A famous city in Australia was named after her. She was Queen Victoria's favorite aunt, too, and all the Britons adored her when she was alive. Yet, Queen Adelaide is seldom mentioned today. The pious queen, however, never wanted attention for herself. In fact, her sisters-in-law, the scandal-ridden Queen Caroline and the overbearing Duchess of Kent, attracted more attention than she did during her lifetime.
In 1836, the city of Adelaide in Australia was named in her honor. She was King William IV's consort, but beyond that, not that much is known about this good queen. Not even the Australians living in her namesake city know who she is. One tourist guide laments that “the pace of modern life has meant the monarch is anonymous to South Australians.”
Birth and Younger Years
The future queen was born on August 13, 1872 at Meiningen, Thuringia, Germany. She was baptized Adelaide Amelia Louise Theresa Caroline.
--> Her father, George I, was Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, a petty state that only spanned 423 square miles. Her mother was Princess Louise Eleonore of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. In all of Germany, Meiningen had the distinction of being the most liberal state, where press freedom was guaranteed and even criticized its ruler.
She was 11 when her father died. Since her brother was too young to rule, her grandmother had to act as regent.
Queen Adelaide was well educated and at a young age, she already knew the rigors of royal and diplomatic life.
In 1817, Princess Charlotte, only daughter of King George IV (then Prince Regent) died while giving birth to a stillborn child and there would be no chance of the King to father a child again. He was estranged from his wife, Caroline, although he had illegitimate children. However, they were barred from inheriting the throne. His brothers did not have any legitimate offspring and his sisters were either unmarried or childless. The Royal House of Hanover was on the verge of extinction. In view of an impending succession crisis, Parliament urged the Prince Regent’s unmarried brothers to look for suitable wives.
Read: Events that led to Queen Victoria's birth and reign.
Read: Events that led to Queen Victoria's birth and reign.
The Prince Regent’s younger brother, the Duke of Clarence had 10 illegitimate children with actress Dorothea Jordan. Obviously, they were not allowed to inherit the throne since they were born out of wedlock. If he decides to marry Miss Jordan, his brother the Prince Regent would definitely refuse to grant permission.
A handsome cash settlement only made the bride-hunting interesting. Parliament was willing to increase the debt-ridden princes’ royal allowance if they find the right match.
On July 11, 1818, William Henry, Duke of Clarence, already 53, was married to Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, who was barely sixteen, on a double wedding ceremony. His brother, Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, widow of Prince Emich Charles of Leinengen-Dachsburg-Hardenburg.
While no romantic feeling culminated the union, the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Clarence remained peaceful and amicable. They decided to settle in Hanover, where their meager income could buy more than what they could in England. The marriage also brought positive impact on William’s attitude: he drank less, swore less and became more careful with his words.
However, their marriage failed on what it aimed for: provide an heir to the throne. In 1818, Her daughter Charlotte died a few hours after birth. In 1819, she endured a miscarriage on the seventh month of her pregnancy. In 1820, she gave birth to Elizabeth, who died four months later. In 1822, she delivered stillborn twins.
Eventually, the couple decided to acknowledge William’s niece, Victoria, as their heir presumptive.
In 1827, William’s elder brother, the Duke of York died. He was followed by George IV in 1830. The Duke of Clarence succeeded as William IV and Adelaide was his queen.
On Sept. 8, 1831, their coronation took place. Adelaide wrote in her diary: "I fear for the future." The King despised the whole ceremony, mocking at its entirety. Queen Adelaide, meanwhile, earned the praise and adulation of everyone around for her "dignity, repose and characteristic grace."
Adelaide never harbored any enmity against William’s illegitimate children, who carried the name FitzWilliam. As a mark of her unconditional generosity, the Queen decided to look after the children as if they were her own. She even insisted that their mother’s portrait be hung in the family home. A huge part of the Queen’s income was dedicated to charity. Her generosity also extended to Princess Victoria of Kent.
King William's reign, though, was short lived. He died in 1837 and was succeeded by his niece Victoria, who would remain on the throne until 1901.
A Virtuous Lady
While the aristocracy considered King William a swag, the general public, however, admired him and his queen for restoring the dignity in the scandal-ridden Royal Family, as well as, for their simple, unpretentious lives.
A lady whose morals were beyond question, her court denied the entry of women of questionable virtue. In fact, Charles Greville, clerk of the Privy Coundil, noted: "The Queen is a prude and refuses to have the ladies come décolletées to her parties. George the 4th, who liked ample expanses of that kind, would not let them be covered."
Queen Adelaide was also passionate about the rights of children. She supported the abolition of slavery in England, while she tried to persuade the King to reform parliament and modernize it by extending the vote to those who had previously been not been eligible.
After the death of King William, Queen Adelaide moved into Witley Court in Worcestershire, where she lived from 1842 until 1846. She also stayed at Gopsall Hall (now part of the Crown Estate) in Leicestershire, where she was deeply attached to the locals. One time, when she was about to see the people in Measham, the public were told to meet her by horses and carriages. One man was so desperate to meet Queen Adelaide that he rode in a bathtub pulled by a mule. The Queen greeted him nevertheless.
Her last public appearance was during the laying the foundation stone of the church of St. John the Evangelist, Great Stanmore. When she died, the east window was dedicated to her memory.
She passed away on December 2, 1849 at Bentley Priory in Middlesex. She was interred at St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
She wanted her funeral to be simple. Long before her death, in 1841, she wrote: "I die in all humility" because "we are alike before the throne of God, and I request therefore that my mortal remains be conveyed to the grave without pomp or state…to have as private and quiet a funeral as possible. I particularly desire not to be laid out in state…I die in peace and wish to be carried to the fount in peace, and free from the vanities and pomp of this world."