[KENT, Edward Augustus, Duke of (1767-1820). Father of Queen Victoria.]Email about this entry
Series of letters by Prince Edward's long-standing mistress, Thérèse-Bernardine de Saint Laurent, comtesse de Montegenêt, Paris, 1820-1823. Twelve long Autograph Letters Signed signed 'T.B. comtesse de Montgenet', largely to Mr Pocock, in fluent but but not always accurate English. Bound in paper-covered boards (modern tape repair) similar to Middle-Hill boards.
Madame de Saint Laurent, as she was generally known, the daughter of a highways engineer from Besançon, became the mistress of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, the fourth son of George III, in Gibraltar late in 1790. From then on, the couple lived devotedly and faithfully as man and wife in all but name for some twenty-seven years, Madame de St Laurent acting as the Prince's hostess during his postings in Canada and elsewhere and behaving, according to all contemporary reports, with perfect propriety and dignity throughout. Their separation in 1818 was occasioned, not by any breakdown in the relationship, but solely because of the pressure being put on Edward to marry and produce a legitimate heir to secure the succession, which had become even more pressing after the death in childbirth the previous year of Princess Charlotte. His choice fell on Princess Victoria, widow of the Prince of Leiningen and sister of Princess Charlotte's husband Prince Leopold. Edward however made every effort to secure Mme de St Laurent's financial position, arranging for her to be paid an annuity (with an increase from January 1822), and also (the particular bone of contention in the present correspondence) to repay a loan of £4000, which was due for payment in 1821.
The difficulties encountered by Mme de St Laurent in recovering this substantial sum, lent by her in 1816 to Edward (a career soldier whose finances were always parlous, having contracted huge debts as a young officer) are vividly illustrated in these letters. Edward died unexpectedly of a chill in January 1820, and clearing the debts on his estate proved difficult and time-consuming, even once his house at Castle Hill Lodge had been sold (the sale did not raise sufficient funds to pay his creditors). Time and again Mme de St Laurent, who by then was living in Paris, was obliged to reiterate to English lawyers that the Duke had left instructions in writing regarding the repayment of the loan, despite having the support of both Prince Leopold and Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans and future King of the French, who were both completely convinced of the legitimacy of her claim. The lawyers could not agree on whether the Duke's IOU constituted a bond, an agreement, or a promissory note, and obtaining the required legal stamp to validate it was a protracted and frustrating process, which she nonetheless pursued with tenacity. A reference in one of her letters to opposition in 'certain quarters' may suggest that someone in or close to the Royal family, perhaps one of Edward's brothers or even his widow, was trying to prevent her claim being settled. It appears that she finally received the money owing to her in 1824. She died in 1830, and is buried in Père-Lachaise.
2 July 1820, querying his opinion of the validity of her claim and urging that it be presented in Chancery ('my claim is either sustainable or it is not so, which can only be known for certain by the decision of the court') and emphasising the 'honorable intentions of the late ever to be lamented Duke of Kent towards me'.
21 June 1822, to Mr Ogilvie: she hears that the sale of Castle Hill is about to be concluded, and so it is urgent that Mr Pocock should begin pressing her claim.
17 August 1822, acknowledging his letter of 7 July in which he suggests that a claim before the Master of Chancery should be a last resort and that it would be best to begin by approaching the other creditors: she suggests first of all Mr Greenwood, the Duke's military agent, as his assent would be a good example for the others to follow. Enclosed with this letter are her autograph copies of the duke's IOU for the £4000 loan, dated 19 August 1816, and of his instructions for her financial settlement on their separation, 1 May 1818, the originals of which are lodged with Messrs Coutts. She notes that both Prince Leopold and Mr Putnam, one of the trustees of her settlement, are convinced of the justice of her claim, though she acknowledges that there may be resistance 'in certain quarters' to paying it.
18 September 1822, asking for an acknowledgment of the previous letter, asking whether he has seen Mr Greenwood, and noting that as the Duke of Cambridge has just arrived in England, 'Mr Greenwood being much acquainted with him may perhaps be induced from that circumstance to communicate some thing of my hardship to His Royal Highness which being himself one of the Duke of Kent's creditors for a sum I believe of 5000 P sterling may fain be willing to help in the success of our undertaking in putting his name at the head of the list of subscribers.'
1 December 1822: she has had no reply to her two previous letters
1823 (no day or month, possibly a draft), to the Master of Chancery, asking that the required stamp should be put on the agreement.
5 February 1823: she still awaits the report promised in December of a meeting with Mr Greenwood.
23 February 1823, to 'My dear General' [Wetherall, another of her trustees], thanking him for all his efforts to see Mr Pocock, approving of his suggestion for dealing with Mr Greenwood, and discussing how best to regularise the documentation:'when last month Prince Leopold was here I requested the D[uke] of Or[leans] to obtain of him the permission that this Bond should be forwarded to him in England when necessary and that then HRH should be so good as to have it properly stamped, and to cause it to be presented to the Master [of Chancery] by one of his aid [sic] de camp, this he has promised to do with Pleasure'.
1 August 1823, expressing her incredulity at the legal opinion as to the status of the duke's memorandum (IOU): the commissioners, having prevaricated over whether it constituted a Bond, an Agreement or a Promissory note, have concluded that it was the latter, and that, having not been stamped at the time, has no validity.
14 August 1823, again rejecting the legal opinion: 'the memorandum in question can not be considered a promissory note, it is not a promissory note.it is a contract'.
22 September 1823, asking for confirmation that a stamp has been affixed to the agreement, and announcing that henceforth her affairs will be dealt with by another solicitor.
26 October 1823: letter in the third person, declining to receive Mr Pocock, and instructing that all papers relating to her case to be transferred to Mr Sloper at Grays Inn.
There is also an autograph draft, written on the verso of a letter sent by Mr Fulkes to Mr Manning, dated 27 March 1822, relating to her moving her business to another lawyer. Also included is a copy (with corrections, possibly a draft) of the petition which was presented to the Master of Chancery in 1821, a copy of the European Magazine containing an obituary of the Duke of Kent, unrelated letters by the Duke of Gloucester, the comte de Lacépède, and the son of the duc de Bassano among others, and a printed card marking the death of Princess Charlotte.
Reference: Mollie Gillen, The Prince and His Lady, London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1970. Mrs Gillen undertook extensive archival research for her book, but does not appear to have seen these letters.
£1250 [No: 25933]
The image links to a larger or more detailed version.