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Dorothea Jordan

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Dorothea Jordan
Mrs. Jordan in the Character of Hippolyta, painting by John Hoppner, first exhibited 1791 (previously in the National Gallery and Tate collections, now on loan to the National Portrait Gallery[1])
Dorothea Bland

(1761-11-22)22 November 1761
Died5 July 1816(1816-07-05) (aged 54)
Other namesDorothea Phillips, Dora Jordan, Madame James, Mrs FitzClarence
Occupation(s)Actress and courtesan

Dorothea Jordan (née Bland; 22 November 1761 – 5 July 1816) was an Anglo-Irish actress, as well as a courtesan. She was the long-time mistress of Prince William, Duke of Clarence (later King William IV), and the mother of 10 illegitimate children by him, all of whom took the surname FitzClarence. She was known professionally as Dorothea Francis and Dorothea Jordan, was informally Dora Jordan, and she commonly was referred to as Mrs Jordan and Mrs FitzClarence.

Early life[edit]

Dorothea Bland was born near Waterford City in Ireland on 22 November 1761,[2][3] and was baptised at St Martin in the Fields, Middlesex on 5 December of that year.[4] She was the third of six children born to Francis Bland (1736 – 2 January 1778, in Dover) and his mistress, Grace Phillips (c. 1740 – 1789 in Edinburgh). Her siblings were:

  • George Bland (c.1758 – 1807 in Boston, Massachusetts; actor and singer)
  • Hester Bland (baptised 2 March 1760 at St Anne Soho, Middlesex – buried at St David's, as of Trelethin, 8 March 1848)
  • Lucy Bland (1763/64 – 1778 in Trelethin, St David's, 1778)
  • Francis Bland (fl. 1813; a captain, unmarried and without issue)
  • Nathaniel Phillips Bland (1766/67 – buried at St David's, Pembrokeshire, 3 June 1830).[4]

Her paternal grandparents were Nathaniel Bland (1695/96, in Killarney, County Kerry – 1760), Vicar General of Ardfert and Aghadoe, and Judge of the Prerogative Court of Dublin, Ireland, and his second wife Lucy (née Heaton).[4] The reports about Jordan's maternal ancestry are unproven; Grace Phillips has been described as the daughter of a Welsh clergyman, whose parish was at Trelethyn.[5]

Before April 1774, when she was age 13, Jordan's father, who worked as a stagehand, abandoned the family to marry an Irish actress. However, he continued to support the family by sending them meagre sums of money.[4] This allowance was on the condition that the children would not use his last name.[6] Jordan then adopted her mother's maiden name, Phillips.[6]

Theatrical career[edit]

William Beechey, Dorothea Jordan as Rosalind in Shakespeare's ‘As You Like It’

The historical record of Jordan's first stage appearance is not clear. Some sources claim that she made her debut in 1777 in Dublin as Phoebe in As You Like It, whilst others suggest she premiered as Lucy in the Interlude The Virgin Unmask'd, on 3 November 1779.[7] The knowledge of Jordan's time and other roles performed in Ireland is fragmentary; however, she is known to have played Priscilla Tomboy in Bickerstaff's The Romp, Anne in Richard III, and Adelaide in the tragedy The Count of Narbonne.[6] At the Smock Alley Theatre, under the management of Richard Daly, Jordan began playing male roles in the company's "reversed" cast. Documentation shows her last appearance in Dublin came on 16 May 1782 when she spoke The Maid of Oaks' Prologue. At the time she was pregnant with the illegitimate child of Daly, who was married.

Rumours spread and she fled to England, specifically Leeds, where she was employed by Tate Wilkinson, manager of the York Company.[8] It was during this move that she adopted the surname "Jordan," and like all the other women in the company (both unmarried and married), adopted the title "Mrs." Her first performance in England was the tragic role of Calista in The Fair Penitent on 11 July 1782, for which she had been tutored by the scholar Cornelious Swan.[9] Wilkinson paid her 15 shillings a week, and she quickly won over the favour of her audiences, packing theatres. Despite her versatile acting talents, the critics were not pleased with her performing tragedy roles. Dora faced harsh criticism for these roles as she was not considered socially acceptable to play women of a higher standing.[10] Swan wrote to Tate to express his amazement at Jordan's talents:[11]

"For really Wilkinson," said he, "I have given the Jordan but three lessons, and she is so adroit at receiving my instructions, that I declare she repeats the character as well as Mrs. Cibber ever did."

Jordan performed in the Yorkshire Circuit with Wilkinson's company from 1782 to 1785.[12] She was able to learn her lines quickly and seemed to have a natural talent, which made the other actresses in the company jealous. In her first few months, she was given the role of Fanny in The Clandestine Marriage, which only made her more unpopular with the women in the company.

During this first tour, while in Hull, Jordan gave birth to her first daughter Frances. After the delivery, while she cared for the baby, the actresses of the company "blackened her character among the people of Hull."[12] When she returned to the stage on Boxing Day playing Calista in The Fair Penitent, she was met with strong disapproval. Audiences felt that the similarities between Jordan and Calista were too strong. However, Wilkinson came to Jordan's aid to dispel the gossip, painting Jordan as a mild-mannered victim. Through Wilkinson's support and Jordan's hard work and good nature, she was eventually able to win over the people before the company returned to York.

Some time later, while in York, Sarah Siddons came to visit Wilkinson and saw Dora Jordan perform in one of her popular breeches roles. Siddons, however, was not impressed with Jordan's performance and said that she should remain on the Yorkshire Circuit for she was "not up to London."[13] This remark was soon discounted when William Smith came from London and offered Jordan a salary of £4 per week at Drury Lane. She took the offer and performed for Wilkinson's company for a final time on 9 September 1785 before departing to London with her mother, two-year-old daughter, and sister Hester.

Although no specific dates can be sourced, Dora is believed to have performed the role of Lady Teazle in Sheridan's The School for Scandal before she arrived in London.[14] In 1785, she made her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Peggy in The Country Girl. The Morning Post the next day reported on her performance:[15]

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.

Mrs. Jordan in her role of Peggy in The Country Girl, David Garrick's tamer adaption of Wycherley's earlier, more scandalous play The Country Wife

Gradually, it came to be recognised that her talent lay in comedy. She was acclaimed for her "naturalness" on stage, and called a "child of nature",[16] a slightly derogatory term for someone who is of illegitimate birth.[16] Audiences also enjoyed her performances in such breeches roles[17] as Viola in Twelfth Night,[11] Sir Harry Wildair in The Constant Couple, and William in Rosina.

In addition to her being "the most admired comic actress of her time",[9] Jordan was a competent Shakespearean and tragic actress, playing the roles of Ophelia, Imogen in Cymbeline, Emilia in Othello, and Zara in Aaron Hill's play of that name.[11] When she first auditioned for Wilkinson, on being asked whether she preferred "tragedy, comedy, or opera?" she answered "All."[18]

Play them "all" she did, but Jordan found less success in playing women of higher social standing with some individuals believing that she lacked the "artifice and incisiveness" of other actresses who commonly played such roles.[6]

In addition to playing at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, Jordan continued to return to the provincial circuits. She returned to Wilkinson's Circuit in York several times, as well as Edinburgh, Margate, Liverpool, Bath, Bristol, and Manchester.

Her engagement at Drury Lane lasted until 1809, and she played a large variety of parts. During the rebuilding of Drury Lane she played at the Haymarket; she transferred her services in 1811 to Covent Garden. Here, in 1814, she made her last appearance on the London stage, and the following year, at Margate, retired altogether.[19]

During her time on the stage, she wrote the popular song "The Bluebells of Scotland", published under her name around 1800.[20]

In 1815, the renowned theatre critic, William Hazlitt, wrote:[16]

Mrs Jordan's excellences were all natural to her. It was not as an actress, but as herself, that she charmed everyone. Nature had formed in her most prodigal humour; and when nature is in the humour to make a woman all that is delightful, she does it most effectually...Mrs Jordan, the child of nature, whose voice was a cordial to the heart, because it came from it, rich, full, like the luscious juice of the rich grape.

Relationships and children[edit]

Charles Doyne[edit]

While working as a milliner's assistant, she received her first proposal of marriage, from a man known to posterity only as Smith, whose father considered her much too young to marry. The next proposal came when she was acting in Waterford, where she spent a summer while the Dublin theatres were closed. There she met Charles Doyne, an army lieutenant. He "felt hopeful" of being accepted, but her mother regarded him as unsuitable, and Jordan returned to Dublin intent on success in the theatre.[21]

Richard Daly[edit]

She had an affair with Richard Daly, who was manager of Dublin's Crow Street Theatre and then of Smock Alley. Daly was married, and she had an illegitimate child with him:

  • Frances Daly (also called Fanny; born in September 1782; she later changed her name to Frances Bettesworth in 1806 and married Thomas Alsop in 1807; she died 2 June 1821).[22]

Jordan's work with Richard Daly helped establish her as an actress in Dublin until the two separated and she left for England.[23]

She then went to work for the theatre company operated by Tate Wilkinson. It was at this point she adopted the name Mrs. Jordan – a reference to her escape across the Irish Sea, likened to the River Jordan.[24] The name "Mrs Jordan" was also reportedly given to her by Richard Daly for "motherly reasons", soon after she gave birth to their first illegitimate child.[25] She appeared at Wilkinson's York Circuit theatres, including The Theatre, Leeds, where she complained of uncomfortable working conditions.[26]

George Inchbald[edit]

Shortly after her affair with Daly was over, she began an affair with George Inchbald, the male lead in the Wilkinson company. According to biographer Claire Tomalin, Jordan had hopes of their marrying, but he was wary of committing himself; later he regretted this and proposed to her, but she turned him down.[27]

Richard Ford[edit]

In late 1786, Jordan began an affair with Sir Richard Ford, then a police magistrate and lawyer. She moved in with him, believing he intended marriage.[28] They had three illegitimate children:[29]

  • Dorothea Maria Ford (born August 1787, married in 1809 to Frederick Edward March, a natural son of Lord Henry FitzGerald).[30]
  • A son (who died at birth in October or November 1788).
  • Lucy Hester Ford (born 1789, died 1850,[9] married Samuel Hawker—later General and Sir—in 1810).

She left Ford when marriage was no longer possible.[31] Jordan's children were placed under the care of her sister Hester, who moved with them to a house in Brompton. According to a settlement dated 4 November 1791, Jordan transferred all her savings to Ford and Hester for the maintenance and education of the children; in addition, she allowed them an annual payment and granted Hester an allowance for her services.[32][33]

William IV[edit]

A colorful cartoon depicting a woman sitting up in bed while a man sleeps besides her.
In this 1791 James Gillray cartoon, Jordan is depicted in bed with the Duke of Clarence.

In 1790, Jordan became the mistress of Prince William, Duke of Clarence, the third son of King George III. He had met her at Drury Lane. She began living with him first at Clarence Lodge and later, in 1797, at Bushy House.[34] Together they had 10 illegitimate children, all of whom took the surname FitzClarence:

During this time, Jordan was granted a yearly stipend of £1,200 (equivalent to £180,000 in 2023), but she continued to perform at both Drury Lane and Covent Garden as well as on provincial tours until her 1811 separation from Prince William.[35][10] In 1811, Jordan was given an annual stipend of £4,400 (equivalent to £400,000 in 2023) by Prince William and custody of their daughters while he retained custody of their sons. Half of her stipend was specifically earmarked for the care of the children with a stipulation stating that in order to continue receiving that money, and retain custody, Jordan must not return to the stage.[6]

Later life and death[edit]

In 1814, when her son-in-law, Thomas Alsop, became heavily in debt, Jordan returned to the stage to help pay off that debt. Prince William took legal action and removed their remaining daughters from her care and ended Jordan's yearly stipend. Jordan had written letters to British theatres and newspapers pleading with them to rehire her, acknowledging her previous affairs and business dealings with some of her past companions.[10]

Jordan sold her home in 1815 and moved to Boulogne, France, assuming the alias Mrs. James or Madame James or Mrs. Johnson. Not having been summoned back to England, she moved to Versailles by the end of the year. Soon after, she moved to Saint-Cloud, near Paris. While in France, she was defrauded by her eldest daughter, Frances, and son-in-law, Thomas Alsop, after they accumulated large sums of debt in her name. During this time, both her mental and physical health declined, and she suffered from "bilious attacks, pains in her side, swollen ankles, shortness of breath and increasing general weakness". She wrote in a letter "it is not, believe me, the feelings of pride, avarice, or the absence of those comforts I have all my life been accustomed to, that is killing me by inches; it is the loss of my only remaining comfort, the hope I used to live on from time to time, of seeing my children".

She died alone on 5 July 1816 from a ruptured blood vessel caused by violent inflammation of the chest.[6][13] She was buried in the town cemetery of Saint-Cloud.


  1. ^ www.chromadesign.co.uk, Blog Design and Build by Duncan Marshall and Conrad Barrett-Freeman at Chroma Design. "Exclusive - Museum swap-shop - Art History News - by Bendor Grosvenor". www.arthistorynews.com.
  2. ^ "Dorothea Jordan". Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  3. ^ Jerrold, Clare Armstrong Bridgman (1914). The Story of Dorothy Jordan. Brentano's. p. 31.
  4. ^ a b c d Anthony J. Camp: Ancestry of Mrs Jordan Archived 8 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine [retrieved 4 December 2014].
  5. ^ Claire Tomalin, Mrs Jordan's Profession, p. 10.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Jordan, Dorothy [real name Dorothy Phillips] (1761–1816), actress | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/15119. Retrieved 24 October 2019. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  7. ^ Highfill, Philip Henry. A biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, managers & other stage personnel in London, 1660-1800. Volume 10, M'Intosh to Nash. Burnim, Kalman A., Langhans, Edward A. Carbondale. ISBN 9780585030326. OCLC 44959689.
  8. ^ James, Boaden (5 May 2013). The Life of Mrs Jordan, Volume 2 : Including Original Private Correspondence, and Numerous Anecdotes of her Contemporaries. Cambridge. ISBN 9781139452915. OCLC 967377202.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  9. ^ a b c Claire., Tomalin (2012). Mrs Jordan's profession. London: Penguin. ISBN 9780241963296. OCLC 779244420.
  10. ^ a b c Mrs Jordan (Dorothy Jordan). (18th-20th century). (Album containing press cuttings, exhibition catalogue: 'Mrs Jordan: The Duchess of Drury Lane', 1995); engraved portraits; article; sheet music ('The Willow'), press cuttings, book extract and poster.) University of Bristol, Theatre Collection. Bristol, United Kingdom.
  11. ^ a b c Fiona., Ritchie (2 June 2014). Women and Shakespeare in the eighteenth century. New York, NY. ISBN 9781107046306. OCLC 855957476.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  12. ^ a b Tomalin, Claire. (1995). Mrs. Jordan's profession : the actress and the prince (1st American ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-41071-6. OCLC 30895329.
  13. ^ a b Tomalin, Claire (1994). Mrs Jordan's profession : the story of a great actress and a future King. London: Viking. ISBN 0670841595. OCLC 31377468.
  14. ^ Piozzi, Hester Lynch (2002). The Piozzi letters : correspondence of Hester Lynch Piozzi, 1784-1821 (formerly Mrs. Thrale). Bloom, Edward A. (Edward Alan), 1914-1994., Bloom, Lillian D. Newark: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0874131154. OCLC 17441329. ©1989-©2002
  15. ^ Molloy, J. Fitzgerald (April 1892). "Dorothy Jordan". The English Illustrated Magazine. 103: 567–571 – via ProQuest.
  16. ^ a b c Perry, Gillian (11 October 2004). "Staging Gender and "Hairy Signs": Representing Dorothy Jordan's Curls". Eighteenth-Century Studies. 38 (1): 145–163. doi:10.1353/ecs.2004.0061. ISSN 1086-315X. S2CID 143690757.
  17. ^ Denlinger, Elizabeth Campbell (2005), Before Victoria: extraordinary women of the British romantic era, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-13630-3
  18. ^ Boaden, James (1831). The life of Mrs. Jordan: including original private correspondence, and numerous anecdotes of her contemporaries. London: Edward Bull, Holles Street.
  19. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Jordan, Dorothea". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 508–509.
  20. ^ British Musical Biography: A Dictionary of Musical Artists, Authors, and Composers Born in Britain and Its Colonies, James Duff Brown and Stephen Samuel Stratton, Birmingham, England: S. S. Stratton, 1897, p. 225
  21. ^ Claire Tomalin, Mrs Jordan's Profession, pp. 17, 20.
  22. ^ Separated from her husband, she became an actress like her mother and died (probably from an overdose of laudanum) in America in 1821. Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans: A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and others Stage Personnel in London, vol. 8: Hough to Keyse, p. 259.; Wendy C. Nielsen: Women Warriors in Romantic Drama, Chapter IV, p. 112. [retrieved 4 December 2014]; Portrait of Mrs. Frances Bettesworth Alsop, ca. 1817 in: Library of University of Illinois at Urbania-Champaign. Archived 11 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine [Retrieved 5 December 2014]
  23. ^ The Thespian dictionary; or, Dramatic biography of the eighteenth century; containing sketches of the lives, productions, &c., of all the principal managers, ... Printed by J. Cundee for T. Hurst; etc., etc. 3 May 2010. hdl:2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t4zg6kj6s.
  24. ^ Sergeant, Philip Walsingham (1913). Mrs. Jordan: Child of Nature. Hutchinson & Company. p. 52.
  25. ^ The Thespian dictionary; or, Dramatic biography of the eighteenth century; containing sketches of the lives, productions, &c., of all the principal managers, ... Printed by J. Cundee for T. Hurst; etc., etc. 1802. hdl:2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t4zg6kj6s.
  26. ^ Leodis, Discovering Leeds: The Theatre Retrieved 17 December 2013
  27. ^ Claire Tomalin, Mrs Jordan's Profession, pp. 37, 72.
  28. ^ Claire Tomalin, Mrs Jordan's Profession, p. 75.
  29. ^ Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans: A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and others Stage Personnel in London, vol. 8: Hough to Keyse, p. 259. [retrieved 4 December 2014].
  30. ^ According to Anthony Camp, she was a mistress of the Duke of Clarence for some time after her marriage. Anthony J. Camp: Royal Mistresses and Bastards, No. 15-24 Archived 7 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine [retrieved 5 December 2014].
  31. ^ pg. 90 & 91, Ladies of the Bedchamber, Dennis Friedman
  32. ^ The Encyclopedia of Romantic Literature, p. 693. [retrieved 4 December 2014].
  33. ^ Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans: A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and others Stage Personnel in London, vol. 8: Hough to Keyse, p. 253. [retrieved 4 December 2014].
  34. ^ Google Books The Story of Dorothy Jordan Armstrong, Clare & Jerrold, Bridgman. Ayer Publishing, 1969. ISBN 0-405-08672-5, ISBN 978-0-405-08672-4
  35. ^ Kiste, John Van Der (20 October 2022). William IV: The Last Hanoverian King of Britain. Pen and Sword History. ISBN 9781399098601.


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