MARIA FITZHERBERT by James Munson

MARIA FITZHERBERT

The Secret Wife of George IV
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Editor/historian Munson’s (Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, not reviewed) account of a little-known romantic scandal of the British monarchy: the Prince of Wales’ strange 1785 marriage to a twice-widowed Catholic woman.

For more than a century, the facts about Maria Fitzherbert (1756–1837), a beauty six years the dissolute prince’s senior who married him 35 years before he became George IV, were as reliable as those found in the National Enquirer about Princess Di. The palace-sanctioned story asserted that Fitzherbert invented her marriage to the prince because she was ashamed of their liaison. Munson’s depiction of her life and relationship with George (1762–1830) presents Maria as something of an enigma. For years, she tried to run away from the prince, who pursued her throughout Europe even though she refused to become either his mistress (she was virtuous) or his wife (English law forbade the royal heir to marry a Catholic). What changed her mind? Munson’s evidence is contemporaneous, but mainly not firsthand. He bases many of his judgments on the letters and diaries of Lady Anne Lindsay, Fitzherbert’s close friend and traveling companion, who nonetheless sheds little light on the feelings that prompted Maria to consent to marry George after all. Munson speculates convincingly that Maria truly loved her prince and, though she must have known that their marriage was illegal, hoped that it would be tolerated. (“While she would never become Queen . . . she might still be recognized as the legitimate wife of a King.”) He uses newspaper accounts and other published observations to prove that the marriage was common knowledge at the time, not just a story Maria and others fabricated to regain her honor after her final separation from George in 1811.

Impressively detailed, and with a lively tone, but perhaps best for truly dedicated royalists. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-7867-0904-9
Page count: 320pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2001