How I met Mrs. Jordan

“Mrs Jordan as the Comic Muse” by J. Hoppner in 1785.
Dora (front) as the comic muse while a creep looks on

My blog post about Dora Jordan is up on Sheroes and it’s my birthday. What could be more magical? But how did I, who tends to write about science, become a fan of this famous comic actress? I met her through Michael Faraday, England’s greatest chemist. I had planned to write a short story with him in it–having previously written one with Isaac Newton— and in preparation read his biography. The man was born poor, worked incredibly hard, invented the electric motor, discovered electromagnetic inductance and several elements, and still, I learned from his biography, as he grew older he had finances to worry about because of his lowly birth status. Several people championed his receiving a pension from the government because of his scientific contributions. The King at the time was William IV and one of Faraday’s champions was Lady Mary Fox, identified in his biography as the illegitimate daughter of the King with actress Dora Jordan. This intrigued me. I read Faraday’s correspondence and there Mary was, writing to him and receiving his reply. There was a story here and a Faraday contemporary. I researched Mary’s mother, the actress. Thus I met the hard working Mrs. Jordan–quite a bit more lively than Faraday and someone who also could have used a royal pension for her service.

She was nearly written out of history. Imagine Amy Schumer, Carol Burnett, or Lucy just disappearing. That unsolved mystery along with my family’s involvement in a Shakespeare Festival means it was like catnip for me to uncover more about her. Not to mention that the whole story points out the capriciousness of social status.

I was entranced by her industriousness, her strong female roles, and ability to work while bearing numerous children–ten born to the prince who unexpectedly became king. There were condoms back them but…

She lived before photography and was a genius with costumes and make-up. Thus, it’s hard to know exactly what she looked like. She had a beautiful singing voice and played several instruments but, alas, before recordings. Known to be a quick study with a jolly laugh, she was much admired. Even Jane Austen was a fan. And she elevated comedy to rival tragedy, which was considered the more “literary.”

Her mysterious death in which she seemed to fade into the cosmos has fascinated people for two centuries, along with the odd dealings with the statue of her commissioned by the repentant King and meant to be put in the Hall of Queens. But the statue notion was really not that odd if you know what scientists did in that day. When Mary Somerville was denied entrance into the Royal Academy of Sciences because she was a woman, her supporters had a bust of her placed inside as a protest. Putting a statue in a spot where a woman wasn’t allowed was a statement and the sculptor Chantrey made the Somerville bust and sculpture of Dora. Like most things associated with William IV, things didn’t go as he planned and the statue was hidden away from public sight for 130 years until being reinstated by the current Queen Elizabeth.

I have an extensive Pinterst Board up for her…with a few of my own theories and opinions tossed in. This one belongs to someone else but contains a fair number of cartoons, first slamming her for taking up with the prince, then slamming him for leaving her and the children as he chased wealthy young women. The excuse for the later was that he needed an heir but in all honesty, there were plenty of other princes (he was the third son) and in fact, one of them fathered Queen Victoria. Since William and Dora had a son who might have been a splendid King, Victoria et al had a vested interest in getting rid of Dora’s memory and in getting rid of women’s rights all together.(However, she was fair to her illegitimate cousins. Some historians say it was because the royal family owed Dora.)

Silhoette of Dora
The famous statue of Dora and two of her children showing comedy mask and pan pipes at her feet. Motherhood does tower over career, doesn’t it? Even the statue almost fell out of history but God Bless the Queen (Elizabeth) for putting it in Buckingham palace 135 years later than it was scheduled. Photo from

There’s something “researchy” to digging up things about a woman who was once nearly wiped from history. I can’t believe that I even found and bought a theater handbook of hers. For someone that the palace tried to censor, there is a lot of memorabilia about her. And as I have mentioned before, like her I have struggled for my family and known the sting of betrayal despite my generosity and hard work. All I can say is, women have more options now.

I’ve never bought the story of her death and took the liberty to re-write history and fictionalize her story in a novel.

As for Michael Faraday, he got his pension and later Queen Victoria offered to knight him and give him a house. He declined the knighthood but took the house. One can’t help speculating that Lady Mary knew all about the troubles that come to commoners when there is no social safety net and how much they are at the mercy of the whims and  of the powerful no matter how much they work or donate to the Kingdom.

This simple sketch is one of my favorites.


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