The Tewkesbury Barons
Part 2: George Fitzclarence, Earl of Munster and Baron Tewkesbury
With the death of Henry, Lord Capel, in 1696 the Barony of Tewkesbury, created for him in 1692, became extinct. It remained so, however, for only ten years, being resurrected by Queen Anne in 1706. Today the title is one of those held by the Fitzclarence family, Earls of Munster, being awarded in 1831 to our subject, George Fitzclarence, the first of that family. Picture his mother, Dora Bland, aged 15 in 1777 and trimming hats in a milliner's shop in Dame Street in Dublin. In her wildest dreams, she can hardly have imagined that, some 12 years later, she would be the toast of the London stage and the mistress of a royal duke. The old adage says, however, that truth is often stranger than fiction and there is certainly something of the fairytale about Dora's life.
Early biographers wrote that she was horn in Co. Waterford, but the fact is that she first saw the light of day in London in 1762. As a young child, her mother, herself an actress, brought her to Ireland where she spent her early life. She soon deserted millinery for the stage. and appeared in a number of theatres around Ireland. Whilst playing in Cork, she was seduced by the theatre manager, Richard Daly, a violent and quite disreputable character, by whom she became pregnant. Being terrified of Daly, she decamped to England with her mother, sister and brother, arriving, penniless, in Leeds in July 1782. However, she was quickly back on the boards and played in a number of Yorkshire theatres before transferring to London in 1785, where she was engaged at Drury Lane, using the stage name of 'Mrs. Jordan'. Her reputation grew quickly. and by the end of her first season only Mrs. Siddons, also playing at Drury Lane, was considered to be of greater stature. She continued to star, season after season, at the same theatre for the next 26 years before transferring to Covent Garden in 1811. Between her London engagements, she toured extensively, her favourite provincial venue being Cheltenham. She made her last appearance on the London stage at Covent Garden in 1814, and shortly afterwards she retired to France, living, it is said, in severe financial straits at St. Cloud, where she died on 3rd. July 1816. Amongst the many who have recorded their praise of her are Lord Byron, Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Interspersed with her theatrical successes, she must have had many periods when her physical condition precluded stage appearances. Following the birth of a daughter, resulting from her seduction by Daly, she the mistress of Richard Ford, by whom she had a son. who died at birth, and two daughters. This liaison came to an end when in the late 1780's, the Duke of Clarence became interested in her and she transferred her affections to him, living with him, unmarried, but in great domestic harmony at Bushy House, near Richmond, for the next twenty years, during which time they produced five sons and five daughters, the eldest being our subject, George Frederick Augustus Fitzclarence. The idyll, however, came to an end when, in 1811, Clarence's eye fell on a certain young heiress, Catherine Tylney-Long. In hopes of marriage, Clarence decided that his association with Dora had to come to an end, and she was banished from Bushy House and from the Duke's life. Dora bore Clarence little ill will at this change in her fortunes. She was an astute lady and will have known that there was no question of her being able to marry the Duke, and, also, that it was likely that, sooner or later, she would have to make way for a Duchess. Clarence made as good provision for her and her children as he was able, and the fact that she was well satisfied with her settlement is shown in a letter she wrote to him on 16th, December 1811:
'I yesterday received Mr. Adam and lose no time in assuring your Royal Highness that I am most perfectly .satisfied with every part of the arrangements you have thought proper to adopt with regard to myself and your children, and shall ever remain impressed with the highest sense of gratitude for your additional goodness to the rest of my family...'
However, in spite of her satisfaction at these arrangements, Dora had some real financial problems. She had an extravagant lifestyle, and was generous to a fault, particularly towards her children and her sons-in-law, at least two of whom took considerable financial advantage of her and were the main cause of the problems which made her flight to France necessary.
For the Duke's part, he spoke and wrote of her only with affection. Later, when he became king, he commissioned, one would like to think in penitence, a statue of Dora in classical style, costing 2,000 guineas, intending that it should be housed in Westminster Abbey. This location, perhaps understandably, was not considered suitable, and the sculpture went instead to Mapledurham where another of their sons was vicar. It remained in the possession of the Fitzclarence family until 1975, when it was presented to the Queen by the then Earl of Munster, a direct descendant of the Duke and Dora, and it is now displayed in Buckingham Palace.
Clarence was the third of the seven surviving sons of George III. Third sons of kings have a low probability of ascending to the throne, and so he was not brought up in royal ways and affairs, hut was set upon a Naval career, entering in 1779 as a Midshipman at the age of 14. His ascent up the promotion ladder to the dizzy heights of Admiral of the Fleet in 1811, however, was probably a reflection of his exalted origin rather than his strategic acumen. One imagines that he was not known as 'Silly Billy' within the family for nothing!
When George IV's daughter, Charlotte, died in 1817 without issue, it was clear that his brother, the Duke of York, must succeed to the throne with Clarence next in line. York had no children and an ailing wife, so it was considered essential that Clarence should marry and in time, God willing, produce a son and heir. In the event, York died before the king, and inevitably, on 26th. Junr 1830, Clarence ascended to the throne as William I V. Although his hopes of marrying his young heiress in 181 1 had come to naught, he had indeed married, in 1818, but both children of the marriage died shortly after birth, so that his younger brother's daughter, Victoria, became his heir. In failing to produce a legitimate heir in spite of numerous illegitimate children, the comparison with his Stuart predecessor, Charles II, is unavoidable. Before the Duke's meeting Mrs. Jordan, he had had by an earlier liaison a son, William, who died on active service at sea in 1809. Hence, the score is 11 to William by 2 mistresses, against 9 to Charles by 5 mistresses!
William IV was a frugal king, a trait which the people appreciated after the extravagances of the previous monarch. He was, however, something of an eccentric, given to doing quite outrageous things on the spur of the moment. In 1827 he was created Lord High Admiral, a purely honorary title. Honorary or no, he insisted on hoisting his standard at Plymouth and took the squadron to sea in defiance of Admiralty orders. On his accession to the throne, he is said to have careered round London in an open carriage, offering passersby 'a lift with your new king'. He bitterly resented the family sobriquet and took great delight in throwing it back in the faces of his courtiers after his accession. He is reputed to have asked his Privy Councillors, as they lined up to do homage to their new king, 'Who is Silly Billy now?'
These then were the principal players in the household from which emerged George Fitzclarence. They had lived together, a devoted pair, for twenty years and there exists a voluminous collection of the letters which they wrote to each other and to their children, which emphasise their domestic happiness and the great affection encompassing the whole family during this period. Fitzclarence was born on 29th. January 1794. The first we hear of him is a reference in a letter of 4th. February from Clarence to a friend, as follows:
'Mrs. Jordan was brought to bed last November; she has been ill but is, I trust, now better. The boy is a very fine one and in the most perfect health.'
He was educated, first, at Dr. Moore's school at Sunbury, and later went on to the Royal Military College at Marlow. The Prince of Wales having undertaken to support him with an allowance of £200 a year and Mrs. Fitzherbert having to some extent taken him under her wing, he was, on 5th. February 1807, shortly after his thirteenth birthday, appointed a comet in the Prince of Wales' Hussars. In the following year he went with his regiment to Spain and was A.D.C. to General Slade at Corunna in October 1808. He served in various posts throughout the Peninsular campaigns up to 181 1 when, fighting in the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro, he was wounded and taken prisoner. He contrived to make his escape and was sent home to convalesce. Even then, he was aged only 17!
In 1813, now a Captain. he returned to Spain, and in 1814, in the south of France, was wounded again, this time more severely, at Toulouse. Later that year, on his return home with his regiment, he was involved in a 'cause in which Fitzclarence and a number of fellow officers gave evidence in Court Martial, accusing their Commanding Officer of negligence and misconduct in battle. The charge was not proven, and the Court decided that the officers were culpable in that they had combined against their commander and were, therefore, considered to have acted improperly. 'In the interests of subordination' and as a punishment, they were all transferred to other regiments. Fitzclarence, with his younger brother, Henry, went to the 24th. Light Dragoons, then based in India, where he became A.D.C. to the Governor General and Commander in Chief, the Marquis of Hastings.
It will have been here that he began to develop his interest in things oriental which lasted for the rest of his life. He was in India for four years, and took part in a of campaigns against the Mahrattas. On the successful conclusion of these, it was decided that the appropriate despatches should be duplicated; the one set going by sea and the other, as far as possible, overland. Fitzclarence was chosen to carry the latter.
The resulting journey, which took over six months, must have been action packed. He started from Hastings' lines, virtually in the centre of India, accompanied by only a small troop of horse, and travelled 1,000 miles westward to Bombay, taking three months to cover this distance through country infested by pindarees, the local native freebooters, and observing their defeat at the hands of General Doveton at Jubbulpore. From Bombay, he took ship to Kosseir on the Egyptian bank of the Red Sea. It was presumably intended that the despatches he was carrying, being important enough to be sent in duplicate, should reach London as quickly as possible. FitzClarence, however, took time to travel across the Nubian desert to explore the pyramids before travelling down the Nile to Alexandria. He then made for home, with a brief stop in Malta, reaching London in June 1818. In the following year he published an account of this journey liberally illustrated with sketches which he himself had made.
Over the next five years he held a number of military posts, but, apart from a short period in Ireland commanding the 6th. Carabiniers, he never served abroad again. He retired on half pay with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and between then and his death in 1842 held a number of administrative posts, including Lieutenant of the Tower and Governor of Windsor Castle. About a year after the accession to the throne by his father, he was created Earl of Munster and Baron Tewkesbury.
During these years, it is clear he was not on the best of terms with his father. In his early army days, he was for ever being admonished by his father, and indeed by Dora, for extravagance and for spending above his means. Both used to bail him out with his creditors from time to time, and the letters to him from both are peppered with little homilies towards economy. For example:
18th. April 1811 : Mrs. Jordan to FitzClarence: '...the subject that I think it to write to you cannot be very pleasant either to you or me, It is with regard to your bills. I am sorry to say they are extravagantly high.... they amount to $500. For your father's sake and for the sake of your future credit and good name, never in future stray so far beyond your means, or subject yourself to the insults of tradespeople.'
16th. April 1811 : Clarence to FitzCIarence: '...This brings me to your natural inclination of ordering too many things when you go abroad: they are not only of no use, but I really feel great inconvenience in paying for them......Do in future be more moderate and you will find yourself equally happy.'
However, it was not just the reproving of his living above his means — not an uncommon failing in young officers — which affected his relations with his father. It is probable that he resented the unceremonious rejection of his mother by his father — a very natural reaction, but the inference has to be drawn that he also, in common with his brothers, resented his illegitimacy. Shortly after their father's accession, they wrote to him complaining of their position in being, in the eyes of the law, devoid of many of the rights and advantages of their peers, and they insisted that they be granted appropriate precedence as the sons of a king, albeit born out of wedlock. George had R':cn promised a peerage by the Prince Regent when he was in India, and he demanded that this promise should now be implemented. The king, on the other hand, short of money as always, was not prepared to accede to George's demand until he could, at the same time, make equal financial provision for his other sons. In the end, George got his peerage, and his brothers were given the precedence of the younger sons of Marquesses. This particular demand having been met, George quarrelled again with his father, arguing that, as he was now an Earl, and the eldest son, he deserved a greater share of the available cash. He also demanded that hc should take a principal part in his father's forthcoming coronation, and, finally, that he should bc recognised as Prince of Wales.
He must have known that these latter demands were inappropriate and would be impossible to grant, so the inference here has to be drawn that they were put forward to increase the pressure for his, probably more important, financial demands. Eventually he did, indeed, receive a further In 1819, he married Mary Wyndham, the sister of a brother officer and the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Egremont. Greville refers to her as 'a dawdling, ill-conditioned, vexatious wife' and they were. clearly, not a very happy pair, In spite of this, however, there were a number of children of the marriage.
His main interest after leaving the army was in the study of the countries of Asia, and, in particular. of the military arts of the Asiatic peoples. He published a of monographs and papers on these matters, some in collaboration with European scholars of the day, and was an acknowledged expert on Asian military techniques. He was a founder member and later President of the Royal Asiatic Society, a Fellow of the Royal Society and President of the Society for the Publication of Oriental Texts.
In March 1842, 48 years old, unhappily married and suffering intensely from gout, he committed suicide, shooting himself with a pistol which had been given to him originally by his uncle and mentor, the Prince Regent, later George W. He was probably always aggrieved by the disappointment in his expectations, Had he come to terms with his father when he ascended the throne instead of trying to dictate to him, who knows what his future might have been? As it was he died in relative obscurity, making only a small imprint on his times, but leaving behind him descendants who carry the titles, Earl of Munster and Baron Tewkesbury, to this day.
Why Tewkesbury? Unlike his 17th. century counterpart in the title, there is no evidence that he had any association with the town. It is pleasant to speculate that the fact that his mother once spent a night in one of Tewkesbury's inns en route from an engagement in Bath to another in Worcester might have influenced him, but the truth is less romantic. His great grandfather, the Duke of Cambridge, later George II, was created Baron Tewkesbury, along with several other titles, in 1706. On his accession to the throne all his honours merged in the Crown and became titles in the royal gift. When William IV became king, it is to be assumed that he examined the selection of royal titles available, and chose the Barony of Tewkesbury for his eldest son to augment his Earldom of Munster, which had been a secondary title of his own whilst Duke of Clarence. Why the Duke of Cambridge was granted the Barony of Tewkesbury in 1706 is a question yet to be answered.
- The Complete Peerage
- Dictionary of National Biography
- Greville' s Memoirs
- 'Mrs. Jordan and her Family'. A.Aspinall (Ed.)
- 'Critical Essays': Leigh Hunt