The Daily Mail today has raked up some very old news indeed: that Lady Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon later HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was in fact the illegitimate daughter of Claude George Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, KG, KT, GCVO, by his cook, one Marguerite Rodiere.
From this readers should NOT infer that the 14th Earl was an adulterous stallion.
This was not a case of infidelity as the procreation took place with the full knowledge and blessing of his Countess, Lady Nina Cavendish-Bentinck.
The Earl and Countess had by the time baby Elizabeth arrived in the world in August 1900, five sons and two daughters. After providing her husband with seven children, the Countess was advised by her doctors: no more children. But she very much wanted two more children.
Her husband, obviously concerned for his wife’s welfare adopted a solution that a member of today’s twenty first century middle class would probably regard as outrageous, but within the upper class of the 19th century – and before – was an unspoken but acceptable solution to a very common problem.
The irony in the case of the Bowes-Lyons was that this couple were undertaking this “special arrangement” for the best reason of all: because they genuinely wanted a child for what that child could bring to the world and what they could give that child.
The 14th Earl already had five sons – that is the heir and no less than four spares – there was very little danger that his peerages would die out. There of course was the additional factor that the earldoms (there are two) are ancient Scottish creations that can descend through the eldest female line in default of males (Scottish honours not being plagued by abeyance).
The reason why this story saw the light of day goes back to the abdication crisis of 1936. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, then HRH the Duchess of York, was to use a “New Labour” term, “spinning” against Wallis Simpson. She put out a story – totally false – that Mrs Simpson had worked in a Chinese brothel and had learnt there certain sexual practises that appealed to King Edward VIII. King Edward VIII was naturally furious at this libel and resorted to spinning against the Duchess of York – by referring to her in “Society” as “Cookie”. This of course escaped the attention of the populous but “Society” knew full well what the King was referring to.
As stated before, what was unusual with the Bowes-Lyons was they resorted to such an arrangement when there was no dynastic need for such. Such arrangements were in fact not uncommon. The importance of producing a male heir was great. Many estates were entailed to a male heir to ensure that the family fortune was not spilt up and followed the honours (peerages/baronetcies). These were days when infant mortality was high and pregnancy was risky.
Consider this scenario:
You are an eighteenth minor aristocrat. You are an English baron whose barony was created in the 14th Century. You have contracted a most excellent marriage: your new wife is very “well acred” – to use an antiquated phrase. On your first anniversary, your wife gives birth a year later to a daughter. The labour was a difficult one and the doctors say the child is not that healthy. Your wife is frail. You are worried for the following reasons:
- although it was an arranged marriage (the norm in those days) you have fallen in love with your wife.
- her fortune is entailed. That is to say it will devolve upon a male heir and she (you – because your wife’s property becomes yours on marriage) have a life interest in the fortune but cannot dispose of the fortune itself.
- if your wife dies, you loose the fortune.
- if your wife fails to produce a male heir – impossible when dead – you loose the fortune.
What do you do?
What many men in your situation did was to come to a “special arrangement” with one or more comely wenches. You sire offspring by these women and wait upon the results. A male heir will be recorded as being born to your wife and will be baptised in the parish church – you own the living so you get to appoint the vicar – not the Bishop. To be on the safe side you might have sired two, three of four births and they may have produced more than one son. The normal practice in these circumstances was to keep the women and the child together – important so the mother can breast feed her own infant – and have one baptised as yours, do not baptise the others and then bring one up as your own after the chid has been weaned. If it dies, then one of the others can take its place.
As stated before: given what was at stake, this was not uncommon.
These things were often “known” about in “Society” – indeed the prevalence of the practice caused most if not all aristocrats not to spill the beans – people in glass stately homes should not throw aspersions. When his daughter Princess Elizabeth became fond of Lord Porchester, King George VI stated, “…..young Porchester in charming, but there is no possibility of my condoning a union between a daughter of mine and a butler’s son……”
This refers to another solution to a similar problem: the case of a family that has a male heir but who by inclination or physical inability, cannot sire a child. In such circumstances a sire was hired – in this case it was a case of “….the butler did it…..”
Legally speaking, this was and would still be PERJURY. Anyone who knowingly falsely records a parent on a birth certificate commits the indictable offence of PERJURY.
Of course these actions took place in the days before DNA analysis was around.
It is however a fact that there are several persons alive today who hold hereditary peerages who are not entitled to hold them.
British Gazette readers may well ask: What matters it?
In and of itself, very little – but bear in mind that the Queen’s Privy Councillors and MPs have committed PERJURY when they undertake to bear true allegiance to Her Majesty – something that is impossible if you have handed the government of the country over to a foreign power!
You see, people like David Cameron – who is a descendent of King William IV through “Mrs Jordan” – are accustomed to thinking that PERJURY falls into two categories: there is BAD PERJURY: that is what ordinary people do and go to gaol when caught and then there is OK PERJURY: that is what he and his ilk do and have always done.
This is why the British Gazette has raised the Bowes-Lyon arrangement – PERJURY is ingrained within the upper class.