Now that the recent royal wedding hullabaloo has died down somewhat, the Goddess Fortuna gives Early Modern Times the opportunity to prevent marital counselling from becoming martial counselling. While many in the press have speculated on the compatibility of Meghan and Harry, the pressures of joining the Royal Family, what hats to wear, etc., the real challenges to their happiness come from an unlikely (and southeastern) corner: Sussex (pictured above in an eighteenth-century painting of Uppark, West Sussex by Jan Kip). For while Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were named Duchess and Duke of Sussex as ‘safe’ (i.e., uncontroversial) noble titles, the spectre of early modern Sussex haunts their future. What, then, are the secrets of a Sussex-full marriage?
According to this recent article, the previous (and indeed first) Duke of Sussex was less than Sussex-ful in his marital picks. His father, King George III (patron of King’s College, Windsor NS, and occasional madman) controlled the marriages of his children, including Prince Augustus Friedrick, Duke of Sussex. Born in 1773, Augy-Freddy (as no-one except me calls him) was a disappointment to his father, not least for his eccentricities (such as collecting song birds and clocks) and especially his ridiculous and now-discredited political views: support for ‘the abolition of the slave trade, Catholic emancipation and political reform.’
To top off his incompetence, he was as skilled in his matrimonial preferences as his dad was in keeping the American colonies: both of his marriages were declared unlawful. First, while travelling in Europe, he secretly married Lady Augusta Murray in Rome in 1793. The king refused to make her Duchess of Sussex or grant her a peerage. Perhaps the prince’s nickname for his bride, ‘Goosy’, was a key factor: a ‘Duck’ should not marry a goose, as it would be too loosey-goosey. The unhappy waterfowl couple separated in 1801, and the marriage was annulled not long after. But then the prince married his former mistress, Lady Cecilia Underwood (another bird hiding in the forest?), without his father’s permission. Eventually, she was made the Duchess of Inverness by Queen Victoria; but this second marriage was declared illegal. She was also known as Cecilia Buggin, so it appears that these unconventional unions were buggin’ the king; and like a bee in his bonnet, a Buggin the Royal Family was just too much for King George.
Besides the marital miasma of Harry’s predecessor, the newlyweds must grapple with the early modern peculiarities of their adopted county. This brief guide describes among other Sussex features the famous seaside Royal Pavilion in Brighton, built in the late 1700s but disliked by Queen Victoria in the next century and thus sold off. Perhaps the queen was put off by the fact that Brighton has a nudist beach or by the rowdy Bonfire Night which began in nearby Lewes to commemorate the thwarting of the 1605 Gunpowder plot: the Victorians, after all, were known for their objections to ‘Lewes’ behaviour, which perhaps put the ‘sex’ in Sussex.
The guide also explains how Meghan will have to vie with the ‘Sussex pond’ for attention: a pudding described in Hannah Woolley’s 1675 recipe book The Queen-like Closet as consisting of ‘a suet pastry case, filled with butter, boiled in a pudding cloth and served with fruit’. Suet, the writer notes, ‘is the raw, hard fat of cows or sheep found around the loins and kidneys’; while the Sussex pond ‘traditionally used an obscene amount of butter to create a melted “pond” of dairy gold when cut open.’ Will the American former actress from across another, smaller pond be judged by the British public as nothing more than Sussex pond-scum, or will she be able to handle the ‘suet’ smell of Sussex?
Next week’s issue of Early Modern Times will come to you from the southern Bohemian town of Český Krumlov!
Director, Early Modern Sussex Pond Studies Program