Royal scandals have captured the public imagination for centuries. From affairs and divorces to abdications and accusations of witchcraft, those close to the Queen have had their dirty laundry aired time and time again.
Such a scandal was discovered here in Hertfordshire around 250 years ago. The king’s brother was discovered in bed with another man’s wife at the White Hart Inn in St Albans – a romantic entanglement which saw the prince fined £10,000.
Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn, was the younger brother of George III. Her life was full of romance and mischief, much to her brother’s exasperation.
Read more: The fascinating and tragic life of the other Hertfordshire-born Prince William
According to the Royal Collection Trust, the prince secretly married a woman called Olivia Wilmot in the late 1760s and fathered a daughter. Also named Olivia Wilmot, the alleged daughter later called herself Princess Olive of Cumberland, although her claim was never proven.
The Duke is believed to have had a previous affair with actress and courtesan Ann Elliot. She was given a home on Greek Street, Soho, by the prince. When she died in 1769 after a long illness, she left thousands of pounds to her family, including a contribution from the Duke.
In 1769, Cumberland was discovered having an affair with Henrietta Vernon, Lady Grosvenor, at the White Hart Inn. The couple were found ‘in the act’ by the Baron’s servants in their room at the St Albans Hotel, which still stands today in Holywell Hill.
Their affair became a national scandal when Grosvenor sued the Duke on the grounds of “criminal conversation” with his wife, and the lovers’ correspondence was published in the press as part of the court proceedings. The media are said to have reveled in the sordid details, but the names were scrubbed due to censorship rules.
Cumberland was ordered to pay £10,000 in damages – worth more than £1.9million today – to Grosvenor who in turn paid a £1,200 annuity to his woman, according to the British Museum. The affair led to the separation of Lord and Lady Grosvenor in 1969.
Harriet could not remarry for 30 years, after Grosvenor’s death in 1802. She then married George Porter, Baron de Hochepied. Meanwhile, Cumberland’s marriage led to even more scandal.
On October 2, 1771, he married Anne Horton. She was the daughter of British MP Simon Lutterall and widow of Christopher Horton – notably, she was considered a commoner.
According to the Royal Collection Trust, the king strongly disapproved of his brother’s union with a commoner. The affair strained their relationship and the Duke was banished from George III’s presence.
This is said to be the reason George III passed the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which prohibited any descendant of George II from marrying without the monarch’s permission. This was repealed in 2011 but still exists in some form under the Succession to the Crown Act 2013.
The first six people in the line of succession must obtain permission to marry if they and their descendants are to remain in the line of succession. The first person in the line of succession to receive consent under the new law was Prince Harry, who married Meghan Markle in 2018.
250 years later, the Duke of Cumberland and his scandals still impact the Royal Family today. The charming White Hart Hotel, one of St Albans oldest buildings, still stands today on Holywell Hill. Let’s just hope your visit doesn’t come with all the scandal.
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