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The Delectable Dora Jordan

I think you judge very wisely in putting off your London visit, and I am mistaken if it be not put off for some time. You speak with such noble resignation of Mrs. Jordan and the Opera House, that it would be an insult to suppose consolation required…
Jane Austen to Cassandra
January 8, 1801

She was born Dorothea Bland (though she sometimes went by Dora or Dorothy) on November 21, 1761, near Waterford, Ireland. She was the daughter of a stagehand, Francis Bland, and his mistress, actress Grace Phillips. With this background it’s no surprise that when Francis abandoned the family in 1774 (to marry yet another actress) Dora was forced to go to work to help support her mother and four siblings.

Her mother found her, then 13 year old, daughter a position with the Theatre Royal in Cork. The manager of the company, Richard Daly, also saw potential. He cast Dora in any number of second rate productions, all the time acting his own love scenes on the side. Dora wanted nothing to do with her married manager—despite his “kindness” to her family. His true colors were revealed when, in a last ditch effort to gain his way with her, he threatened her with jail if she could not repay the funds he had leant her. Still Dorothy would not budge and Daly was forced to abduct her. A child resulted, you Frances, born in Dublin in 1782.

Finally Dora could take no more. She and her mother escaped to England, where Dora took on the name “Mrs. Jordan”. There was no Mr. Jordan, of course, but it was more respectable to be considered a widow with a child than the alternative. Some say she chose the name Jordan as a reference to her escape across the Irish Sea, likened to the River Jordan. Regardless, England was soon to prove to be her promised land.

Here, her mother found her work with Tate Wilkinson, manager of a theater company in Leeds. Dorothy was adrift. She began several affairs. One, with army Lieutenant, Charles Doyne, who proposed marriage, later with Tate Wilkinson, himself, and even the George Inchbald, the male lead in the company. According to Claire Tomalin, Dorothea’s biographer, Dorothea would have married Inchbald, so greatly was she in love with him, but he never asked. Broken-hearted, she left him in 1786 to begin an affair with Sir Richard Ford, a police magistrate and a lawyer.

She moved in with Ford when he promised to marry her. They had three children, a short lived son and two daughters.

In 1785 she made her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Peggy in A Country Girl. Before the end of her first season she had become an established public favourite, her acting in comedy being declared second only to that of Kitty Clive. Comedy was her forte and her appearances as Lady Teazle, Rosalind and Imogen being specially liked, and such “breeches” parts as William in Rosina. Her engagement at Drury Lane lasted till the theater burned down in 1809, after which, she appeared at Haymarket and the new Covent Garden theater.

A Relationship with Royalty

Pretty, witty and intelligent (and said to have the most beautiful legs ever seen on the stage), Jordan soon came to the attention of wealthy men. She became the mistress of William, Duke of Clarence, later King William IV, in 1791, living with him at Bushy House, and seemed to have not bothered herself with politics or the political intrigues that often went on behind the scenes in royal courts.

While William had an eye for the ladies as a young man, he appeared to enjoy the domesticity of his life with Mrs. Jordan. The Duke remarked to a friend,

“Mrs. Jordan is a very good creature, very domestic and careful of her children. To be sure she is absurd sometimes and has her humours. But there are such things more or less in all families.”

The couple, while living quietly, enjoyed entertaining, with Mrs. Jordan writing in late 1809:

“We shall have a full and merry house this Christmas, ’tis what the dear Duke delights in.”

The King, George III, generally somewhat of a prude, was accepting of his son’s relationship with the actress (though recommending that he halve her allowance) and in 1797, created William Ranger

of Bushy Park, which included a large residence, Bushy House, for William’s growing family. Dorthea continued her acting career, and made public appearances with the Duke when necessary. Together they had at least ten illegitimate children, all of whom took the surname FitzClarence:

  • George Augustus (1794-1842), created Earl of Munster in 1831.
  • Henry Edward (27 March 1795 – September 1817)
  • Sophia (August 1796 – 10 April 1837) married Philip Sidney, 1st Baron De L’Isleand Dudley.
  • Mary (19 December 1798 – 13 July 1864), married General Charles Richard Fox
  • Frederick (9 December 1799 – 30 October 1854) – British Army Lieutenant Generaland made Lord Frederick FitzClarence
  • Elizabeth (17 January 1801 – January 16, 1856) married William Hay, 18th Earl ofErroll
  • Adolphus (Rear-Admiral) (18 February 1802 – 17 May 1856) – Lord AdolphusFitzClarence
  • Augusta (17 November 1803 – 8 December 1865) married, firstly, Hon. John Kennedy-Erskine, 5 July 1827, married secondly, Admiral Lord John Hallyburton
  • Reverend Lord Augustus (1 March 1805 – 14 June 1854); rector at Mapledurham inOxfordshire. Married Sarah Gordon
  • Amelia (21 March 1807 – 2 July 1858) married Lucius Bentinck Cary, 10th ViscountFalkland

The affair would last for twenty years before ending in 1811. Mrs. Jordan at least had no doubt as to the reason for the breakup,
“Money, money, my good friend, has, I am convinced made HIM at this moment the most wretched of men,” adding, “With all his excellent qualities, his domestic virtues, his love for his lovely children, what must he not at this moment suffer?”

Mrs. Jordan was given a financial settlement of £4400 per year and custody of the daughters, on condition she did not resume the stage. When she did take up her acting career againin 1814, to repay debts incurred in her name by her son-in-law (the husband of one of Mrs. Jordan’s daughters from a previous relationship), the Duke took custody of the daughters and stopped paying the £1500 designated for their maintenance. With her career failing, she fled to France to escape her creditors, and died, impoverished, near Paris in 1816.

Deep in debt, the Duke made multiple attempts towards marrying a wealthy heiress, but his suits were unsuccessful. However, when the Duke’s niece, Princess Charlotte, the second-in-  line to the throne, died in childbirth in 1817, the King, was left with twelve children, none of them with legitimate children. The race was on among the Royal Dukes to marry and produce an heir.

William had great advantages in this race—his two older brothers were both childless and estranged from their wives (who were both probably beyond childbearing age) and William was the healthiest of the three. If he lived long enough, he would almost certainly become King, and have the opportunity to sire the next monarch. However, William’s first choices to wed either met with the disapproval of the Prince Regent or turned him down. Eventually, a princess was found who was amicable, home-loving, and was willing to accept, even enthusiastically welcome, William’s nine surviving children, several of whom had not yet reached adulthood. At Kew on 11 July 1818, William married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, the daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen. At 25, Adelaide was half William’s age.

The marriage, which lasted almost twenty years until William’s death, was a happy one. The new Duchess took both William and his finances in hand. For their first year of marriage, the couple lived in economical fashion in Germany, William’s debts were soon on the way to being paid, especially since Parliament had voted him an increased allowance, which he reluctantly accepted after his requests to increase it further were refused. William is not known to have had mistresses.The major sorrow of the marriage is that they did not have healthy children which would have secured the succession. The couple had two short-lived daughters, and Adelaide suffered three miscarriages.

When George IV died on June 26, 1830,, the Duke of Clarence ascended the Throne, aged 64, as William IV, the oldest person ever to assume the British throne. Unlike his extravagant brother, who epitomized the excesses of the Regency, William was unassuming, discouraging pomp and ceremony. In contrast to George IV, who tended to spend most of his time in Windsor Castle, William was known, especially early in his reign, to walk, unaccompanied, through London or Brighton. In 1831, William commissioned a statue of Dorothy, which eventually found a home at Buckingham Palace.

William died on June 20, 1837, and was succeeded by his neice, Victoria, who would make a name for herself among the most famous monarchs ever to reign.


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Borrowed from Wikipedia

Additional resources:

Claire Tomalin, Mrs Jordan’s Profession, Viking, 1994

Otis Skinner, Mad Folk of the Theatre, Ayer Publishing, 1928

 

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