In 1785 two people, deeply devoted and unquestionably in love, were married in a secret ceremony at the bride’s house in Mayfair’s fashionable Park Street. The bride was Maria Fitzherbert, née Smythe, a 29-year-old, twice-widowed Roman Catholic woman and the groom none other than George, Prince of Wales, the man who would one day rule as Prince Regent and, eventually, King George IV.
The scandalous clandestine marriage was forbidden in law by the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, that stated:Share
‘That no descendant of the body of his late majesty King George the Second, male or female, (other than the issue of princesses who have married, or may hereafter marry, into foreign families) shall be capable of contracting matrimony without the previous consent of his Majesty, his heirs, or successors, signified under the great seal, and declared in council, (which consent, to preserve the memory thereof is hereby directed to be set out in the licence and register of marriage, and to be entered in the books of the privy council); and that every marriage, or matrimonial contract, of any such descendant, without such consent first had and obtained, shall be null and void, to all intents and purposes whatsoever.’
Those over 25 did enjoy a small loophole in that, if they were refused permission to marry, they could give notice of the intended wedding to the Privy Council. One year after that notice was given they would be allowed to marry, on condition that Parliament had not refused the match.
In keeping with his carefree, selfish character, George had neither sought nor gained permission from his father, George III, for the wedding. Though it’s unlikely that the permission would have been given, even if it had, any children that resulted from the marriage would have been forever disqualified from wearing the crown. (Read more.)