CHARLOTTE PERCY, DUCHESS OF NORTHUMBERLAND

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The Duchess of Northumberland was the governess of Queen Victoria.

This woman was born the Honourable Charlotte Clive in 1787. She had the title ”the honourable” because her father was a peer of the real. His title was the Earl of Powis. The moniker ” the honourable” was abbreviated to ”hon.” Therefore as a child her name was written Hon Charlotte Clive. Her grandfather had been the distinguished administrator in India: Robert Clive. Her grandfather was renowned and was known as Clive of India.

She had several suitors as a young woman. However, she was very finnicky. After the age of 25 she was in grave danger of being an old maid. Aristocratic girls tended to wed in their late teens. By the age of 30 she was at her last chance of getting hitched.

Hon Charlotte later married the Earl Percy in 1817. Lord Percy was heir to the dukedom of Northumberland. Duke of Northumberland is a very exalted title. This duke came from the Percy family which had been the leading landowning family in north-east England for centuries. A few months after she married her father in law died. Therefore her husband inherited the title. As he moved up to be Duke of Northumberland she became Duchess of Northumberland.

Because the Percys were one of the most notable families in the kingdom they met the Royal Family regularly. The Percys’ estates were mostly in Northumberland (north-east England) but they spent much of their time in their town house in London.  It was particularly important to be in London for ‘the season’ which was May to August. There were various social events there such as debutantes’ balls, horse races, cricket matches and the Fourth of June at Eton. There were garden parties thrown by the King and various leading noblemen.

The monarch addressed any duke and duchess as ‘cousin’ even if he is not related to the duke or duchess. In fact the monarch is related to most of them even if distantly.

King George IV was fond of the Duke of Northumberland. When Charles X of France was crowned the duke and duchess were sent to France to represent George IV. Monarchs almost never left their kingdoms in those days.

In 1829 the duke was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. This was representing the monarch in Ireland. Ireland was a nation of the UK at the time. It was a moment of rising tension. The Catholic majority was demanding legal equality. Some Protestant ultras opposed it. People feared open conflict. It was a difficulty and somewhat dangerous posting.

The duke and duchess moved to Dublin and lived in a mansion in Phoenix Park. As understudies for the monarch they had to entertain. They held many balls and parties.

In 1830 the posting ended and the couple returned to Great Britain.

King William IV was married. The couple openly detested each other. They had one daughter who died as a child. As William IV had no children who would inherit the throne? His younger brother was Edward the Duke of Kent. The Duke of Kent had a daughter named Victoria. Victoria’s father died young. Therefore Victoria was heir presumptive. Unless her uncle William IV’s wife suddenly had a child then Victoria would be the next monarch.

Princess Victoria needed a governess. William IV asked the duchess whether she would act as governess to his niece. She accepted. In 1831 she took up this duty. Victoria was then aged 12.

Victoria’s mother came from Saxe Coburg Saalfeld in Germany. Victoria spoke German as well as English.

The duchess’ role was mainly a ceremonial one. She had to teach the girl deportment and protocol. Victoria was of course dignified but as a young teenager there was much about court life she needed spelt out to her. Her mother had grown up in a ducal family in Germany and was not entirely familiar with British court protocol. The duchess spent so much time at court that she knew the ropes. Note that in those days the Royal Family spent much of their time in Kensington Palace. Buckingham Palace had only been bought in the late 18th century and was much smaller than it is today. The Royal Family also spent time in Windsor Castle, St James’ Palace (to this day their official residence) and other houses.

A German woman was mainly responsible for Victoria’s education. In 1837 the duchess tried to assume a greater role. She was dismissed. Later that year William IV died. His 18 year old niece became Queen Victoria. She reigned for almost 64 years. Only recently did Elizabeth II become a long reigning monarch.

The duchess died in 1866.

 

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About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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