THE " PRMESS OLIVE" SCANDAL THE week has seen the
exposure of a stupid and raja- .), chievous fable respecting the family of George Di, which has been floating about for half a century, which is in some quarters, we believe, an article in the popular historic creed, but which the recent case of ":Ryves v. the Attorney-General" has proved, as the counsel for the Crown predicted, to be "founded on a tissue of fraud, fabrication, and forgery, for which the only excuse is to be found in in- sanity." The author of the, silly tale and its vouchers is probably long since dead, and there is nothing to show that the Petitioner in the late trial did not, or does not, believe firmly in the 'validity of her claim and the genuineness of the documents which support it. Mrs. Ryves received it as a legacy from an eccentric mother. She has pondered it and brooded over it for half a century, and it does not detract from her honesty of purpose, that she is ready to accept as perfectly consistent and veritable a set of facts which every disinterested man or woman in the right use of their senses must see to be inconsistent and false. That such a story as that of the "Princess Olive" should ever have obtained consideration at all, is due to the fact that it has never been told in all its fullness until the late trial. As long as it remained in the region of vague rumour, and there were whispers of "secret marriages" with certificates found in "sealed packets," as long as there were hints of a much wronged woman and an uncleared-up mystery respecting the doings of Royal Princes, there was an element of ro- mantic scandal about the story that kept it alive, and made people "wonder whether there was anything in it ;" but when, in the course of a judicial investigation, the evidence is sifted and the alleged facts placed in their proper order, the whole fabric tumbles to pieces. The story is plainly this :- Towards the close of the last century there lived in London one John. Thomas Serres, a marine painter of some ability. He married on the 1st of September, 1792, a young lady named Olive Wihnot, whom he believed and who believed herself to be the daughter of a Mr. Robert Wilmot, brother of a Rev. Dr. James Wilmot, one of the Fellows of Trinity College, Ox- ford. Four children were the issue of this marriage. Of these the two eldest died young, the third, born in 1797, is Mrs. Brea, the petitioner in the late trial, and the fourth, a daughter, born in 1802, also still survives. Mrs. Serves fol- lowed her husband's calling as a painter, and it appears that at the beginning of the present century both were employed about the Court in the exercise of their profession. In 1803 (dates are important in this case) "domestic differences," probably caused by incidents of their service among the Princes, having arisen between Mr. and Mrs. Serres; a formal deed of separation was executed by them. After the separation their daughter Lavinia (now Mrs. Ryves) continued to live with her mother, who in 1805 we find resided in Pall Mall. In that year Mrs. Ryves deposes that "she, with her mother, was introduced into the society of members of the Royal family" (Mrs. Rowers was then aged eight), "and was present at balls given by the.Prinee of Wake, not in the Pavilion, but at the hotel." "The. Prince," she' also 'stated "was very hind to her ; he had given St. for a.doll, for'her more than once." The evidence of Mrs. Ryves goes on to show that Lord Warwick, "whom she remembered ever since she was a child," constantly used to come and visit her mother when he was in town, up to the time of his death in 1816. In 1809 Mrs. Serres commenced a series of letters to the Prince Regent, which continued at intervals up to 1817, and these letters, of which several were produced at the late trial, are evidence, to say the least, of a very disordered intellect.
In one of them, dated in 1810, the sentence occurs :— " Why was I so humbly born ?" In some of the letters she begs for pecuniary aid, in one she offers a loan of 20,000/.
to the Prince of Wales, in another she compares him to Julius Omar, in a few she speaks of her faith in astrology and some of the results of her experiments in that occult science ; in most of them there is a vague allusion to sealed packets, and in all an assumption of a right to address Royal personages in terms of intimacy. In 1817, the year after Lord Warwick's.
death, a claim of relationship to the Royal family was for the first time made by Mrs. Serres, and from that time to the year 1821 three distinct and different accounts of her birth were put forward by that lady, On first (in 1817) being that she was an illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Cum- berland by Mrs. Payne, a sister of Dr. Wilmot. In 1818 the story underwent a change. Her mother, it was now alleged, was another sister of Dr. Wilmot, seduced by the Duke of Cumberland under promise of marriage.
Lastly, in 1821, the story the bare probability of which the late trial so effectually annihilated, namely, that Olive Berm was the legitimate child of the Duke of Cumberland by the daughter of Dr. Wilmot, first saw the light, but it must be remembered that this was not until after the death of George of the Duke of Kent, the Earl of Warwick, and in fact of every one whose signature was alleged as vouching the truth of the certificates brought forward in support of it. This story, as full of wonders as anything in the Arabian Nights, was to the effect that the Reverend Dr. Wilmot, who died a reputed bachelor at the age of 80, had secretly married a Polish Princess ; that the issue of the marriage was a daughter, Olive, to whom at the age of nineteen a formal offer of mar- riage was made by the Duke of Cumberland ; that the mar- riage took place on the 4th March, 1767, at Lord Archer's house in Grosvenor Street; that the ceremony was performed by Dr. Wilmot, the bride's father, and that George III. and Lards Chatham, Warwick, and Archer were present, the three last named attesting the marriage ; that on the 3rd of April, 1772, a daughter was born to the "Princess Olive ;" that the child was baptized " Olive ;" and that its mother died soon after- wards in France of a broken heart, the cause of her grief being a bigamous marriage contracted by her husband, the Duke of Cumberland, with a Mrs Horton. It was further alleged that George III., in order to save his brother from the consequences of the crime of bigamy, directed that the infant Olive should be rebaptized as the child of Dr. Wilmot's brother, Robert, at the same time privately giving ample certificates, under his Royal sign manual, of her legitimacy as the daughter of the Duke of Cumberland, and lastly, that this Olive was the wife of John Thomas Serres.
The evidence in support of this marvellous tale consisted wholly of certificates bearing signatures purporting to be those of George III., Lord Chatham, Mr. Dunning, Lord Warwick, Dr. Wilmot, Robert Wilmot, and others. Of these documents • there were no less than 108 relied on, all except two written on • scraps and slips of paper, all of them without a water-mark of date, and all of them, however varied the handwriting and con- tents, bearing a striking similarity in style. In these certifi- cates King George HI. is made to acknowledge the legitimacy of the infant "Olive," to make provision for her of .good round sums of money, to commend her to the care of the faithful Lords and Commons, and to create her Duchess of Lancaster, an act which he was by statute incompetent to perform, yet to which "Dunning," the first lawyer in Eng- land, set his signature. Collaterally with the principal narrative two equally credible and probable stories were put forward by the soi-disant Princess Olive, the first being that King George III. was secretly married in 1759 to one Hannah Lightfoot, the ceremony having been performed by Dr. Wilmot, who had evidently a morbid taste for secret marriages, and the certificate thereof being attested by Lord Chatham and Mr. Dunning, on the back of one of the certificates of the " Olive-Wilmot " marriage. The second collateral story was that Dr. Wilmot was the author of the letters of Junius, which he wrote "to revenge himself" for the desertion of his daughter by her Royal
husband. With respect to the latter story we can only say that "comment is superfluous." As to the alleged marriage of King George DI. with "Hannah Regina," there never was a hint of suspicion that such a marriage had ever taken place until the year 1821, after the death of George 111., as well as of the Duke of Kent, when it was thrown in along with the principal story, accompanied by the above-named vouchers of its truth. This is the case which the petitioner, Mrs. Ryves, was advised to bring into a court of justice, and submit for the consideration of an intelligent jury. It was torn to shreds by the Attorney-General ; the jury intimated, before he had finished speaking, that they had made up their minds, and the Lord Chief Justice, in the charge which he was nevertheless discreet enough to deliver to the jury, stamped out the last spark of credibility or remote possi- bility of its truth. Apart from the wildness of the legend, the evidence of the genuineness of the documents on which it rested broke down in every aspect. An expert, Mr. Nether- clift, called by the petitioner to prove the genuineness of the signatures, was forced to admit that that of Lord Chatham was undoubtedly a forgery, and that a comparison of other signatures with undoubted ones by the same parties showed but small similarities and great differ- ences. In fact his evidence clearly proved how little reliance is to be placed on the evidence of experts at all, whose office is, as the Lord Chief Justice remarked, merely to guide to discrepancies and similarities that an unpractised eye would not detect.
As to the internal evidence of the truth of the certifi- cates it failed so utterly, and the undesigned coincidences were so dead against its probability, that the story is almost ludicrous ; the crowning piece of folly being a document purporting to be signed by the Duke of Kent, in which His Royal Highness appointed that after his death his daughter, Alexandrina Victoria, should from the age of four years be taken from under the care of her own mother, and placed under that of Mrs. Serres, the marine painter's divorced'wife ! In the name of common sense we are glad that the whole of this silly fable, which might under other circumstances have done infinite mischief, has been scouted out of the world, and we xejoice that the dispensation of the fullest, freest justice, and the patient hearing of a suitor's claim, have led to the utter dissipation of a wild and wicked scandal.