Maria Anne Smythe was born in 1756. She was 18 at her first marriage which lasted only three months. She was left destitute because her husband who was sixteen years her senior had not signed his new will and his family failed to provide for her. Her second husband, Thomas Fitzherbert, lasted three years, but Maria had learned and there was both money and a home in Mayfair, London. The twice-widowed beauty entered London society where she caught the eye of Prince George, the heir to the British throne.
The Prince fell madly in love when he first saw her at the opera house. He pursued her relentlessly, demanding that she receive invitations to parties and be seated next to him. She refused him until he attempted suicide. She agreed to marry him and in 1785 they were married at her home by the Prince’s chaplain. The marriage had two legal problems, however. Maria was a twice-widowed Catholic and they had failed to obtain permission to marry. The Royal Marriage Act of 1772 required prior approval by the King and Privy Council. The Act of Settlement would have removed George from the succession for marrying a Catholic.
They moved in highest circles of British society and appeared to be very happy. But heirs to the throne must beget more heirs to the throne and debts must be paid. George bargained to have £600,000 of his debt paid by the Crown and Parliament on the wedding day. In 1794 Maria received a letter informing her that their relationship was over. The following year George entered into disastrous marriage with his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. The following year, a few days after the birth of his daughter, Princess Charlotte, he wrote his will leaving everything to Maria – “the wife of my heart and soul.” Years later, they reconciled and were together until their final break when the George became Regent. After the final separation, Maria received £5000 annually until her death. She, of course, had letters and documents to prove their relationship.
Despite the break, on his deathbed George placed her get well card under his head. At his request, he was buried with her miniature around his neck. In his private papers, his family found all the letters that they had exchanged. It was rumored that Maria had at least two children by George who may have had a couple of dozen spread among his many mistresses. Maria moved to Brighton and lived there until her death in 1837 at 80.
Tomorrow, The Trials & Tribulations of Princess Caroline. Rita Bay