History

The Illegitimate Royals: William IV and Mrs Jordan’s family



Illegitimate children are not uncommon in royal families, especially in past centuries. Marriages were used for dynastic and political reasons and not for love. However, the children of George III were rather well-known for their illegitimate children. William IV and Mrs Jordan’s family of illegitimate children was one of the largest families of George II’s children. 

Dorothea Jordan (also known as Dorothy) was an Anglo-Irish actress. Born on 22 November 1761 near Waterford, Ireland, the child of an Irish actress, Grace Phillips and her partner, stagehand Francis Bland. Her parents were not married, and her father quickly abandoned the family in 1774. 

Dorothea Jordan. By John Jones – NYPL, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Print Collection [1], Public Domain

Dorothea had to start working at the age of 13 to help support her family, and she took a job with the Theatre Royal in Cork. Although she was unwantedly pursued by the theatre manager and gave birth to her first illegitimate child, she took on many different comedic and romantic roles. Amidst other affairs and children, Dorothea made her Drury Lane debut in London in 1785. 

Performing at Drury Lane brought many benefits, including catching the eye of influential and powerful men. She became the mistress of William, Duke of Clarence (later William IV) in 1791. 

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William IV and his siblings were the first generation of royals to come of age under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772. Under the new act, royals could not marry without the consent of the monarch. They could also submit written notice to the Privy Council 12 months before the wedding if they were over the age of 25. Instead of complying with the new act, many of George II’s children, William included, chose to cohabitate with their lovers rather than actually marry them. 

William and Dorothea had ten illegitimate children together, five boys and five girls born between 1794 and 1807. Nine were named after William’s siblings, and all shared the last name FitzClarence. William’s father George III accepted the relationship and even made William the Ranger of Bushy Park. The position came with Bushy House, perfect to house their quickly growing family. William loved their quiet, domestic life, and appreciated that Dorothea stayed out of politics and intrigues.

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After 20 years, the two parted ways in 1811. William was deeply in debt and needed to marry a wealthy heiress. Dorothy understood the reasons and accepted the parting. She was given a settlement of £4400 a year and custody of their daughters on the condition that she did not resume acting. However, in 1814 she began acting again to clear debts incurred in her name by one of her sons-in-law (married to a daughter from a previous relationship). She lost custody of their daughters and her settlement. She fled to France to escape creditors and died with no money to her name. 

William married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen in 1818, and the marriage would last until his death in 1837. Although they did not have any children, they had a happy marriage. They had two daughters that died at a young age, and Adelaide suffered three further miscarriages. Despite this, the two remained happy together, and William was not known to have any mistresses during his marriage. 



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Historian and blogger at AnHistorianAboutTown.com