My surprise is down to my ignorance, obviously, but when I visited the Maritime Provinces of Canada last month I was intrigued to find myself bumping into two of George III’s sons at what seemed like every turn.
To begin with Prince William, (1765 – 1837), George III’s third son. He was created Duke of Clarence and St Andrews in 1789 and succeeded his brother George IV to the throne as William IV in June 1830. I have to confess that I had always regarded him as a kind of stop-gap between the Hanoverian kings and his niece, Queen Victoria, who succeeded him. In contrast to George IV he appeared to be a much nicer character with good intentions. I knew he had a lively love life and had a mistress for twenty years – the actress Mrs Jordan who bore him ten children all bearing the surname FitzClarence. They split in 1811, apparently because of William’s money problems, and in 1818, after the death of his niece, and heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, the fifty three year old prince married twenty five year old Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and joined the race to produce an heir, essential as it was clear that George IV would have no more children.
Against all the odds – their ages and his history of love affairs – this was a happy marriage and William stayed faithful, although it did not produce the hoped-for heir to the throne.
I also knew that William was a sailor. He joined the Royal Navy as a thirteen year-old midshipman and was present at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780. His naval career, culminating in his appointment by George IV as Lord High Admiral, led to his nickname, The Mariner King. The unkind caricature of 1827 below shows William in the centre and suggests that only the fool of the family is sent into the navy.
William was the only member of the British royal family to visit America before or during the American Revolution and George Washington wrote to approve a plot to kidnap him: “The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters and bringing off the Prince William Henry and Admiral Digby merits applause; and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your judgment may direct. I am fully persuaded, that it is unnecessary to caution you against offering insult or indignity to the persons of the Prince or Admiral…” Word of the plot reached the British and William suddenly found himself with a large armed escort.
That was the extent of my knowledge of William, so I was surprised to come across him in the harbour town of Lunenburg in Nova Scotia. We were staying at the historic Mariner King inn, built in 1830, and there I discovered the history of William’s scandalous connection with the province.
William was captain of the frigate Pegasus and put into harbour at Halifax, further along the coast from Lunenburg, in 1786. He was twenty one, of an amorous disposition, and soon found himself in the bedchamber of Mrs Frances Wentworth, aged forty two.
Frances was the wife of the Governor of New Hampshire and, as Loyalists, they and many others had been forced to flee by the American forces. Apparently she was very unhappy in Canada, missed her son who was in London and fretted at her diminished social status. An affaire with a prince must have raised her morale considerably! However, her husband wrote to the King to complain and William was recalled to England. (In the painting above of 1765 by John Singleton Copley she was still married to her first husband, Theodore Atkinson. he was her cousin, as was John Wentworth whom she married withing a week of Theodore’s death. Image in public domain.)
It seems William returned to Mrs Wentworth’s company in 1787 and again in 1788, causing a scandal in Halifax society. She apparently brazened it out “like a haughty Queen” and her husband John left the city to serve as H.M. Surveyor of Forests, a sinecure presumably organised by the King as a sweetener. He did receive some reward for his patient humiliation when, in 1791, he and Frances visited London. Frances renewed her acquaintanceship with the Prince and he helped secure the appointment of John as Governor of Nova Scotia. John was created a baronet in 1795. (He is shown in the undated portrait below. Artist unknown. Image in public domain.)
So, back to Lunenburg, founded in 1753. The second owner of what is now the Mariner King Inn was an enthusiastic supporter of the new monarch and named his brigantine, The William and so it must have seemed an appropriate name for an inn.
Lunenburg is a World heritage site, still laid out on the original grid pattern of 1753 by army surveyors and full of delightful, well-maintained, houses of the 18th and 19th century – it is well worth visiting if you ever find yourself in Nova Scotia. At the foot of this post is a glimpse of its colourful streets with 18th century houses, ‘updated’ in the 19th century.
In my next blog post I will explore the connection of William’s brother Edward with Canada – and we meet Mrs Wentworth again.