Maria Fitzherbert

Photo:Mrs Maria Fitzherbert

Mrs Maria Fitzherbert

Brighton's own 'Queen of Hearts'

By Jackie Fuller, North Laine resident

Mrs Maria Fitzherbert (1756 - 1837) was a young Catholic widow, beautiful, well-born, admired and respected in society, who entered into a secret, illegal and dangerous marriage with the then Prince of Wales, later to be Prince Regent, then King George IV, who lived in the Royal Pavilion, on the edge of North Laine.

She behaved with dignity

The story of this marriage and the effect it had on both their lives is still relevant to present day society, fascinated by royal marriages. Mrs Fitzherbert became the focus for rumour and speculation, her every action reported by the newspapers. Satirised in cartoons and vilified in pamphlets, she behaved in public with unfailing dignity and discretion, making her the perfect role model for any young woman of today, royal or otherwise, subjected to unwanted media attention!

A wife who appeared to be a mistress

Charming, unassuming and without personal ambition, Maria Fitzherbert was well-loved by her many friends and by everyone who came into contact with her and, in spite of her rather odd position - a wife who appeared to be a mistress - she held her place in society throughout her long life. Regardless of how badly George IV treated her and how much his own unpopularity rubbed off on her, she was the only one of his many loves who had any feeling for him at the end. Though sometimes quick to anger, she had a loyalty and generosity which the saddest moments of her life did not destroy. Her story deserves to be more fully known.

She wrote about the events of the day

The public events of the day: the Gordon Riots, the Regency Crises, the French Revolution, wars, sea battles, scandals, coronations and the great Reform Bill of 1832 are all described as experienced or observed by Maria Fitzherbert. Most of the famous names of the age played a part in her life and appear in their turn: Georgiana Devonshire, Fox, Pitt and Sheridan, the Royal Dukes and Princesses, Caroline (Princess of Wales), the Duke of Wellington, Louis Philippe of France, and of course George IV himself, with the years changing him from handsome young Prince to flamboyant Regent and, at last, to a gross and lonely king.

She frequently stayed here

Maria Fitzherbert's frequent stays in the town, at different stages of her life, helped to make Brighton the glittering and fashionable place it became in the early 19th century, with the balls she gave in her house on the Steine being the grandest Brighton had ever seen.

Brighton's 'Queen of Hearts'

From her first visit here with the Prince in 1786 right until her death in 1837 she was greatly loved by the people of Brighton. They made her their icon, calling her their 'Queen of Hearts', and of all the houses she lived in and towns she visited during her long life, Brighton was the place she came to love most.

(Information from: Valerie Irvine, The King's Wife, Hambledon & London, 2005 )

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 178, Jan/Feb 2006]

This page was added on 21/06/2008.

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