Dorothea Jordan

Dorothea Jordan (21 November 1761  5 July 1816), also known interchangeably as Mrs Jordan and previously Miss Francis or Miss Bland, was an Anglo-Irish actress, courtesan and the mistress and companion of the future King William IV of the United Kingdom for 20 years (1791–1811) while he was Duke of Clarence. Together they had ten illegitimate children, all of whom took the surname FitzClarence.

Dorothea Jordan
Mrs. Jordan in the Character of Hippolyta, painting by John Hoppner, first exhibited 1791 (previously in the National Gallery and Tate collections, now on loan to the National Portrait Gallery[1])
Dorothea Bland

(1761-11-22)22 November 1761
Died5 July 1816(1816-07-05) (aged 54)
Other namesDorothea Phillips, Dora Jordan, Madame James
OccupationActress and courtesan
Partner(s)Richard Daly
Charles Doyne
Tate Wilkinson
George Inchbald
Richard Ford
William IV of the United Kingdom
ChildrenFrances Alsop
Dorothea Maria March
Lady Lucy Hester Hawker
George FitzClarence, 1st Earl of Munster
Henry FitzClarence
Sophia Sidney, Baroness De L'Isle and Dudley
Lady Mary Fox
Lord Frederick FitzClarence
Elizabeth Hay, Countess of Erroll
Lord Adolphus FitzClarence
Lady Augusta Hallyburton
Lord Augustus FitzClarence
Amelia Cary, Viscountess Falkland

Early life

Dorothea (often called Dorothy or Dora) Bland was born near Waterford City in Ireland on 22 November 1761,[2] and was baptised at St Martin in the Fields, Middlesex, on 5 December of that year.[3] She was the third of six children born from Francis Bland (b. 1736  d. Dover, 2 January 1778) and his mistress, Grace Phillips (b. ca. 1740  d. Edinburgh, 1789). Her siblings were:

  • George Bland (c.1758  Boston, Massachusetts, 1807; actor and singer)
  • Hester Bland (baptised at St Anne Soho, Middlesex, 2 March 1760  buried at St David's, as of Trelethin, 8 March 1848)
  • Lucy Bland (1763/64  Trelethin, St David's, 1778, aged 14)
  • Francis Bland (fl.1813; a captain, unmarried and without issue)
  • Nathaniel Phillips Bland (born 1766/67  buried at St David's, Pembrokeshire, 3 June 1830, aged 63).[3]

Her paternal grandparents were Nathaniel Bland (Killarney, County Kerry, 1695/96  1760), Vicar General of Ardfert and Aghadoe, and Judge of the Prerogative Court of Dublin, Ireland, and his second wife Lucy (née Heaton).[3] The reports about Dorothea's maternal ancestry are very sketchy, although it is generally stated that Grace Phillips was probably the daughter of a Welsh clergyman (who lived in the early 1750s in Bristol) but he has not been identified with certainty.[3]

Before April 1774, when she was 13, Dorothea's father, who worked as a stagehand, abandoned the family[3] to marry an Irish actress. However, he continued to support the family by sending them meagre sums of money. This allowance was on the condition that the children would not use his last name.[4] Dorothea then adopted her mother's maiden name, Phillips. This situation forced Dorothea to work to help her siblings. Her mother, an actress by profession, saw potential in Dorothea and put her on the stage. Dora became a famous actress and was said to have the most beautiful legs ever seen on the stage[citation needed].

Theatrical career

The historical record of Jordan's first stage appearance is not clear. Some sources claim that she made her debut in 1777 in Dublin, as Phoebe in As You Like It, whilst others suggest she premiered as Lucy in the Interlude The Virgin Unmask'd, on 3 November 1779.[5] The knowledge of Jordans's time and other roles performed in Ireland is fragmentary, however she is known to have played Priscilla Tomboy in Bickerstaff's The Romp, Anne in Richard III, and Adelaide in the tragedy, The Count of Narbonne.[4] With the Smock Alley Theatre, under the management of Richard Daly, Jordan began playing male roles in the company's 'reversed' cast. Documentation shows her last appearance in Dublin came on 16 May 1782 when she spoke The Maid of Oaks' Prologue. At the time she was pregnant with the illegitimate child of the married theatre manager of the Smock Alley Theatre, Richard Daly.

Rumours spread and she fled to England, specifically Leeds, where she was employed by Tate Wilkinson, manager of the York Company.[6] It was during this move that she adopted the surname 'Jordan,' and like all the other women in the company (both unmarried and married), adopted the title "Mrs." Her first performance in England was the tragic role of Calista in The Fair Penitent, on 11 July 1782 for which she had been tutored by the scholar Cornelious Swan.[7] Wilkinson paid her 15 shillings a week and she quickly won over the favour of her audiences, packing theatres. Despite the actress's versatile acting talents, the critics were not pleased with her performing tragedy roles. Dora faced harsh criticism for these roles as she was not considered socially acceptable to play women of a higher standing.[8] Swan wrote to Tate to express his amazement at Jordan's talents:

“For really Wilkinson,” said he, “I have given the Jordan but three lessons, and she is so adroit at receiving my instructions, that I declare she repeats the character as well as Mrs. Cibber ever did”’ [9]

Jordan performed in the Yorkshire Circuit with Wilkinson's company for three years from 1782–1785.[10] She was able to learn her lines quickly and seemed to have a natural talent, which made the other actresses in the company jealous. In her first few months, she was given the role of Fanny in The Clandestine Marriage, which only made her more unpopular with the women in the company.

During this first tour, while in Hull, Jordan gave birth to her first daughter Frances. After the delivery, while she cared for the baby, the actresses of the company "blackened her character among the people of Hull."[10] When she returned to the stage on Boxing Day playing Calista in The Fair Penitent, she was met with strong disapproval. Audiences felt that the similarities between Jordan and Calista were too similar. However, Wilkinson came to Jordan's aid to dispel the gossip, painting Jordan as a mild mannered victim. Through Wilkinson's support and Jordan's hard work and good nature, she was eventually able to win over the people before they returned to York.

Some time later, while in York, Sarah Siddons came to visit Wilkinson and see Dora Jordan perform in one of her popular breeches roles. Siddons however, was not impressed with Jordan's performance, and said that she should remain on the Yorkshire Circuit, for she was "not up to London."[11] This remark was soon discounted when William Smith came from London and offered Jordan a salary of £4 a week at Drury Lane. She took the offer and performed for Wilkinson's company for a final time on 9 September 1785 before departing to London with her mother, two-year-old daughter and sister Hester.

Though no specific dates can be sourced, Dora is believed to have performed the role of Lady Teazle in Sheridan's The School for Scandal before she arrived in London.[12] In 1785, she made her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Peggy in A Country Girl. The Morning post the next morning reported her performance as such:

'Nature has endowed her with talents sufficient to combat and excel her competitors in the same walk. Her person and manner are adapted for representing the peculiarities of youthful innocence and frivolity; and her tones of voice are audible and melodious.'.[13]

Mrs. Jordan in her role of Peggy in "The Country Girl", David Garrick's tamer adaption of Wycherley's earlier, more scandalous play "The Country Wife".

Gradually, it came to be recognised that her talent lay in comedy. She was acclaimed for her "naturalness" on stage, and called a 'child of nature',[14] a slightly derogatory term for someone who is of illegitimate birth.[14] Audiences also enjoyed her performances in breeches roles[15] such as Viola in Twelfth Night,[9] Sir Harry Wildair in The Constant Couple and William in Rosina. "

Despite her being 'the most admired comic actress of her time',[7] Jordan was also a competent Shakespearean and tragic actress, playing the roles of Ophelia, Imogen in Cymbeline, Emilia in Othello and Zara by Adam Hill.[9] When she first auditioned for Wilkinson, on being asked whether she preferred 'tragedy, comedy or opera?' she answered "All"[16]

Play them "all" she did, though Jordan found less success in playing women of higher social standing with some individuals believing that she lacked the "artifice and incisiveness" of other actresses who commonly played high standing female roles.[4]

In addition to playing at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, Jordan continued to return to the provincial circuits. She returned to Wilkinson's Circuit in York several times, as well Edinburgh, Margate, Liverpool, Bath, Bristol and Manchester.

Her engagement at Drury Lane lasted until 1809, and she played a large variety of parts. During the rebuilding of Drury Lane she played at the Haymarket; she transferred her services in 1811 to Covent Garden. Here, in 1814, she made her last appearance on the London stage, and the following year, at Margate, retired altogether.[17]

During her time on the stage she wrote the popular song The Bluebells of Scotland, published under her name around 1800.[18]

In 1815, the renowned theatre critic, William Hazlitt, wrote:

'Mrs Jordan's excellences were all natural to her. It was not as an actress, but as herself, that she charmed everyone. Nature had formed in her most prodigal humour; and when nature is in the humour to make a woman all that is delightful, she does it most effectually. . . Mrs Jordan, the child of nature, whose voice was a cordial to the heart, because it came from it, rich, full, like the luscious juice of the rich grape.'[14]

Early relationships

She had an affair with her first manager, Richard Daly, the manager of the Theatre Royal, Cork, who was married, and had an illegitimate child with him:

  • Frances Daly (also called Fanny; born in September 1782; she later changed her name to Frances Bettesworth in 1806 and married Thomas Alsop in 1809).[19]

Dorothea's work with Richard Daly helped establish her as an actress in Dublin until the two separated and she left for England.[20]

In England, she had a short-lived affair with an army lieutenant, Charles Doyne, who proposed marriage. But she turned him down and went to work for the theatre company operated by Tate Wilkinson. It was at this point she adopted the name "Mrs. Jordan" – a reference to her escape across the Irish Sea, likened to the River Jordan.[21] The name "Mrs Jordan" was [22] also reportedly given to her by Richard Daly for 'motherly reasons', soon after she gave birth to their first illegitimate child. She appeared at Wilkinson's York Circuit theatres, including The Theatre, Leeds, where she complained of uncomfortable working conditions.[23]

Shortly after her affair with Wilkinson was over, she began an affair with George Inchbald, the male lead in the Wilkinson company. According to Claire Tomalin, Dorothea's biographer, she would have married Inchbald, so greatly was she in love with him, but he never asked. Brokenhearted, she left him in 1786 to begin an affair with Sir Richard Ford, a police magistrate and a lawyer. She moved in with Ford when he promised to marry her. They had three illegitimate children:[24]

  • Dorothea Maria Ford (born August 1787, married Frederick Edward March in 1809).[25]
  • A son (who died at birth in October or November 1788).
  • Lucy Hester Ford (born 1789, married Samuel Hawker—later General and Sir—in 1810).

She left him to begin her affair with the Duke of Clarence, once she realised that Ford was never going to marry her.[26] Jordan's children were placed under the care of her sister Hester, who moved with them to a house in Brompton. By a settlement dated 4 November 1791, Jordan transferred all her savings to Ford and Hester for the maintenance and education of the children; in addition, she allowed them an annual payment and granted Hester an allowance for her services.[27][28]

Relationship with William IV

Pretty, witty and intelligent, Jordan soon came to the attention of wealthy men. She became the mistress of Prince William, Duke of Clarence, the third son of King George III, in 1790, after he had noticed her at Drury Lane. Jordan began living with him first at Clarence Lodge and later, in 1797, at Bushy House,[29] and seemed to have not bothered herself with politics or the political intrigues that often went on behind the scenes in royal courts. Together they had at least ten illegitimate children, all of whom took the surname FitzClarence:

During this time, Jordan was given a yearly stipend of £1200, though she continued to perform at both Drury Lane and Covent Garden, as well as on provincial tours until their separation.

Later life

In 1811, after a 21-year relationship Jordan and the Duke separated due to pressures from his family to find a suitable wife.[8] Dorothea was given a yearly stipend of £4,400 by him and custody of their daughters while he retained custody of their sons. £2,200 of her stipend included money for the care of the children with a stipulation stating that in order to continue receiving that money, and retain custody, Dorothea must not return to the stage.[4]

In 1814, when her son-in-law, Thomas Alsop, became heavily in debt, Dorothea returned to the stage to help pay off that debt. Once the Duke received word of this, he removed their remaining daughters from her care, and took back her yearly stipend. Dora had written letters to British theatres and newspapers pleading with them to rehire her, acknowledging her prior mistress behaviour, expanding her celebrity status.[8]

Upon retiring from the stage in 1815, Jordan sold her house and moved to Boulogne, France under the name Mrs James or Madame James or Mrs Johnson, intending for the move to be a short stay. She lived frugally but always paid her rent on time. Not having been summoned back to England, she moved to Versailles by the end of the year. Soon after, she moved to Saint-Cloud, near Paris. It is suggested that she made these last two moves to be closer to her son Frederick, who was stationed in Paris as part of the British Army. While in France, she was defrauded by her eldest daughter, Frances and son-in-law, Thomas Alsop after they accumulated large sums of debt in her name. During this time, both her mental and physical health was declining. Her health was worsening and she suffered from ‘bilious attacks, pains in her side, swollen ankles, shortness of breath and increasing general weakness’. She missed her children terribly and confessed in a letter that "it is not, believe me, the feelings of pride, avarice, or the absence of those comforts I have all my life been accustomed to, that is killing me by inches; it is the loss of my only remaining comfort, the hope I used to live on from time to time, of seeing my children". She died alone and in poverty on 5 July 1816 from a ruptured blood vessel caused by violent inflammation of the chest and was buried in the town cemetery.[4][11]


  • Mrs. Jordan's Profession: The Actress and the Prince, Claire Tomalin, 17 October 1994, Publisher: Viking, ISBN 0-670-84159-5
  • Ladies of the Bedchamber, Dennis Friedman, 2003, Publisher: Peter Owen, ISBN 0-7206-1244-6
  • The Delectable Dora Jordan, In Otis Skinner (1928) Mad Folk of the Theatre Publisher: Ayer Publishing, ISBN 978-0-8369-1851-9


  1., Blog Design and Build by Duncan Marshall and Conrad Barrett-Freeman at Chroma Design. "Exclusive - Museum swap-shop - Art History News - by Bendor Grosvenor".
  2. "Dorothea Jordan". Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  3. Anthony J. Camp: Ancestry of Mrs Jordan [retrieved 4 December 2014].
  4. "Jordan, Dorothy [real name Dorothy Phillips] (1761–1816), actress | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/15119. Retrieved 24 October 2019. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. Highfill, Philip Henry. A biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, managers & other stage personnel in London, 1660-1800. Volume 10, M'Intosh to Nash. Burnim, Kalman A., Langhans, Edward A. Carbondale. ISBN 9780585030326. OCLC 44959689.
  6. James, Boaden. The Life of Mrs Jordan, Volume 2 : Including Original Private Correspondence, and Numerous Anecdotes of her Contemporaries. Cambridge. ISBN 9781139452915. OCLC 967377202.
  7. Claire., Tomalin (2012). Mrs Jordan's profession. London: Penguin. ISBN 9780241963296. OCLC 779244420.
  8. Mrs Jordan (Dorothy Jordan). (18th-20th century). (Album containing press cuttings, exhibition catalogue: 'Mrs Jordan: The Duchess of Drury Lane', 1995); engraved portraits; article; sheet music ('The Willow'), press cuttings, book extract and poster.) University of Bristol, Theatre Collection. Bristol, United Kingdom.
  9. Fiona., Ritchie (2 June 2014). Women and Shakespeare in the eighteenth century. New York, NY. ISBN 9781107046306. OCLC 855957476.
  10. Tomalin, Claire. (1995). Mrs. Jordan's profession : the actress and the prince (1st American ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-41071-6. OCLC 30895329.
  11. Tomalin, Claire (1994). Mrs Jordan's profession : the story of a great actress and a future King. London: Viking. ISBN 0670841595. OCLC 31377468.
  12. Piozzi, Hester Lynch. The Piozzi letters : correspondence of Hester Lynch Piozzi, 1784-1821 (formerly Mrs. Thrale). Bloom, Edward A. (Edward Alan), 1914-1994., Bloom, Lillian D. Newark: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0874131154. OCLC 17441329. ©1989-©2002
  13. Molloy, J. Fitzgerald (April 1892). "Dorothy Jordan". The English Illustrated Magazine. 103: 567–571 via ProQuest.
  14. Perry, Gillian (11 October 2004). "Staging Gender and "Hairy Signs": Representing Dorothy Jordan's Curls". Eighteenth-Century Studies. 38 (1): 145–163. doi:10.1353/ecs.2004.0061. ISSN 1086-315X. S2CID 143690757.
  15. Denlinger, Elizabeth Campbell (2005), Before Victoria: extraordinary women of the British romantic era, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-13630-3
  16. Boaden, James (1831). The life of Mrs. Jordan: including original private correspondence, and numerous anecdotes of her contemporaries. London: Edward Bull, Holles Street.
  17.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Jordan, Dorothea". Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 508–509.
  18. British Musical Biography: A Dictionary of Musical Artists, Authors, and Composers Born in Britain and Its Colonies, James Duff Brown and Stephen Samuel Stratton, Birmingham, England: S. S. Stratton, 1897, p. 225
  19. Separated from her husband, she became an actress like her mother and died (probably from an overdose of laudanum) in America in 1821. Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans: A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and others Stage Personnel in London, vol. 8: Hough to Keyse, p. 259.; Wendy C. Nielsen: Women Warriors in Romantic Drama, Chapter IV, p. 112. [retrieved 4 December 2014]; Portrait of Mrs. Frances Bettesworth Alsop, ca. 1817 in: Library of University of Illinois at Urbania-Champaign. [Retrieved 5 December 2014]
  20. The Thespian dictionary; or, Dramatic biography of the eighteenth century; containing sketches of the lives, productions, &c., of all the principal managers, ... 3 May 2010. hdl:2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t4zg6kj6s.
  21. Sergeant, Philip Walsingham (1913). Mrs. Jordan: Child of Nature. Hutchinson & Company. p. 52.
  22. The Thespian dictionary; or, Dramatic biography of the eighteenth century; containing sketches of the lives, productions, &c., of all the principal managers, ... hdl:2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t4zg6kj6s.
  23. Leodis, Discovering Leeds: The Theatre Retrieved 17 December 2013
  24. Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans: A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and others Stage Personnel in London, vol. 8: Hough to Keyse, p. 259. [retrieved 4 December 2014].
  25. According to Anthony Camp, she was a mistress of the Duke of Clarence for some time after her marriage. Anthony J. Camp: Royal Mistresses and Bastards, No. 15-24 [retrieved 5 December 2014].
  26. pg. 90 & 91, Ladies of the Bedchamber, Dennis Friedman
  27. The Encyclopedia of Romantic Literature, p. 693. [retrieved 4 December 2014].
  28. Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans: A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and others Stage Personnel in London, vol. 8: Hough to Keyse, p. 253. [retrieved 4 December 2014].
  29. Google Books The Story of Dorothy Jordan Armstrong, Clare & Jerrold, Bridgman. Ayer Publishing, 1969. ISBN 0-405-08672-5, ISBN 978-0-405-08672-4