In this episode, I am joined by writer Julia Abel Smith who has enjoyed a long career with The Landmark Trust during which time she discovered the forbidden love story between Prince Augustus and Lady Augusta Murray who shared a name, birthday and destiny…
Holly: Hello my darlings and welcome back to Past Loves – the weekly history podcast that explores affection, infatuation and attachment across time to bring you a touch of romance to daily life. Ah well I hope this episode finds you very well indeed. I’m so pleased to be in September – not only to welcome the return to the podcast obviously – but also because I think it is just my favourite month of year. Autumn dressing is back and I can don my jumpers and thick black tights again and then with the start of term either at school or university or even at work really, it always feels like new beginnings. Plus it’s my birthday month so I think I might be slightly biased but I just love that autumn has started.
And of course it is time for the second episode of the season to be coming your way and it’s the first secret marriage episode of the season! I told you in the preview for the second season – the little teaser I send out – that in a weird way there are quite a few secret marriages in the line up this time around. Today, we will be discussing the relationship between Lady Augusta Murray and Prince Augustus who was the son of King George III. I am joined by Julia Abel Smith who has enjoyed a long career with The Landmark Trust and more recently with Art UK. She has also written for Country Life and House & Garden magazines. Whilst researching the history of one of the Trust’s follies that she discovered Lady Augusta and she was simply captivated. This year her book Forbidden Wife was published by The History Press.
Forbidden Wife: The Life And Trials of Lady Augusta Murray uses material from the Royal Archives and the Dunmore family papers to create a dramatic biography of Lady Augusta set in the reigns of Kings George III and IV against the backdrop of the American and French Revolutions. Augusta’s life changes when she meets Prince Augustus Frederick. He was Augustus, she was Augusta, and moreover they shared a birthday. It seems like destiny but their love story was consumed by scandal.
The History Press kindly gifted me a copy of the book and I have to say I absolutely devoured it. The story is so enthralling that I really did just love it and it was a piece of history that I had no idea about. The book reveals this royal marriage that has been almost completely hidden in history until now in an entertaining and articulate way. And I hope from this episode you will also understand why Lady Augusta Murray and Prince Augustus’ love story is both passionate and heart-breaking. Also we also talk a little about techniques that were used to win yourself a proposal – essentially its the eighteenth-century version of tinder.
Now, whilst Julia and I were having the conversation, Storm Francis was raging and well we had 2 or 3 power cuts during our discussion. So, the conversation does shift from a zoom call which is how I normally record interviews to a phone call. If you were wondering, when that change does happen, that is why. Storm Francis was causing quite a few problems. You will notice when we had to switch to plan B but I think you’ll feel so enthralled to learn how it turned out for Augustus and Augusta that it will be but a fleeting transition – you get pretty used to it pretty quickly, the change, and it really is such an important story and such a fascinating story from beginning to end. So we will start with a little introduction into the remarkable Lady Augusta Murray herself…
Lady Augusta Murray was born on the 27th January 1761. How would you describe her as a person?
Judith: Lady Augusta was intelligent, well read, very attractive. She was vivacious, generous and kind. She could be flirty. She was determined. And I would say that she was a very passionate person. And she was also proud of her family lineage.
Holly: Yes because her family is very interesting. What was her childhood like? Who were her parents?
Judith: Her father was the 4th Earl of Dunmore and he was descended from the Marquess of Atholl, and the Marquess of Atholl included in his forebears: members of the Royal Houses of Plantagenet, Orange and Bourbon. And her mother was Lady Charlotte Stewart. She was the daughter of the 6th Earl of Galloway and again, her family included the Royal House of Stewart.
Holly: And so John Murray was very interesting, because he ended up moving the whole family to Virginia. Why, and what was life like that for them?
Judith: John Murray, the Earl of Dunmore, was short of money and he needed a job that would pay him well. And one of the well paying jobs was to be a governor in the colonies. And so in 1770, he took the role of the governor of New York and after a year there, he was assigned as governor of Virginia and he was the last royal governor – and that’s to say, the last governor that was appointed by George III in Virginia. And so he went to Williamsburg, and he missed his family so much that he persuaded his wife to bring six of their children out to live in Williamsburg with him. And at that stage, it was very, very unusual for a governor to have his wife and his children out there. And so when they arrived, all the people in the colony of Virginia were so excited, and so welcoming, and gave them the most wonderful reception. And so she had, I would say, quite a lonely life out in Virginia, because they were grander than everybody else and she lived in the royal palace in Williamsburg. But she had her siblings, and her mother would have made sure that she continued with her education, dancing, music, languages reading. And so she had a year and a half out there.
Holly: Yes, and then they had to flee soon after her 14th birthday.
Judith: That’s right. Yeah, she and her siblings and her mother arrived just after the Boston Tea Party. They arrived in New York in 1774 and the Boston Tea Party, when some of the traders in Boston Harbor had thrown all the tea into the harbour because we’re being forced to pay taxes on it, and it was just the beginning of the American War of Independence when the American peoples were saying,’ we don’t want to pay taxes if we’re not represented in the Westminster parliament.’ So this was all the beginning of all the rumblings of the beginning of the American War of Independence and in 1775, Augusta’s father, Lord Dunmore, after there was various upsets throughout the colonies, he thought it would be a sensible thing to do to remove the gunpowder from the magazine, or the arsenal in Williamsburg. And next morning, when it was discovered that the gunpowder had been removed, and that the people of Virginia couldn’t arm themselves. They went to the palace and said ‘where’s our powder?’ And things got very, very dangerous. The governor decided that he would guard the palace and so he got British guards to surround the palace because he was really worried about the palace being broken into. And then it got so dangerous that in the middle of the night, in the summer of 1775, his wife and his six children, crept out through the back door, creeping down the pathway of the garden where there was a carriage waiting for them. And they were taken to the harbour and taken off to a British naval ship for their safety and then they eventually came home. But it was a it was dramatic, dramatic departure from Williamsburg.
Holly: It really was it must have been such an experience for Augusta. And it really seems that that time in Virginia was quite formative for her in general doesn’t it?
Judith: Yes, I think I think you’re absolutely right, Holly. And not only was she crossing the the ocean to New York, which in itself was a big adventure, she then went down from New York to Williamsburg, visiting lots of the capitals of the colonies on her way. And I think her time in America gave her an enormous confidence and gave her an experience that girls her age simply wouldn’t have had in England. People travelled of that background, but to travel to the colonies was really something very, very, very extraordinary and to be treated in the way that she was treated as the daughter of the governor gave her a sense of importance, gave her a sense of herself. And she would have also had time to do a lot of studying a lot of reading and her father’s library, mixing with the highest circles, she would have met George Washington – there’s no doubt about it, he knew the governor, he dined at the Royal Palace. So she would have met all the people that were instrumental, ironically, in the War of Independence.
Holly: Yeah, it’s remarkable. So they they came back to England, and it’s eighteenth-century England so we’re going to have to talk about her marriage prospects. What was it looking like for her? I particularly love the story about the painting by Romney, so if you could tell it to that would be great.
Judith: Yes. Her aunt, Lady Susanna Stewart, she was a very wealthy lady and she was a great patron of Romney, George Romney. And she married the Marquess of Stafford, she had a huge income and she was very, very fond of Augusta, her niece, and unlike her sister, Lady Charlotte Stewart, who was not at all wealthy, Susanna Stewart was wealthy, and she thought it would be a nice thing to do, to commission a portrait of Augusta, from George Romney for her 21st birthday. However, there was a tradition in those days that people of that background, went to visit artists and to look at all the pictures that they were doing and they would often have music played, and they would drink wine, and they would spend time in the studios of current artists. And so if you were having your portrait painted, and you were hoping that you’d make a good match, very often the invoice would be delayed, so that the picture was hanging around literally hanging around in the studio so young men could say, ‘Oh, what a beautiful girl, you know, who is that?’ And it was a way of putting yourself about, if you like, in, in a subtle sort of way. So I can’t quite remember how long it took Lady Susanna to pay the bill, but it was quite a long time.
Holly: Yeah, it was. It was a years.
Judith: Yeah. And there was and there was a reason for that!
Holly: Because it seems that Augusta had plenty of interest, but she was quite unwilling to compromise in who she took for a husband.
Judith: She was very intelligent. And she knew that once she was married, her husband would be able to tell her what to do where they went. She wouldn’t be mistress of her own destiny anymore. So she was very, very keen to marry somebody who she could not only love, but feel was her equal. And as you say, she had lots of interest. But she didn’t find anybody that she was particularly keen on or that she wanted to marry until she fell in love with her first cousin, Lord Archibald Hamilton.
Holly: Yes, what’s the story there?
Judith: He was the son of another of her aunts (she had lots of aunts). This was Lady Harriet Stewart. And he was, I think it was eight years younger than her, quite a lot longer than her. And they got on very well. They were very happy together. Mothers are great friends. And it’s certain that he had made some sort of arrangement with her that when they came back from their trip to Italy – Augusta was going to go to Italy with her mother – she understood that they would probably be married. So when she left, she was if you like, unofficially engaged. They’d swapped rings. They’d swapped pictures. There was nothing public, but she believed she had an understanding with her cousin Archibald.
Holly: Yeah, but it was in the summer of 1792 when they did go to Italy with Augusta’s sister Virginia, that she fell in love with someone entirely different. And honestly, the story of their first meeting is like a fairy tale. It’s like a Cinderella moment.
Judith: It’s charming isn’t it?
Holly: So so lovely. So how did Augusta meet Prince Augustus?
Judith: Augusta had been in Naples with her mother and her sister, Virginia, and they came up to Rome for Christmas in December. And Prince Augustus, the sixth son of King George III, had been in Rome for a matter of days. And he was walking up the Via del Corso, one of the main roads in Rome. He went into a church, San Giacomo and as he came out on the steps, he met a mother and her two daughters. He realized immediately that they were British and he thought maybe he knew them, but he wasn’t sure. And he noticed that the very pretty daughter’s shoe, the ribbon was loose. And so he knelt down without knowing who she was. He knelt down and tied up the ribbon of her shoe. And she hadn’t noticed that the ribbon was was loose, and she was a little bit surprised.
Holly: I mean, you’d be a little…it’s romantic, but you’d also be a little bit worried.
Judith: ‘Thank you very much.’…and smiled at him and went inside the church. And he left the church went on his way – maybe to do some more sightseeing – and they were very much thrown together in society in Rome. It was a small society. And he fell in love very, very quickly, very passionately with her, and by Christmas was sending her passionate letters, prayers saying, you know, ‘you will only love’ and things went from there.
Holly: Yeah, he really laid it on thick very early on. But it took her a little bit more time didn’t it?
Judith: Yes, she knew he was. She was much older than him. And at the beginning, she absolutely wasn’t in love with him. She was in love with her cousin Archibald. She was expecting to marry him when she got home. And she was flattered by the prince’s attentions, but she didn’t really think any more of it. But he was so persistent and they saw each other every day, and the relationship got more and more intense. And then the crunch really came when she had a letter from Archibald saying that he was going to marry somebody else. And she was utterly, utterly devastated because by this time, she was in her early 30s and she was really hoping that when she got back, she could marry somebody she loved, that was her equal and should be happy ever after. So that was a terrible, terrible shock to her. And Prince Augustus really took his chance and say,’ well, Archibald told you this, but you know, I’m here and I’d like to marry you.’ And she thought,’ well, this is this is impossible. You’re the son of the King. I can’t possibly marry you.’ But he carried on and carried on and carried on.
Holly: Maybe we can talk a little bit about who Prince Augustus was. So he was born in January 1773 so yes he was quite a bit younger than Augusta and he was the son of George III. Can you describe his character a little?
Judith: Yes. Um, I think it’s quite important to say that not only was he 12 years younger than Augusta, but actually they shared a birthday.
Holly: Yes. It’s so romantic.
Judith: They were both born on January 27th. And he was Augustus and she was Augusta. And there they were born on the same day, it looks as if they were meant to be together. Augustus was very sweet natured. He was very popular with all his siblings. He was much loved by his mother, Queen Charlotte. He was very resilient because he was sent to the University of Göttingen for his education, age 13. He got terrible asthma, and he underwent horrific treatments and he underwent them uncomplainingly. Yeah, they had that horrible thing called blistering where you had horrible hot glasses put on top of your head to they believed it was to draw out the evil vapours and things. I mean really painful and all his brothers always commented that he never made any fuss so he was very very brave.
Holly: Yeah, I felt a real because I asthmatic so I felt a real connection him knowing what it must have been like for him to deal with it, without any medication, without just a doctor giving you some steroids when things flare up massively and I just felt so…he did incredibly well just to be out there and you know, pursuing love with such vigor when he was so poorly.
Judith: Yes and no, no puffers for him! No his brothers, his two brothers that he was with, would stay in Göttingen and he was sent off to to warmer climates. He was sent to the south of France and he was sent to Italy for his asthma. So I think he was also quite lonely. And he used to write how happy he was to get to go back to Göttingen to see his brothers. So when he met Augusta, he missed his mother. There are charming letters to his mother, Queen Charlotte charming letters to his sisters. I think he was very, very homesick. And he was very, very lonely. And so when he met a sweet, lively girl, and within a very warm hearted mother, a very another very sweet sister, I think he was so happy to be in the bosom of a family again, having not seen his own family for for six years.
Holly: No, because their family dynamic was very interesting, and particularly his relationship with his father.
Judith: Yes, yes, his father, who was the very dutiful, conscientious King, and expected that sort of behaviour from his children. And I think all Augustus wanted to do was please his father, and work hard at his studies. But he knew that he was at a disadvantage in that because his other brothers, Prince William was in the Navy and the Prince of Wales himself couldn’t actually be actually in the services, but he had an honorary title in the services. Augustus was the only one that couldn’t actually be in the army, and help fight for his country, which his other brothers did. So he always felt at a great disadvantage for that, and felt that he was not being as helpful as he could be to his father. So he would write to his father and tell him everything that he thought might be useful. He tell him about the naval ships that he saw, maybe the armies that he came across on his travels. But he always felt I’m not really much used to my father, which I think was a great sadness.
Holly: Yeah, no, it really did seem and it seemed he was like, very desperate to find something because at one point, he thought, ‘well, maybe I’ll become part of the clergy.’ And then he’s like, ‘Well, no, I like I like girls a bit too much and I’d quite like wife.’
Judith: Yes and the sad thing about that is very sensible idea about going into the church was that it would have been actually perfect, but he never got a reply from his father. And I think that was terribly sad. He kept he kept writing, devising, ‘I could go to university and go to church. What do you think? Do you think this is a good idea? Because I can’t go into services’ and never had any replies which I think must have been absolutely heart-breaking.
Holly: Yeah, it really did seem. But I mean, the first three months of their relationship, that sounds like the best summer romance you could possibly ever want. What was it like for them those first three months exploring Italy?
Judith: Prince Augustus took Augusta, Virginia and Lady Dunmore, all around Rome showed them all the things that he loved. He was instrumental in many of the archaeological digs, and he helped fund those. He would have taken them off to see the archaeological digs of which there was a huge amount going on in Rome at that time. He would have taken off to the picture galleries, the palaces, the churches, St. Peter’s obviously, and he was also very interested in music, church music, and he loves singing. So he took them off to church concerts. And quite interestingly, they were there during Lent. And you couldn’t have opera during Lent. He would take them off to oratorios, which is why so many oratorios are very like opera, and the church music, which you hear in church that has all the sort of all the charm of an opera. So they used to go off to concerts, and then in the evenings, they would go out for dinner with people and they would play cards, and they would dance and eat ice cream ice cream is very popular at that time which I think is rather charming. And of course, it was such a it was such a cosmopolitan society. There were so many different people from royal families, expats from Britain, who found a room much cheaper to live in. There was a rich mix, so there was the culture in the daytime and then there was the inspiring and enjoyable society in the evening. So there was never a dull moment. And I mean the intensity of her diaries. Gosh, they were busy.
Holly: Yes. There’s something every single day, they were exploring something new. And I find it interesting that you talked about the fact that he really savoured being back in a bosom of the family because it was on the 4th March 1793 that Augusta wrote in her journal about the fact that her mother loved him as much as she loved him. He’d been quite sick with his asthma again, and they’d both been crying over him and it really did seem that they became very intense very quickly.
Judith: Yes, Yes. And I think I think that Lady Dunmore was separated from her other children and I think he really became a son to her. And with that motherly affection for a child that’s not very well, I think she got more and more more and more fond of him and felt more and more sympathetic towards him with his asthma.
Holly: Archibald’s letter, as you mentioned, was the catalyst to Augustus’ proposal. But Augusta didn’t agree straight away, did she?
Judith: No she didn’t, because she just felt that it was inappropriate for him to a) ask her to marry him and and b) to start that it was it would be impossible. She wasn’t a protestant princess and she was 12 years older than him, which in those days would have been very, very extraordinary. I mean, people who married women even up to a few months older, that was looked down on. Extraordinarily. She just felt that this was impossible and really, he should change his behaviour.
Holly: Yeah and can you explain the significance of the Royal marriages Act of 1772? Because that was very influential.
Judith: That was crucial to their story. The Royal Marriages Act originated from King George III’s horror, at the marriage of his brother, Henry, Duke of Cumberland, to Mrs. Horton. Mrs Horton was a coquette, a flirt, she came from a family with very contentious political affiliations, she really was not suitable to be the wife of a royal Duke. And the king felt very upset that his brother the Duke had married Mrs Horton because he hadn’t asked him and he felt that as the paterfamilias, as the head of the family, it behoved his young brothers to ask him for they got married, but of course, the Duke hadn’t asked him because he knew that King George wouldn’t allow him to get married Mrs Horton. So the King decided that he would actually try and get some legislation passed to make sure that, in the future, his descendants would ask the King or the Queen before they got married to make sure that the people they married were in his eyes suitable. In 1772, the law was passed and the Royal Marriages Act came into being which said that any children had to ask the monarch before they got married. And Lady Augusta didn’t really know that the details of the Royal Marriages Act but she knew that there was such a thing and she knew that she obviously wasn’t a possible Princess. When the King set up the conditions of the Royal Marriages Act, he was very keen that his children and his siblings should not marry what he called a country man or a country woman. They shouldn’t marry somebody from Britain because he felt that they could get very involved with politics, and they could happen to have separate factions and he didn’t want that. And when he made Queen Charlotte, he was said to her, and you mustn’t get involved with politics, you just keep to domestic, domestic affairs. So that was absolutely crucial to the story of Augustus and Augusta.
Holly: I mean, remarkably, not remarkably, there were desperately in love, but he did wear her down. He was really very passionate. And so they decided they would have a wedding ceremony, and it happened on the 4th April 1793. Can you explain the story of their first wedding ceremony?
Judith: Yeah. The stress of trying to persuade Augusta to marry him had made Augustus really very unwell and he’d had to keep to his room for a few weeks with bad asthma and everything that was decided between them, they pass in letters, his doctor passed the letters and her servant passed the letters so we know exactly what what went on. All the letters are in existence. And they had lots of difficulty in trying to find a cleric to marry them because the cleric often wanted to know why when it should be kept secret. Lots of them, ‘why I don’t actually want to be involved with it.’ And then eventually, they tricked the Reverend William Gunn into marrying them because they asked him to come to Augusta’s lodgings in Rome, and he went there expecting to meet her, and then the prince popped out thrust a prayer book into his hand and said ‘you have to marry us’ and got so upset and so agitated, that the Reverend William Gunn was persuaded to do so, much against his will and so much so that he left that a little bit of the service. So it was all very, very dramatic. He did marry them in the end.
Holly: He did and then he separated them as quickly as quickly as possible.
Judith: As quickly as possible and what was more important than anything, he kept the certificate. He didn’t give them the wedding certificate. He kept it because he knew that by being party to the marriage, by just being a part of it, he was committing a crime because he was going against the provisions of the Royal Marriages Act.
Holly: But Augusta and Augustus seemed like, when they went back to their rooms and they wrote in their diaries, you have them talking about what it was like, and they seem just so swept up in all I mean, Augusta wrote: ‘Oh my prince, my lover, and now indeed, my husband,’ which is so very touching.
Judith: They were so so pleased. I think it has all been so traumatic and so intense. And then it was also desperate, and then at last they were married. I think the relief was phenomenal.
Holly: And as was the trend with their relationship, things moved very quickly, because when they did consummate the marriage, that’s when Augusta fell pregnant with their son, straight away!
Judith: And of course, she got very sick very quickly. And she hadn’t told her mother, she hadn’t told anybody. They promised each other that they wouldn’t tell people. The Reverend William Gunn made them promises that they wouldn’t tell people. It was all secret. And she was so unwell. Her mother and sister carried on going out to parties in Rome, but she had to stay home on the other hand, that did give her an opportunity to see Augustus in private.
Holly: But then it was the end of the feast of Corpus Christi. And that meant that Lady Dunmore wanted to return back to England with her daughters so Augusta made the trip back to England, returning home visibly pregnant, and apparently single, and that must have just been very daunting for her.
Judith: Yeah, yeah. Because she didn’t know what she was going to get back to. She didn’t know how the King would take the news that his son was married. She didn’t know if Augustus had told the King. Her future was very, very, very uncertain. And I think that must have been a terrible thing to come back to England in November, having had a dreadful sea journey during the war with France, feeling very unwell, and simply not knowing what was going to happen. She couldn’t go out in public because everybody was said, ‘Oh, my goodness, you’re pregnant.’ She had no obvious husband and she couldn’t tell anybody. But what she did have…it was a dreadful position for her.
Holly: I deliberately said their first wedding ceremony in Italy because they then had another ceremony on the 5th December in the same year. Why did they have a second ceremony and what was it like?
Judith: They had a second equally secret ceremony at St George’s, Hanover Square at the beginning of December because Lady Dunmore wanted to secure the reputation of her daughter and the legitimacy of her unborn grandchild, because she was concerned that the wedding in Rome, without witnesses, and without a certificate that they could produce would be recognized. In Augusta’s mind, she was my definitely married, she had no qualms about the service that they’d undergone in Rome, but it was her mother who felt that the Roman ceremony wouldn’t be recognised in England, and also Prince Augustus was keen to have a ceremony undertaken in England. So they have the bands read, but they had to read without their titles: Mr. Augustus and Miss Augusta Murray. They went dressed very simply, afterwards, the prince was described as looking like a common shopkeeper in a brown great coat, and Augusta was wearing just a very simple, long cotton gown. None of the glorious apparel that they would have been wearing if the wedding had been approved or they got married as a first wedding. It was very early in the morning when it was dark in December and they got married in what’s called a double wedding. In those days when churches have something like nine weddings a day, people could opt to get married with another couple – you get two for one. So quite extraordinary, the idea of getting married with another couple in the same ceremony. The wedding went off and it was all fine or apparently all fine. And then she went home afterwards and they were much much relieved that it was done.
Holly: So how did the secret get revealed then?
Judith: The secret was revealed because, very interestingly, one of the later of weddings that day was Dido Belle and she married John Davinier. And she was the ward of Lord Mansfield, and there’s a beautiful portrait of her with her cousin at Scone Palace. And I, I have no idea how Lord Radnor was looking at the wedding register. But I just wondered if he wasn’t one of the attendees of the wedding of Dido Belle because John Davinier was a Huguenot and Lord Radnor looked after one of the houses were lots of Huguenots lived in North London and I’m just wondering if that wasn’t a possibility. Otherwise, I don’t know how long Radnor was there. For whatever reason, he was in church, he saw the wedding register, and he clocked that Augusta and Augustus were who they were, and he told The Times and not only did he tell The Times, he informed Privy Council.
Holly: Wow, that must have been so tumultuous for the couple What was it like for Augusta?
Judith: She then had her baby on the 13th January. And she was very, very, very ill after she had postpartum fever, which could kill you. It was a great scare of new mothers. And she was summoned to appear before Privy Council at an inquiry, and she was much too ill to go. So her mother went in her stead. And her mother asked questions in front of the Privy Council, I think there was 14 Privy counsellors, the great and the good of the government: the Prime Minister, the war minister, the Archbishop, the Bishop of London. She was absolutely magnificent. She answered all the questions. She retained her daughter’s reputation and her sense of dignity and she was utterly superb. But the enquiry having taken place, it was decided that king’s case against Augustus should then go to one of the church councils in June. And then it was decided that both marriages in Rome and London were null and void and that their little boy was illegitimate.
Holly: What did the Prince make of it?
Judith: Oh, he was desperately unhappy. He has gone back to Italy the morning after his little boy was born.
Holly: It’s such a heart-breaking story that he leaves at four o’clock in the morning.
Judith: He had to leave at four in the morning because he had to get to Portsmouth because his ship was sailing and he was leaving, again, health reasons. But he did just manage to see Augusta, although he didn’t say goodbye to her because she was so well. He knew that that would be a terrible thing for her but he just saw his little baby boy. And he was absolutely horrified. I think he was so horrified that their position had been made a legal case. And that to him, you know, he thought that it could be agreed in amongst the family. But no, because of the Royal Marriages Act, it became a legal case. And he was horrified. He was appalled at what happened. Initially, he was desperately unhappy. But he determined, he resolutely set out to try and make his marriage to Lady Augusta accepted, accepted by his father, accepted by everybody. And it was something a an uphill battle.
Holly: Didn’t he even just try to work out a country where they would be acknowledged?
Judith: Yes. He wrote the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time that ‘if we went to somewhere that would accept her, would this not be suitable?’ And the Archbishop replied, ‘You will always be the son of the King, wherever you go. You will be the son of the king, don’t be under any illusion.’ Eventually, he did realise that he would never get his marriage to Augusta accepted.
Holly: So in 1799, Augusta actually went to see Augustus in Berlin in a kind of non…it was a non-sanctioned visit, because they’d put head to her travelling. But she went because she thought that Augustus was very, very ill. And they had five weeks there and it was very, very happy for them. But you wrote in your book that the Prince of Wales was really regarding Augustus is both idealistic and foolish are trying to keep up this pretence of their legal marriage and how did he try to undermine their relationship?
Judith: I think what should be remembered is that so often there are personal reasons why people behave the way they do. And of course, the Prince of Wales himself had undergone an illegal marriage, so that he knew really that to marry somebody that was not sanctioned by the King, was absolutely hopeless. The King had asked him to help extricate him brother Augustus from Lady Augusta and this is a task that he accepted a very, very unwillingly. He didn’t really want to spend time on it. He just thought that it was a nonsense that he was trying to something that he would never ever succeed in, and he just got rather bored of it. When Augusta went out to Berlin, she left her son with her mother Lady Dunmore. And it was decided that if they prevented the child from going to Berlin to be with his parents then that would be a way of getting Augusta back, but Augustus should stay in Berlin. The child became something of a bargaining chip. However, they weren’t reckoning on Lady Dunmore, because Prince Augustus sent his valet to go and pick up the child and Lady Dunmore had no hesitation in giving the child to the valet, and off he went, and was whisked away from London to Berlin where he spent one day before he and his mother had to come back.
Holly: I know it was so sad because obviously that was the first time they were meeting, Augustus and his son Augustus.
Judith: That the three of them were together
Holly: Yes and so it’s so sad that they did come back. But by the end of March in the next year, Augustus did decide that he did want to come to be with his family so he came home without the permission of his father and what did he decide was the best strategy to achieve a reasonable pension for them both?
Judith: He decided that he wouldn’t press to have Lady Augusta recognised as his wife for financial reasons. But he thought, ‘well I’ll just live with her quietly’ and like many of his brothers did – you know Prince William and his mistress lived quietly and so he thought ‘well we’ll just live quietly, we won’t make a song and dance about this and I’ll say that I’m not going to try to get her recognised as my wide and we’ll just live quietly with her.’ Which is what they did for 7 months at a house on Grosvenor Square and they lived there before he had to go back again for health reasons.
Holly: Yeah so in 1801, they decided to separate. Can you explain what happened?
Judith: Yes, yes. Augusta was not going to take that for definite. So she thought ‘I’m going to have one more try. I’ll go and have one more try and I’ll try to get my debts paid’ because when they’d had 7 months in London, they’d spent a lot of money and there were many debts that couldn’t be paid. She was being harassed by her creditors. In the Spring of 1802, she went to Lisbon with her sister where Augustus was living at that stage – had a disastrous few days there trying to make him see her. She didn’t succeed and it was a very humiliating visit because he wouldn’t see her and he said ‘I’m going to go to Gibraltar unless you go away.’ So she eventually left Lisbon and came back and put in a case against him for the money because she genuinely thought that she would be thrown into the debtor’s prison. She even got to the point where she was looking at rooms in the Marshalsea prison because she was so worried about being thrown into prison for debt. Then her brother very kindly helped her out and paid some of the debts so that she wouldn’t have to go to prison. At last, in 1806, they came to an agreement and the Prince agreed to pay her debts. He debts would be paid off of £26,000 on the understanding that a) she dropped her case b) his coat of arms would not be shown on her carriage and c) her servants would not wear his livery. A line was draw. Her debts were paid. He agreed that he would pay her a pension of £4,000 a year. They had to be completely separate and I think by that time she was quite pleased not to see him and he was quite happy not to see her. She split her time between her house in Ramsgate and her house in London.
Holly: Ramsgate sounds like a very picturesque place.
Judith: I think it was, I think it was a period of contentment. I don’t think it was idyllic because I think when you think what she had before, before she met the Prince, she was at the top of her social tree, she went to court all the time, she was the Queen of society. When she was in Ramsgate, nobody of any quality would see her. I think it was only sort of rackety rakish crowds who would see her. However she used her time to make a beautiful estate, gardens, grounds. She gathered a library, the whole bottom floor of her house was her library with a very big dining room in a wing at the back. She saw her children and she had a life, I think it was of contentment. She made the best of what she had and I think what runs through her story again, again and again is how supportive her own family was. She loved her parents, they did a lot to look after her. She loved all of her siblings, they supported her. To them, she was always the Duchess, they always regarded her marriage as valid and they stuck by her. Her mother, who had been at the pinnacle of society in America, in all of the colonies – she was the most important woman in America – she then got to the stage where there was no money, she couldn’t even have a carriage. That must have been terrible for Lady Dunmore. It was a period of quiet content I would say.
Holly: And when she did die and then later Prince Augustus died as well, what was their legacy for their children?
Judith: Their son Augustus, he was always uncomfortable about his situation. He was royal but he wasn’t royal. His mother acknowledged him as royal but his father absolutely didn’t acknowledge him as royal. He had a very tricky time. Augustus had a very sad life and he eventually died of Multiple Sclerosis. He never married. He made all kinds of clumsy attempts to marry princesses. He tried to court Princess Charlotte, the daughter of the Prince of Wales, which ended in disaster. He tried to woo the half sister of Princess Victoria, who would become Queen Victoria, which was also a disaster. He died very unhappy and very unwell. Her daughter Emma, she coped with it slightly better, I think it was slightly easier for her. She got married very late. She married one of the executors of Queen Caroline, Thomas Wilde, Lord Truro. She had met him when she had been involved in the journey taking Queen Caroline’s coffin back to her home in Brunswick. Emma, she did go to stay at Windsor as a guest of Queen Victoria, her first cousin. She had I think I relatively quiet life I think she was quite happy.
Holly: Well I hope so! Now if we look a little more at the longer term between Augusta and Augustus, how do you think that they should be remembered?
Judith: I think that their misfortune was that their love affair took place after the Royal Marriages Act because law because I think in another age, her descent from the royal families of the Stewarts, Plantagenets, Oranges and Bourbons might well have made her a suitable consort for what was, after all, the sixth son of the monarch.
Holly: Well I think that their story is remarkable and you’ve done such an amazing job of pulling together all of the sources that they left for you to find so thank you so much and thank you for talking to me today
Judith: Oh thank you so much Holly, it’s been delightful talking to you
Holly: And thank you for listening – especially with the minor technical issues that we had but we powered on even without power and I’m sure you’ll agree that Lady Augusta and Prince Augustus’ story is such a rollercoaster from those intoxicating few months in Italy to the sad demise of their marriage against such opposition and financial issues. I have to say talking to Julia and reading her book I did just fall in love myself with them both. Lady Augusta because I think she knew her own mind and Prince Augustus mainly because with his asthma, knowing what it’s like even now when you’re asthma isn’t under control that he must have suffered a great deal and yet, he still pursued her after falling in love on the steps of a church. I really do think the story of their first meeting – their meet-cute in romcom terms – really is just so very romantic. And I love the fact that for so many years they did act so boldly in order to be together. It is just a shame that against it all it couldn’t last forever.
I would therefore highly recommend reading Julia’s book Forbidden Wife: The Life And Trials of Lady Augusta Murray which was published by The History Press and is available on Amazon, at Waterstones and of course at your favourite independent book shop.
If you have enjoyed this episode please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening to it now. Perhaps you could tell me your favourite love story that has been lost to history. And then, I would love it if you were to follow me over on Instagram @pastlovespodcast where the conversation continues and then, with all of that, you really won’t miss a single thing – which is very important if Past Loves has become your current love. Until soon!