'Speak not in palaces for the walls have ears,
nor of princes for the birds of the air will reveal it'.
Attributed to Solomon by Lord Hervey.
'Receipt to make a very valuable publication.
Take of invention the utmost degree of falsehood, and the extreme of calumny,
well blend these two desirable compounds in the oil of audaciousness'.
Olive Wilmot Serres, Princess of Cumberland.
I began to collect material for this book more than fifty years ago. Whilst employed at the Society of Genealogists between 1957 and 1997 I received many letters from people who claimed to be descended from both male and female members of the royal family and my collection of notes and references grew. The majority of the claims had been mentioned in print somewhere and I have, therefore, taken publication in some form, however briefly, as my criterion for inclusion here.
Because of the bulk of the material, I have further limited this volume to the principal members of the royal family from the reign of George I to that of Edward VIII, leaving perhaps for another volume the earlier period and the late Stuart pretenders.
For each of the twenty-nine people listed on the Centents Page(and shown on the accompanying pedigree in the book) I have attempted to provide some note of their character in so far as it touches the matters under discussion. Then follows, in date order, details of the affairs and illegitimate children attributed to that person. These include, where appropriate, a statement about the spouse and perhaps a note also about that spouse’s alleged affairs. The affairs of the wives of George I and George IV have called for quite separate listings.
In a number of cases the biographical details and discussions of the evidence are followed by extended accounts of the families concerned. These accounts concentrate on immediate relatives rather than on remote ancestries. Where a child is attributed to a member of the royal family I have usually tried to provide at least some detail of its children and grandchildren. I have, however, normally excluded mention of living persons.
In the absence of family records, the only way to investigate a claim to royal descent is to put the traditions to one side, to assume that the descent does not exist, and to trace the ancestry as one would that of any other family, concentrating entirely on what the sources say. In many cases the searches that have been carried out have thrown considerable light on the claims. Many have not stood up to scrutiny and the number of probable illegitimate children is very few. Several likely children died young or did not themselves leave issue. However, biographies of members of the royal family frequently contain tales that even the slightest research in original sources would show to be unlikely, if not impossible. Old stories, long discredited, are frequently repeated. There is thus a clear need for a source-based summary of known claims and some background about the mistresses against which future claims may be considered.
Many of the unfounded claims arose in similar ways. In some it can be shown that reticence about a family divorce or illegitimacy has led to speculation about a royal connection, which, in turn, has been encouraged as being more acceptable than the truth. In other cases a royal interest in the welfare of former servants or in the members of a family in distress has caused speculation that again has turned to firm tradition with the passage of years. The early death of the head of a family and the widow’s later involvement at court may cause similar speculation about her children. The rapid promotion of any person in the army or navy or in colonial service may, particularly if the father died young, produce similar claims. A perceived likeness to some member of the royal family is another constantly recurring theme.
In yet other cases a gap in the genealogy has been conveniently filled by attaching the family to some member of the royal family who was alive at the appropriate time. Some claims to connections have even been transferred from one member of the royal family to another when research has shown that a connection with the first is unlikely or, for some reason, thought unacceptable. Fortunately there are only one or two cases in which documents have been forged to prove such connections.
This strictly genealogical approach has been made easier with the growing availability of the main sources in recent years and with the production of vast computerised indexes to records, some of which may be seen on the Internet. These indexes must, however, be used with the greatest care. Few, if any, may be regarded as complete. Some contain large amounts of amateur genealogy, without references to sources and ranging from speculation and wishful thinking to pure invention, particularly where links to the royal family are concerned. Even the apparently reliable material must be checked back to its original source before any conclusions can be drawn.
As regards the mistresses, the true nature of many a friendship must remain uncertain and it has been difficult to know who to include and who to leave out. The intensities of some affairs have undoubtedly been exaggerated: men and women in all ages have boasted of their attractions and conquests. The press frequently sensationalised relationships and used others for political ends or to discredit unpopular members of the royal family and the monarchy in general. It anticipated and confidently reported pregnancies when there were none and it continued to mention and caricature presumed relationships long after the events. One must be wary, too, of the great variations in meaning given in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to words such as ‘intimacy’, ‘connection’ and ‘lover’. The latter, in particular, did not imply the physical contact that it would today.
Although the biographies and pedigrees have been developed over time and through a variety of original and secondary sources, there is little doubt that in many areas more could be done. It is difficult to draw a line with any research of this kind and it is to be hoped that, with the publication of these details, others will come forward to add to what is known. In spite of extensive reading and the checking of many indexes I do not doubt that many printed claims will have escaped my attention and that references to others will be found in privately held archives. Details of these would be very welcome for any future edition of this book.
I must pay tribute to the many libraries and archives which I have used in the preparation of this work and also thank those who have carried out specific searches on my behalf or given me the benefit of their experience: Peter Bennett, Hans-Dietrich Hohn, Doris Farmer Hulse, Detlev von Linsingen, Christopher Watts, F.S.G., Jan Worthington, F.S.A.G., and the late Alan W. Rolfe, F.S.G. Other specific acknowledgments are made where appropriate.
I would also like to thank those who have shown interest in the project and provided encouragement in recent years, in particular Norma Allum, F.S.G., Peter Bennett, Sue Capewell, Isabelle Charlton, F.S.G., Robin Fletcher, Nicholas Fogg, Tessa Harfield, Doris Farmer Hulse, Bridget Lakin, Barbara Merrall, Joy Wade Moulton, F.S.G., Penny Pattinson, Lynda Raistrick, Monnica Stevens, F.S.G., Clifford Webster, Michael J. Wood and David Wright. I had hoped to find a commercial publisher to take on the production of the book but failing in this I decided to delay no further and to publish it myself. I look forward to entering into correspondence with anyone who can add to it or correct it in any way.