Loyal words from a courageous woman, but she paid a high price for loving a prince. Dora Jordan had no desire to be an actress, forced into it out of poverty and an ambitious ex-actress mother. Her career began at Crowe street Theatre in Dublin where she suffered such dreadful stage fright on her first night that she fled to the dressing room and had to be coaxed back on stage by the manager, Thomas Ryder.
Despite seeing herself as Irish, she was in fact born in London near Covent Garden in 1761, where her stage-struck parents were seeking work at the time, and where she was baptized Dorothy Bland. Not considered to be a classic beauty, her nose and chin being somewhat prominent, she nevertheless had the sweetest smile and the most alluring dark eyes, cupid’s bow mouth and rosy cheeks that gave off a healthy glow. Her expressive face was perfect for comic roles, as was her mop of brown curls.
After suffering a sexual assault from Richard Daly, the manager of Smock Alley Theatre, which left her pregnant, Dora fled to Yorkshire where she went on the circuit to learn her craft. Known as Dolly by her family she chose Dora as her stage name, becoming their sole source of income from the age of sixteen. The name Jordan was chosen because she’d crossed the Irish sea, likening it to the River Jordan. She endured considerable jealousy from her fellow actors, but was then accepted by Drury Lane where she soon became known as one of the most famous comedic actresses of her day.
She ultimately became mistress to the Duke of Clarence, later William IV, with whom she lived in happy domesticity for nearly twenty years. She presented him with ten children while striving to balance both career and ‘marriage’, very much the ‘modern’ woman.
An observer at the time remarked: ‘So unostentatious and truly domestic were her habits, after her new and exalted connection, that we have frequently witnessed her arrival, in a plain yellow chariot, at Miss Turing’s, a milliner in St. James’s Street, when she would alight with an infant in her arms, and during her stay frequently change the linen of the little one in the shop, while freely conversing with the person in attendance to wait upon customers.’
The Duke had been something of a rake as a young man, but clearly adored her, and enjoyed their domestic idyll at Bushy House, saying to a friend: ‘Mrs. Jordan is a very good creature, very domestic and careful of her children. To be sure she is absurd sometimes and has her humours. But there are such things more or less in all families.’
In every respect but name William looked upon her as his wife. Dora was not extravagant herself, considering actresses were expected to provide their own costumes, but her life was blighted by a weak father, a dependent mother, inadequate siblings, selfish children, and more than one man who betrayed her trust. Her flaw was that she was far too caring and eager to help those she loved, generous to a fault, which proved to be her downfall. Certainly William greatly depended upon the fortune she earned from her acting.
When it became apparent that the only heir to the throne after George IV was his daughter Charlotte, the Duke was ordered to find himself a wife, Dora not considered to be an appropriate candidate for that regal role. Sadly, he did not treat her as kindly as he should at the end, being perhaps something of a coward, but she bore her troubles with astonishing good will. She was a woman of great courage and independence, feisty, warm-hearted and a devoted mother, who never said a word against him. She died penniless in France, but following their separation the Duke collected as many portraits of her as he could find, so perhaps he did still love her after all.
Published by Severn HousePassion, jealousy, scandal and betrayal - a true-life Regency Romance of the rise and fall of an extraordinary woman born into extraordinary times. Growing up in a poverty-stricken, fatherless household, Dorothy Jordan overcame her humble beginnings to become the most famous comic actress of her day. It was while performing on Drury Lane that Dorothy caught the eye of the Duke of Clarence, later to become King William IV. Her twenty-year relationship with the Duke was one of great happiness and domesticity, producing ten children. But ultimately, Dorothy's generous nature was her undoing and she was to be cruelly betrayed by the man she loved.