Hers is a line which has ruled Britain for almost 200 years and which has given us two of the longest reigning monarchs in our history. So allegations that Queen Victoria wasn’t really a (British) royal certainly raised eyebrows. But now the doubts over her lineage have been resolved – by the respected author who brought them up in the first place.
It all started back in 2003 when biographer AN Wilson claimed that Victoria’s father wasn’t Edward, Duke of Kent and son of George III but an Irish soldier called John Conroy whose family hailed from County Roscommon. He argued that this son of a barrister, a personal equerry to the Duke of Kent, had a relationship with Victoria’s mother which resulted in the woman who ruled an Empire on which the ‘sun never set’.
The main basis of his claim was medical evidence. Firstly, he said, none of Victoria’s descendants suffered from porphyria – the illness which is said to have been responsible for George III’s ‘madness’. Porphyria is a hereditary condition but AN Wilson said there was no evidence that any of her nine children, forty two grandchildren or any of their offspring developed it. Secondly, one illness several did have was haemophilia – a condition which stops the blood clotting properly. But, AN Wilson argued, that hadn’t been seen anywhere before in the Royal Family. Therefore, he argued, Victoria’s genes must have come from somewhere other than the House of Hanover.
Enter the mysterious Irish equerry. John Conroy was actually born in Wales but educated in Dublin. He became a soldier aged 17, married well and through his wife’s family came to the attention of the duke. He soon became a close confidante of Edward of Kent and, following a royal wedding in 1818, an equally supportive servant of his new wife, Victoria, who was under a huge amount of pressure to have a baby as soon as possible. Another strand of AN Wilson’s argument was that Conroy, in his mid thirties at the time, was much more likely to have had a healthy child than the duke who was in his fifities.
Certainly, Conroy had a far greater influence on Victoria as the Duke of Kent died less than a year after her birth which took place on May 24th 1819. Not long afterwards, John Conroy was made comptroller of the duchess’s household and helped devise a strict upbringing for young Victoria which the future queen resented. He and the duchess tried various schemes to win control of Victoria so that when she took the throne, power would rest with them. But one of Victoria’s first actions when she did succeed was to dismiss him from her household. Later, Queen Victoria would defend her mother from ongoing rumours that she had taken Conroy as her lover during her widowhood. AN Wilson gave substance to allegations any relationship had begun almost as soon as Victoria’s parents were married.
But now he has changed his mind and a lot of that is down to family resemblance. The author says that, having carefully studied several more portraits of George III, he can see a strong likeness to Victoria in her later years. In particular he notes a shared ‘bird-like nose’ and protuberant eyes. But most of all, he has reconsidered that medical evidence which before seemed so compelling. New research indicates that George III may not even have had porphyria and haemophilia can arise from changes to genes which could explain why Victoria’s family developed the condition.
AN Wilson says he is now sure that Edward, Duke of Kent was indeed the father of Victoria who ruled Great Britain for over 63 years. The allegations over who was the real father of the great Queen Empress who shaped a whole age by her presence are resolved. Victoria is a real royal, no doubt about it.
Photo credit: George Hayter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons