Maria Fitzherbert: The Secret Wife of George IV

Overview

The notorious love affair between George IV and Maria Fitzherbert is one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the Royal Family. It is the story of a young Catholic widow who became the secret wife of the heir to the throne because she had refused to become his mistress. James Munson reveals a genuine love story between the spoilt, egocentric prince and the older woman who brought peace and order to his life of restlessness and excess: their marriage defied English law and broke all the rules of ...
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Overview

The notorious love affair between George IV and Maria Fitzherbert is one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the Royal Family. It is the story of a young Catholic widow who became the secret wife of the heir to the throne because she had refused to become his mistress. James Munson reveals a genuine love story between the spoilt, egocentric prince and the older woman who brought peace and order to his life of restlessness and excess: their marriage defied English law and broke all the rules of monarchy. Maria Smythe, a widow and a Catholic, settled in London at the age of just twenty-four. The young prince fell madly in love -- he wanted her, but she wanted marriage. She fled to France, returning a year later to be married secretly. Inevitably, the marriage became an open secret. Plunged into the centre of court and political intrigue, Maria's stormy life was led much in the public eye. Two themes dominate -- the love of a kind-hearted woman for a charming but faithless prince, and the perilous state of the monarchy in this eventful period of history.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The well-connected Maria Fitzherbert, twice widowed and still childless at 24, had all the qualities the future King George IV desired: she was older than he (by six years) and was widely traveled and experienced. There was just one problem: she was Catholic under a Protestant monarchy that considered Catholics Papist puppets. Drawing on historical fact and gossipy, entertaining firsthand accounts, Munson (Victoria: Portrait of a Queen) ably demonstrates that Maria wasn't exactly devout; she appeared more often at social gatherings than at Mass. Nevertheless, the British could never accept her into the royal family. Thus she and George had a tiny wedding on Dec. 15, 1785, and their marriage became one of the worst-kept secrets in British history, the subject of scandal sheets and parliamentary debates. Immature and impulsive, the prince was deeply in love with Maria, and she with him. But as heir to the throne, he had to have a consort, and in 1795 he reluctantly wed Princess Caroline of Brunswick. (Having not been officially married to Maria, he didn't have to divorce her.) In a strange twist, the new princess saw Maria as "the Prince's true wife." Pope Pius VII agreed, reaffirming in 1800 the validity of her marriage. Within 10 years, though, partly due to the prince's extramarital affairs, the relationship ran its course. Even without her prince, Munson shows, Maria went on to live a full, exciting life a life given lively treatment here. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Dec.) Forecast: If the publisher can reach the readers who enjoyed Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, this could do well, though it probably won't attain the former's bestseller status. Copyright 2001 CahnersBusiness Information.
Library Journal
In December 1785, Maria Fitzherbert, a twice-widowed Catholic, married the Prince of Wales, who would later become King George IV. Not only was this secret marriage considered scandalous, but, more significantly, it was illegal, violating several acts, one of which was the Act of Settlement, "whose aim it was to ensure a Protestant succession to the crown." Maria was unfairly labeled as a whore and often cruelly depicted in the papers during this "golden age of the caricature." Munson (Victoria: Portrait of a Queen) attempts to redeem this lovely and ordinary woman by revealing her complexities and showing her to be a "good friend to those in need." While she comes across as a loyal servant, her relationship with George IV is not terribly compelling, nor is it exactly the stuff of fairytales. Her devotion to the fickle king, a licentious and irresponsible lout who eventually abandons her, is baffling. However, Munson does a solid job of outlining the various elements that contributed to the complexities of this marriage, most significant of which was the virulent anti-Catholic sentiments in Britain at this time. While Munson refers to earlier works about Fitzherbert in his book, his is the only biography currently available on the subject. Recommended for larger public libraries. Isabel Coates, Boston Consulting Group, Brampton, Ont. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Editor/historian Munson's (Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, not reviewed) account of a little-known romantic scandal of the British monarchy: the Prince of Wales' strange 1785 marriage to a twice-widowed Catholic woman.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786709045
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/1901
  • Pages: 414
  • Product dimensions: 6.37 (w) x 9.53 (h) x 1.63 (d)

Table of Contents

Illustrations ix
Acknowledgements xi
Introduction 1
1 A Recusant Childhood 5
2 Twice Wed, Twice Widowed 21
3 The Most Accomplished Prince of His Age 55
4 Miladies Abroad 91
5 A Dangerous Greatness 123
6 The Buzz of the Day 153
7 Questions in the House 181
8 His Majesty's Disorder 211
9 Passions and Errors 237
10 The Late Princess Fitz 259
11 Like Brother and Sister 283
12 The Final Break 307
13 Mrs Fitzherbert Without a Title 329
Epilogue: Mrs Fitzherbert's Honour 367
Notes 373
Bibliography 391
Index 405
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