With Meghan Markle set to become the first Duchess of Sussex today, we are taking a look at the wives of the first Duke of Sussex, who weren’t allowed to use the title.
Prince Augustus Frederick, the sixth son and ninth child of King George III and his consort Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was created Duke of Sussex in 1801. By then, he had been married once before in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act 1772.
He had married Lady Augusta Murray, the second daughter of the 4th Earl of Dunmore, in secret on 4 April 1793 in Rome. In London, another marriage ceremony took place on 5 December 1793. They did not reveal their full identities, and both marriages took place without the consent or knowledge of the Prince’s father. In August 1794, the Court of Arches had this marriage annulled on the grounds that it contravened the Royal Marriages Act 1772. However, he continued to live with Lady Augusta until 1801, the year he was created Duke of Sussex. They had two illegitimate children together, Augustus Frederick d’Este (born 1784) and Augusta Emma d’Este (born 1801). After they went their separate ways, Lady Augusta retained custody of their two children and received £4,000 a year. She died at the age of 63 on 5 March 1830.
As if one annulled marriage wasn’t bad enough, The Duke of Sussex married once more in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act 1772. He married Lady Cecilia Letitia Buggin, the eldest daughter of Arthur Gore, 2nd Earl of Arran on 2 May 1831. Once again, his wife was denied the style of Princess of Great Britain and of Her Royal Highness. On the same day of her marriage, she assumed by Royal Licence the surname Underwood, her mother’s maiden name. The couple lived in the Duke of Sussex’s apartments in Kensington Palace. However, due to their invalid marriage, she was unable to attend functions with other members of the royal family. Queen Victoria came to the rescue in 1840 and created her Duchess of Inverness in her own right. After the Duke of Sussex’s death in 1843, the Duchess of Inverness continued to live at Kensington Palace until her own death in 1873. They did not have any children together. The Duke of Sussex’s children from his first marriage also did not leave issue, and so he has no known living descendants today.
The Duchess of Inverness is briefly portrayed in the ITV series Victoria, where the question of her title and presentation at court is raised.