Sarah ('Louisa') Fairbrother, Mrs FitzGeorge

Much fiction having grown up around the life of Mrs FitzGeorge and many incorrect details about her appearing on the Internet I have decided to set out here the main facts of her life and of her relationship with Prince George of Cambridge.

Sarah Fairbrother was baptised at St George, Hanover Square, Middlesex, on 8 October 1817 (as she celebrated her birthday on 31 October she seems likely to have been born in 1816), and the sister with whom she lived, Elizabeth Georgiana, was baptised at the same church in 1813. That sister is known to have had another sister Mary Anne Charity Fairbrother (she and Elizabeth Georgiana married two brothers) who was baptised at St Marylebone, Middlesex, in 1810. They were the children of John Fairbrother, described as a servant of James Street, Westminster, in 1813 and 1817, by a wife Mary. This Mary (who was living with her daughter Sarah in 1841) died as Mary Tucker Fairbrother in 1847, her full name also being given at the 1817 baptism. The couple had an (apparently) final child, William Fairbrother, baptised at St Ann Soho, Westminster, in 1824, when they were described as of St Giles in the Fields and John was a labourer.

It is possible that John and Mary separated at some time after 1824 as they were not apparently living together in 1841, but a John (then described as of Lichfield, Staffordshire) paid for her vault when Mary died, ostensibly a widow, in 1847. It seems likely that John and Mary are the John Fairbrother and Mary Phillips who married at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Middlesex, in 1807, the surname Phillips being given to an illegitimate child of Elizabeth Georgiana's baptised at St George Bloomsbury, Middlesex, in 1835. In view of the relative frequency of the surname Fairbrother or Farebrother and its variants in London in this period, however, I have to admit that this may not be the correct marriage.

This family had no known connection with the family of Robert Fairbrother (about whom there is a separate page on this website), no known connection with any family with the surname Freeman, and no known connection with any family of printers in Bow Street, Covent Garden.

Sarah Fairbrother had an illegitimate son, Charles Manners Sutton Fairbrother, on 8 August 1836, who was baptised at St Mary, Islington, Middlesex, on 12 March 1837. His father was probably Charles John Manners Sutton, later 2nd Viscount Canterbury (1812-1869) [see my book Royal Mistresses and Bastards].

Sarah Fairbrother had an illegitimate daughter Louisa Catherine, on 22 March 1839, who was baptised at St James, Westminster, on 5 July 1839, as if she were a legitimate child and in the surname Bernard (her birth, however, was not registered in either surname). Her father, who then described himself as of Golden Square, esquire, was Thomas Bernard, of Castle Bernard, King's County, Ireland (1816-1882). He made some financial provison for her at her marriage in 1859 [see the Addenda on this website].

Sarah Fairbrother met Prince George of Cambridge, 10 February 1840, and had two illegitimate children by him: George, born 27 August 1843, and Adolphus, born 30 January 1846. After their marriage she had a third child, Augustus, born 12 June 1847.

Prince George of Cambridge was an extremely weak man where women were concerned. He was also extremely reticent about his marriage to Sarah Fairbrother which took place by licence of the Faculty Office dated 17 December 1846, at St James, Clerkenwell, 8 January 1847. He was not correctly described in the entry and did not use his normal signature. He knew better than most that it was not a legal marriage, and that any marriage that he contracted, whether in Ireland or France, would be equally invalid. He was aware (even if Sarah Fairbrother was not) of the decision of the House of Lords in 1844 that the Royal Marriage Act incapacitated the descendants of George II from contracting a legal marriage anywhere without the consent of the Crown. That consent would never have been given for him to marry an actress with four illegitimate children (by three different fathers), who was pregnant with another.

As a result of the Prince's reticence all sorts of stories got about (and have appeared in print). Not knowing of his marriage at Clerkenwell many assumed that the Prince had married Sarah whilst in Ireland and he himself apparently said that they had married in France in 1854. He presumably did not want to draw attention to the Clerkenwell marriage, but it was the anniversary of that marriage that he and Sarah privately celebrated (as we know from their correspondence) and not the anniversary of any other.

It is wrong to describe this 'marriage', illegal on several counts, as a morganatic marriage as that would imply that it had a basic legality that it certainly did not have. Sarah was, in the eyes of society that would not receive her and of those who knew anything about her (for she led a very retired life and was an invalid from 1867 onwards), merely the Prince's mistress. Legend has created for them an idyllic relationship that is far from the reality. Their social backgrounds were, of course, completely different. It was she who applied for the marriage licence and, it seems, persuaded him, somewhat against his better judgment, to marry her. It seems likely that her fear of losing the Prince had been roused by his growing connection with another woman. His comment in 1884 that "when a man, through some unfortunate accident, makes a great mistake, he must abide by it" was taken by Lady Geraldine Somerset to refer to his marriage. The marriage was not entirely happy and Sarah had many moments of suspicion and jealousy in spite of what is generally called her "passionate devotion" to her 'husband'.

The "other woman" was Louisa Beauclerk, whom the Prince later described as "the idol of my life and my existence", whom he had known since 1837 and seen much of in 1847, and who was his mistress from at least 1849 until her death in 1882. As early as 1849 he had decided that he would be buried near Mrs Beauclerk and it was solely on her account that Mrs FitzGeorge and he were buried at Kensal Green, about sixty feet away from Mrs Beauclerk's grave.

The depth of the confusion is illustrated by Lady Dorothy Nevill's letter written in December 1890 just before the anniversary of Sarah's death in January 1891 and referring to "this terrible period". Prince George immediately thought that she was referring to the death of Louisa Beauclerk on 28 December 1882 and replied that "Friday next, 28th, was the sad day which ended my happiness in this world". Lady Dorothy Nevill printed the letter in 1910 still thinking that he was talking about Sarah Fairbrother and her "many years of happy married life" [Lady Dorothy Nevill, Under five reigns (London, 1910) 262-3].

Anthony Camp, 5 August 2008.