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Friday 30 January 2009

The Sons of George III

It's little wonder that Queen Victoria - mistakenly - came down through history as a prudish and unamused woman, when you compare her reign to what went before.Queen Victoria's domestic harmony was in such stark contrast to the lives of her 'wicked uncles' that the glaring difference, while completely missing the passionate nature of Victoria, is so acute.
But, the more I think of these 'wicked uncles', the more I wonder how many of their supposed failings were due to the constraints under which they lived. It's a fact that they were largely self-indulgent and self-seeking. George IV was a most petulent and disagreeable character but, had they been ordinary citizens rather than princes, their sins might not have been so glaring. The major 'fault' (apart from their extravagance and gambling) was that most of them could not marry the women they loved. At least 3 of them contracted 'illegal' marriages (i.e. marriages that contravened the Royal Marriages Act), and a fourth had been happy with his mistress for years and might well have married her, had he been allowed to do so.
George IV married Mrs. Fitzherbert. William IV married Mrs. Jordan, and Edward, Duke of Kent (father of Queen Victoria) had been with Julie St-Laurent long enough to imply he would have married her, if it had been allowed. Unfortunately, where they showed themselves in their true colours, these brothers happily 'dumped' their long-term mistresses when it came to a choice between following the desires of their hearts or the greater desire for settling their debts. When it came to the opportunity of receiving a comfortable government grant for marrying legally and producing a legitimate heir,only Augustus, the eccentric Duke of Sussex had guts enough to stick with his wife for eternity - choosing to be buried with her in Kensal Green cemetery and thereby making municipal cemeteries fashionable.

However, had these princes not been bound by their position - or, had they all had the courage to follow Augustus' lead - and, still more to the point, had the people not had such high expectations of their 'rulers', then they might not have appeared so black at all.

In our own time, we have a Prince of Wales who lacked the courage to go with his heart or who 'sacrificed' his heart out of the duty to marry someone more suitable than the woman he loved - and, like his forebears, that was more or less for show and didn't mean discontinuing following his heart. What happened though to those discarded wives? In a kind of reversal of what happened in the past, we know of the tragedy of Diana. What happened to Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. Fitzberbert and Madame St-Laurent (well, the last one retired to a convent...and then married a South American Prince)? With privilege comes duty. With status comes responsibility. Does this mean that those who are born into a particular class are obliged to abandon every shred of feeling in the name of duty?

It would all have been so much better if we didn't project onto royalty our images of what a leader should be, or if those who were happy to take the privileges, had been equally willing to accept what went with it. Augustus, Duke of Sussex, I think stands out as an honourable man for being honest about his marriage and for following his heart.

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