The Twickenham Museum
People : Actors and Actresses

Dorothea Jordan
Actress and royal mistress
1761- 1816

Dorothea Jordan

Comic tomboy roles

Dorothea (sometimes Dorothy or Dora) Jordan, the comic actress, ne Bland was born to an Irish father and Welsh mother and spent her childhood in Dublin and Wales. She made her stage debut in 1777 at the age of 16 and her first Drury Lane appearance in 1785. She kept her hold on the public for nearly 30 years, mainly in comic tomboy roles.She never married, adopting the name Mrs Jordan in order to acquire respectability.

Mistress of the Duke of Clarence

Already the mother of five children, in 1790 she became the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, afterwards William IV. The relationship, which was a very happy one, produced ten children. Seven were born after they settled in Bushy House in 1797.

The King had given Bushy House to the always financially strapped Duke. Even so he needed help and Dorothea contributed to the upkeep from her own stage earnings as well as producing a further seven children.

Cast off by the Duke

As the years went by the Duke came under pressure from the royal family to find a suitable (preferably rich) wife. The Duke ended the relationship in 1811 when he met a young heiress, although he did not find and marry Adelaide of Saxe-Meinengen until 1818.

Dorothea is recorded as the owner of Gifford Lodge, on Twickenham Green, between 1800 and 1810. She apparently bought the property as a home for the children born to her before the start of her relationship with William. Curiously perhaps, this period co-incided with the time that Mrs Anne Damer was living at Strawberry Hill and staging dramatic productions of her own. One wonders if they met.

Although the Duke made a generous settlement for the support of her family, Dorothea was completely devastated by the separation. After a son-in-law ran up huge debts in her name she fled to France in 1815. She died alone, in poverty, at St. Cloud, outside Paris in 1816, and was buried there.

William IV, from a painting by Henry Dawe, engraved by J Cochran

In 1831, after he had ascended the throne, William commissioned a statue of Dorothy, from Francis Chantrey. Although, eventually, this found its home in Buckingham Palace the plaster cast ended up in the basement of the Ashmolean Museum. Here, with others, it was smashed up during World War II to make space for an air raid shelter. The head was cut off and preserved.

Further reading:

Claire Tomalin, Mrs Jordan's Profession, Viking, 1994
MRS JORDAN the Duchess of Drury Lane, Exhibition Catalogue by English Heritage, 1995
C M Anstead, Bushy Park - The Hanoverian Rangers, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society Paper No17, 1970
Kathy White and Peter Foster, Bushy Park - Royals, Rangers and Rogues, Foundry Press, 1997
Dictionary of National Biography

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