Steadfast Facts About Queen Adelaide, The Tragic Consort

March 21, 2023 | Dancy Mason

Steadfast Facts About Queen Adelaide, The Tragic Consort

Of all the queen consorts in British history, Queen Adelaide may have had the most tragic reign—and it was certainly the most unusual. From her near-disastrous marriage to her heartbreaking time on the throne, Adelaide’s life was one plot twist after another.

Queen Adelaide Facts

1. Her Brother Stole Her Crown

Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen had a strange and twisted path to the English throne, and the bizarre events started when she was just a girl. Although she was the eldest child of her parents and due to inherit the small German state of her birth, bad luck came for her early. When her younger brother Bernhard was born, the government quite literally changed the laws so he (a boy) would jump the line in front of her (a lowly girl).

It was an inauspicious beginning for poor Adelaide, but life would only throw her more curveballs.

Queen Adelaide facts Wikipedia

2. She Was Going To Be An Old Maid

Despite her good breeding and noble upbringing, Adelaide didn’t have a lot of luck on the marriage market. In a time where most women got married by their early 20s, Adelaide was still single at the gasp-worthy, spinsterly age of 25. It looked very possible she was going to officially become an old maid…until one tragic event rocked Europe.

Queen Adelaide facts Picryl

3. She Lived Through A Tragedy

In 1817, the United Kingdom’s Prince of Wales, the future King George IV, was serving as regent for his mentally ill father. It was a precarious position for Britain to be in—and it soon got downright terrifying. That year, George’s only legitimate heir, Charlotte, perished in childbirth. Now, you might ask—what does this have to do with our girl Adelaide over in Saxe-Meiningen? The answer: Everything.

Jane Austen FactsWikimedia Commons

4. She Was An Emergency Bride

See, with the death of the heir to the throne, the British royal family was in huge trouble. Although the current senior royal roster included many sons, none of those sons had legitimate heirs—and none of them had happy or intact marriages. In short, the royal princes needed wives stat. Enter: Princess Adelaide. Only, it was never going to be that easy.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

5. She Had A Supremely Unromantic Courtship

Adelaide’s love interest was Prince William, the third son of the ruling monarch. The details of their courtship are sordid. In truth, William’s eye only landed on Adelaide because he had very few options for a bride in his rushed situation…and even then, he only began pursuing her after all his other options fell through. Oh, did I mention it gets cringier?

King William IV facts Wikimedia Commons

6. Her Suitor Was A Fool

In case you couldn’t guess, Adelaide’s new prospect wasn’t exactly a Prince Charming. William had spent his younger years as something of a hellraiser—doing things like messing up his job in the Navy by spending his time drinking and getting thrown in jail at least once. So no, not the most stable royal suitor out there. And that wasn’t the least of it.

Queen Adelaide factsWikipedia

7. She Was Marrying Into A Bizarre Family

By the time William was sniffing around the young Adelaide, he was firmly in his middle age. With all those years he lived, he was hiding big skeletons in his closet. Namely, he already had a whole illegitimate family with the stage actress Dorothea Jordan. Throughout their 20-year relationship, the pair had a whopping ten children, though none of these scions could inherit the throne.

And still that wasn’t William’s biggest red flag.

Dorothea Jordan facts Wikimedia Commons

8. Her Love Interest Was Cruel

To be fair, William’s relationship with Dorothea Jordan ended long before Adelaide entered his orbit—but if she found out what he did to Dorothea, she might have thought twice. When the money got tight, William dropped the poor woman seemingly without a second thought. She died, penniless, just before William and Adelaide began marriage negotiations.

Even so, Adelaide forged on ahead and toward Queendom…and hit another snag.

Dorothea Jordan factsPicryl

9. The Government Insulted Her

The British government was so desperate for William to marry someone, anyone, that they offered generous allowances to the prince for making a match. Only, when they found out his bride was going to be Adelaide, a noble from an unimportant territory, they suddenly changed their minds and dealt her the ultimate insult: They greatly decreased the allowance they’d give him.

Yes, the British government had just told Adelaide exactly what she was worth to them, and it wasn’t much. This precipitated a crisis.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

10.  She Nearly Called The Wedding Off

As Adelaide’s worth in the eyes of the government went down, her desirability as William’s bride went right down the drain, too. His response was insulting. Outraged that he was going to get less money to marry, William seriously thought about calling the wedding off entirely, which would just be icing on Adelaide’s depressing cake. But one thing saved her.

Illegitimate childrenWikipedia

11. Her Future Hung In The Balance

With all of this back and forth, Adelaide must have been exhausted and terrified of her uncertain future. Only, she had a secret weapon: She had a supremely even temperament, and—most important of all—was willing to accept William’s many, many illegitimate children as part of the family. In the end, William decided to go through with the marriage…but he did make an unsettling confession.

Queen Adelaide factsGetty Images

12. Her Future Husband Pitied Her

Finally, the wedding preparations for Adelaide and William’s union began. But even then, it wasn’t smooth sailing. Before the ink on their arrangement was dry, William wrote to his son in a half wry, half serious tone: "She is doomed, poor dear innocent young creature, to be my wife”. Sadly, this would become true in more ways than one.

King William IV factsWikipedia

13. She Got Married In A Living Room

On July 11, 1818, Adelaide married William at long last. Yet despite the frenzy to marry all the princes off and produce heirs, her “big day” didn’t have much in the way of fanfare. In fact, they held the wedding ceremony in the very sensible drawing room of Kew Palace. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only cost-cutting measure Adelaide had to deal with.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

14. She Shared Her Wedding Day

Weddings are supposed to be a bride’s special day, but Adelaide had to accept something much different. The royal family was in such a marrying frenzy, they actually had a double wedding with William’s younger brother Prince Edward. This meant Adelaide had to share the spotlight with Edward’s bride Princess Victoria, the Duchess of Kent. Little could Adelaide know it then, but the Duchess was about to become her most bitter enemy.

Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld factsWikipedia

15. She Changed Her Husband

To be fair, things began to look very good for Adelaide after her wedding. For one, surprising probably everyone in court, her famously calm demeanor had an incredibly positive effect on the rude, coarse William. Under her care, her husband reportedly became kinder, happier, and less likely to stumble around making a drunken fool of himself. And there was another service Adelaide performed.

Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld factsWikipedia

16. She Knew Just What To Do

William had never been good with money, but with a brood of his illegitimate children to feed and hopefully more of their own on the way, Adelaide was having none of that. This sweet, demure woman put her foot down and tightened William’s belt straps, digging him out of the pit of debt he had been in within a few short years. And then came the very good news.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

17. She Did Her Job

Upon marrying William, Adelaide pretty much had one job and one job only: Give England a new heir. She obviously understood the assignment, because quite soon after her wedding, it became clear that Adelaide was pregnant. Everything still seemed to be going exactly to plan, and for seven months Adelaide’s belly grew. And that’s when it all went so wrong.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

18. She Suffered An Enormous Tragedy

At seven months pregnant, disaster struck the royal family again. At the end of that winter, Adelaide caught pleurisy, an inflammation of the lungs, and the sickness sent her into labor. On March 27, 1819, she gave birth to a little girl she named Charlotte, only for the premature baby to perish before the celebrations could begin. That was just the beginning.

Queen Adelaide factsWikipedia

19. She Tried To Plan Ahead

Adelaide was barely physically healed from this ordeal, let alone emotionally recuperated, when she fell pregnant that very same year. This time, she and William took no chances. William moved their whole house from Hanover, Germany to England to make sure that when the heir came, it would come into the world on English soil. But this was a fatal mistake.

King William IV factsWikimedia Commons

20. She Lost Another Baby

In the end, the journey from Germany to the British Isles proved too much for Adelaide’s still recovering body. She miscarried the child while en route to their final destination of London, losing the baby either in Calais or Dunkirk. Adelaide was quite likely at one of the lowest points of her life now, and there was a final indignity to endure.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

21. She Was In Her Rival’s Old House

When William and Adelaide reached London, they officially moved into the stately Clarence House—but nonetheless, William preferred that they spend most of their time at Bushy House nearby to Hampton Court. This was regardless of the fact it was where he spent most of his time with his old live-in partner Dorothea Jordan.

That said, he can’t really be blamed for the next horrible development.

Queen Adelaide factsWikipedia

22. Her Kingdom Transformed

In 1820, William’s father finally kicked the bucket and his brother succeeded to the throne, transforming into King George IV. This, of course, only made everyone more nervous. After all, George was nearing his 60s and kept a notoriously unhealthy lifestyle filled with carousing, eating, and drinking. Time was well and truly running out, so Adelaide kicked it into overdrive.

King George IV factsFlickr, puffin11k

23. She Finally Got An Heir

By 1820, Adelaide had suffered through two traumatic births, but now luck was on her side—for a time. She carried a child to full term, and they named the little girl Elizabeth. For a few months, it looked like the child would make it, as she seemed strong and healthy from the very start. But fate was now crueler to Adelaide than ever.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

24. Her Child Didn’t Live

Little Elizabeth was born just before Christmas in 1820, but she didn’t live long enough to see the next one. In March 1821, when she hadn’t even hit her three-month milestones, the little girl perished just like her siblings. In some ways, though, this wasn’t the most heartbreaking part. Because elsewhere in the royal family, other developments were happening.

Queen Adelaide factsWikipedia

25. Her Rival Was Beating Her

While Adelaide was struggling mightily to have a healthy child, her “double wedding” counterpart the Duchess of Kent was breezing on through. In fact, in 1819—the same year Adelaide lost two children—the Duchess gave birth to a healthy little girl she named Victoria. The royal family rejoiced, but everyone knew by now that having only one heir was a treacherous position.

All eyes turned back to Adelaide, but they didn’t like what they saw.

King William IV factsThe Young Victoria (2009), GK Films

26. She Had A Double Tragedy

The next few years of Adelaide’s life were filled to the brim with tragedy. In 1822, she was pregnant again, but that April she only gave birth to stillborn twin boys, a double blow to both her mental and bodily health. She may have even gotten pregnant again in 1822, but no bouncing baby ended up appearing. Finally, William and Adelaide had to admit the cold, hard truth.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

27. Cruel Rumors Went Around About Her

For all their efforts, William and Adelaide eventually realized that they would never have children. But that wasn’t the worst of it. Despite this, false rumors of even further pregnancies dogged Adelaide for years. These whispers necessarily pained the couple; William called them “damned stuff”. Yet the lack of a legitimate heir was just a catalyst for their troubles.

King William IV facts Wikimedia Commons

28. She Had To Watch Her Back

Adelaide’s counterpart, the Duchess of Kent, now knew for sure she had something special in her own daughter Victoria. After all, the United Kingdom needed a young, healthy ruler able to produce even more heirs—and William and his wife clearly weren’t going to give it that. So the Duchess got ruthless about elbowing her way in.

Even though she could have gone abroad to more spacious quarters, Adelaide’s rival insisted on living in London in relative poverty. Why? Because then she and her daughter could always be waiting in the wings. As you might have guessed, this got messy fast.

Queen Adelaide factsWikipedia

29. She Was Close To The Throne

In 1827, yet another tragedy occurred in the royal family, and its fallout ratcheted up tensions more. That year, William’s elder brother Frederick passed. Suddenly, Adelaide was at the center of royal drama. King George IV was in poorer health than ever, and now William was the heir presumptive to a throne that would almost certainly come to him within a handful of years.

Yet when that day finally came, it wasn’t at all what Adelaide expected.

King George IV factsA Royal Scandal (1997), BBC

30. Her Husband Was Naughty

When George IV passed, Adelaide was in for a surprise. Her husband, who was now 69 years old, reportedly jumped out of bed when his servants told him the news. His response? He went right back to bed with Adelaide, proclaiming that he had never yet slept with a queen. Here’s hoping Adelaide liked his dad jokes, because it was about to get a whole lot more embarrassing.

King William IV factsAmazing Grace (2006), Bristol Bay Productions

31. Her Coronation Was A Disaster

William gave Adelaide and his government a lot of grief over the upcoming coronation. Namely, he had always hated ceremony, and so insisted on capping the budget. Then, when the ceremony-loving Tories in Parliament complained and threatened to boycott, Adelaide’s husband only sniped that they should go ahead and do it, since this would give the coronation day “greater convenience of room and less heat".

And if poor Adelaide thought William was done…well, the actual coronation proved much different.

Queen Adelaide factsGetty Images

32. Her Husband Made A Fool Out Of Her

The day that Adelaide officially became Queen Consort of England, she treated the moment with her usual solemnity. Her husband, meanwhile, outright embarrassed her. Reportedly, William kept pulling faces throughout the entire ceremony, acting like “he was a character in a comic opera”. Yes, this is hilarious, but the truth was Adelaide was seriously about to need someone in her corner.

Queen Adelaide factsGetty Images

33. Her Enemy Came Out Of The Woodwork

Becoming Queen Consort was the fruition of many years of hard work for Adelaide, but it also put an even bigger target on her back for her rivals. And if you’ll remember, no one was a greater rival than her wedding buddy the Duchess of Kent. Yes, she was still hanging around; yes, she still had the only current heir to the throne in her daughter Victoria; and yes, she was still making sure everyone knew it.

For one, the Duchess now began to demand that Adelaide and her husband make space in the royal stables and apartments for her things. Then she ramped up her demands and insults.

Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld factsWikipedia

34. She Went Through Daily Snubs

Even though Adelaide was queen, you wouldn’t have known it from the way the Duchess of Kent was acting. In fact, the Duchess considered it practically her duty to snub Adelaide whenever she could. She refused to treat Adelaide like she had any precedence over her in the court pecking order, and frequently didn’t bother answering her letters.

Then again, Adelaide developed some questionable habits around this time too.

Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld factsWikimedia Commons

35. She Became Power-Hungry

When Adelaide found herself in the middle of this catfight, her reaction wasn't exactly healthy. She seemed to cling to what power she did have even more tightly, and people began complaining that she kept her court on too short a leash and under rules that were too pious for courtiers used to the libertine living of King George IV. Pretty soon, her ego ballooned.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

36. She Had High Standards

Within months, Adelaide made a rigid demand of her people. She began refusing to have any women of “questionable virtue” attend her court, which meant that if there was any whiff of scandal about them, Adelaide would have them kicked out or refuse them entry in the first place. As for the women who did manage to make the cut? They were in for a whole new set of rules.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

37. She Was A Prude

Incredibly enough, Adelaide even demanded that any woman in her presence at parties made sure to never have a low-cut bodice. As this was very much the style under the raucous King George IV, it caused a lot of grumbling in court from both the men and the women. As one clerk on the Privy council snippily wrote, "The Queen is a prude”.

And people had other reasons to dislike the royal couple.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

38. She Tried To Influence Politics

Adelaide didn’t just flex her power through fashion; there are also rumors she tried to do it through much sneakier means. As a devout and conservative Tory, many believed Adelaide worked behind the throne to keep many reforms from happening across the country, though the extent of her success or failure is impossible to gauge. But it did lead to one dark rumor.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

39. People Thought She Was Having An Affair

Around this time, Adelaide got cozy with her Lord Chamberlain, a Tory named Lord Howe. Given her political leanings and all the time they were spending together, some in the court accused her of carrying on an affair with Howe. Although this likely isn’t true—William and Adelaide were devoted to each other—it was enough of a mess that the prime minister removed Howe from his position.

Adelaide couldn’t seem to catch a break, though, and the scandals continued.

Queen Adelaide factsWikipedia

40. She Was Cheap

William and Adelaide had gotten used to doing without pomp and circumstance, and their tenure as the King and Queen of the United Kingdom didn’t change things one bit. People had always complained about their cheapskate ways, calling them “parsimonious” even during their honeymoon period, but these penny-pinching habits now turned into full-blown oddities.

Queen Adelaide factsPicryl

41. She Had Bizarre Dinner Parties

One day, the royal couple were staying at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton—and they insulted nearly everyone with their actions. When William wanted to have a dinner party, he simply called up the nearby hotels, asked them for their full guest list, and then sent out mass invites instructing attendees to not "bother about clothes. The Queen does nothing but embroider flowers after dinner”.

In the manners-minding 19th century, this caused quite a stir. But the populace hadn’t seen anything yet. The most infamous dinner party of William and Adelaide’s lives was about to go down.

King William IV factsWikimedia Commons

42. She Tried To Mend Fences

Throughout this time, Adelaide’s nemesis the Duchess of Kent was still very much in the picture, and her daughter Victoria was growing into a young woman and nearing 18 years old. Despite the animosity with the girl’s mother, both William and Adelaide had a warm and loving relationship with Victoria—after all, she was going to succeed William soon as Queen Victoria.

But one day, William had enough of the Duchess of Kent’s meddling, and he came up with a brutal revenge plot.

King William IV factsThe Young Victoria (2009), GK Films

43. Her Husband Had An Infamous Birthday

In August of 1836, William was turning the ripe old age of 71, and he held a birthday banquet. He took the opportunity to set his plan into motion. In front of his wife, the Duchess of Kent, and little Victoria, the King of England stood up and addressed the room in a fiery speech that had jaws on the floor by the end of it.

In his birthday monologue, William declared that although he could feel his health failing, he intended to live “for nine months longer” so that Victoria would be 18 when she ascended to the throne, thus denying the Duchess of Kent any power in a regency. That was just his warm-up, though.

Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld factsThe Young Victoria (2009), GK Films

44. She Was Involved In A Notorious Takedown

In releasing this bombshell of a statement, William also managed to call the Duchess “incompetent to act with propriety,” kept addressing her snidely as “that person” or “a person now near me,” and accused the Duchess of “grossly and continually” insulting him. No doubt you could have heard a pin drop at that point. But then the floodgates opened.

King William IV factsThe Young Victoria (2009), GK Films

45. She Was In The Middle Of Drama

Adelaide’s husband had never been considerate, and he certainly hadn’t considered the feelings of the women around him. His outburst so upset Victoria that she burst into tears, while the Duchess stood dumbfounded for a few moments before trying and failing to stalk out of the room. Even Adelaide, usually so calm, was deeply upset.

Still, not one single person could have predicted the next few months.

Queen Adelaide factsThe Young Victoria (2009), GK Films

46. She Was At Death’s Door

In early 1837, just a few months after William’s revenge banquet, Adelaide herself fell extremely ill and was present at mother’s deathbed. The Grim Reaper seemed to be stalking her side of the family—or so everyone thought. Because while Adelaide recovered from her sickness, that summer it became clear that her husband was on his way out. Adelaide’s ensuing actions were unforgettable.

Queen Adelaide factsGetty Images

47. She Proved Her Worth

A devoted wife until the bitter end, Adelaide nursed King William for 10 days, without ever even going to bed herself. It was a comfort, but only a small one: William succumbed to heart failure in the early morning on June 20, 1837, leaving Adelaide—still only in her mid-40s—grieving the life she knew. But here’s the twist.

King William IV factsThe Young Victoria (2009), GK Films

48. She Got One Final Victory

Adelaide was now the Queen Dowager, and her niece Queen Victoria was finally on the throne like the Duchess of Kent had always wanted. But William got what he wanted in the end, too: He had passed just a month after Victoria had come of age, and there was no regency for the power-hungry Duchess of Kent. Pious as she was, there’s no way Adelaide didn’t take some devilish satisfaction in that.

Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld factsThe Young Victoria (2009), GK Films

49. Her Later Life Was A Quiet Tragedy

Although Adelaide survived her royal husband by over a decade, there was no triumphant second chapter to her life. Instead, the Queen Dowager, who continued to suffer from ill health herself, spent most of her time flitting from warm climate to warm climate, trying to get better. She passed at the age of 57 on December 2, 1849, during the reign of her long-lived niece Queen Victoria.

Prince Alemayehu factsWikipedia

50. She Lives On

Today, as calm and stable as she was, the ups and downs, tragedies, and bitter rivalries of Queen Adelaide’s life are mostly forgotten in the annals of history. Her name, however, is kept alive in another way: The capital city of South Australia, Adelaide, takes its name after the queen.

Queen Adelaide factsWikipedia

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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