Jordan, Dora (1761–1816)
Jordan, Dora (1761–1816)
Irish-born British actress. Name variations: Dorothea Bland; Dorothea Ford; Mrs. Jordan; Dorothy Jordan. Born Dorothea Bland near Waterford, Ireland, on November 22, 1761; died possibly in St. Cloud, near Paris, on July 3 (some sources cite August 5), 1816; daughter of Francis Bland (a stagehand) and Grace Phillips (d. 1789, a Welsh actress known as Mrs. Frances); never married; associated with Richard Daly; associated with Richard Ford (a lawyer); associated with William IV (1765–1837), king of England (r. 1830–1837); children: (with Richard Daly) Fanny Daly (1782–1821, who married Thomas Alsop); (with Richard Ford) Dorothea Maria Ford (b. 1787, later Mrs. Frederick March); son (1788–1788); Lucy Hester Ford (1789–1850, later Lady Hawker); (with William IV) ten, including George Fitzclarence (1794–1842), 1st earl of Munster; Sophia Fitzclarence (1795–1837, who would marry Philip Sidney, 1st baron d'Lisle and die in childbirth); Henry Fitzclarence (1797–1817); Mary Fitzclarence (1798–1864, who married General Charles Richard Fox); Frederick Fitzclarence (1799–1854, a lieutenant general who married Lady Augusta Boyle); Elizabeth Fitzclarence (1801–1856,
who married William George Hay, 18th earl of Erroll); Adolphus Fitzclarence (1802–1856); Augusta Fitzclarence (1803–1865, who married John Erskine and Lord John Frederick Gordon); Augustus Fitzclarence (1805–1854, who married Sarah Gordon), rector of Mapledurham, Oxfordshire; Amelia Fitzclarence (1807–1858, who married Lucius Bentinck, 10th Viscount Falkland).
Dora Jordan was born near Waterford, Ireland, in 1761, the daughter of Francis Bland, a stagehand who claimed to have been a sea captain, and Grace Phillips , a Welsh actress who at one time was known as Mrs. Frances. Dora made her debut in Dublin as Phoebe in As You Like It when she was 15 and experienced various adventures as a provincial actress in Ireland, Leeds, and others Yorkshire towns. She appeared in 1785 at Drury Lane, London, as Peggy in The Country Girl. She quickly won great popularity, exhibiting talent in comedy and musical farce. During a period of 25 years, she was the favorite comedy actress of her time, second only to Kitty Clive .
Jordan's personal life was lively rather than happy. She first took up with the Dublin theater company manager Richard Daly, "a notorious whoremonger who had promptly seduced her, leaving her with child," wrote Charles Carlton. (It was at this point that she adopted the name Mrs. Jordan, a tribute to her escape across the Irish Sea, to her the River Jordan.) She then took up with the theater manager of the Drury Lane, Sir Richard Ford, whose name she co-opted for some years, and with whom she had three more children. Jordan left him when he refused to marry her. In 1790, she became the mistress of the duke of Clarence, the future William IV, king of England. He was 30, she 26, and the successor of Polly Finch , a courtesan of some repute.
During her 20-year connection with Clarence, Jordan gave birth to ten children, all of whom took the name of Fitzclarence and were raised to the rank of nobles. "Mrs Jordan is a good creature," said the duke, "very domestic and careful with her children." But ten children put a crimp in his allowance, and he sent her out to engagements between pregnancies. "Some folk audaciously enquire/ If he keeps her or she keeps him," wrote the satirists.
In 1811, "when Mrs. Jordan grew stout and her ability to earn enough to keep him in the manner in which he had become accustomed diminished," writes Carlton, the intimacy was terminated by the duke, who went on to marry the wealthy Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen . On paper, ample provision was given to Mrs. Jordan and their children. In reality, the amount was inconsequential.
Jordan fled England ahead of her creditors and set down in St. Cloud, near Paris, France. There, it is said, she died in poverty of a broken heart in 1816, "her bed linen being sold off to help pay for the funeral," though there is some suspicion that she lived for seven years more in England under an assumed name. A statue of Jordan, by Sir Francis Chantrey, was erected after the duke's succession to the throne as William IV.
As an actress in comedy, Dora Jordan had few equals, and no woman of the stage was ever more lavishly praised by eminent critics of her time. William Hazlitt spoke of her as "the child of nature whose voice was a cordial to the heart, to hear whose laugh was to drink nectar." Leigh Hunt considered her the first actress of the day, and Charles Lamb's praise was no less elevated. Byron declared her superb, and Charles Mathews the elder called her "an extraordinary and exquisite being, as distinct from any other being in the world as she was superior to all her contemporaries in her particular line of acting." Sir Joshua Reynolds delighted in a creature "who ran upon the stage as a playground, and laughed from sincere wildness of delight," and preferred her to all actresses of his time.
Carlton, Charles. Royal Mistresses. London: Routledge, 1990.
Boaden, James. Life of Mrs. Jordan. 1831.