Dorothy Clement, a seamstress from humble origins in Darlington, was sent to London to make her way in the world... and, famously, found love.

Some newspapers reported a while ago Prince Harry’s friendship with 25-year-old Florence Brudenell-Bruce, who happens to be not only his cousin eight times removed, but also a descendant of the 18th Century Sir Edward Walpole. Sir Edward’s daughter, Maria, became a member of the British royal family when she married Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, and was given the title Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh. Her mother was a native of Darlington – and thereby hangs a fascinating tale...

IN 1758, the London Gazette, the journal for all royal, military and society news, carried an announcement that Edward Walpole had been appointed captain in a regiment of Light Dragoons which was then being formed.

Very little else is known about the life of this soldier until 13 years later when his death was reported:

April 1, 1771: At Calais, on his way to the South of France for the recovery of his health, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Walpole. He was the only son of Sir Edward Walpole KB and brother to the Bishop of Exeter’s lady, to the Countess Dowager Waldegrave and the Countess of Dysart.

With a pedigree like that, this military man, who, had he lived longer, would have been uncle to a British prince and two royal princesses, must seem to have sprung from noble roots to make his way in the world – but that is, quite literally, only half the story.

His father was indeed Sir Edward Walpole, Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath, born in 1706, the second son of Sir Robert Walpole who was Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer to both King George I and King George II from 1721 until 1742.

Sir Edward was also a politician through and through.

At the age of 24, he became MP for Lostwithiel, a seat he held for four years before winning the constituency of Great Yarmouth, which he represented for the next 34 years.

From 1730 until 1739, he was a Junior Secretary at the Treasury, from 1737 to 1739 Chief Secretary for Ireland, and from 1739 to his death in 1784 Clerk of the Pells, a role at the Exchequer that involved little work but for which he was paid £30,000 a year. He also served in the Parliament of Ireland from 1737 to 1760 as member for Ballyshannon.

The woman who bore his four children, but to whom he was never legally married, was born in 1715 and came from much humbler stock.

She was Dorothy Clement, who hailed from Darlington where her parents, Hammond and Priscilla Clement, born in 1692 and 1684 respectively, were married in 1712. Hammond’s christening had taken place in Durham Cathedral in 1692, suggesting that his father, John Clement, born in Durham in 1670, had lived with his family in that city at the time.

Hammond went on to become Postmaster of Darlington, where he and his wife raised a large family, too large, as events transpired, for his income so, at the age of 15, Dorothy was required to leave the family home to be one less mouth to feed and to make her own way in the world.

There are several versions of what exactly happened to her, but the clear consensus is that she travelled to London where her father had entrusted her to the care of one Mrs Rennie, a maker of children’s coats whose home and business premises were in Pall Mall, at that time the centre of the London fashion industry.

Another part of Mrs Rennie’s property was given over to up-market apartments, which she leased to well-to-do young gentlemen of means, one of whom was Sir Edward Walpole on his return in 1731 from the Grand Tour of Europe.

Another version of the tale has Sir Edward living in a house opposite Mrs Rennie, but, whatever the location of his rooms, he became acquainted with Miss Dorothy Clement, described as the most beautiful young lady in London:

An extremely handsome seamstress of very humble origin, the most remarkable beauty, a most lovely creature.

OVER time, despite their different social stations, the pair became romantically involved, but their path of true love was destined not to run smoothly.

Having discovered the assignation, Mrs Rennie summoned Dorothy’s father from Darlington and, on his arrival, he sent for his daughter: Not with anger, but in tears, he bade her come to his arms that he might bear her away from the perils gathering around her. And Mary wept perhaps because she saw her kind father weeping, perhaps still more because she regarded his affectionate appeal as her sentence of doom.

Nevertheless, she was on the point of agreeing to return with him, but while her father and Mrs Rennie retired to a back room, congratulating each other on the success of their mission, Dorothy changed her mind yet again and fled the Rennie house to run the length of Pall Mall to Sir Edward’s new house.

His father, Sir Robert Walpole, knew of Sir Edward’s liaison but was a most wise man who knew when to let events play themselves out.

As the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend pointed out retrospectively, and with the benefit of hindsight, 150 years later:

It was not likely that he would lightly give his blessing to such an illassorted match as that for which his son soon came to long. Sir Robert was wise above all men in the wisdom of the world. He deemed it but a sowing of wild oats and so long as there was no talk of housing the harvest thereof in his stately barns he had nothing to say against it. The freak would come and go, the passion would cool, the fancy would fade, the toy would in due time be broken and thrown aside. Then his son, known to the ladies of Italy as the handsome Englishman, would play the man and mate with a daughter of some princely house, but it was not to be.

On this occasion, Sir Robert miscalculated badly, since Edward and Dorothy remained happily together until her death at the young age of 24, just after the birth of their fourth child, their son Edward.

All of the children took the family name of Walpole, but respectability and admission into polite society were not so easily achieved, although they were recognised eventually.

Edward and Dorothy were never able to marry because such a union would have caused a huge rift with his father, Sir Robert Walpole, on whose money and patronage their lifestyle depended, but their love was so great that after Dorothy’s death Sir Edward refused to have any other female companion and was perfectly happy with his memories, his children and his memories.

Throughout their relationship and even after her death, wherever and whenever he could, Sir Edward helped Dorothy’s parents and siblings and made sure that his own children, all of whom had inherited their mother’s looks, were properly educated and happy.

Following Dorothy’s death, her sister arrived to look after these children – the girls, Laura, Maria and Charlotte, soon becoming generally known as The Three Graces.

Laura, sometimes called Louisa, was the first to marry, in 1758, her groom being the clergyman the Honourable and Reverend Frederick Keppel who rose to become Bishop of Exeter and Dean of Windsor.

His mother, Lady Albemarle, introduced her two sisters at Court and Maria Walpole soon captivated the powerful Lord Waldegrave to whom she was married by the Reverend Keppel at Sir Edward Walpole’s Pall Mall home, Luxborough House.

THE Earl of Waldegrave, an intimate friend of King George II and onetime governor of the boy who would become George III, died less than four years later having had three children with Maria. They were Elizabeth Laura, Charlotte Maria and Anna Horatia.

This last girl was an ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

Three years after the death of Lord Waldegrave, in 1766, Maria secretly married the favourite brother of King George III, Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh at her home in Pall Mall, but because the pair married so covertly and without his permission, George III refused to receive Maria at Court.

The children she bore were Her Royal Highness Princess Sophia of Gloucester, who lived from 1773 to 1844 and saw the start of the reign of Queen Victoria in 1837; Her Highness Princess Carolina Augusta Maria, who died aged nine months; and His Royal Highness Prince William Frederick, who was born 1776 and died 1834.

Maria Walpole, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Gloucester, daughter of Dorothy Clement of Darlington, died in 1807.

Charlotte Walpole, married in 1760 to Lionel Tollemache, Lord Huntingtower, 5th Earl of Tollemache, thereby becoming Countess of Dysart, died in 1789.