Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Maria Fitzherbert - The Secret Wife of Prince George by Vivienne Westlake
It was well known during the Regency that Prince George and his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, hated one another. He tried many times to accuse her of adultery and have the marriage dissolved. He also made it difficult for her to spend time with their daughter, Princess Charlotte.
What is not as well known is that the prince had a wife before Caroline. When George was 23, he married Maria Fitzherbert, a slightly older widow that he'd met the year before. He was so eager to marry her that he did so knowing that the marriage was illegal and it is said that he paid 500 pounds to get his chaplain out of debtor's prison so that the minister could conduct the ceremony.
In order to marry legally, the Prince had to receive permission from the king and the Privy Council. King George III refused to validate the marriage. One of the reasons that Maria was considered unsuitable as a wife is that she was Roman Catholic. Note that the Pope and Roman Catholic Church later upheld the marriage of George and Maria, though the Anglican Church did not.
The Prince of Wales was pressured to marry his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, though the Prince had never met her and immediately disliked her once he had. The main incentive for Prince George to re-marry was that he was in quite a bit of debt and Parliament would increase his annual income once he married legally.
George let Maria Fitzherbert keep her 3,000 pound annual pension and they had an on again-off again relationship for most of his life. Just after his wife gave birth to Princess Caroline in 1796, the Prince put Maria into his will, leaving her his property and calling her "the wife of my heart and soul". Some time later, the two reconciled and were happy for a few years until they parted for the last time in 1808.
On his deathbed George IV kept her get well letter under his pillow and wore a miniature of her around his neck. And after he passed, it was discovered that he'd kept all of Maria's letters over the years.
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