Maria Walpole was born in 1736, a time when the importance of Parliament had grown. In fact, she herself was a grand-daughter of Robert Walpole, considered to be the first English Prime Minister. However, her parents Edward Walpole and Dorothy Clement were not married and in those times this seriously inhibited her chances of establishing a social standing.
She first married the 2nd Earl Waldegrave in 1759 and had three daughters before the Earl sadly passed away in 1763. Her youngest daughter, Lady Anna, married Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour, and they were great-grandparents of the 6th Earl Spencer, the great-grandfather of Diana Princess of Wales.
In Medieval and Tudor times, quite frequently one of the ways peace occurred between Nations involved a Royal marriage, but by Georgian times this was less the case and the Royal princes were free to roam and find love, with reason. Prince William Henry was the son of Prince Frederick, the Prince of Wales and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, and grandson of King George II. His father predeceased King George, and his elder brother took the throne as King George III. One of the King’s actions was to make Prince William, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh.
One of his positions was Warden of Windsor Forest and he lived in Cranbourne Lodge. During that time, he met and fell in love with Maria, the Dowager Countess Waldegrave who was living at the nearby Frogmore House. They fell in love, and were married in secret at the Countess’s house in Pall Mall, in September 1766, as the Royal family would not have consented to the marriage of a Prince to a widow of non-royal rank, and worse illegitimate. They lived in Clewer Hill in Windsor, and it was six years before the secret of the marriage came to light.
Prince William’s brother, the Duke of Cumberland also married a commoner, Anne Horton, in October 1771 causing a serious rift with the King and leading to the Royal Marriages Act 1772. This stated that any descendants of George II had to ask the King’s consent to marry. Although the marriage of Maria and Prince William was declared legal, she was never invited to the Royal Court.
Prince William was also Earl of Connaught, and was the thirteenth Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, though there appear no records that Maria ever lived with him in Ireland. Prince William died in August 1805, in Gloucester House, Westminster. Maria, as Dowager Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh, lived only a couple of years more, passing in August 1807 aged 71 years.