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You are in: Berkshire > History > Local History > The Prince's Mistress

Mary Robinson, painted by Joshua Reynolds

Mary Robinson, by Joshua Reynolds

The Prince's Mistress

Local historian Hester Davenport has unearthed and written the remarkable life of Mary Robinson, who is buried in Old Windsor graveyard.

There's a fairly unremarkable grave in Old Windsor cemetery. But it caught the attention of local historian Hester Davenport.

Hester investigated this woman, known as a footnote in history books as a mistress of George IV and found a startlingly rich life, packed with intrigue, scandal and notoriety.

Mary Robinson was:

* The first mistress of the Prince of Wales when he was just 17, later to become George IV - the Prince pursued her after seeing her on stage as Perdita in the Winter's Tale
* Painted by Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough
* Employed as an actress by Sheridan
* Trained for the theatre by Garrick
* Responsible for blackmailing the Prince for £5,000, threatening to publish his love letters to her
* Paralysed by a mystery disease after a miscarriage at 26
* The author of poetry which was admired by Coleridge and Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire
* For many years in a relationship with Banastre Tarleton, who had been a hero in the American War of Independence

Mary lived a very public life, always in the gossip columns, but she never managed to get away from her early relationship with the Prince.

Hester at Mary's grave

Hester and friends at Mary's grave

Hester says: "I think it's important to remember that in those days men did pay their mistresses' debts and establish on them an annuity - that was the customary practice.

She adds: "That liaison put her into the history books, usually as a footnote, but it also determined the rest of her life.

"As a result of the annuity which was set up, she also literally depended on it. The letters were returned in good faith and they were burnt, but not before the prime minister of the day had had a good read!"

The less acknowledged side of Mary's life was her considerable literary success, a situation Hester has been keen to rectify.

"She was in many ways a modern woman. She did court the limelight, as many celebrities do, but at the end of her life she became poetry editor of the Morning Post which later became the Daily Telegraph.

"Coleridge sent her an early copy of Kublai Khan, long before anyone else saw it, years before."

Mary was also a firm believer in equal rights, as is shown by the confident approach she took to men.

Hester Davenport

Hester Davenport

Hester explains: "She had her faults, but she was really in modern terms a very spunky woman. She fought for her rights, and she fought for women too. She did know Mary Wollstonecraft, the feminist.

"One of the things she called for was a women's university. It's a nice coincidence that the house where she lived overlooked where the first women's university (Royal Holloway) would one day be established."

So if you're in the area, do go and visit Mary's grave, as she lived a truly extraordinary life.

Hester explains the circumstances surrounding her burial a mere two miles from St George's Chapel, where George is buried.

"She died at Englefield Green, but particularly requested to be buried at Old Windsor. I don't know why, but one suggestion is that she had her first month of happiness with Tarleton there.

"The church authorities at the time were quite nervous about having a celebrity buried there. So her grave is tucked away at the back of the church on the sunless north side."

The Prince's Mistress: A Life of Perdita, Mary Robinson by Hester Davenport is published by Sutton Publishing.

last updated: 31/03/2008 at 00:53
created: 17/09/2004

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Emma Kay Van Alstyne
Dear Ms. Davenport. I am looking for information on Maria Elizabeth, Marys daughter, I am a decendent of Mary Robinsons and am interested in finding out what happened to her after her mothers death. My e-mail address is evanals1@nycap.rr.comThank you Emma Van Alstyne

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