Last week, the nation celebrated the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, the current and long-reigning monarch. However, when it comes to the Harrow area, there may well be another queen worth celebrating. Her name was Queen Adelaide (more on that name later) – a nineteenth century monarch and, for last years of her life, a resident of Stanmore. From Germany and relative obscurity to England and eventually Harrow as Queen of the United Kingdom, Adelaide’s story is a local one which spans centuries, and should be remembered even centuries after its conclusion.
Born in Germany in 1792, Adelaide’s family presided over a small territory in northern Germany, and were, for a time, an otherwise unremarkable house. This was to change when a number of unfortunate circumstances befell the British royal family. King George III was at the end of the life and growing increasingly mad in it, whilst his son, the Prince Regent George, suffered the loss of his only daughter at a time when it was thought his wife had passed the point of successful maternity. As a lack of any legitimate heirs to continue the line became increasingly apparent, the United Kingdom was left in a state of crisis. To solve it, the sons of the mad king were pushed into hasty marriages, in the hopes of producing legitimate offspring before it was too late.
It’s here that Adelaide enters the fold. Despite being from a generally unimportant state, the options faced by British parties were greatly limited, and in the wake of all these other options falling through, a marriage between Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and Prince William, the Duke of Clarence, was arranged. Their wedding took place alongside the William’s brother’s wedding to the Dowager Princess of Leningen in July 1818 in Surrey. ‘She is doomed,’ William wrote to his eldest son – with William having already had some ten illegitimate children through Dorothea Jordon, a popular actress at the time – ‘poor dear innocent creature, to be my wife.’
Yet it proved a positive pairing than William had feared it would be, despite their repeated tragedies when it came to childbirth. Settling in Hanover, Adelaide was seen to improve William’s behaviour. The Prince came to drink less following their marriage, and in general his manners improved – swearing less and acting a great deal more tactful. In some ways, it could be seen that Adelaide was an important precursor to William’s eventual accession. This moment came in 1827, when William’s brother Frederick died childless, suddenly making William heir to the throne – of which he came to take when his eldest brother George IV died three years after.
Alongside William, Adelaide was crowned Queen in September 1831 at Westminster Abbey. Adelaide proved a popular queen, beloved for her piety, modesty, and charity – with a large portion of her household income having gone to charitable causes. This positive influence extended to her personal relationships, most notably to the young Princess Victoria of Kent. With her own inability to produce an heir and the fact that Victoria was William’s heir presumptive – and not to mention the open hostility between William and Victoria’s mother the Duchess of Kent – it might have been expected that Adelaide would have had only enmity for the young princess. This was not to be the case, however, and when the young princess grew into the now-famous Queen Victoria, she would look back on Adelaide, as well as her husband, with kindness for their treatment of her. Indeed, Queen Victoria’s firstborn child, Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa, took her middle name from her great-aunt, who was also chosen as the child’s godmother.
The marriage of William and Adelaide came to an end in 1837 when William suffered a fatal heart failure. Adelaide would survive her husband by some twelve years, and during this time, the now Queen Dowager came to Harrow when the land of Bentley Priory was leased to her in 1846. It was here that Adelaide lived out her twilight years, receiving guests such as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert during this time, until her last public appearance was made in Stanmore some years after, when Queen Adelaide laid the foundation stone of the church of St. John the Evangelist. When she passed away in her bed at Bentley Priory in 1849, the east window of the church would be dedicated to her memory.
Adelaide’s legacy lives on in a number of ways to this day, perhaps most notably in the Australian state that still bears her name, in which a bronze statue of the queen can still be found – forming a transnational connection between Harrow and Australia all the way on the other side of the world. Yet when it comes to the local area, she can be seen to live on in the still-standing Bentley Priory – whose museum is home to much of her history – an especially historical location in the Harrow area which we may return to in the weeks to come.
For now, though, Queen Adelaide is a significant local story, one of a woman that emerged from relative obscurity to become a queen – who, despite her troubles, bore a kind heart that directly impacted the life of one of our most famous monarchs; and who, in her final twilight years, settled in Harrow, continuing her charitable and religious endeavours until she came at last to rest.
Written by Harry Turner.
Image Credit: Newslocker