Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.
10 July 1736 – 22 August 1807
The Countess Waldegrave and Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh, was a member of the British Royal Family, the wife of Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh.
Maria Walpole was the daughter of Edward Walpole and Dorothy Clement. Her grandfather was Robert Walpole, considered to be the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1721–41). She grew up at Frogmore House in Windsor, but her parents were not married, and her illegitimate status hindered her social standing despite her family connections.
On 15 May 1759, she married James Waldegrave, 2nd Earl Waldegrave, the son of James Waldegrave, 1st Earl Waldegrave and Mary Webbe. After her marriage Maria was styled Countess Waldegrave. The Earl Waldegrave died on 28 April 1763, leaving Maria a widow. They had three children.
The Lady Elizabeth Laura Waldegrave (1760–1816) who married her cousin, the 4th Earl Waldegrave
The Lady Charlotte Maria Waldegrave (1761–1808) who married the 4th Duke of Grafton
The Lady Anna Horatia Waldegrave (1762–1801) who married Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour-son of Francis Seymour-Conway, 1st Marquess of Hertford. Anna and Hugh were the great grandparents of Charles Spencer, 6th Earl Spencer, who was the great-grandfather of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Earls Spencer are descended from John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough; the Seymour-Conways are descended from Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset.
On 6 September 1766 she married Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester (14 November 1743 – 25 August 1805) at her home in Pall Mall, London. The Duke was the third son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and a brother of George III. The marriage was conducted in secret as the British Royal Family would not have approved of a marriage between a Royal Prince and a widow of non-royal rank and illegitimate birth.
They lived at St Leonard’s Hill in Clewer, near Windsor, and had three children:
- HRH Princess Sophia of Gloucester (1773–1844)
- HH Princess Caroline Augusta Maria of Gloucester (1774–1775)
- HRH Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1776–1834)
The marriage to a commoner of the Duke’s other brother, the Duke of Cumberland, led to the passing of the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which required all the descendants of George II to seek the Sovereign’s approval before marriage. It was only in September 1772, five months after the passage of the Act, that the king became aware of Prince Henry’s marriage to Maria. As the Act’s provisions could not be applied retroactively, Maria and the Duke’s wedding was considered legal by Parliament. As such, Maria became styled Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh. Due, however, to the anger of George III at the marriage, she was never received at court.
Princess Caroline died aged nine months following a smallpox inoculation, intended to protect her from the disease. As great-grandchildren in the male line of King George II, the Gloucester’s children were styled Highness from birth and used the territorial designation of Gloucester in conjunction with their princely styles. After William Frederick married his cousin Princess Mary, he and his surviving sister Sophia received the style of Royal Highness.