Maria, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh

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Maria Walpole
Countess Waldegrave
Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh
Maria, Duchess of Gloucester (1739-1807).jpg
Portrait by Joshua Reynolds (1771-1774)
Born (1736-07-10)10 July 1736
St James's, Westminster, Middlesex (now London)
Died 22 August 1807(1807-08-22) (aged 71)
Oxford Lodge, Brompton, Middlesex (now London)
Burial 31 August 1807
St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle
Spouse James Waldegrave, 2nd Earl Waldegrave
Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh
Issue Elizabeth Waldegrave, Countess Waldegrave
Charlotte FitzRoy, Duchess of Grafton
Anna, Lady Hugh Seymour
Princess Sophia of Gloucester
Princess Caroline of Gloucester
Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh
Father Edward Walpole
Mother Dorothy Clement

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.

Early life[edit]

Maria and her daughter Elizabeth by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1761.
The Ladies Waldegrave by Sir Joshua Reynolds (L to R: Charlotte, Elizabeth and Anna)
Maria (in mourning), by Gainsborough.
William Henry Duke of Gloucester by Thomas Gainsborough.

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]

On 15 May 1759, she married James Waldegrave, 2nd Earl Waldegrave. The Earl Waldegrave died on 28 April 1763. 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. She also commissioned him in 1780 to paint The Ladies Waldegrave, a group portrait of her and Waldegrave's three daughters.

Duchess of Gloucester[edit]

On 6 September 1766 she married Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, at her home in Pall Mall, London. The Duke was a brother of King George III. The marriage was conducted in secret as the British Royal Family would not have approved of a marriage between a 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 William's marriage to Maria. As the Act's provisions could not be applied retroactively, Maria and the Duke's marriage was considered valid. Due, however, to the anger of her brother-in-law 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]

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 10 July 1736 – 15 May 1759: 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