COMIC ACTRESS & ROYAL MISTRESS
Waterford / Dublin / London
1762 - 1816
Dorothea Jordan, born Dorothea Bland, was also known as Dora. She took the surname of Jordan for her stage name. Jordan was feted as one of the greatest comic actress of her day, a courtesan, and the long-term royal mistress of the future King William IV.
She was born in Waterford in 1761 to unmarried parents, and was one of six. When she was 13, her father, who was a stagehand, abandoned the family. Money soon became scarce. Jordan’s mother, who was an actress, realised that her daughter also had the makings of an actress, and put her on the stage to help support the family.
By the 1780s, she had appeared in theatres all over Ireland and Britain, with the Drury Lane theatre in London becoming her base. Her talent was for comedic roles, such as in Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
Jordan had a colourful personal life, and one which was extremely racy for the time. She had an affair with Richard Daly, the married manager of the Theatre Royal in Cork, and had her first child with him. She then had a proposal of marriage from army lieutenant, Charles Doyne, which she refused. When she went to work for Tate Wilkinson at his theatre company, she had an affair with him. When that romance ended, she fell in love with George Inchbald, the male lead actor at Wilkinson’s theatre company. He failed to propose, and Jordan eventually left him for Sir Richard Ford, a police magistrate, with whom she had three children. Sir Richard did not propose either, and so in time, Jordan left him too.
Her next relationship was her most famous: with his Royal Highness, the Duke of Clarence, the future King William IV, whom she openly lived with for 20 years and had ten children by. Jordan had 14 children in all, many of whom made aristocratic marriages. Some of their names were: Lady Lucy Hester Hawker, Lord Adolphus FitzClarence, Sophia Sidney, Baroness De L’Isle and Dudley, Amelia Cary, Vicountess Falkland, and Elizabeth Hay, Countess of Erroll. Among her descendants is one David Cameron, the former prime minister of Britain, who is descended from Jordan’s daughter Elizabeth, the Countess of Erroll.
After 20 years, the relationship faltered. The Duke of Clarence was a man who lived far beyond his means, and found himself in need of a wealthy heiress for a wife.
Jordan was given an annual settlement of £4,400 - roughly €300,000 euro in today’s money - on condition she did not return to her acting career. However, she too had debts, and this sum was not enough. When she returned to the stage, her allowance was cut off. She had been away too long, and could not command the audiences and income she had previously done. She fled to France in 1815 to escape her creditors, and died near Paris the following year.
Dorothea Jordan was painted by John Hoppner, who depicted her in one of her stage roles, in a portrait called “Mrs Jordan in the character of Hippolyta”. It was first exhibited in 1791, and hung in the National Gallery in London, and later in the Tate. It is currently hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London, where anyone can go in and see what Ireland’s once-famous actress and royal consort looked like.
Thanks to Rosita Boland for this week’s herstory.