Who Was Harriet Mordaunt?
The Scandalous Life of Harriet Mordaunt
Harriet Mordaunt and the Prince of Wales. A royal scandal.
It's a familiar story in some ways - a young, attractive and lively woman marries an older man...
But in this true story, British Royalty was involved in the scandal and the young woman was branded insane for the rest of her days.
Was this a conspiracy?
Harriet Sarah Moncreiffe
Harriet was born to a wealthy and titled Scottish family. She was one of sixteen children, eight boys and eight girls.
The home was an easy-going and relaxed place and Harriet had a pleasant childhood and upbringing.
Amongst the visitors to the home - and there were always many - was the heir to the British throne, Bertie, the Prince of Wales.
Incommon with other guests, he enjoyed the parties, the playfulness and the freedom which was so unlike his own home.
There were plenty of opportunities for dalliances during these house parties. Did the Prince of Wales 'dally' with Harriet when he was a young man? This isn't known, but he certainly did later.
The Prince of Wales
Albert Edward was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. Known as Bertie, he eventually became King Edward VII.
But, like today's Prince of Wales, he had a long wait before he ascended to the throne. In the meantime, he filled his life with pleasure.
He had not had a happy childhood. You can imagine what expectations Victoria and Albert had for their eldest son and he repeatedly did not live up to them.
He was a charming man, diplomatic and sociable but he could never reach the academic heights his parents aspired to.
So he devoted himself to the pleasures of the flesh. As a young man who was basically without a job - but with plenty of money and a high position - he was ideally situated to make the most of life.
When she was only eighteen years old, Harriet married Sir Charles Mordaunt. On the right, you see their Warwickshire home.
This amply demonstrates Sir Charles' wealth.
The couple continued to be a part of the Prince of Wales' social set.
The couple were said to have a happy marriage initially but Sir Charles was almost the exact opposite of Harriet. She loved to dance, to entertain and to enjoy herself. He was the huntin', shootin', fishin' type who was the ultimate country squire.
Harriet, most probably due to her upbringing,saw no reason at all why she shouldn't have liaisons with other men. She assumed that, as was common with the upper echelons, her husband had a mistress. This, she thought, was the normal way of things.
But Harriet was unaware of, or simply ignored, an unwritten rule. Once a married woman had produced a son and heir, then affairs were tolerated, if not even expected. But the bloodline was not to be sullied until her duties were fulfilled.
Harriet duly gave birth to a daughter. Of course,like most aristocratic fathers of the day, Sir Charles would have preferred a son but he was delighted that his wife had 'proven herself'.
But the baby was born with an eye condition. Convinced that this was due to an unpleasant disease that she had contracted during her recent dalliances, Harriet, in her distress, confessed to her husband that since their marriage,she'd had affairs with several men, including the Prince of Wales.
Sir Charles was distraught.Not only had his wife been unfaithful to him - breaking the unwritten rules - but the child might not even be his.
He forced open the locked drawer of her writing desk and discovered letters to her from none other than the Prince of Wales. He was now determined to divorce his wife.
At this stage, Harriet's father stepped into the fray. It must be remembered that he had other daughters for whom he needed to secure good marriages. The taint of divorce would greatly damage the family's reputation and his daughters' prospects.
To avoid this, and knowing that the law of the time insisted that a mad person could not be divorced, he declared that Harriet was insane.
Divorce - Victorian style
Scandal in court
Sir Charles insisted on the divorce case being heard. The question on everyone's lips was, was Harriet insane?
Her family claimed that she was suffering from a temporary insanity due to childbirth. Sir Charles, on the other hand, insisted that she was faking in order to retract her confession of adultery.
He said that the servants were also aware of her condition. The court needed to determine the truth. There could be no divorce if Harriet was ruled to be insane.
Sir Charles went one further - he had the Prince of Wales summonsed to appear in court. This in itself was a terrific scandal.
The prince hotly denied that there had ever been any illicit relationship. Further, he had his own personal physician, an ultimately eminent doctor, to testify that Harriet was indeed insane.
The divorce case was dismissed.
The letters, when eventually seen, proved to have no evidence of intimacy- they were simply friendly and chatty.
Harriet was committed to an asylum where she spent the rest of her days.
Was there a conspiracy?
Was her insanity faked? Did her father persuade her to act accordingly? Did she have an affair with the Prince of Wales? Points to consider:
- Her father had a bevy of daughters who needed to make good marriages.If Harriet was divorced for infidelity, prior to produced a son and heir, the family's reputation would be ruined
- Did her father prey on her family feeling in order for her to help her sisters?
- If indeed her madness was a ruse, then it worked. All her sisters made what were considered to be good marriages
- If she regretted her impassioned confession, as she do doubt did after seeing her husband's reaction, then it would be easy for her to 'recover' and say that her words were simply part of her post-birth mania
- The chances are strong,that even without the factor of her sisters, Harriet had no desire to be divorced and lose her comfortable and wealthy life
- Her confession was brought about by her great fears for her daughter's eyesight. She could claim that this was the reason for her temporary mania
- Without question, the Prince of Wales visited Harriet at her home when her husband was out of the country. Knowing Harriet's propensity for liaisons, an affair between the two seems more than likely
- Did she believe that the Prince,once in court and under oath, would protect her?
- Did he in fact, by denying the relationship protect her good name? This may be the case but if true,it was thanks to him that she was incarcerated an an imbecile for the rest of her life
- Is it possible that her baby was actually fathered by the Prince of Wales? It's possibly purely coincidental that today's Prince Edward, Edward VII's great great grandson, has a daughter who was born with an eye defect...
What happened to Harriet Mordaunt's child?
Violet remained in her father's care after her mother had been sent away. But it is said that he had little to do with the child.
It was eventually accepted, although not proved, that Violet was the daughter of one of the men Harriet admitted to having had an affair with, Viscount Cole.
Later,in court, he did not contest the assertion that he was the father. However, it has been suggested that he made this admission as a gentlemanly gesture to the Prince of Wales. (Did not contest doesn't necessarily constitute an admission.)
Like her mother's sisters, Violet made a good marriage. She married the Marquess of Bath.
Her grandson, who is still alive today,is an interesting character. The present Marquess was married in 1969. Since that time, it is estimated that he has had almost a hundred liaisons with other women.
Did he inherit Harriet's genes?
© 2014 Jackie Jackson