl could use some extra pocket money, especially if you're considered to not have the best prospects to begin with. Hence, Maria became the Countess Waldegrave. Three beautiful daughters quickly followed the 1759 marriage but no heirs were to grace the Waldegraves for James died of smallpox in 1763.

After three years of marriage Maria was a widow with three young children. In those three years she had also made a name for herself as a delightful society lady. Maria had become close friends with Lady Coventry and Horace Walpole delighted himself to report that the beauties would be mobbed by onlookers when they took walks in the park. However, she was still not thoroughly protected financially. She needed another husband, and there was no shortage of eager candidates. She had already rejected the Duke of Portland (a duke!) when Prince William, Duke of Gloucester became acquainted with her. A romance blossomed, but it was a forbidden romance for Maria's illegitimacy prevented William from being able to marry Maria. His brother, King George would need him to form a proper attachment. Their chances of marriage approval diminished completely when the Duke of Cumberland enraged their brother by marrying a commoner.

King George saw the marriage as a betrayal and made William promise not to do the same with Maria. William gulped, and agreed in an attempt to calm his brother's anger. When Maria became pregnant though, in 1772 he had to finally admit that they has been secretly married in 1766. George threw a temper tantrum and tried to prove the marriage to be a farce but was defeated. The two were recognized but not welcomed at court, forcing them into exile onto the continent.

Maria did not go through all this trouble for the money (this time) she and William genuinely loved each other. Eventually George did forgive his brother and the two were welcomed back and their children provided for, after all, they were princes and princesses. Sadly, Maria and William's love cooled after a fight over their daughter's education and they eventually separated. Maria occupied herself by finding good husbands for her three eldest daughters and involving herself in politics. She was a fervent Whig, and would have made a mean politician if she were born a man. Maria continued to cause fusses and live fabulously until her death in 1807.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa--what a lady--I'd seen portraits of her before, especially the one of her clad in black, but I'd never known who she was--or anything about her life. Thank you for the interesting bio! :D