I always feel sorry for Dorothea Jordan. I have blogged about her before (here). She was an actress with a stunning pair of legs, who delighted audiences on the London stage, and who also went by the name of ‘Dora’ and ‘Dorothy’. She was persuaded to become the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, who later became William IV, and she stood by him for years and bore him ten children – all of them bearing the surname ‘Fitzroy’. She was then dumped unceremoniously the moment he saw that he had a chance to become king and needed to marry. She was treated most shabbily, and died impoverished and abandoned in 1816.
What I find intriguing is the viciousness of the attacks on her when she became the Duke’s paramour. Caricaturists such as Gillray must have whooped with delight at being able to have a go at someone with a surname (Jordan) which was an obsolete slang word for a chamber pot.
From 24 October 1791 we got “The devil to pay : the wife metamorphos’d, or, Neptune reposing after fording the Jordan” with its highly derogatory depiction of a chamber pot under the bed, bearing the words “Public Jordan. Open to all parties.” It shows Dorothea sitting up in bed alongside her sleeping Prince, imagining that the last night has all been a dream.
The day after, print-maker W Dent published “The royal tar and country girl from Oldford, or, An Englishman in all his glory” showing the sailor prince sweeping Dorothea off her feet. The map behind his head contains the words “directions for steering up the River Jordan”
A week later Isaac Cruikshank came out with “The pot calling the kettle black, or, Two of a trade can never agree” drawing attention to the differences – and similarities – between Maria Fitzherbert (mistress of the Prince of Wales) and Dorothea Jordan. The “trade” was of course being a royal whore, although that was a bit hard on Maria who had at least gone through a form of marriage ceremony with her prince.
Not all representations of the couple were so derogatory: in December 1791 another Isaac Cruikshank print appeared, entitled “The hambug or An attempt at tragedy” and showing Dorothea on stage at the Drury Lane Theatre in front of the Royal Box. She is shown sinking back as if fainting, and is supported by the Duke of Clarence who kneels on one knee, offering her a wine-glass.
More crudely, another image entitled “The Tar and the Jordan” shows the prince running past a group of four horrified women as he cries “Why what a rout is here about a damned crack’ed Bum Boat. B”’t the Jordan. I wish it was at the bottom of the deepest Jakes [i.e. lavatory] in England.” He wears a chamber pot on his head as he hurtles towards a flock of startled sheep, while a second pot is dragged behind him along the ground. The print, by Richard Newton, appeared in around 1797.
The ‘cracked jordan’ was a source of regular guffaws, with both lavatorial and sexual connotations. This is nowhere more apparent than in Gillray’s “Lubber’s Hole” (otherwise better known as ‘The Crack’d Jordan’) which appeared in November 1791. The prince has practically disappeared inside the suggestively shaped fissure of the jordan. His coat hangs on a peg while he shouts “yep yee yeo”.
Poor Dorothea – how she must have dreaded walking past a print-shop window! How she must have winced at the crude portrayal and smarted at the suggestion that she was a common whore! No-one had bothered much about her morals before, but as soon as she bedded the prince she was fair game for all. No matter that it was the prince who had spent most of his naval career becoming an expert on the brothels of Jamaica. No matter that she stood loyally by him for two decades, rearing his children and still appearing on stage. She was totally devastated when she was turfed out by the ungrateful prince in 1811, after a relationship which had lasted some 21 years.
So to end with, a kinder portrayal of a popular comic actress who strutted her stuff on stage for nearly thirty years, and shown courtesy of the Twickenham Museum. 22 November was the old girl’s birthday – so Many Happy Returns of the Day, Dorothea. Or Dora. Or Dorothy. More than 250 years on, and still going strong.
She does of course feature in my book “In bed with the Georgians; Sex, Scandal and Satire” which is published by Pen & Sword and is available from you know where – well, here actually!