The “Princess” of Clarence Street

The little frame duplex at 104 Clarence Street, near the London Soap Factory monument, doesn’t look like it once housed royalty. But in the 1860s, London folklore states this humble home was known locally as “the Castle.”

This was the home of Lavinia Hermione Gertrude Amanda Pemberton (Guelph), daughter (?) of King George IV and wife of Charles Wetherbee. At least that is what is inscribed on “Princess” Amanda’s tombstone in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

The wording on the tombstone was dictated by the lady herself, before her death on January 25, 1867. In the 1950s, the aging tombstone with its claim of buried royalty was repaired by the cemetery board.

“Princess” Amanda could be called London’s “mystery lady.” She claimed to be the daughter of King George IV (1760-1830), whose full title was George Augustus Frederick Hanover. It was originally assumed that Amanda’s mother must have been the English beauty, Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. The king and the twice-widowed Mrs. Fitzherbert contracted a secret marriage in 1785. Because Mrs. Fitzherbert was Catholic, this was a morganatic marriage, meaning that the marriage was not recognized by King George III or the British Parliament. Certainly it is a matter of historical fact that Mrs. Fitzherbert was the King’s mistress until 1811. Documents opened in 1905 revealed that Maria Fitzherbert may indeed have been the first wife of the monarch – and may have given birth to two daughters during that marriage.

The future “Princess” Amanda, as confirmed by London, Ontario historian Les Bronson, was raised by Lord Pemberton and his family, when her mother died shortly after Amanda’s birth. That fact alone seems to rule out that her mother was Mrs. Fitzherbert.

At age 16, Amanda married Frederick Theodore St. Felix, a government secretary in one of the British colonies in South Africa, and the son of a distinguished British family.

The couple had two daughters – one died at a young age, and the other remained in Africa to be raised by another member of the St. Felix family. Princess Amanda and her husband immigrated to the United States, where Felix died. In the 1850s, Amanda married her second husband, Charles Wetherbee. Little is known about Mr. Wetherbee. The couple originally lived in the southern United States.

The “princess” later claimed that she had returned to England in 1856 to visit Lady Pemberton, her foster mother, on her deathbed. Apparently this was when Amanda was told of her royal birth – but on the promise that she would not reveal this until Queen Victoria’s death. If her London, Ontario neighbors knew that she was a princess, then Amanda obviously did not honor that promise. Amanda Wetherbee would also later claim that she had visited Queen Victoria in person on her visit to England.

Clarence Street neighbors described the princess as an “accomplished lady of very kind and gentle disposition.” She was said to be “poor, haughty, high spirited” and the possessor of a scant but costly wardrobe. The couple had first settled in the Nilestown area, east of London, during the American Civil War, and then moved to the Forest City. Shortly after his wife’s death, Charles Wetherbee left the city.

Genealogists have certainly tried to solve the mystery of Princess Amanda. She was too young at the time of her death (age 46) to have been Mrs. Fitzherbert’s daughter. She might have been the illegitimate daughter of George IV by another woman – the future king certainly had several liaisons with married women. There was a Lord Pemberton and he was a physician to members of the royal family – so he might have adopted the “princess” as a foster daughter.

Amanda’s marriages to both St. Croix and Wetherbee are a matter of public record. But because death certificates were not mandatory until the late 1800s in Ontario, historians are missing vital information about her parents’ names and her date of birth.

But do we really want to prove that Lavinia Hermione Gertrude Amanda Guelph was just another SoHo housewife? Isn’t it more romantic to believe that SoHo was once the temporary home of two different British Royals? What other neighborhood in the Forest City can make that claim?