Olive – Princess of Cumberland or pretender?

(public domain)

In 1866, an impoverished old lady by the name of Mrs Lavinia Ryves brought a case to the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes in London. She claimed that her mother Olive Wilmot had been the legitimate niece of King George III, that Olive had been entitled to a royal status and all the money and social status that went with it, and that these (barring the royal rank) should have passed to her daughter. But who was Olive and who were her parents?

Apparently, Olive had been told by the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Kent (who later became the father of Queen Victoria) that her father was Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland in 1815. It was not made clear who her mother was, or if she was legitimate or illegitimate. Her baptism was registered on 15 April 1772, with her parents being listed as Robert and Anna-Maria Wilmot. There is no date or place of birth.

Olive grew up with the Wilmots, and at some point, she went to live with her uncle and her grandmother. Her uncle became her tutor, and she was well educated. In 1790, Oliva, now a young woman, was sent to live in London to receive painting lessons. On 17 September 1791, Olive married the man who gave her painting lessons, John Thomas Serres. Fifteen months after the wedding, Olive gave birth to a son named John Dominic South Serres. However, he died just four months after his baptism. She probably had several unsuccessful pregnancies before giving birth to a daughter who survived in 1797. That baby was Lavinia. Olive had two more pregnancies of which another daughter named Brittania survived to adulthood. However, Brittania would be caught up in her parents’ divorce in 1804 and was largely raised by her father. When Olive gave birth to another child in 1804, her husband was sure he wasn’t the father. We do not know what happened to this child.

In March of 1805, Olive was seriously short of funds, but luckily she caught the eye of George Augustus, the Prince of Wales, later King George IV. By then, he had been unhappily married to Caroline of Brunswick for ten years. Their affair did not last very long, but Olive was appointed “Landscape Painter to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.” In December 1805, Olive gave birth to the Prince’s illegitimate daughter, and the child was taken from her. Olive continued to write to the Prince intermittently over the next 20 years.

By 1812, Olive was trying to make money with writing and art dealing. Her writing was clearly based on the unhappy lives of the royal family. Then in 1815, Olive reportedly received the news of her royal birth. Perhaps because of shock, she failed to ask who her mother was. The only witness to this meeting was Lavinia, and she claimed that the Duke of Kent “acknowledged my mother as his cousin” and said, “that she was Princess Olive of Cumberland, the only legitimate issue of the Duke’s marriage.” She claimed there were three sets of documents. The Duke of Kent promised to help her establish her claim, but he was in no position to help her out financially. He married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1818 and their daughter, the future Queen Victoria, was born the following year. He even sent Olive a piece of the christening cake. Tragically, the Duke of Kent died on 22 January 1820. Olive had lost her main supporter. This did not stop Olive’s mission, and she set about getting her documents authenticated. She made very little progress in getting her claims recognised. Meanwhile, Olive became more and more famous as she strutted out her supposed title.

In 1833, Olive published a pamphlet titled, “An appeal to the British Nationa respecting the Wrongs, the Unparalleled Abuses, Injuries and Oppressions of Her Royal Highness Princess Olive of Cumberland.” She was clearly getting desperate. Olive was now 61 years old, and she was ill – her time was running out. She died on 21 November 1834, but her claims did not die with her. Lavinia took up her mother’s fight. Lavinia managed to secure an audience with The Duke of Cambridge, who appeared to have believed Lavinia. Money left to Oliva in a supposed will from King George III now became the subject of a court case. She did not win the court case but continued to try to prove the descent from the Duke of Cumberland. It took her quite some time to gather enough funds. She appealed to Queen Victoria, who refused to help and told her to fight it out in the courts.

Now we’re back in 1866. The case ended with the conclusion that Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland was not lawfully married in 1767 and secondly that Olive was not his legitimate daughter. She did not give up, and it wasn’t until two years later that there would be no more appeals. Lavinia died in 1871, never able to prove her mother’s claims.

In all reality, we will probably never know the full truth. 1


  1. Read more: Olive: Princess of Cumberland (1772–1834) – A Royal Scandal by Miles Macnair

About Moniek Bloks 2225 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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