The Wellington Connection: The Duchess of Kent

It is a little known fact that, had it been up to King William IV, the Duke of Wellington would have been appointed Regent in the event that William died before the heir to the throne, Princess Victoria, reached her majority. In theory, Wellington could have acted in the capacity of King until Victoria became eighteen. However, there were some in the government who felt that the Duke of Wellington had more than enough power already, thank you very much. And besides, the Duchess of Kent was jockeying for the position of Regent, with her brother, Prince Leopold supporting her so that he could be the power behind any Regency that might come to pass. 

As Princess Lieven wrote on October 25th "The Duchess of Kent and her brother hold themselves very high, as if the throne is to be theirs tomorrow - and this is most unpleasant to the King. Leopold does not show himself, but works silently underground."

The Royal Princes, the King's brothers, were also opposed to Wellington, but the point was ultimately settled by the Regency Act of 1830, which stated that the Duchess of Kent (at right) should be her daughter's guardian and act as Regent during her minority. No doubt chortling with glee, the Duchess made the first false move in her relations with William IV immediately following the death of George IV.  She was too anxious for recognition, too eager to secure what she thought was due to her, and she did not give the new King the chance of showing his appreciation of her change of circumstances. She wrote instead to the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister, asking that a suitable income should be bestowed upon herself and her daughter, over which allowance she should have full control, and that the Princess should be put on the footing of Heir-Apparent.

To the demands of the Duchess, the Duke of Wellington replied that nothing could even be proposed for her until the Civil List was settled, but that nothing should be considered without her knowledge. This reply is said to have much offended the Duchess, and for a long time she ignored the gallant old man when she met him.

Both King and country showed confidence in the Duchess when the Regency Bill was under discussion— an important Bill, for if the King died, a minor would become the Sovereign. It was decided that if Queen Adelaide bore another child she should hold the post of Regent, but otherwise, during the minority of the Princess Victoria, the Duchess of Kent should be Regent. When this Bill was framed, the Duke of Wellington, mindful of his promise, asked the King's leave to wait upon the Duchess with it. The King agreed, and the Duke wrote to Her Royal Highness saying that he had a communication to make to her on the part of His Majesty, and therefore proposed to wait upon her at Kensington Palace. The Duchess was, however, at Claremont, and from there she sent the following reply :—

" My Lord Duke,

I have just received your letter of this date. As it is not convenient for me to receive Your Grace at Kensington, I prefer having in writing, addressed to me here, the communication you state the King has commanded you to make to me."

To tell the Duke of Wellington that you doubted his veracity and the likelihood of his relating the message from William IV exactly as William IV had delivered it, and to request that the King put his words in writing, rather than trust them to Wellington's mouth, was a gross insult upon both the King and Wellington. No one else would dared to have spoken to the Duke in such a manner, much less to imply that he would act less than honourably.  Had she sent her general adviser, Sir John Conroy, to negotiate with the Duke, or had she invited the latter to Claremont, she would have kept within the limits of politeness; as it was, the only thing left for the Duke to do was to send the Bill to her to study, as he could not in writing give all the explanations he had intended. In the meanwhile Lord Lyndhurst had brought up the measure in the House of Lords, and the Duchess of Kent had sent Conroy up to hear him.
A Regency Bill was introduced by Lord Lyndhurst, but a change of Government occurring before it was carried, it devolved upon Lord Brougham, the Lord Chancellor in Lord Grey's Administration, to take up and adopt the measure. The position was a singular one, because Parliament had to contemplate the possibility that William IV might die leaving a posthumous child. Lord Brougham could not find a parallel case in English history since the death of Geoffrey, son of Henry II, who left a son, Prince Arthur, whose claims were thrust aside by the usurpation of King John. The possibility of posthumous issue in William's case having been provided for, the Bill passed both Houses and became law. The Duchess of Kent was named guardian of the infant Princess and regent of the kingdom, but she was to be assisted by a Council of Regency drawn from the royal family and the Ministers of State. Some months afterwards further provision was made for the education and maintenance of the Princess, and for the support of her honour and dignity as heiress presumptive. A sum of £10,000 a year was voted, in addition to the original annual grant of £6,000.

The Princess Victoria's first appearance at Court during the new reign was made at the celebration of Queen Adelaide's birthday, on the 24th of February 1831. The drawing-room held by her Majesty was stated to have been the most magnificent witnessed since that which signalized the presentation of the Princess Charlotte of Wales on the occasion of her marriage. The Princess Victoria stood on Queen Adelaide's left hand. Her dress was made entirely of articles manufactured in the United Kingdom. She wore a frock of English blonde over white satin, a pearl necklace, and a rich diamond agrafe fastened the Madonna braids of her fair hair at the back of her head. She was the object of interest and admiration on the part of all assembled. The scene was one of the most splendid ever remembered, and the future Queen of England contemplated all that passed with much dignity, but with evident enjoyment.

When King William prorogued his first Parliament an interesting circumstance occurred, which caused much enthusiasm amongst those who witnessed it. Queen Adelaide and the princesses witnessed the spectacle of the royal State procession. The people cheered the Queen lustily, but, forgetting herself, that gracious lady took the young Princess Victoria by the hand, led her to the front of the balcony, and introduced her to the happy and loyal multitude. In January 1831 the Princess made her first appearance at the theatre, visiting Covent Garden, and thoroughly entering into the pleasures of the children's entertainment provided.

All was fine for a time . . . Until the Duchess of Kent began to put her daughter forward as all but England's Queen - before the present King had died. See our past post to learn how the relationship between the Duchess of Kent and King William IV - and Wellington - further fell apart.

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