Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Duchess of Drury Lane

Another Freda Lightfoot book which I devoured in just days.  For some reason this one just pulled me right in and I read it so fast.  Dorothy Jordan lives with her mother and siblings in Dublin, their father leaving them in near poverty.  Her father was a captain in the navy and by marrying their mother was considered to have married below his station.  They stayed together for 16 years and had several children, until he married an Irish heiress.  Their parents had never bothered to legitimize their marriage, so her mother was left with financial troubles and the children to care for.  She encouraged Dora to follow in her footsteps at acting to help support the family.  Her mother and sister helped to write down her lines and worked with her on her scripts and songs.  Unfortunately her manager took advantage of her and blackmailed her when she borrowed money from him for her family.  At just age 14-15 she was the breadwinner of the family.  She found herself pregnant and still in increasing debt to the horrible Mr. Richard Daly, when she finally told her mother that she had been repeatedly raped.  They left in the early morning, leaving her costumes and wages behind which were sorely needed.   They left Ireland, walking many days and miles.

With the contact and help of an old friend, Dora started acting at Leeks and eventually York.  She was great at comedy, not so much with tragedy, which is what a lot of audiences enjoyed.  Audiences loved her wit, expressions, songs and seeing her in breeches and cross dressing roles.  Unfortunately there were always those out to compete with her, spreading nasty rumors of her unmarried state.  During this time Daly found her and sent her a notice of a huge amount to pay back or else be put in debtors prison.  A friend paid off the debt for her so she could start clean again.  She gave birth to Fanny a daughter, and her mother watched her while she worked.  Her sister helped her with her costumes, hair and learning her lines.  Dora was quickly noticed by an agent from London that came to watch her performances.  She was eventually asked to star at Drury Lane, and off they went to sink or swim together as a family.  Sketches were made of her and she became quite famous.  She met Richard Ford, the co-proprietor's son.  They fell in love not long after and started living together.  He had to prove to his father that she was worthy before marrying her.  They had three children together, one a stillborn son.  Ford was a lawyer and police magistrate.  He promised to marry her and so they pretended to the world that they were.  Her sister still cared for her children after her mother passing away.  Her brothers were away at school and such but she still had to pay their expenses or part of it.  After over 5 years of no marriage taking place and Ford increasing in his career, she finds herself questioning Ford's motives.  Did he really wish to marry her or just wanted her money?

During this time, she meets the Duke of Clarence, third in line to the throne.  They strike a friendship and he falls in love with her and asks her to be his mistress.  Because of the Royal Marriages Act, the royal family couldn't marry just anyone.  Actresses were often thought of as promiscuous anyway because of their line of work.  The Duke wished to show she was respectable to his family.  They bought a home or two to live in in between her work acting, and eventually had 10 children together.  He had served in the Navy and tried to engage himself in similar pursuits as he had no occupation.  The King had bouts of madness and would never approve of Dora, nor did the Queen.  Dora was never invited to royal functions, nor were her children until she was close to retiring.  She worked very hard, often going on progress which was tiring, especially after Drury Theatre burnt down.  She had a large family to keep up, her generosity and hate of debt spreading her thin.  She also provided for the Duke and her siblings and a large home that was being renovated, as well as her sister and 13 children.  Her sister raised her three eldest children, Daly and Ford's daughters.  The stain of illegitimacy began to bother her children as they got older.  It seems history repeated itself and she was sure her mother would have been heartbroken to see this.  The Duke often asked her to retire from acting, but she had to go back when money ran low.  The royal family spent money like water, and their debts weren't settled unless they married.

After over 20 years of happiness together and 10 children, the Duke tells Dora he has been asked by his mother to marry to produce legitimate heirs.  His father was over 70 and quite mad, and his brother had no wish to return to his wife and the next in line was barren.  So he felt the responsibility fall upon him as third in line for the regency.  Dora's daughters were invited to court with their father, and eventually Dora was left alone with just her career for comfort.  She was able to see her children on holidays and received letters from them.  She died in 1816 from liver disease with just her children's old governess with her.  Upon her death it was said the Duke grieved very much for her and couldn't hear her name spoken aloud for years.  He kept pictures of her up at their old family home in Bushy, so the children could see.  He married Adelaide of Saixe-Meiningen and came to the throne as William IV in 1830.  It was a happy marriage but no legitimate heirs were produced.  Dora's eldest, Fanny, later died of laudanum probably suicide.  Dora's other children were welcomed into society and married into the aristocracy, which Dora would have been most proud of.

My Thoughts:  Dora was such a strong, amazing and patient woman.  Her generosity seems to have been her downfall as well as her trust in men.  She was not lucky in love.  For that I was most unhappy for her.  She was a career woman and probably missed out on a lot of her children's lives.  She did sound to have been devoted as she could be, probably exhausting herself with her many roles in life.  The abuse at Daly's hands was so hard to read, and I wish he had some vengeance visited upon him for being so horrible a person.  I am glad she did well and became famous and made people laugh.  She was obviously extremely talented, funny, generous, hard working and more.  I admired her pluck and courage in the face of such a busy and trying life.  Money was the root of all evil; she always needed it to help secure her future and her children's.  I hope she had a comfortable retirement but rather likely she didn't.  It is too bad Ford never married her and even worse that the Duke couldn't marry her either.  I find it spineless of him for not supporting her better financially or doing more for her.  After all, to have 10 children together and 20 years and then just have it all end like that....very tragic.  I understand actresses were assumed to be like harlots but I'm sure many weren't.  It was a very hard line of work and I'm sure they deserved every penny they made.  It was sad to see Dora kind of repeat her mother's story of not marrying and making her position secure.  Very interesting book, loved the character and entertaining to read.  Not a lot of political details to get stuck in so a fast and easy read.

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