The Duchess of Sussex was pregnant when she stood in front of the altar. And she was in love — not with her husband-to-be but her cousin.
No, not Meghan, obviously — but the last woman to bear the title Duchess of Sussex.
More than 200 years ago, a red-headed royal prince fell in love with a dark-haired older woman. What followed was a web of love, lies, deceit and royal disgrace which was to last 40 years.
She was Lady Augusta Murray, daughter of the Earl of Dunmore. He was Prince Augustus Frederick, sixth son of ‘mad’ King George III — and soon to be made the first Duke of Sussex.
The complicated love-triangle they were to embark on was to wreck the lives of the Duke, his wife and her cousin. So let’s hope it sets no precedent for Harry and Megs!
Prince Augustus Frederick (pictured at the age of 25) , sixth son of ‘mad’ King George III — was made the first Duke of Sussex in 1801
Prince Augustus, born at Buckingham Palace, suffered as a child from asthma and was sent abroad at the age of 13.
By the age of 19, he was living in Italy and thinking about taking holy orders — and then he met Lady Augusta.
She was five years older and actually in love with her cousin, Lord Archibald Hamilton. In fact, so passionate was their relationship that Lord Archibald was said by a close friend to have been ‘terribly damaged’ by it.
Some believe Lady Augusta had fled Britain for the Continent in order to have Archibald’s secret love-child — certainly that close friend, Lady Holland, thought so.
Whatever the case — and whatever happened to the child — while staying on in Rome with her mother the Countess, Augusta was introduced to Augustus.
The prince, like Harry, was instantly smitten by the older woman. They’d known each other only a matter of weeks when he proposed marriage: he was now 20, she 25. They were married secretly at Rome’s Hotel Sarmiento by a rogue Anglican cleric in what was later claimed to be an illegal ceremony.
Lady Augusta Murray, also known as the Duchess of Sussex, was married to the prince secretly at Rome’s Hotel Sarmiento by a rogue Anglican cleric in what was later claimed to be an illegal ceremony
It had been only 20 years since the passing of the 1772 Royal Marriages Act, which forbade royal princes to marry without the consent of the monarch.
‘Augusta knew it would cause trouble, indeed she cautioned against the marriage, but she could not resist becoming a member of the Royal Family,’ wrote the historian Kenneth Rose.
But alas for Augusta, the British royals were never to recognise her. The couple travelled back to Britain and, fearing their Italian marriage would be repudiated by the authorities — and now with a baby on the way — they married again in Mayfair.
Unlike Harry and Meghan’s lavish wedding, watched by two billion people worldwide, the ceremony was carried out in complete secrecy.
The couple had the banns read on three successive Sundays, as the law required, but with their names announced as Augustus Frederick and Augusta Murray, in the desperate hope of avoiding publicity.
As she walked up the aisle in St George’s Church, Hanover Square, on December 5, 1793, Augusta was heavily pregnant — and when the King heard of it, he angrily declared both marriages illegal and void. Under no circumstances could Augusta call herself Her Royal Highness, he insisted.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were named the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on the morning of their wedding earlier this month
The child, a boy, arrived just one month later.
Such was the disgrace that the King ordered Augustus out of the country. As he meekly went back to live in Italy, the Duchess, meanwhile, was told to stay in Britain with the child.
Before long the Duke had fallen in love again and was living with an opera singer, Giuseppina Grassi, in Naples.
That relationship lasted for the next two years, and the Duke showed every sign he was happy never to see the woman he had married — twice — ever again.
Meantime the Duchess was behaving no better, and had started seeing her cousin Lord Archibald once more. Since she was prevented by the King from joining the Duke in Italy, she was not to see him again for five years — which was when Augustus returned to London.
Soon after his return, his wife’s second child was conceived, and though initially he accepted it as his own, he discovered a bundle of letters which convinced him the child was not his.
The couple’s brief reunion lasted just six months, then the Duke left for Portugal, never to see Augusta — whom he left virtually penniless — again.
‘He was created Duke of Sussex in 1801 (they had married in 1793) and though they lived apart his wife started to call herself the Duchess of Sussex,’ wrote Kenneth Rose. ‘It was an act calculated to create embarrassment. She needed money.’
The new Duke and Duchess of Sussex wave during their carriage procession on Castle Hill outside Windsor Castle in Windsor, on May 19, after their wedding ceremony
By this time, she and Augustus had been married for seven years, even though the royal couple had spent less than a year together as man and wife, and both had been serially unfaithful.
According to documents lodged in the Royal Archives at Windsor, the Duchess chased her husband to Lisbon trying to get money out of him and managed to secure a £4,000-a-year maintenance deal.
In return, to stop her from calling herself the Duchess of Sussex — which she was determined do, no matter what the King ordered — an agreement was reached that she would change her name by special royal licence to Lady Augusta de Ameland, a title chosen by a royal courtier after research of her ancestry.
The children, whether fathered by the prince or not, would not be accorded royal status and additionally would be known by the surname of d’Este, again a name based on her ancestry.
Meanwhile, the Duke was busy fathering an illegitimate child by a woman who lived close to Windsor Castle. This baby, Lucy Beaufoy, grew up to be the great-grandmother of Dame Anna Neagle, popular British film actress of the 1940s and 1950s.
Princess Anne in 2014 officially recognised the royal connection with ‘Regal Neagle’, as she was known, by unveiling a commemorative stone on the family vault in London.
For the first Duke and Duchess of Sussex, it was a case of marry in haste and repent at leisure. For people like them there was no such thing as divorce, and they were shackled to each other for life. Money, ambition and betrayal tarnished their marriage, and it’s reassuring to think that nothing of such magnitude could ever occur to the lives of Harry and Meghan today.
So what happened to the Duchess of Sussex and her Duke? And to the third member of this regal menage-a-trois, Lord Archibald?
The Duke of Sussex and the Duchess of Sussex depart after their wedding ceremony at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 19
Augusta was banished to Ramsgate in Kent, where she lived in obscurity until a scandal erupted over secret payments to her from royal funds, uncovered by a famous piece of investigative journalism in 1820 titled The Black Book, Or Corruption Unmasked, by author John Wade.
According to Wade, she was being paid lump sums for ‘services rendered to the planters of Barbados’ — yet she had absolutely no connection with the planters of Barbados. It was the Royal Family’s back-door method of paying off her debts without ever acknowledging the fact she had borne the King’s grandson.
There was more controversy to follow. Her husband had to bring a legal action to stop her using the royal coat of arms, and another to stop her children, encouraged by their mother, from calling themselves ‘Prince’ and ‘Princess’.
In the small town of Ramsgate, she was still known — despite all the legal argy-bargy — as the Duchess of Sussex. When she died at the age of 69, a thoroughfare in the town was named Sussex Street in her honour.
Her lover Lord Archibald never married. As for the Duke, he waited for Augusta’s death before marrying again, at the age of 58, to his long-time mistress, Lady Cecilia Buggin.
But still a peaceful life was denied him. This marriage, too, was declared null and void under the Royal Marriages Act because the Duke had not got the King’s permission, and in the eyes of the royal court Cecilia was no more his wife than Augusta had been.
The Duke was so mortified by the treatment meted out to him by his own family that he refused, on his death, to be interred at Windsor — a place from which his wife would be excluded — and preferred instead to be buried in the public cemetery in Kensal Green, north London.
No doubt Harry and Meghan will enjoy a far happier, rather longer and infinitely more honorable marriage. In any event, it can never match the woeful tale of their infamous namesakes.