Queen of hearts

The mar­riage of Ge­orge IV and Mrs Fitzher­bert is cel­e­brated as well as ridiculed and crowned heads are satirised

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

Mrs Fitzher­bert seems to have been a re­mark­ably de­cent sort. she put up an heroic re­sis­tance to the ar­dent pur­suit of the Prince of Wales, the fu­ture Ge­orge iv, and when, in 1785, he even­tu­ally per­suaded her to marry him, which was il­le­gal in english law and should have barred his suc­ces­sion to the throne, she did noth­ing to jeop­ar­dise his po­si­tion.

Not only was she a twice-wid­owed ro­man Catholic com­moner, but the Prince needed his father’s con­sent to the mar­riage, which would never have been forth­com­ing. Af­ter his death, she con­tin­ued to act with dig­nity, hand­ing over all his let­ters for de­struc­tion, and Wil­liam iv thought so highly of her that he of­fered her a duke­dom. she turned it down, but sen­si­bly re­tained such vi­tal doc­u­ments as her mar­riage cer­tifi­cate by way of en­sur­ing pay­ment of her pen­sion.

De­spite their many quar­rels and break­ings up, and his many other af­fairs, there is lit­tle doubt that they loved one another and for the 10 years when they lived at brighton, they were happy to­gether. to clear his debts, the Prince con­tracted a le­gal mar­riage to his cousin, Caro­line of brunswick, but that was a dis­as­ter and, af­ter the birth of their daugh­ter Char­lotte in 1796, they parted in ac­ri­mony.

the Prince’s will drawn up in that year left ev­ery­thing ‘to my Maria Fitzher­bert, my Wife, the wife of my heart and soul. Al­though by the laws of this Coun­try she could not avail her­self pub­licly of that name, still such she is in the eyes of was, is, and ever will be such in mine’.

richard Cosway (1742–1821) painted many minia­ture por­traits for and of the cou­ple. in 2012, an early copy of one of her sold for £620 at Mal­lams in Ox­ford, but in Christie’s ex­cep­tional sale last month, some­thing much more re­mark­able was on of­fer.

the 1½in-high minia­ture known as the Maria Fitzher­bert Jewel (Fig 1) is one of a pair painted in about 1800. Given the prob­a­ble date and the splen­dour of the set­tings, it is pos­si­ble that the minia­tures were com­mis­sioned to mark the cou­ple’s rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in June 1800 af­ter a three­year es­trange­ment, dur­ing which he had pur­sued an af­fair with Lady Jer­sey.

Painted on ivory, the Fitzher­bert Jewel shows a res­o­lutelook­ing Prince pos­ing as the realm’s de­fender in a gor­get— he was al­ways frus­trated at not be­ing al­lowed to take an ac­tive com­mand—and it is con­tained in a locket by run­dell, bridge & run­dell set with 18 rose-cut di­a­monds. it is cov­ered not by glass, but a por­trait di­a­mond— that is to say, a di­a­mond sliced from a larger stone and pol­ished flat on the lower side. Cosway charged £26 5s for each minia­ture and prob­a­bly had to wait a long time for the Prince to pay him. it would be in­ter­est­ing to know what the lock­ets cost.

When Ge­orge died in 1830, af­ter a fur­ther es­trange­ment and par­tial rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, he was buried with Maria’s por­trait locket around his neck. sim­i­larly, it is thought that she was hold­ing this im­age of him when she died in 1837. it passed to the daugh­ter they had adopted and de­scended in her fam­ily un­til this sale, where it made £341,000.

Like all of Ge­orge’s mis­tresses, and in­deed wives, Maria Fitzher­bert was the sub­ject of many scur­rilous, even ex­plicit, car­i­ca­ture prints by the great Gill­ray and oth­ers. Un­sur­pris­ingly, there were sev­eral ex­am­ples in blooms­bury’s spe­cialised car­i­heaven,

cature auc­tion on July 13. An un­coloured ex­am­ple of the well­known en­grav­ing The Morn­ing af­ter Mar­riage (Fig 3) by Plenipo Ge­orgy, alias Gill­ray, sold to­gether with a coloured copy of the Fa­tigues of the

Cam­paign in Flan­ders, satiris­ing the mil­i­tary fail­ures of the ‘Grand Old’ Duke of York, for £744. Maria was also the sub­ject of

Love’s Last Shift and Dido For­saken—the sec­ond fea­tur­ing a bas­ket of dis­tinctly phal­lic money bags—which to­gether made £992, and a rare copy of

The Sick Prince at £1,612. There was also French ma­te­rial on of­fer, in­clud­ing an im­pres­sion of Dau­mier’s scathing 1831 litho­graphic car­i­ca­ture of King Louis Philippe as an obese gi­ant, be­ing fed money by the starv­ing poor and ex­cret­ing favours on the no­bil­ity (Fig 2). This is rare, as the po­lice raided the pub­lisher be­fore it could be is­sued and de­stroyed the litho­graphic stone. It sold for £2,356.

The top price was £3,472, but, in fact, this was a re­mark­able bar­gain, rep­re­sent­ing just £4.50 per print for six vol­umes finely bound by Zaehns­dorf, con­tain­ing about 770 car­i­ca­tures, 693 hand-coloured, printed dur­ing the Franco-prus­sian War and Siege of Paris (Fig 4). Next week The Heav­ens espy

Fig 1: The Maria Fitzher­bert Jewel. £341,000

Fig 2: Dau­mier’s scathing 1831 litho­graph Gar­gan­tua. £2,356

Fig 3: Un­coloured The Morn­ing af­ter Mar­riage by Gill­ray. £744

Fig 4: One of 770 car­i­ca­tures bound in six vol­umes. £3,472

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