Friday, March 4, 2011

Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert and Richard Armitage

One of the characters in Darcy and Fitzwilliam is an actual figure in British history; Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert, a Catholic widow who for a short period of time came to be known as “Mrs. Prince.”

But, the story begins much earlier. In the beginning of the nineteenth century the center of the fashionable British scene, the “first gentleman of Europe”, the Prince of Wales, the buddy to Beau Brummel, the friend of rakes and drunkards was the future King, George IV. He became the Regent of England during one of his father’s ‘insanity’ episodes and was popular with the people, appearing to them the essence of the old days. He hunted, kept packs of hounds, drank, and had numerous and famous affairs, several turning into rather vulgar embarrassments.

And just when they thought the lad was going to hell in a handbasket there entered the love of his life - Maria Anne Smythe, better known as Mrs. Fitzherbert, with the face of an angel and a body to lust for. Of course there were a few problems, she would never be accepted by his father. She was six years his senior, twice widowed, and she was Catholic. Pish posh; all these impediments only made her more desirable to the Prince, a man forever in search of ways to torment his father. Besides he was madly and truly in love for the first time in his miserable little life.
She was not unaware of the unsuitability of any relationship between them and she tried to distance herself but he begged, he pleaded, he cried. Finally, one night in desperation, he sent a messenger to tell her he had stabbed himself at Carlton House, his residence, and would again unless she would come to him, which she did out of love. George lay there in his ruffles and blood and begged Maria to marry him. At last she succumbed, the ring supplied by her friend Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire.

Immediately afterward Maria came to her senses, sent back the ring and the written commitment he had given her and escaped to the Continent but George sent his detectives after her. For a year they searched then brought her back to a real wedding, in her home. They were morally and legally now man and wife and they lived very happily for a while at the ornate Brighton Pavilion he had built for her, making that city “London by the Sea” for the aristocracy. Everyone who was anyone was there. The rakes came quickly – Fox and Sheridan, the Earl of Barrymore and his sister, a woman as notorious as her brother. She even took the chair occasionally as the head of the club he established and she named, the infamous Hell Fire Club. Brighton had become very wild indeed.

Of course the marriage was never really legal. All marriages had to be approved by the King, and George IV was not King yet. His father still held the throne. In time it was decided Prince George should take a legal wife, a marriage to his cousin Caroline, the daughter of the Duke of Brunswick was arranged, taking place ten years after his marriage to the sweet and gentle Maria. Where he had found happiness and contentment with Maria, he found despair and disgust with Caroline. They hated each other, it was open warfare for many years and instead of slinking off to the Continent to hide, Caroline remained in the court to cause as much discomfort as possible. When George IV finally attained the throne he divorced her immediately and she took a house nearby the palace so that she could scream at him when he passed by. She died one month after the coronation.

When George IV died seven years later his letters from Mrs. Fitzherbert, which he read over and over, were given to the care of the Duke of Wellington. Those letters and Mrs. Fitzherbert’s letters that she had received from the King were burned together, in her fireplace, in her home, with Wellington, Mrs. Fitzherbert and the Duke of Albermarle as witness.

So George IV will be remembered for many things. His dissolute life style, the debauchery of his reign as the Prince Regent, his invention of a belt buckle which Thackeray immortalized with biting satire, his absurdly ornate Pavilion at Brighton, and for his love for one woman. Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert.

And, of course, Richard Armitage has absolutely nothing to do with this, I merely added his name because my stats go higher whenever he is included.

And I include him for Maria Grazia. Ciao.


LucyParker said...

Maria Fitzherbert was an interesting bird, loved her portrayal in your book.

Also, "The Knight's Tale" dance bits were a nice insert into the Regency/Sinatra video.


Interesting post, Karen and...LOVELY pic! You've started learning good tricks for successful blogging! Congrats. Have anice weekend. MG

Kaydee said...

Karen, I enjoyed Maria Fitzherbert's brief apperance in Darcy and Fitzwilliam. Not surprising at all that she and Lady C would be friends. :)

Thanks for some background on an interesting historical figure. :)