Switched at Birth: A Royal Baby Story

 

Mrs Kent and Queen Victoria. Compare and contrast.

Mrs Kent and Queen Victoria. Compare and contrast.

It seems as though I really must do something about the birth of the Royal Baby, and I just didn’t have the heart to bring you stories of royal children being slaughtered by their own fathers, mothers, or Bolsheviks.

There have recently been several stories in the papers about illegitimate children of royalty: the daughter of the King of Belgium, who just abdicated and that of the Duke of Kent’s illegitimate brother, so here is a bit of a mystery about a legitimate or illegitimate royal child supposedly switched at birth. Only a bit of a mystery, I think, but the lady in question was able to convince many people of the authenticity of her claim. If this was a hoax, it was well-done—there are many details that seem plausible and scraps of history that, half-remembered, seem to add up to “proof.” In this respect, and in the convoluted trail of her story, she reminds me of Anna Anderson, who claimed she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia. But the baby switch is straight out of a romance novel by a lady with three names. 

CLAIM OF MRS KENT

She Says She is Queen Victoria’s Daughter

An Alleged Morganatic Marriage on the Part of Albert Edward, the Prince Consort

A Change of Babies Averred.

Some Weak Points of the Story

There is considerable excitement in New York over the story told by a woman of soft voice, ladylike manner and a generally cultivated appearance, to the effect that she is the legitimate and eldest daughter of Queen Victoria. She says she was born Nov. 21, 1840, at Windsor Castle; that about the same time a daughter was born to the Countess Lundi, in Germany, who had been the morganatic wife of Prince Albert; that by a deep plot of the German women about the queen the child of the countess was substituted for the little princess, and the latter, who had been christened Sophia Adelaide, taken to Poissy, France; that when he was nearly grown she was acknowledged privately by her father, Prince Albert, but that for reasons of state he allowed the fraud to continue, and this lady first learned the full extent of her wrongs while residing in Dayton, O.

Now in and of itself this story resembles rather the wild phantasies of an opium dream than any occurrence in the world of actual fact; but when one examines the lady’s proofs the matter assumes a different aspect. It is reasonably certain that she is or has been a person of mysterious consequence. She speaks French, German and English fluently, thought he first is most natural to her; she has a clear, mild gray eye, a complexion of the clear blonde German type and a general air of refinement and intelligence. But the one striking fact in her personality is her resemblance to Queen Victoria. Even in the peculiar poise of the head she is the image of what the Queen’s pictures show her to have been at the age of 47. The standard picture of the queen, as she was in 1845—familiar to most Americans-shows the resemblance, but the one here given with the picture of the queen taken most lately shows a closer similarity even. One might easily be convinced that these are photographs of the same person at different ages. The alleged princess, or “claimant,” as we may say, is known in Europe as Comtesse di Lundi, but in New York she is known as Mrs. Kent.

She begins with her earliest recollections in an old mansion at Poissy, France, where she was in charge of Lady Anna Campbell. In her 8th year the revolution of 1848 broke out, and her supposed father, the Count di Lundi, was murdered; then Lady Anna took her to the north of England, where she met Prince Albert, whom she was taught to call Uncle Edward. Thence she was taken to the Ursuline convent in Swabia, where she acquired an education. Then a younger brother of her supposed father, Count de Lundi, took charge of her and Lady Anna, and many years of wandering followed—in Italy, the Isle of Bourbon, and South America. Once she revisited England and saw Prince Albert, who told her he was her father, but gave no information of her mother. New Orleans was finally selected as a place of permanent residence for the strangely constituted family—Count de Lundi, Lady Ann, Sophia-Adelaide and two servants—but the cholera broke out there and drove them northward, they finally locating at Dayton, O., There the younger Count de Lundi died, but not until he had revealed to Sophia-Adelaide the full particulars of her birth, parentage and exclusion from her rights as princess. On his deathbed he was married to the girl of 15, that she might inherit his property. It was also revealed to her that the older Count de Lundi had married her supposed mother, the German countess, and that the latter died soon after. Although, according to her account, Prince Albert sent for her to return to England and go thence to Europe, she  refused to do so lest she should be shut up in a convent, but went to France as Comtesse de Lundi and resided there several years. All this time she had been receiving a liberal annuity from England, but this was now cut off. At length she succeeded in interesting some French writers in her case, then went to England and secured the support of John Brown, the queen’s favorite servant, but Brown died in 1882, and after some vain attempts to get recognition she returned to the United States.

This curious narrative, which has been brought out in book form by Belford, Clark & Co., of New York, is marred by two blemishes. The first is that names of many persons and places are thinly disguised, on the plea that harm might be done by publishing them correctly. The other, that a circumstantial account is given of the loss of nearly all of her documents by the burning of the steamer Rainbow [22 November 1857, on the Mississippi River.] Just before his death the young Count de Lundi informed her that her full history had been written, with the consent of Prince Albert, and deposited in 1853 with Pope Pius IX by the older Count de Lundi. Her friends have never been able to get a perusal of these papers.

Who, then, is she? A few think she is really an illegitimate daughter of Prince Albert, and many that she is akin to the queen by irregular descent from George III. It must be remembered that the queen and Prince Consort were cousins, so the former and this Sophia Adelaide might inherit face and form from a common ancestor not far removed. It is easy to believe she is a real Guelph, though not a princess. But who is she?

News [Frederick, MD] 11 October 1887: p. 4 

This is the short version of Mrs. Kent’s extraordinary story. I’ve not located the precise Count De/Di Lundi, although a Count Rossi, the Minister of Justice under Pope Pius IX, was assassinated in 1848, the same year Mrs. Kent alleges her “father” was killed. The Countess de Reuss, Prince Albert’s supposed morganatic wife, is the title of Prince Albert’s grandmother and I do not find another except a later one, the wife of a diplomat in Spain. The idea that the documentation for Mrs. Kent’s claims was deposited at the Vatican is a very strange one. Albert was brought up Lutheran, with the German Protestant’s distrust of the Holy See.

An article in the Atchison [KS] Daily Globe for 12 October 1887 tells how the book disguises the names of the principals: England is “Finland;” Count de Lundi is called Count de Lenta; and Lady Anna Campbell becomes Lady Anna Crawler. Perhaps that is where some of the name confusion arose?  

According to Mrs Kent’s chronology on Nov. 8, 1840 a daughter (the future Princess Royal) was born to the Countess de Reuss and on Nov. 21, 1840, the queen was also delivered of a daughter, Sophia Adelaide Kent. This must have needed some pretty fast –well, we’ll call it footwork–on the part of Albert, who had been engaged to the Queen since 15 October 1839. Probably the point that most effectively demolishes this interesting legend is that Albert, repulsed by his father’s promiscuity, which had destroyed his family, had a horror of sexual irregularity. It is difficult to imagine, knowing that he was intended to marry Queen Victoria, that he would contract any kind of alliance, even a hush-hush marriage.

If any of you are thinking skeptically, “wouldn’t the Queen have noticed a difference in her own child?” here’s a possible answer: The Queen resented becoming pregnant so quickly after her marriage and disliked babies her entire life, saying she didn’t enjoy children until they got out of the “frog stage” and expressing the opinion that a naked baby was a very disagreeable object. She did not nurse her own infants, hiring wet nurses and a whole fleet of nursery staff to attend to them. So she spent very little time with her babies. A quick switch in the first couple of weeks of life may well have gone unnoticed. If the rest of the story weren’t so implausible….

Just because gruesome Victorian tales seem attracted to me like lint to a sweater, I cannot forbear mentioning the following story. A detail mentioned in a couple of the articles was that a royal nursemaid (wet-nurse, actually) named Mrs Brough was brought into the scheme to do the actual baby switching. She nursed Prince (later King) Edward and he was always welcome in her cottage on the grounds of Claremont. I found that she was eventually dismissed from royal service (possibly for drinking; possibly for depression) and after quarreling with her husband about her supposed infidelity, she cut the throats of six of her seven children and then turned the razor on herself. It is a horrifying, yet riveting story in itself. And it happens to be true.

Another article on this topic mentions that the Queen had Prince Albert’s will sealed so that it could not be made public and that she never properly executed that will–the point being that the Prince would have left some legacy to his daughter by the Countess that Queen Victoria wanted to keep secret. I haven’t been able to verify this statement. If anyone knows—have your solicitor contact Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com. And if anyone knows where to find Mrs Kent’s book online—it is titled Sophia-Adelaide; a chapter in contemporaneous history, by Charlotte Louise Kent, Chicago: Belford, Clark & Co., 1887–I’d be glad to hear from you. It’s listed as “fiction” in the library catalog.

 

If you are interested, Mrs Daffodil, a true daughter of the Empire, uncharacteristically decided to forgo royal murders and scandals in favor of a historical look at royal cradles. She also has a story of a switched-at-birth Czarevitch Alexis here.

 

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