George III and Hannah Lightfoot

Oil painting on canvas, Called Hannah Lightfoot, Mrs Axford (1730-c.1759), ‘The Fair Quakeress’, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (Plympton 1723 – London 1792), circa 1756. A painted oval half-length portrait of a young woman, turned to the right, gazing to the right, brown hair dressed back with a pink ribbon, in white satin dress edged with lace and decorated with pink bows, with a pink ribbon frill around her neck.

Hannah Lightfoot, if you believe these things, was the mistress of George, Prince of Wales. She was born in 1730, the daughter of a shoemaker in Wapping. Three or so years later her father died and she was adopted by her uncle Henry Wheeler, a linen draper. So far so good. Hannah, a quaker, married clandestinely outside the Friends. it wasn’t long before she discovered her error and fled her husband, a man named Isaac Axford. This was 1755. There was nothing more heard of Hannah and in 1759 Isaac remarried. he either thought she was dead or since Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was passed in 1753 he believed that the union was invalid – clandestine marriages being banned at that time.

And then we start moving into the realms of gossip and conspiracy. Wheeler’s merchandise was sold at St James’ Market and it just so happens that the Young Prince of Wales noticed her there…or at a ball…take your pick. The Public Advertiser of 7 September 1770 calls her the ‘Fair Quaker’ and it suggests that she and the Prince of Wales were having an affair. In some versions of the story George persuaded her to marry Axford and in other versions she just marries George and moves to Peckham. In 1866 Mrs Lavinia Ryves went to court claiming that her mother was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Cumberland – the brother of George III. Her mother Olive, claimed that George III left her £15,000 as his niece. The claim was thrown out. More documents appeared including a marriage between George and Hannah in 1759 – in two different places! The first at Kew Chapel and the following month, May, in Peckham. The officiant on both occasions was James Wilmot.

There were two sons and a daughter.

And now for the conspiracy theories! in 1845 the parish records of St Anne’s Chapel Kew were stolen and later found in the Thames…without the records. And in Carmarthen the grave of Charlotte Dalton, the grand daughter of Hannah perhaps explains the presence of the George III pipe organ – made for the king in a church with no known royal connections. There was a television programme about it in the 1990s but in truth the genuine family history of the family purporting to be that of George III is a long way distant from royalty.

Tendered, Mary L., The Fair Quaker Hannah Lightfoot and Her Relations with George III (London: 1910)

Lindsay, John, The Lovely Quaker, (London, 1939)

And then we start moving into the mists

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