|Mrs Jordan as Hypolita in 'She Would and She Would Not' by John Hoppner, 1791|
As a theatre lover it is always a joy to welcome a member of the acting profession to the salon and today we are joined by a most notorious lady. Celebrated beauty, actress and mistress of the Duke of Clarence, it is a pleasure to tell the scandalous story of Dorothea Jordan.
Dorothea was born in Ireland to stagehand Francis Bland and his mistress, actress Grace Phillips. When his daughter was only 13, another actress caught Bland's eye and he left his mistress and five children behind to marry his newest fancy. With the family plunged into poverty despite Bland's occasional small payments, Dorothea joined her mother on stage, hoping to raise some money to support her siblings.
In fact, Dorothea did more than raise enough to feed her family; she had a natural and prodigious talent that saw her become one of the most popular comic actresses on the Irish stage, particularly renowned for the breeches roles that showed off her celebrated legs. Aged 20 she found herself coerced into an affair with Richard Daly, the married manager of the Theatre Royal, Cork, to whom she owed money. When her daughter, Frances, was born in 1782, Dorothea, along with her mother and the infant, fled Ireland for England and a new start.
Here Dorothea took the name Mrs Jordan to suggest respectability and embarked first on an affair with Lieutenant Charles Doyne and then with Tate Wilkinson, a Leeds-based acting company manager. Whilst still involved with Wilkinson Dorothea fell in love with George Inchbald, the company's leading man and though she was devoted to him throughout their affair, Inchbald was reluctant to commit. Finally, in 1786 she left Inchbald behind for the apparent security offered by magistrate, Sir Richard Ford.
|Dorothea Jordan by John Ogborne after George Romney, 1788|
By now one of the brightest stars on the London comedy stage, Dorothea revelled in her new found fame and longed to be Ford's wife. He promised her marriage and respectability yet by the time the couple's third child was born it had become apparent that the wedding was destined never to happen and once again, Dorothea moved on.
As ever, our leading lady already had her next beau lined up and in 1791 moved into Bushy House with William, Duke of Clarence, and future King William IV. No secret was made of their relationship and the couple enjoyed numerous public engagements together. Dorothea's career continued apace yet she found time to have 10 children with the Duke, all of whom survived childhood and took the surname Fitzclarence. She and William remained together for two decades and when the couple separated, he continued to make a yearly payment to her on condition that she give up her theatrical career to care for their daughters, whilst their sons remained with their father. Dorothea was heartbroken by the end of the relationship and resented William's decision to bow to family pressure to make a good marriage.
In fact, in 1814 Dorothea resumed her career to help with family debts and William stopped her stipend with immediate effect, removing the girls from her custody. Pursued by her creditors, Dorothea fled to France and lived in poverty until her death. Her descendants today include many noble names and a prime minister - not bad for an illegitimate lass from Waterford!
Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.
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