The origins of the Queen Adelaide article date back to the time in 1979 when I was on long-service leave in England with my family. Visits to Berkeley Castle and Bradgate Park in the English Midlands had, quite by chance, presented historic connections to Adelaide. Though never published, I look back on the article I wrote many years later with a measure of satisfaction. If nothing else, it convinced me that researching history could be a worthwhile and creative pursuit.


Many a true word spoken in jest, but when Daniel Thomas ('Adelaide Who?', Review October 92) posed the rhetorical question of why "The Adelaide Festival? Why not the Alice Festival, the Mary Festival or the Fred Festival...,", he might have added for good measure; Catherine, Charlotte, Margeret, Sophia, any one of whom, by seeing her way clear to marrying the Duke of Clarence - later King William IV - and living long enough, could have had her name given to the capital city of the colony of South Australia.

------Queen Adelaide------

In his article, Daniel related how the death of the Prince Regent's daughter, Princess Charlotte, in 1817, suddenly meant that there was no natural line of succession to the throne save through marriage of the middle-aged sons of George III. In the ensuing unseemly haste to select a wife and produce an heir, William may have counted himself as being extremely fortunate in winning the prize of Adelaide of Saxe-Coburg-Meiningen.

Six years earlier, however, William had been beset by marriage problems of a completely different ilk....

With ten children to support through his twenty-year association with the London actress, Mrs Jordan, and hopelessly in debt, William resolved that the only way out was to terminate his liaison with Mrs Jordan and find a suitable heiress prepared to marry him.

Judging by the number of women William must have met, proposed marriage to - and then been rejected - his find-a-heiress campaign must have exposed him to severe ridicule and not a little embarrassment. It is not possible to detail and discuss all the various women who came within William's ambit during this period; two will have to suffice. One lady he sought to marry was a Miss Catherine Tylney-Long, whom he had first met in June 1811 and who was estimated to be worth in those days the not inconsiderable sum of forty thousand pounds per year. Unfortunately for him, she was more interested in William Wellesley-Pole, a 24-year old nephew of the Duke of Wellington. Unfortunately for Catherine, the nephew, apart from being described as handsome and witty, was also reputed to be a spendthrift and a cad.

Another lady's name was brought to my attention by a visit, in 1979, to Berkeley Castle, an 800-year old castle, located midway between Gloucester and Bristol, and overlooking the Severn estuary. In a historic sense the castle enjoys - if that is the correct word - an infamous reputation as the place where, in 1327, King Edward II was imprisoned and eventually put to death in a most dastardly fashion.

However, it was something the guide had said on the tour of the castle that caught my attention; namely that in the early nineteenth century William had known members of the Berkeley family well-enough for him to have sought marriage to Mary, the widowed-wife of the fifth Earl of Berkeley.

Not blessed with total recall of all that the castle guide had said all those years ago, I thought it prudent to write to the custodian of Berkeley Castle seeking further information on how William had come to know Mary, and when he had, in fact, proposed marriage to her.

What I did know was that she was born Mary Cole, the daughter of a Gloucestershire butcher in 1767, would have been of a similar age to William, and had been widowed in 1810. Also the striking portrait of her hanging in the Long Drawing Room at Berkeley Castle certainly went a long way to explaining why William would have been attracted to her. She died in 1844. (In passing, her marriage to the fifth Earl had not been without controversy. The official marriage had taken place in 1796, but the Earl had claimed that a secret marriage had taken place in 1785. She had seven children before the official marriage and six children after - a grand total of eight sons and five daughters.)

------Mary Cole-----------

The custodian replied that the Berkeley family had established strong links with the Duke of Clarence (and his brothers) through numerous holidays at Brighton and social outings, boating trips etc. Also following the Berkeley Doctor, Edward Jenner's discovery of a vaccine against smallpox, the Duke of Clarence, some of whose children had been vaccinated, volunteered to speak in support of a grant for Dr Jenner.

The custodian further confirmed that, in 1811,William had indeed sought to marry the recently-widowed Mary ie during the heiress phase and not the scramble of 1817-18, and was kind enough to enclose a copy of a letter written by Mary to the Prince Regent, William's eldest brother, dated April 6th, 1811, in which she sought to decline the Duke's offer of marriage. In part the letter states:

'Need I tell your Royal Highness that I am fully sensible of his great kindness towards me in the request he made to your Royal Highness of making me his wife - a request so complimentary to me that I want words (sic) to express my feelings of gratitude towards him, and the High Sense I must ever entertain that such an honor was offered to me will ever remain engrained on my heart.'

But it was her familiarity with the Royal Marriage Act of 1772 - forbidding marriages between Princes of the Blood and a subject (and years later who's to say that the House of Hanover couldn't have told the House of Windsor a thing or two) - which in effect got her off the hook. This was, perhaps, not absolutely the case, but it was a legitimate-enough excuse and sufficient to deflect William's ardour to the aforementioned Catherine et al.

However, as intimated by the guide on the castle tour, the real reason was that, at 44 and already having had 13 children, Mary, quite simply, had had enough. Clearly, she saw that marrying into royalty would almost certainly have entailed having further children.

It was a wise decision all-round. The Prince Regent had considered her to be insufferably vulgar and ill-bred, and would have declined to have a butcher's daughter as a sister-in-law. And some twenty-five years later, South Australia was relieved of the possibility of ever having its State capital named Mary or, heaven forbid, Maryville, Maryborough or some other such derivative.

The English summer of 1979 was to contain a further surprise reminder of home;the sighting of a plaque commemorating the visit to Bradgate Park by the Dowager Queen Adelaide in 1842. This park, situated on the edge of Charnwood Forest, and just a few miles from the East Midlands city of Leicester, still has the power, on a quiet day, to conjure up evocative memories of Tudor times past. (Certainly, the day I was there it would not have surprised to see Keith Michell come riding-by in his Henry VIII costume!) The area was renowned for its hawking and hunting activities and no great stretch of the imagination is required to see why; the deer roaming freely about the estate, the bracken covering the hillside, here and there outcrops of old granite rocks, the splendid oak trees and the ruins of an old Tudor mansion.

In sixteenth century England, Bradgate was the home of the Grey family and, in particular, Lady Jane Grey (the 'nine days Queen') was raised there, her brief accession to the throne in 1553 being sandwiched between the reigns of Edward VI and Queen Mary.

Jane was the eldest grand-daughter of Henry VIII's youngest sister, Mary, and it had been Henry's wish in his will that after his own children, the crown should pass to Jane. At the time Edward VI died, the power struggle for succession hinged on whether it should be the Catholic Mary, Henry's oldest daughter or the Protestant Jane. Alas poor Jane, she was doomed to be but a pawn in the game and was executed at Tower Green at the tender age of just 16 years and four months.

Legend has it that as a gesture of mourning over her execution, the local population pollarded all oak trees on the estate. (Pollarding is the practice of severely lopping trees such that the new growth forms a rounded top.) For those inclined to taking a little licence with history, there is a certain romantic appeal in thinking that almost three hundred years later one of these oak trees would provide the setting for a more pleasant interlude in the estate's history. Also that two English Queens, with such disparate fates could somehow be linked in this manner.

Whatever, Daniel Thomas's claim that Queen Adelaide 'enjoyed a comfortable widowhood', is amply borne out by the inscription on the plaque situated at the foot of one of Bradgate Park's oak trees.

It reads:


In July 1842, Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV is said to have picnicked beneath this Oak.

"One fine morning in July... a message came to say that the Queen Dowager... would wish to have a picnic in Bradgate Park. The venison was good, so were the trout, and least not last (sic) the crayfish."

(Charles Martin)

And, I daresay, all washed down with her favourite brand of Hock.

So there it is. A story principally concerned with three ladies; one who had the choice of joining royalty but declined, one who had no choice in the matter and paid for it with her life, and one who was chosen to be married to a Duke, eventually to become a Queen of England and now commemorated by a city that proudly and affectionately bears her name.

(I wish to thank the Adelaide City Council for their permission to use the portrait of Queen Adelaide in this article)

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