Sunday, June 15, 2014

Queen Adelaide and Bentley Priory

Queen Adelaide
We don't tend to think of Adelaide as "Regency woman" but perhaps we should as she was only 25 years old when she married William, Duke of Clarence in July 1818, in a double wedding. The other couple were William's younger brother Edward, Duke of Kent and Victoria, Dowager Princess of Leinigen.

Both were hastily arranged marriages. The Prince Regent's heir, Charlotte, had died in childbirth in November 1817 and it was highly unlikely the Regent would produce another legitimate child. The Regent's next brother, Frederick, Duke of York, was in an unhappy, childless marriage. William, on the other hand, was certainly able to sire children: he already had many, including ten by the actress, Mrs Jordan. William was 27 years older than Adelaide, but healthier than his brothers, perhaps as a result of his vigorous early life in the Royal Navy. And no doubt his advisors thought that a pretty young wife was the answer!

Queen Adelaide

Sadly, it wasn't the answer. Adelaide had a number of pregnancies and two live births, but one daughter died within hours and the second aged just four months. By the time her husband became king, in 1830, at the age of 64, Adelaide must have known that her chances of producing an heir were very slim indeed. The other half of that double wedding had, of course, quickly produced Princess Victoria.

Adelaide's crown-shaped perfume bottle

Apparently both Adelaide and William were fond of Victoria, and she of them, though there were very public quarrels with Victoria's mother, the widowed Duchess of Kent. When William IV died in June 1837, Victoria became queen and Adelaide became Queen Dowager.

Queen Victoria to Queen Adelaide
The two women had a cordial relationship. This photograph shows the envelope of a letter from Victoria to Adelaide, in Victoria's own hand. Not easy to decipher! The address is "Her Majesty Queen Adelaide, The Priory, Stanmore, Middlesex". It's signed "The Queen" in the lower left corner and Victoria's red wax seal is on the back. The large "2" in black ink shows that second postage was to be paid by the recipient. The letter was posted from Windsor Castle on 2 January 1849, some months before Adelaide died.

After William IV died, Adelaide lived for a further 12 years, part of the time at Bentley Priory, where she died in 1849. It is a stunning house, largely designed by Sir John Soane and now a museum. (Bentley Priory was, of course, the HQ of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, hence the Spitfire shown above the house in this photograph.)

Bentley Priory

Bentley Priory, Queen Adelaide's dressing room

Bentley Priory, the room where Queen Adelaide died

Bentley Priory:
original vaulted ceiling

Bentley Priory:
staircase, partly original

Bentley Priory is well worth a visit and not only for the fine architecture, shown here.

It now includes a very interesting museum of the Battle of Britain, and specifically how HQ Fighter Command worked at Bentley Priory, under the direction of Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding.

There's more fine stained glass, along with the piece shown below, and you can see where Dowding worked, and hear what it was like. Do go and see!



Jenny Haddon said...

I've always felt rather sorry for Adelaide - husband old enough to be her father, with a long not-quite-marriage and loads of children, no children of her own and damn little possibility of being allowed to marry again after William's death.

I'm glad she and Victoria liked each other and she lived in that beautiful place for a while.

Anonymous said...

Yes, one of the reasons William agreed to marry her -- she wasn't the first German princess on his list -- was that she was prepared to mother his existing illegitimate brood. It must have been heartbreaking for her that none of her pregnancies led to a surviving child. And that was probably his fault -- old age -- as much as hers.

Elizabeth Bailey said...

What a fascinating account. I never knew much about Adelaide, so was very interested in hearing more.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

A very interesting post, Joanna. I agree with Jenny; I've always wondered how she got om with William's 10 illegitimate children by Dorothy Jordan. And what did she think of Dorothy? Did they ever meet?

ban ban said...
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Anonymous said...

Thanks, Liz.

Elizabeth, I gather that Adelaide was kind and motherly to the Jordan brood, some of whom were quite young at the time of Adelaide's marriage to William. The youngest was born in 1807. Dorothea died in 1816, well before Adelaide came to Britain so it's pretty safe to say they had no chance to meet.

The FitzClarence children did well enough. Eight of the ten outlived their father who, as king, gave them considerable status in society. And he gave the eldest son an earldom!

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