CollectionCorrespondence of Mrs Jordan
Record TypeCorrespondence
TitleLetters, primarily from Mrs Dorothea Jordan, to the Duke of Clarence and their FitzClarence children
Extent276 documents
Admin HistoryMrs Dorothea Jordan was the stage-name of Dora or Dorothy Bland, a popular actress of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and the mistress of Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence, the future William IV.
Dora or Dorothy Bland was the daughter of Francis Bland, himself an itinerant actor, and Grace Phillips, the daughter of a Welsh clergyman. Bland was the son of Nathaniel Bland, a distinguished Irish judge of the Prerogative Court in Dublin, who did not approve of his son's acting career and even more so of his underage marriage to Grace Phillips, who had arrived in Dublin with her sister, both intent on becoming actresses. Nathaniel Bland had the marriage declared void but the young couple continued to live together. Dora, the third of their six children, seems to have been born in London on 22 November 1761 and was baptised at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 5 December 1761.
The family returned to Ireland but Dora's parents finally separated in 1774. Francis Bland continued to support the family, as much as he could, but on condition that his children did not use his surname. Dora obtained employment in a Dublin milliner's shop to help maintain her mother and her siblings.
In 1777, Dora made her debut on the Dublin stage, using the stage-name of Miss Francis. In 1778 she appeared in Cork, where she was much admired for her comedy roles and her ability to play in male attire. She joined the company of Richard Daly and she became pregnant by him in 1782, the year in which she moved to England and adopted the name 'Mrs Jordan'. Her daughter, Fanny, was born in November 1782.
Mrs Jordan continued to play the provinces until 1785 when she first appeared on the London stage as Peggy in The Country Girl at Drury Lane. Her success was immediate and The Morning Post reported that: 'Nature has endowed her with talents sufficient to combat and excel her competitors in the same walk. Her person and manner are adapted for representing the peculiarities of youthful innocence and frivolity; and her tones of voice are audible and melodious'.
At about the same time as her London success, Mrs Jordan met and fell in love with Richard Ford (the son of Dr James Ford, part-proprietor of Drury Lane and obstetrician to Queen Charlotte). The couple set up home together at 5 Gower Street and three more children were born (Dorothea, a son who did not survive and Lucy).
By 1790 it was clear to Mrs Jordan that Richard Ford was never going to marry her. Their affair was on the wane and it was at this time that Mrs Jordan attracted the attention of Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence, the future William IV. They were to live together for twenty years, firstly at Clarence Lodge and later at Bushy House. Mrs Jordan acted as the Duke's hostess. Both were extremely generous and they entertained lavishly. Mrs Jordan received an annual stipend but she continued to perform on both the London stage and in provincial theatres.
During the course of her relationship with the Duke of Clarence, Mrs Jordan gave birth to ten children who were all given the surname of FitzClarence:
1. George Augustus Frederick FitzClarence (1794-1842), later Earl of Munster. Married Mary Wyndham.
2. Henry Edward FitzClarence (1795-1817).
3. Sophia FitzClarence (1796-1837); married Philip Charles Sidney, 1st Baron de Lisle and Dudley of Penshurst.
4. Mary FitzClarence (1798-1864); married Charles Richard Fox.
5. Lieutenant General Frederick FitzClarence (1799-1854). Married Lady Augusta Boyle.
6. Elizabeth FitzClarence (1801-1856); married William George Hay, 18th Earl of Erroll.
7. Rear-Admiral Lord Adolphus FitzClarence (1802-1856).
8. Augusta FitzClarence (1803-1865); married (i) John Kennedy Erskine and (ii) John, Lord Gordon.
9. Lord Augustus FitzClarence (1805-1854), Rector of Mapledurham. Married Sarah Elizabeth Catherine Gordon.
10. Amelia FitzClarence (1807-1858); married Lucius Bentinck Cary, 10th Viscount Falkland.
The relationship between Mrs Jordan and the Duke of Clarence lasted until 1811 when the Duke was coming under increasing pressure to find a suitable wife. Mrs Jordan was on a provincial tour in October 1811 when she was shocked to be handed a letter from the Duke, asking her to meet him at Maidenhead so they could discuss the terms of separation. A yearly allowance of £4,400 was settled on her for the maintenance of herself and her daughters but on condition that if she resumed her acting career the care of the Duke's daughters and the £1,500 per annum allowed for them should revert to their father. A few months later Mrs Jordan did resign the custody of her daughters and return to the stage. The story was told that the Duke demanded repayment of his money, but received in reply only a playbill, with the words, 'Positively no money refunded after the curtain has risen.'
Mrs Jordan made her last stage appearance at Margate in August 1815 and she then retired to France in great financial straits. She had been ruined by settling the debts of her son-in-law Thomas Alsop, the husband of her eldest daughter, Fanny.
Mrs Jordan took lodgings at Saint-Cloud, near Paris, and her health deteriorated rapidly. She died, in poverty, on 5 July 1816 and was buried, beneath an acacia, in the public cemetery of Saint-Cloud.
Custodial HistoryGifted to the Royal Archives in 1962
PublicationsSelected letters from this collection are published in 'Mrs Jordan and Her Family: Being the Unpublished Letters of Mrs Jordan and the Duke of Clarence, later William IV' by A. Aspinall (ed.), 1951
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