Of all the Georgian Kings, William IV was the only one not to use the regnal name George. In fact, it is his wife who had a name that is better remembered today, one that she lent to an Australian city. Here is a glimpse at the life of the last wife of a Georgian King – Queen Adelaide.
William and Adelaide’s marriage proved to be a happy one. Both King and Queen were popular with the British public, and Adelaide even more so, for her modesty and charitable nature. Curiously, Adelaide was the only Georgian Queen to survive her husband, and, as Dowager Queen, she lived well into the reign of Queen Victoria.
Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen was born on 13th August 1792, and was the daughter of George, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen and his wife Luise Eleonore. Her hometown of Saxe-Meiningen was a small German state, and the most liberal of the Saxon Duchies. As a child, she was styled Her Serene Highness Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, Duchess in Saxony. Not much is known about Adelaide’s childhood, education and her life before marriage.
Adelaide’s marriage to the then Prince William came about as a result of the tragedy that struck England in 1817. Princess Charlotte, the only child of George, Prince of Wales, died in childbirth, and all of a sudden there was no heir to the throne. As The Prince of Wales was estranged from his wife, it seemed unlikely that he would produce another heir. This resulted in a mad scramble among the rest of King George’s sons to marry and have children of their own.
At the time, Prince William was 52 years old, around 27 years older than Adelaide. For the past twenty years, he had been living with his mistress, Dorothea Jordan, which whom he had ten children with. Due to the fact that they were born out of wedlock, the FitzClarences, as they were known, had been barred from the line of succession, and William had no choice but to marry legally in order to secure the succession to the throne.
Truth is, Adelaide wasn’t William’s first choice as a prospective bride. But, when the negotiations with another Princess fell through, William went ahead and arranged to marry her. Adelaide would prove to be an ideal wife, as William would soon come to realise. Before the wedding, he wrote to his eldest son about Adelaide, saying that: “She is doomed, poor dear innocent young creature, to be my wife.”
Prince William and Princess Adelaide were married on the 11th of July, 1818, in a joint ceremony at Kew Palace. They shared their wedding celebrations with William’s younger brother, Edward, Duke of Kent, who was marrying Victoria, the Dowager Princess of Leiningen. The outcome of Edward and Victoria’s marriage, though short lived, would produce an heir to the throne – Victoria – who would go on to be the next Queen. William and Adelaide’s marriage, on the other hand, would produce no surviving children, but would be a happy one nevertheless.
As a wife, Adelaide was good natured and amiable, and devoted to her husband. The pair moved to Hanover, where Adelaide willingly accepted William’s illegitimate children as a part of the family. William grew to be extremely fond of his wife, and Adelaide even managed to improve his conduct – contemporaries noted that, after his marriage, William stopped swearing, didn’t drink as much, and behaved tactfully at important occasions.
A few months after their marriage, Adelaide fell pregnant. In 1819, she gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter named Charlotte. Unfortunately, the baby did not live beyond a few hours. Two years later, William and Adelaide had another daughter, Elizabeth, who died when he was only four months old. In addition to this, Adelaide suffered from a couple of miscarriages, and in 1822, she gave birth to two stillborn boys.
When King George IV took the throne in 1820, his heir presumptive had been his younger brother Frederick, Duke of York. But when Frederick predecesed his brother in 1827, William became first in line to the throne. Upon the death of his brother, the King, William ascended the throne as King William IV. He and Adelaide were crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1831. One of William’s first acts as King was to confer on Adelaide the Rangership of Bushy Park, which allowed Adelaide to stay at Bushy House for the rest of her life.
As Queen, Adelaide spent a large portion of her time dealing with her charitable causes, and donated a large portion of her household income to the less fortunate. She treated her niece, the young Princess Victoria, with kindness, and included her in her household. William had acknowledged Victoria as his heir presumptive, and was very fond of her, despite his marked hostility against her mother, the Dowager Duchess of Kent.
Not only did the Duchess keep her daughter away from court, but she also refused to acknowledge Adelaide’s precedence as Queen, and never answered her letters. The King was hurt at this disrespect towards his dear wife, and loudly proclaimed, in front of a gathering of guests, that the Duchess was “incompetent to act with propriety”, saying: “I have been grossly and continually insulted by that person.” In fact, the King detested the Dowager Duchess so much, that he was determined to continue to live until Victoria had passed minority, to avoid a Regency by the Duchess and her adviser, Sir John Conroy.
In 1837, both The Queen and The King fell seriously ill. While Adelaide soon recovered, William’s condition only worsened, and Adelaide spent ten days and ten nights by his bedside. He finally died of heart failure on the morning of the 20th June. His niece Victoria, who had turned 18 only a month before, was now the Queen.
After her husband’s death, Adelaide left the court and moved to Worcestershire. In 1840, she was named the Godmother of Queen Victoria’s first child, Vicky. Adelaide continued to make public appearances during her time as Dowager Queen. She was seen in public for the last time in 1849, when she laid the foundation stone of the church of St. John the Evangelist, the east window of which is dedicated to her.
The Dowager Queen Adelaide died a natural death in 1849, twelve years after King William. Among those at her funeral were Queen Victoria, who was extremely fond of her late aunt and uncle, despite their poor relationship with her mother. Although none of Queen Adelaide’s children had survived infancy, she left behind a lasting legacy in the Australian city of Adelaide, which was named after her in 1836.
In her final letter, which was regarding her funeral arrangements, Adelaide wrote: “I die in all humility. We are alike before the throne of God, and I request therefore that my mortal remains be conveyed to the grave without pomp or state…to have as private and quiet a funeral as possible. I particularly desire not to be laid out in state…I die in peace and wish to be carried to the fount in peace, and free from the vanities and pomp of this world.”
In accordance with her wishes, Adelaide was buried beside her husband at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor – there rests the last wife of the Georgian Kings.
Photo credit: “Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen” by Creator:John Simpson – http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/queen-adelaide-17921849-75503. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.