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Ask the author: Julia Abel Smith on Lady Augusta Murray

lady_augusta_murray_-1768-1830-_painter_august_grahl

Prince Augustus Frederick, George III’s sixth son, caused a royal scandal when he married Lady Augusta Murray in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act 1772. Upon the couple’s eventual split, Augusta went from socialite to social outcast and has been largely forgotten by history – until now. We spoke to Julia Abel Smith, author of Forbidden Wife: The Life and Trials of Lady Augusta Murray, about her research.

What first drew you to Augusta’s story?

Lady Augusta Murray’s tragic story captivated me because it appeared to be entirely unknown. It seemed unbelievable that her tale of tragic love set against the background of the American and French revolutions remained unresearched.
Augusta herself was a delightful character - lively, intelligent and tenacious. Prince Augustus - sensitive, warm-hearted and cultured - was the most attractive of the George III’s sons.

The Georgian period fascinates me and Augusta's lifetime (1761-1830) fits neatly into the reigns of George III and IV. I loved the prospect of discovering the details of her life from letters, commonplace books and accounts.

Why do you think Augusta’s story has slipped through the cracks of Britain’s royal history?

Her son and daughter had no known descendants and her husband was the least known of George III’s sons. Prince Augustus went to Göttingen University aged 13 in 1786 and, due to his delicate health, did not return home for good until 1804. After that he led a quiet life building up his library at Kensington Palace and speaking in the House of Lords.

Augusta’s family seat at Dunmore near Stirling is in ruins. There is no National Trust for Scotland or Historic Houses to welcome the public to her former home where they can study her life and family history, and no portrait of Augusta, researched and restored, hangs in a major British collection. Her picture by George Romney is untraced, a miniature by Richard Cosway is in Colorado State University and another portrait of her is held privately in Washington D.C.

Mount Albion, her home in Ramsgate, once set in 16 acres of carefully tended gardens, has been developed. Her mausoleum is in a dark corner of a Ramsgate churchyard and has been woefully vandalised.

What was the most difficult part of the research process?

The most challenging part of the process was also the most interesting. Augusta lived in Italy and America, as well as Scotland, London and Kent and for a short time in Teignmouth and Paris. She was also a keen traveller. My research therefore took me to many different archives. I looked at her papers in the Royal Archives, in Edinburgh, in the Adam archives near Kinross, archives in Canterbury and Dover, Exeter, the National Archives at Kew, and at Williamsburg in Virginia. I also visited Augusta Street in Nassau, named in her honour by her father.

Do you think Augusta and Augustus could have done anything differently to convince George III to give them his blessing?

Categorically not. ‘An Act for the better regulation the future Marriages of the Royal Family’ was given royal assent in 1772, the year before the birth of Prince Augustus. It required members of the Royal Family to receive the monarch’s permission before entering into marriage. King George III believed that his sons should marry protestant princesses in order to maintain ‘the honour and dignity of His Crown’.

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