Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Prince's Ladies

Unlike his father George III, Prince George began collecting mistresses at an early age, most of them prominent titled women who bartered their reputations for the dubious social advantage and promise of financial gain. However, he met a widow, Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert, who would become the love of his life. A devout Catholic, she refused to become his mistress, and only gave in to him after a clandestine marriage ceremony in 1785. Unfortunately, the marriage was illegal, according to the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, which put poor Maria in a very difficult position. Meanwhile, George was being prodded toward an actual marriage arrangement with Princess Caroline of Brunswick, with the promise from Parliament that his allowance would be increased. Maria was informed that their relationship was at an end, and George married Caroline in 1795. What a disaster! The pair met the day before the wedding and George's first response was to request a drink. He spent the wedding day thoroughly drunk and barely recalled fulfilling his husbandly duty. 

Caroline was not every man's dream girl. Twenty-seven years old, Caroline was very much lacking in social graces; garrulous and coarse-mannered, although friendly and high-spirited. She was not particularly pretty, and her low standards of personal hygiene were noted by everyone down-wind of her. Her wedding night was the sum total of her intimate contact with the Prince, and nine months later, she gave birth to a daughter, Princess Charlotte

Back to Mrs. Fitzherbert. Torn this way and that between duty, love, and temptation, George attempted to revive his relationship with Maria, even writing a will bequeathing all his worldly goods "to my Maria Fitzherbert, my wife, the wife of my heart and soul". After the Pope declared their marriage valid in 1798, the pair took up where they left off. 

When George became king, he distanced himself from Maria, but from all accounts, still loved her deeply. He requested to be buried with the "lover's eye" brooch he had given her in lieu of a wedding ring. Although some websites say this is Maria's eye, it is actually George's, painted by the artist Richard Cosway and mounted in a brooch frame. Lover's eyes became quite a fashion, with the implicit message, "I am always looking at you".