Who was Queen Adelaide?

Engraving of Queen Adelaide by Henry Thomas Ryall after Sir William Charles Ross RA, date unknown

Born in Germany in 1792, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen later became the wife of King William IV and queen consort of Great Britain between 1830-1837.

Early life

Adelaide was the eldest of three children born to the Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen and grew up in a time of turbulence on the European continent due to the Napoleonic Wars. The violence she witnessed on her doorstep in her youth would shape her fear of revolutionaries in Britain in later life.

Marriage

Following the death of Princess Charlotte (only child of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV) in childbirth in 1817, it was important for the future of the monarchy that the royal line was perpetuated. Adelaide was selected to marry George’s brother, William, Duke of Clarence in a double wedding ceremony with the Duke and Duchess of Kent in July 1818. Despite the 27-year age gap between William and Adelaide, they proved to be a happily married couple.

A ‘baby race’ ensued amongst the royal siblings to provide the next heir. Although Adelaide fell pregnant several times, this resulted in miscarriages, stillbirths, and two infants who died young. It was the Duke and Duchess of Kent who succeeded in producing the next heir, Princess Victoria.

Becoming Queen

In 1830 William IV ascended to the throne with Adelaide as his consort. During William’s short-lived reign he oversaw the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, despite much criticism aimed towards the monarchy over the matter. Adelaide overcame this negativity by focusing on her religiosity and charity work, donating annually £20,000 to causes to help women and orphans in particular.

Widowhood

When William IV died in 1837, Adelaide became the first Queen Dowager for over 100 years and there was some uncertainty regarding her position within the royal household. Never one for the trappings of royal life, Adelaide was content to take a step back but was always on hand to offer her niece Victoria advice about queenship.

For much of her widowhood Adelaide rented out country houses, including Sudbury Hall, Belton House, Witley Court, Cassiobury House, and Bentley Priory. Whilst at Sudbury she became dangerously ill and wrote out her funeral instructions. She recovered to live another eight years but upon her death in 1849 these instructions were indeed fulfilled.  

Legacy

Nowadays largely forgotten in history, Adelaide was a popular queen in her lifetime due to her charity work, church-building, and accessible middle-class values. The Australian city and many streets and pubs have been named after her.     

Our places and collections with Adelaide connections

Sudbury Hall through the trees in Autumn

Sudbury Hall 

Queen Adelaide rented Sudbury Hall from the Vernon family whilst they were in Italy from 1840-1842, and stayed there intermittently during that time. Whilst at Sudbury Adelaide became dangerously ill and wrote out her funeral instructions which are still on show at Sudbury today.

Belton House

Belton House 

Adelaide also stayed for a short while at Belton House in 1841, which like Sudbury, still has the Queen’s Bedroom and bed on display.

View of Windermere

Windermere  

In 1840 Adelaide visited Windermere and in honour of the occasion, Rayrigg Bank was renamed Queen Adelaide Hill

Gold lady's watch, 1841

Gift to a godson  

As well as being godmother to numerous royal children, Adelaide became godmother to Adelbert Anson in 1841. This lady’s watch in the collections at Shugborough Hall, the Anson family seat, is inscribed, ‘To Adelbert Anson from his godmother, Queen Adelaide - 1841'.

Lock of hair from Queen Adelaide

A lock of Adelaide's hair 

This lock of hair, dated 1836 and attributed to Adelaide, is in the collection at Hughenden Manor in Buckinghamshire. Hughenden was the home of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and his wife, Mary Anne, who was a notable collector of hair.