Maria, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh

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Maria Walpole
Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh
Countess Waldegrave
Maria, Duchess of Gloucester (1739-1807).jpg
Maria, by Reynolds.
Spouse James Waldegrave, 2nd Earl Waldegrave
Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester
Issue Elizabeth, Countess Waldegrave
Charlotte, Duchess of Grafton
Lady Anna Seymour
Princess Sophia of Gloucester
Princess Caroline of Gloucester
Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester
House House of Hanover (by marriage)
Father Edward Walpole
Mother Dorothy Clement
Born (1736-07-10)10 July 1736
St. James', Westminster, Middlesex (now London)
Died 22 August 1807(1807-08-22) (aged 71)
Oxford Lodge, Brompton, Middlesex (now London)

Maria Walpole (10 July 1736 – 22 August 1807), the Countess Waldegrave and Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh, was a member of the British Royal Family, the wife of Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh. Her marriage to the Duke without the knowledge of King George III led to the passing of the Royal Marriages Act 1772.

Early life[edit]

Maria Walpole was the daughter of Edward Walpole and Dorothy Clement. Her grandfather was Robert Walpole, considered to be the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1721–41). She grew up at Frogmore House in Windsor, but her parents were not married, and her illegitimate status hindered her social standing despite her family connections.

Countess Waldegrave[edit]

The three Waldegrave sisters.

On 15 May 1759, she married James Waldegrave, 2nd Earl Waldegrave, the son of James Waldegrave, 1st Earl Waldegrave and Mary Webbe. After her marriage Maria was styled Countess Waldegrave. The Earl Waldegrave died on 28 April 1763, leaving Maria a widow. They had three children.

There is a portrait of Maria in 1764–65, shortly after she was widowed, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

Duchess of Gloucester[edit]

Maria (in mourning), by Gainsborough.

On 6 September 1766 she married Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester (14 November 1743 – 25 August 1805) at her home in Pall Mall, London. The Duke was the third son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and a brother of George III. The marriage was conducted in secret as the British Royal Family would not have approved of a marriage between a Royal Prince and a widow of non-royal rank and illegitimate birth. They lived at St Leonard's Hill in Clewer, near Windsor, and had three children.

The marriage to a commoner of the Duke's other brother, the Duke of Cumberland, led to the passing of the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which required all the descendants of George II to seek the Sovereign's approval before marriage. It was only in September 1772, five months after the passage of the Act, that the king became aware of Prince Henry's marriage to Maria. As the Act's provisions could not be applied retroactively, Maria and the Duke's wedding was considered legal by Parliament. As such, Maria became styled Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh. Due, however, to the anger of George III at the marriage, she was never received at court.

Princess Caroline died aged nine months following a smallpox inoculation, intended to protect her from the disease.[1] As great-grandchildren in the male line of King George II, the Gloucester's children were styled Highness from birth and used the territorial designation of Gloucester in conjunction with their princely styles. After William Frederick married his cousin Princess Mary, he and his surviving sister Sophia received the style of Royal Highness.

Titles, styles, honours and arms[edit]

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 10 July 1736 – 15 May 1759: Miss Maria Walpole
  • 15 May 1759 – 28 April 1763: The Right Honourable The Countess Waldegrave
  • 28 April 1763 – 6 September 1766: The Right Honourable The Dowager Countess Waldegrave
  • 6 September 1766 – 25 August 1805: Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh
  • 25 August 1805 – 22 August 1807: Her Royal Highness The Dowager Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh