01 May 2018

Meet the Duchess of Sussex

If Prince Harry is created Duke of Sussex upon his marriage, as many people expect, his bride Meghan Markle would become the very first Duchess of Sussex. The title has only been created once before, for Prince Augustus Frederick, sixth son of King George III. While Augustus Frederick had two wives, neither of them was deemed worthy of a royal marriage and neither was allowed to use her husband's titles. (My, how things have changed.)  [UPDATE: 5/19/18 Harry was created Duke of Sussex, with the Scottish title Earl of Dunbarton and Northern Irish title Baron Killeen.]

Lady Augusta Murray
By August Grahl via Wikimedia Commons
Unlike most of his profligate brothers, Augustus Frederick married quite young. He was just 20 when he defied the Royal Marriages Act to wed Lady Augusta Murray. The couple had met while he was visiting Italy for his health; he suffered from asthma that had prevented him from partaking in a military career like his brothers. They secretly married in Rome in 1793. They married again, still without royal permission, after returning to London. Even though her father was an earl, Augusta was not considered a worthy consort for a prince. (Under these strictures, Prince Charles could not have married Lady Diana Spencer, never mind all of the royal brides since her.)

The following year, the king had the marriage annulled. However, Augusta, who was five years older than her prince, remained with him for eight years, sometimes living in London and sometimes in Berlin. They had two children, whom they named Augustus and Augusta for themselves. Like their mother, the children were not granted royal titles or status, and they had no claim upon their father's estate. They were given the surname d'Este after the Italian noble family from which both husband and wife could claim descent. Augustus Frederick was a bit of an absentee father, leaving Augusta primarily responsible fore the children. She was a clever woman, eventually gathering her motherly remedies into a book of cures. She also had keen literary interests, creating several "commonplace books" (like a pre-recording era mix tape) with excerpts from her favorite works. These books are now included in the Royal Archives.

Following the couple's official separation in 1801 (around the time of their daughter's birth), Augusta's books tended toward more melancholy themes of a wounded lover. It was only after leaving Augusta that Prince Augustus Frederick was granted the title of Duke of Sussex and an annual allowance of £12,000 with the expectation that he would marry properly the next time. Augusta was given custody of the children, a new surname of de Ameland and an income of £4,000 per annum.

Lady Cecelia Underwood
From the Royal Collection via Wikimedia Commons
Despite this settlement, Augustus Frederick did not marry again until after Augusta's death. He married Lady Cecilia Gore a year later in 1831. She was granted her mother's maiden name of Underwood to use rather than her paternal surname. The childless widow of Sir George Buggin, Cecilia was in her mid-40s when she married the Duke of Sussex so it is not surprising that they had no children. Like Augusta, Cecilia was the daughter of an earl and her marriage was not recognized as legal.

However, after Augustus Frederick's niece Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, things began to change. Victoria was fond of this uncle and she felt badly that his wife was not permitted to attend official occasions due to her low rank. With her inimitable style of making her own rules when necessary, Victoria created Cecelia the Duchess of Inverness in 1840 with the right to pass that titles to heirs of her body, although she had none.

The Duke passed away in 1843 and his wife, Her Grace The Duchess of Inverness survived him by 30 years, passing away in their apartment at Kensington Palace. They are buried together at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. His son, Augustus d'Este, unsuccessfully laid claim to the royal Dukedom of Sussex, but died just a few years after his father. He was posthumously diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 100 years later. He is also remembered for his support of aboriginal cultures around the world, most particularly the First Nations people of Canada.

The Duke's daughter, Augusta d'Este suffered like her father from asthma and died at age 64. A great property owner, she married Thomas Wilde 1st Baron Truro in her early 40s. The couple had no children, leaving the Sussex title with no claimants.

More about Lady Augusta Murray
Lady Augusta Murray on the Royal Collection's Georgian Papers Program

More about Lady Cecelia Underwood 1st Duchess of Inverness
Cecelia Underwood 1st Duchess of Inverness on Things that Catch My Eye


  1. Cheryl, do you have alternative ideas for Prince Harry's title?

  2. I do, and I'm planning to write about them! I think Clarence is most likely.

    1. I think that Queen Elizabeth will never present another member of the royal family with the Duchy of Clarence, the title remains inactive until today

  3. Oh good! I look forward to that article. The only problem I see with Clarence is the preponderance of Cs - Cornwall, Cambridge, Clarence...