Mrs Jordan's Profession.

By Claire Tomalin

Printed: 1994

Publisher: Viking. London

Edition: First edition

Dimensions 17 × 24 × 5 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 17 x 24 x 5

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In the original dustsheet. Black cloth binding with gilt title on the spine.

  • F.B.A. provides an in-depth photographic presentation of this item to stimulate your feeling and touch. More traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

This book looks at 19th-century British actresses, from the regency period to the outbreak of World War I. The book’s underlying theme is the extraordinary way in which actresses formed a separate social caste, existing alongside, but differing hugely, from the general run of women in their economic independence, geographical and social mobility, professional status and sexual freedom.

Review: Mistresses are practically as established a tradition in the Royal Family as Trooping the Colour or the Opening of Parliament. From Rosamund Clifford to Jane Shore, Nell Gwynn to Alice Keppell, there has been a long list of them, and Dora Jordan fits comfortably into that list. Like many of them too, she was discarded when her royal paramour tired of her, swept under the rug and effectively whitewashed from history. One previous historian dismissed the Duke of Clarence’s, later King William IV, relationship with Dora as ‘a connection with a well-known actress’ and left it at that.

But such a dismissal does a grave disservice to both Dora and her relationship with Clarence. It wasn’t a brief affair or a fling, a casual relationship that served both parties and flickered out of its own accord. Dora and the Duke of Clarence were married in all but name, living together for twenty years and producing ten children together. They were devoted to one another, and the Duke was an attentive and loving father to his own brood and a kind stepfather to Dora’s earlier children. Dora did not rely on the Duke financially – indeed, her successful career on the stage and his tendency to accumulate debt meant that more often than not she was the one supporting the family. Her presence was grudgingly accepted by the Royal Family and whilst she herself was never acknowledged by the King and Queen, her children eventually were.

The story of Dora Jordan is a truly remarkable one, rising from poverty and deprivation to the position of acclaimed actress and royal mistress, bearing grandchild and children to kings. She fought her way up on her own merits and abilities, taking control of her own career and proving herself a shrewd manager. In Claire Tomalin’s wonderful book, she comes across as an immensely likable and sympathetic character, and I ended these pages enraged at the way she was treated at the end of her life.

This is the best kind of biography, bringing a long-lost and forgotten personality back to life, giving her a chance to shine on a public stage once again. I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of Tomalin’s biographies and she has rapidly become one of my favourite authors, a writer whose every new work I look forward to immensely. I cannot rate this highly enough.

                                            Mrs. Jordan in the Character of Hippolyta, painting by John Hoppner.

Dorothea Jordan (née Bland; 21 November 1761 – 5 July 1816) was an Anglo-Irish actress, as well as a courtesan. She was the long-time mistress of Prince William, Duke of Clarence, later William IV, and the mother of 10 illegitimate children by him, all of whom took the surname FitzClarence. She was known professionally as Dorothea Francis and Dorothea Jordan, was informally Dora Jordan, and she commonly was referred to as Mrs Jordan and Mrs FitzClarence.

In 1790, Jordan became the mistress of Prince William, Duke of Clarence, the third son of King George III. He had met her at Drury Lane. She began living with him first at Clarence Lodge and later, in 1797, at Bushy House. Together they had 10 illegitimate children, all of whom took the surname FitzClarence:

  • George FitzClarence (29 January 1794 – 20 March 1842), created Earl of Munster in 1831. Married Mary Wyndham.

  • Henry Edward FitzClarence (27 March 1795 – September 1817). Unmarried.

  • Sophia FitzClarence (August 1796 – 10 April 1837), married Philip Sidney, 1st Baron De L’Isle and Dudley.

  • Mary FitzClarence (19 December 1798 – 13 July 1864), married General Charles Richard Fox. No issue.

  • Lieutenant General Lord Frederick FitzClarence GCH (9 December 1799 – 30 October 1854), officer in the British Army. Married Lady Augusta Boyle.

  • Elizabeth FitzClarence (17 January 1801 – 16 January 1856), married William Hay, 18th Earl of Erroll.

  • Rear-Admiral Lord Adolphus FitzClarence, Royal Guelphic Order, Aide-de-camp, Royal Navy (18 February 1802 – 17 May 1856). Unmarried.

  • Augusta FitzClarence (17 November 1803 – 8 December 1865) married, firstly, Hon. John Kennedy-Erskine, 5 July 1827, married secondly, Admiral Lord Frederick Gordon-Hallyburton.

  • Lord Augustus FitzClarence (1 March 1805 – 14 June 1854), rector at Mapledurham in Oxfordshire. Married Sarah Elizabeth Catharine Gordon.

  • Amelia FitzClarence (21 March 1807 – 2 July 1858), married Lucius Bentinck Cary, 10th Viscount Falkland.

During this time, Jordan was granted a yearly stipend of £1,200, but she continued to perform at both Drury Lane and Covent Garden as well as on provincial tours until her 1811 separation from Prince William. In 1811, Jordan was given an annual stipend of £4,400 by Prince William and custody of their daughters while he retained custody of their sons. £2,200 of her stipend included money for the care of the children with a stipulation stating that in order to continue receiving that money, and retain custody, Jordan must not return to the stage.

In 1814, when her son-in-law, Thomas Alsop, became heavily in debt, Jordan returned to the stage to help pay off that debt. Prince William took legal action and removed their remaining daughters from her care, and ended Jordan’s yearly stipend. Jordan had written letters to British theatres and newspapers pleading with them to rehire her, acknowledging her previous affairs and business dealings with some of her past companions. Jordan sold her home in 1815 and moved to Boulogne, France, assuming the alias Mrs James or Madame James or Mrs Johnson. Not having been summoned back to England, she moved to Versailles by the end of the year. Soon after, she moved to Saint-Cloud, near Paris. While in France, she was defrauded by her eldest daughter, Frances and son-in-law, Thomas Alsop after they accumulated large sums of debt in her name. During this time, both her mental and physical health declined, and she suffered from ‘bilious attacks, pains in her side, swollen ankles, shortness of breath and increasing general weakness’. She wrote in a letter “it is not, believe me, the feelings of pride, avarice, or the absence of those comforts I have all my life been accustomed to, that is killing me by inches; it is the loss of my only remaining comfort, the hope I used to live on from time to time, of seeing my children”. She died alone on 5 July 1816 from a ruptured blood vessel caused by violent inflammation of the chest. She was buried in the town cemetery.

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