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Widowhood

The Duke of Kent died suddenly of pneumonia in January 1820, six days before his father, King George III. His widow the Duchess had little cause to remain in the United Kingdom, since she did not speak the language and had a palace at home in Coburg where she could live cheaply on the revenues of her first husband.

However, the British succession at this time was far from assured – of the three brothers older than Edward, the new king, George IV, and the Duke of York were both estranged from their wives, who were in any case past childbearing age. The third brother, the Duke of Clarence, had yet to produce any surviving children with his wife.

The Duchess of Kent decided that she would do better by gambling on her daughter’s accession than by living quietly in Coburg and, having inherited her second husband’s debts, sought support from the British government. After the death of Edward and his father, the young Princess Victoria was still only third in line for the throne, and Parliament was not inclined to support yet more impoverished royalty.

The provision made for the Duchess of Kent was mean: she resided in a suite of rooms in the dilapidated Kensington Palace, along with several other impoverished members of the royal family, and received little financial support from the Civil List, since Parliament had vivid memories of the late Duke’s extravagance. In practice, a main source of support for her was her brother, Leopold.

The latter had a huge income of fifty thousand pounds per annum for life, representing an annuity allotted to him by the British Parliament on his marriage to Princess Charlotte, which had made him seem likely to become in due course the consort of the monarch. Even after Charlotte’s death, Leopold’s annuity was not revoked by Parliament.

In 1831, with George IV dead and the new king William IV (formerly the Duke of Clarence) being over 60 without any surviving legitimate issue, and whose nearly 40-year-old wife was considered to be at the end of childbearing age, the young princess’s status as heir presumptive and the Duchess’s prospective place as regent led to major increases in British state income for the Kents. A contributing factor was Leopold’s designation as King of the Belgians, upon which he surrendered his British income.