14 March 2015

Today's Princess: Dorothy Jordan

One might not expect to find the illegitimate daughter of an Irish stagehand and a second-rate actress among the ladies on this blog, but the woman born Dorothea Bland, sometimes called Dora Phillips, and better remembered as Dorothy Jordan (1761-1816), is a perfect fit for our Saturday post--reserved exclusively for royal mistresses and offspring from the "wrong side of the blanket." In fact, I find Dorothy one of the most fascinating of all royal mistresses.

Dorothea came from a large family of bastards; her parents had six children together before he ditched them and ran off when Dorothea was 13. Impoverished with a large family to feed, her mum quickly placed her pretty daughter on the stage, where she caught the attention of theater manager Richard Daly, who fathered her first child, Fanny.

After that, 21-year-old Dorothy set off for England, adopting the name Mrs. Jordan to give the illusion of slight respectability as a married woman although she never married any man. She lived with a series of lovers and gave birth to three more children (one of whom died at birth) before she attracted the attention of King George III's third son, William Duke of Clarence.

Though royal, his personal history was no more pristine than hers. The set up house together and started a family. Even crusty old King George seemed to approve; he even gave them a house for their growing brood. In their 20 years together, they had 10 children, all of whom took the surname Fitzclarence. Always broke--like his brothers--William depended upon Dorothy's income from the stage. I wonder how she managed to continue working in the theater through fourteen total pregnancies!!

As William moved closer to the throne and his spendthrift habits did not subside, he gave up his happy domesticity with Mrs. Jordan in exchange for greater income from Parliament and a promise to seek an appropriate royal wife. In their separation, he kept their five sons and she got their five daughters--the children were aged four to 17 at the time. She got generous support payments but she had to promise not to continue acting. Within a few years, her first child's husband had misused her name and credit with his debtors and she was forced to return to the stage. William cut her payments and took their daughters from her.

Heartbroken and destitute, Dorothy fled to France and died there a year later at the age of 54. While he did not grant them legitimacy, William found an unbelievably good royal stepmother for this Fitzclarence children. The boys had access to good careers and the daughters made good marriages. After he became King William IV, he commissioned a sculpture in memory of his partner of 20 years; it remains part of the collection at Buckingham Palace today.

Across town, one of their 900+ descendants makes his home at 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister David Cameron.

More about Dorothy and her family:
The Actress Dorothea (or sometimes Dorothy) Jordan on Georgian Gentlemen
The Delectable Dora Jordan on Jane Austen
Dorothy Jordan on Edmondson Blog
Dorothy Jordan on National Portrait Gallery
Mrs. Jordan's Children on Freda Lightfoot'

Books about Dorothy:
The Story of Dorothy Jordan by Clare Jerrold (full text online)

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