Nellie Clifden: the Irishwoman who nearly brought down the Monarchy

The future King Edward’s teenage fling in Ireland, a few months before his father’s death, caused a rift between him and his mother, Queen Victoria, that coupled with a scandal so deep, threatened the core of the image Victoria and Albert had built…

The Curragh Wrens was the harem of Famine orphans who made their living providing their services to the soldiers training on the nearby Curragh. Their lives revolved around their ‘work’, growing potatoes and raising their illegitimate children. But a disputed member of the Wren’s was to make a name for herself in history, thanks to a scandal erupting from her encounters with a ‘client’.

It is unknown whether or not Nellie Clifden was one of the Wrens, or if she was, as was claimed, an actress. She has been described as “a known habitué of the most vulgar dance halls in London”.What is known is that Nellie was to unwittingly lead to a major rift between Queen Victoria and her son and successor, something the Queen attributed to her husband’s death.

So very little is known about where Nellie Clifden was born, her background, or how she ended up being in the Curragh in the summer of 1861. However, she was to have one of the most prestigious clients of any of her co-workers-Edward, Prince of Wales: the future King Edward VII.

Historians have often noted the somewhat troubled relationship that existed between Prince Edward and his parents. Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert. In 1861, aged 20, he was only to spend ten weeks at the Curragh, with the Grenadier Guards, to learn a little discipline. But his counterparts soon found that he was a sexual novice, and led arranged to encounter with Nellie Clifden for him.

And Nellie clearly impressed her client, who wrote in his diary after their third ‘meeting’, “NC – third time”.

However news of this “most disreputable liaison” quickly spread. Prince Albert, shocked that his attempts to discipline his son had backfired, visited Edward upon his return to Cambridge University. Despite already complaining of feeling ill, Albert insisted on visiting his son on rainy day in late November 1861, to discuss the scandal. He returned to London very weak, (presumably suffering from typhoid), but Victoria blamed the downturn in his health on the stress of the Clifden affair.

Prince Albert died in December 1861, a mere few months after “that dreadful business”. Queen Victoria blamed her son for causing Albert’s already fickle health to demise, writing, “I never can or shall look at him without a shudder!”[5] As for Albert (still then Prince Edward), he married Prince Alexandra of Denmark in 1863, but evidence exists of him keeping up to date with Nellie Clifden’s life, someone whom he clearly never forgot.

As for Nellie? She went back to being a largely unknown figure, with as little known about her life after meeting the Prince as is known about her life before it. But she made a name for herself in history, as the Irishwoman who nearly jeopardised the future of the British monarchy.

SOURCES

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2 thoughts on “Nellie Clifden: the Irishwoman who nearly brought down the Monarchy

  1. You do have a typo which I hope you will correct – it was EDWARD who married Princess Alexandra of Denmark – not Albert [who was married to Queen Victoria] 🙂

    Great article though.

    Keep up the good work.

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