Mrs. Fitzherbert immediately suspected a trap, and refused firmly to go with them to Carlton House. Eventually, h o w -ever, frightened and fearing that a tragedy really had taken place, she yielded and agreed to go, provided that the Duchess of Devonshire should accompany her. As to the nature of the Prince's wound several theories have been advanced, but the most probable is that, in order to relieve his temper, Keate had bled him, and that then, so as to make himself appear a more interesting invalid, George had dabbed the blood about his person. At any rate, the ruse, if a ruse it were, achieved its purpose. Mrs Fitzherbert's sympathy was aroused, and, convinced that by doing so alone could she save him from self-destruction, gave her consent to "some sort of ceremony."
When she returned to her house, however, she repented of this decision, and, on the next day, left England.
For more than a year she was absent.
George was distracted, but, by means of an elaborate system of secret agents, he managed to keep in touch with her movements. Even on the Continent, however, the unhappy fugitive was not safe. She had escaped from one danger, it is true, but only to find herself confronted with others.
In the first place, absence served but to whet the tongue of scandal, and London naturally endeavoured to discover the reason for her mysterious disappearance. In Lorraine, moreover, she had the misfortune to meet another connoisseur of beauty, the notorious Marquis de Bellois. He also began to persecute her, following her from place to place, and refusing to accept rebuff.
Mrs. Fitzherbert Yields
In returning to England, therefore, and the old danger, she alone saw a means of escaping from the new. Moreover, she was tired of loneliness and exile, and the Prince's loyalty during her absence she thought proved his devotion. Besides, she loved George, and when she received a thirty-seven page letter, in which he declared himself willing to give up everything for her, she decided to yield and face the consequences.
Still, however, there were difficulties to be overcome. In England in those days it was not enough for a Roman Catholic to be married secretly to a Protestant by a Roman Catholic priest. Indeed, until 1791, even for a marriage between two Roman Catholics to be legally binding it was necessary for the ceremony to be performed by a clergyman of the Established Church. Now, to find a clergyman willing to defy the Royal Marriage Act was no easy task. Several were approached, but in vain. Eventually, however, the Rev. Robert Burt consented to run the risk in return for £500 and the promise of future preferment.
The result was that, on December 15, 1785, Mrs. Fitzherbert became the wife of the Prince of Wales. The ceremony was performed at Mrs. Fitzherbert's house, and every possible precaution was taken to ensure secrecy. The hour chosen was 6 p.m., in order that the Prince might walk unnoticed from Carlton House in the growing darkness of the evening. The bride was given away by her uncle, Henry Errington, and he, together with Mrs. Fitzherbert's brother, Jack Smythe, acted as witnesses.
Mr. Wilkins in his book examines in detail the validity of the marriage, and arrives at the conclusion that, " according to the civil law of England, the ceremony was illegal and the marriage was null and void. According to the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, and also of the Church of England, it was valid."
This Mrs. Fitzherbert knew, and at the time the knowledge satisfied her. In the eyes of God, at any rate, she was George's wife. For the rest she depended on her husband's promises and his sense of honour, and, at first at any rate, it must be admitted that he did all that he could to make her position an easy one to fill. He loved her, and for her sake was prepared to make many sacrifices.
But future trouble was inevitable. Constancy was a quality which found no place in the Prince's character. Never was man more susceptible to the wiles of woman. Not only, therefore, had his wife to contend with her husband's inherent moral weakness, but also with a greater force, a mysterious, invisible force - the irresistible fascination of his birthright, a prince's thirst for power. In George's veins flowed the blood of kings. His wife, however, was - merely a woman.
During the first eight years of their married life Mrs. Fitzherbert's influence over the Prince of Wales remained paramount, and these years, although full of troubles for them both, undoubtedly were the happiest in their lives.
But George had selected a singularly inopportune time for marrying, since the state of his financial affairs, which were always in a chaotic condition, was then truly critical. But, during the season of 1786, he contrived to entertain largely, in spite of his creditors, and, with Mrs. Fitzherbert as his hostess, he converted Carlton House into a Court which, in daring and splendour, had been unequalled in England since the days of the " Merry Monarch."
Then came the storm. It was inevitable, and to allay it at least 250,000 were necessary. From the Jews, George could not squeeze another penny, and the King, needless to say, would not move a finger to help him. The Prince had no alternative, therefore, other than to retire into seclusion. Accordingly, he closed Carlton House and repaired to Brighton.
For once in her life, Mrs. Fitzherbert must have been really grateful to necessity, who thus afforded her an opportunity to escape from London. Although in society she was treated everywhere, except at Court, with the utmost consideration, her position was one of extreme difficulty; rumour was persistent and harassing, and her alleged marriage with the Prince of Wales was the talk of the town.
By leaving London, however, she was able to escape from this unseen but powerful enemy, for Brighton welcomed her un-questioningly and with enthusiasm. From the Pavilion, moreover, which had been reconstructed and decorated to meet with his requirements, the Prince, with Mrs. Fitzherbert as his queen, ruled like a benign despot over a delightfully Bohemian empire. Life was idealic, a dream, and upon George this new mode of life effected a marked change of character - he became a model husband, he drank less heavily, he gambled less, he formed no " unfortunate attachments." England marvelled, and in her heart even the Queen was grateful to Mrs. Fitzherbert. George III., however, still remained obdurate. To be continued.