The Age of George III

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The Royal Marriages Act, 1772

In 1772, North's ministry put the Royal Marriages Act through parliament, despite a great deal of opposition, especially from Charles James Fox. The king desired this piece of legislation to be passed after two of his brothers, William Duke of Gloucester and Henry Duke of Cumberland, married commoners.

Cumberland frequently chased women, and sometimes caught them. In 1770 he was named by Lord Grosvenor in an action for "criminal conversation" (adultery) and was cast in damages for £10,000. Cumberland's letters to Lady Grosvenor were sold around London. Cumberland also kept mistresses - and everyone knew about them. In 1771 Cumberland married Anne Houghton, a widow who had been on the social scene for some time. Mrs Houghton's father was disreputable and her brother was Henry Lawes Luttrell. Horace Walpole's comment on Mrs Houghton (alias Nancy Parsons) was that she was:

The Duke of Grafton's Mrs Houghton, the Duke of Dorset's Mrs Houghton, everyone's Mrs Houghton. [1]

Cumberland's marriage was the jest of London but the couple were very happy together.

Gloucester, who was George III's favourite brother, secretly married Maria Waldegrave in 1766. She was the illegitimate daughter of Sir Edward Walpole (Horace Walpole's elder brother) who had previously married Lord Waldegrave. Gloucester and Maria had a miserable relationship; the king only got to know about their marriage because in 1771 she discovered that she was pregnant.

The Act said that all royal marriages in future must have the king's specific consent. It gave the monarch the power to veto all royal marriages until the person concerned was 25 years old and had given a year's notice to the Privy Council.

The Act was attacked by Chatham and Fox as extending royal powers to tyrannical levels; it passed into law easily which is indicative of the authority which Lord North had in parliament.

[1] Elaine Foster of Herndon, Virginia, USA sent the following information: I am grateful to her for taking the time to do so.

I believe that a confusion in names has led to the widely-held belief that Nancy Parsons, the Duke of Grafton's mistress, was the same Anne Horton who went on the marry the King's brother, Prince Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland. This Anne Horton, as you say, was Anne Luttrell, the sister of Henry Lawes Luttrell, the candidate who was put forth to defeat John Wilkes in Middlesex County. Horace Walpole spoke of this marriage as a "conquest at Brighthelmstone" by Mrs. Christopher Horton, the widow of one Christopher Horton of Calton Park, Derbyshire, "who had for many months been dallying with his passion, till she had fixed him to more serious views than he had intended." See Horace Walpole, Horace Walpole: Memoirs and Portraits (Macmillan, 1963), 244.

The Nancy Parsons whom Horace Walpole referred to as "The Duke of Grafton's Mrs. Haughton, the Duke of Dorset's Mrs. Haughton, everybody's Mrs. Haughton" was said to have been the daughter of a Bond Street tailor who had eloped to the West Indies in her youth with a slave-trader named Captain Haughton. Upon her return to London she sometimes called herself Mrs. Haughton. After the Duke of Grafton married in 1769, the 40-year old Nancy turned to the young 24-year old Duke of Dorset, with whom she lived until the summer of 1776. At that time she married Charles, 2nd Viscount Maynard, persuading the impressionable young man (fifteen years her junior) to make her a viscountess." They later separated and she died at the age of eighty, "a religious penitent," in the country near Paris. [back]

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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