Lavinia Jannetta Horton Ryves

Lavinia Jannetta Horton Ryves—the Pretended Princess of Cumberland

In 1866, Mrs. Lavinia Jannetta Horton Ryves, and her son, William Henry Ryves, appeared before the English courts in support of one of the most extraordinary petitions on record. Taking advantage of the Legitimacy Declaration Act, they alleged that Mrs. Ryves was the legitimate daughter of John Thomas Serres and Olive his wife, and that the mother of Mrs. Ryves was the legitimate daughter of Henry Frederick Duke of Cumberland and Olive Wilmot, his wife, who were married by Dr. Wilmot, at the Grosvenor Square mansion of Lord Archer, on the 4th of March, 1767. They also asserted that Mrs. Ryves had been lawfully married to her husband, and that her son was legitimate; and asked the judges to pronounce that the original marriage between the Duke of Cumberland and Olive Wilmot was legal; that their child Olive, who afterwards became Mrs. Serres, was legitimate; that their grandchild Mrs. Ryves had been lawfully married to her husband; and that consequently the younger petitioner was their legitimate son and heir. The Attorney-General (Sir Roundell Palmer) filed an answer denying the legality of the Cumberland marriage, or that Mrs. Serres was the legitimate daughter of the duke. There wap no dispute as to the fact that the younger petitioner, W.H. Ryves, was the legitimate son of his father and mother. The case was heard before Lord Chief-Justice Cockburn, Lord Chief-Baron Pollock, Sir James Wilde, and a special jury.

The opening speech of the counsel for the claimant revealed a story which was very marvellous, but which, without the strongest corroborative testimony, was scarcely likely to be admitted to be true. According to his showing Olive Wilmot was the daughter of Dr. James Wilmot, a country clergyman, and fellow of a college at Oxford. During his college curriculum  this divine had made the acquaintance of Count Poniatowski, who afterwards became King of Poland, and had been introduced by him to his sister. The enamoured and beautiful Polish princess fell in love with Wilmot and married him, and the result of their union was a daughter, who grew up to rival her mother's beauty. The fact of the marriage and the existence of the daughter were, however, carefully kept from the outer world, and especially from Oxford, where Dr. Wilmot retained his fellowship. The girl grew to the age of sweet seventeen, and, in 1767, met the Duke of Cumberland, the younger brother of George III., at the house of Lord Archer, in Grosvenor Square. After a short courtship, the duke was said to have married her—the marriage having been celebrated by her father on the 4th of March, 1767, at nine o'clock in the evening. Two formal certificates of the marriage were drawn up and signed by Dr. Wilmot and by Lord Brooke (afterwards Lord Warwick) and J. Addey, who were present at it; and these certificates were verified by the signatures of Lord Chatham and Mr. Dunning (afterwards Lord Ashburton). These documents were put in evidence. The Duke of Cumberland and Olive Wilmot lived together for four years; and, in October, 1771, while she was pregnant, her royal mate deserted her, and, as was alleged, contracted a bigamous marriage with Lady Anne Horton, sister of the well-known Colonel Luttrel. George III., having been aware of the previous union with Olive Wilmot, was very indignant at this second connection, and would not allow the Duke of Cumberland and his second wife to come to Court. Indeed, it was mainly in consequence of this marriage, and the secret marriage of the Duke of Gloucester, that the Royal Marriage Act was forced through Parliament.

Olive Wilmot, as the petitioner's counsel asserted, having been deserted by her husband, gave birth to a Child Olive, who ought to have borne the title of Princess of Cumberland. The baby was baptised on the day of its birth by Dr. Wilmot, and three certificates to that effect were produced, signed by Dr. Wilmot and his brother Robert. But, although the king was irritated at the conduct of his brother, he was at the same time anxious to shield him from the consequences of his double marriage, and for that purpose gave directions to Lord Chatham, Lord Warwick, and Dr. Wilmot that the real parentage of the child should be concealed, and that it should be re-baptised as the daughter of Robert Wilmot, whose wife had just been confined. The plastic divine consented to rob the infant temporarily of its birthright but at the same time required that all the proceedings should be certified by the king and other persons as witnesses, in order that at a future time she should be replaced in her proper position. Perhaps, in ordinary circumstances, it would not have been possible for a country priest thus to coerce George III.; but Dr. Wilmot was in possession of a fatal secret. As is well known, King George was publicly married to Princess Charlotte in 1762; but, according to the showing of the petitioners, he had been previously married, in 1759, by this very Dr. Wilmot, to a lady named Hannah Lightfoot. Thus he, as well as the Duke of Cumberland, had committed bigamy, and the grave question was raised as to whether George IV., and even her present Majesty, had any right to the throne. Proof of this extraordinary statement was forthcoming, for on the back of the certificates intended to prove the marriage of the Duke of Cumberland and Olive Wilmot, the following certificates were endorsed:—

"This is to solemnly certify that I married George, Prince of Wales, to Princess Hannah, his first consort, April 15, 1759; and that two princes and a princess were the issue of such marriage.

J. Wilmot."

            "London, April  2, 176—."

"This is to certify to all it may concern that I lawfully married George, Prince of Wales, to Hannah Lightfoot, April 17, 1759; and that two sons and a daughter are their issue by such marriage.

J. Wilmot. 
J. Dunning

The concealed Princess Olive was meanwhile brought up, until 1782, in the family of Robert Wilmot, to whom it was said that an allowance of £500 a year was paid for her support by Lord Chatham. On the 17th of May, 1773, his Majesty created her Duchess of Lancaster by this instrument,—

            "George R.

"We hereby are pleased to create Olive of Cumberland Duchess of Lancaster, and to grant our royal authority for Olive, our said niece, to bear and use the title and arms of Lancaster, should she be in existence at the period of our royal demise."

                                                                  "Given at our Palace of St. James's, May 17, 1773.

J. Dunning

A little before this time (in 1772) Dr. Wilmot had been presented to the living of Barton-on-the-Heath, in Warwickshire, and thither his grand-daughter Olive went with him, passing as his niece, and was educated by him. When she was seventeen or eighteen years old she was sent back to London, and there became acquainted with Mr. de Serres, an artist and a member of the Royal Academy, whom she married in 1791. The union was not a happy one, and a separation took place; but, before it occurred, Mrs. Ryves, the elder petitioner, was born at Liverpool in 1797. After the separation Mrs. Serres and her daughter lived together, and the former gained some celebrity both as an author and an artist. They moved in good society, were visited by various persons of distinction, and in 1805 were taken to Brighton and introduced to the Prince of Wales, who afterwards became George IV. Two years later (in 1807) Dr. Wilmot died at the mature age of eighty-five, and the papers in his possession relating to the marriage, as well as those which had been deposited with Lord Chatham, who died in 1778, passed into the hands of Lord Warwick. Mrs. Serres during all this time had no knowledge of the secret of her birth, until, in 1815, Lord Warwick, being seriously ill, thought it right to communicate her history to herself and to the Duke of Kent, and to place the papers in her hands.

Having brought his case thus far, the counsel for the petitioners was about to read some documents, purporting to be signed by the Duke of Kent, as declarations of the legitimacy of Mrs. Ryves, but it was pointed out by the court that he was not entitled to do so, as, according to his own contention, the Duke of Kent was not a legitimate member of the royal family. Therefore, resigning this part of his case, he went on to say that Mrs. Serres, up to the time of her death in 1834, and the petitioners subsequently, had made every effort to have the documents on which they founded their claim examined by some competent tribunal. They now relied upon the documents, upon oral evidence, and upon the extraordinary likeness of Olive Wilmot to the royal family, to prove their allegations.

As far as the portraits of Mrs. Serres were concerned, the court intimated that they could not possibly be evidence of legitimacy, and refused to allow them to be shown to the jury. The documents were declared admissible, and an expert was called to pronounce upon their authenticity. He expressed a very decided belief that they were genuine, but, when cross-examined, stammered and ended by throwing doubts on the signatures of "J. Dunning" and "Chatham," who frequently appeared as attesting witnesses. The documents themselves were exceedingly numerous, and contained forty-three so-called signatures of Dr. Wilmot, sixteen of Lord Chatham, twelve of Mr. Dunning, twelve of George III., thirty-two of Lord Warwick, and eighteen of the Duke of Kent.

The following are some of the most remarkable papers:—

"I solemnly certify that I privately was married to the princess of Poland, the sister of the King of Poland. But an unhappy family difference induced us to keep our union secret. One dear child bless'd myself, who married the Duke of Cumberland, March 4th, 1767, and died in the prime of life of a broken heart, December 5th, 1774, in France.

J. Wilmot."

    " January  1, 1780."

There were two other certificates to the same effect, and the fourth was in the following terms:—

"I solemnly certify that I married the Princess of Poland, and had legitimate issue Olive, my dear daughter, married March 4th, 1767, to Henry F., Duke of Cumberland, brother of His Majesty George the Third, who have issue Olive, my supposed niece, born at Warwick, April 3d, 1772.

Robt. Wilmot.

"May    23, 1775.

"As a testimony that my daughter was not at all unworthy of Her Royal Consort the Duke of Cumberland, Lord Warwick solemnly declares that he returned privately from the continent to offer her marriage; but seeing how greatly she was attached to the Duke of Cumberland, he witnessed her union with His Royal Highness, March 4th, 1767.


J. Wilmot.

Warwick                                                                                                  Robt. Wilmot."

"We solemnly certify in this prayer-book that Olive, the lawful daughter of Henry Frederick Duke of Cumberland and Olive his wife, bears a large mole on the right side, and another crimson mark upon the back, near the neck; and that such child was baptised as Olive Wilmot, at St. Nicholas Church, Warwick, by command of the King (George the Third) to save her royal father from the penalty of bigamy, &c. to save her royal father from the penalty of bigamy, &c.

J. Wilmot.
Robt. Wilmot."

"I hereby certify that George, Prince of Wales, married Hannah Wheeler, alias  Lightfoot, April 17th, 1759; but, from finding the latter to be her right name, I solemnized the union of the said parties a second time, May the 27th, 1759, as the certificate affixed to this paper will confirm. 1759, as the certificate affixed to this paper will confirm. 

                    Witness (torn).

J. Wilmot."

"Not to be acted upon until the king's demise."

"With other sacred papers to Lord Warwick's care for Olive, my grand-daughter, when I am no more. J.W."

"My Dear Olive,— As the undoubted heir of Augustus, King of Poland, your rights will find aid of the Sovereigns that you are allied to by blood, should the family of your father act unjustly, but may the great Disposer of all things direct otherwise. The Princess of Poland, your grandmother, I made my lawful wife, and I do solemnly attest that you are the last of that illustrious blood. May the Almighty guide you to all your distinctions of birth. Mine has been a life of trial, but not of crime!

J. Wilmot."

"January, 1791."

"If this pacquet meets your eye let not ambition destroy the honour nor integrity of your nature. Remember that others will be dependent on your conduct, the injured children, perhaps, of the good and excellent consort of your king—I mean the fruit of his Majesties first marriage—who may have been consigned to oblivion like yourself; but I hope that is not exactly the case; but as I was innocently instrumental to their being, by solemnizing the ill-destined union of power and innocence, it is but an act of conscientious duty to leave to your care the certificates that will befriend them hereafter! The English nation will receive my last legacy as a proof of my affection, and when corruption has desolated the land, and famine and its attendant miseries create civil commotion, I solemnly command you to make known to the Parliament the first lawful marriage of the king, as when you are in possession of the papers, Lord Warwick has been sacredly and affectionately by myself entrusted with, their constitutional import will save the country! Should the necessity exist for their operation, consult able and patriotic men, and they will instruct you. May Heaven bless their and your efforts in every sense of the subject, and so shall my rejoiced spirit with approving love (if so permitted) feel an exultation inseparable from the prosperity of England.

J. Wilmot."

         "George R.

"We are hereby pleased to recommend Olive, our niece, to our faithful Lords and Commons for protection and support, should she be in existence at the period of our royal demise; such being Olive Wilmot, the supposed daughter of Robert Wilmot of Warwick.

J. Dunning.
Robt. Wilmot.
                                                                  January 7th, 1780."

Mrs. Ryves, the petitioner, was the principal witness called. She gave her evidence very clearly and firmly, and when offered a seat in the witness-box declined it, saying that she was not tired, and could stand for ever to protect the honour of her family. She said she recollected coming from Liverpool to London with her father and mother when she was only two years and a half old, and narrated how she lived with them conjointly up to the date of the separation, and with her mother afterwards. It was then proposed to ask her some questions as to declarations made by Hannah Lightfoot, the reputed wife of George III., but the Lord Chief-Justice interposed with the remark that there was no evidence before the court as to the marriage of the king with this woman. The petitioner's counsel referred to the two following documents:—

"April  17, 1759.

"The marriage of these parties was this day duly solemnized at Kew Chapel, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, by myself,

J. Wilmot.

                                                                                George P.

"Witness to this marriage,

W. Pitt.
Anne Tayler."

"May  27, 1759.

"This is to certify that the marriage of these parties, George, Prince of Wales, to Hannah Lightfoot, was duly solemnized this day, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, at their residence at Peckham, by myself,

J. Wilmot.

         George Guelph.
         Hannah Lightfoot."

"Witness to the marriage of these parties,

William Pitt.
Anne Tayler."

Upon this, the Lord Chief-Justice again interposed, saying, "The Court is, as I understand, asked solemnly to declare, on the strength of two certificates, coming I know not whence, written on two scraps of paper, that the marriage—the only marriage of George III. which the world believes to have taken place—between his Majesty and Queen Charlotte, was an invalid marriage, and consequently that all the sovereigns who have sat on the throne since his death, including her present Majesty, were not entitled to sit on the throne. That is the conclusion to which the court is asked to come upon these two rubbishy pieces of paper—one signed 'George P,' and the other 'George Guelph.' I believe them to be gross and rank forgeries. The court has no difficulty in coming to the conclusion—even assuming that the signatures had that character of genuineness which they have not—that what is asserted in these documents has not the slightest foundation in fact."

Lord Chief-Baron Pollock expressed his entire concurrence in the opinion of the Lord Chief-Justice. After explaining that it was the province of the court to decide any question of fact, on the truth or falsehood of which the admissibility of a piece of evidence was dependent, he declared that these documents did not at all satisfy him that George III. was ever married before his marriage to Queen Charlotte; that the signatures were not proved to be even like the king's handwriting; and that the addition of the word "Guelph" to one of them was satisfactory proof that the king, at that date Prince of Wales, did not write it—it being a matter of common information that the princes of the royal family only use the Christian name.

Sir James Wilde also assented, characterizing the certificates as "very foolish forgeries," but adding that he was not sorry that the occasion had arisen for bringing them into a court of justice, where their authenticity could be inquired into by evidence, as the existence of documents of this sort was calculated to set abroad a number of idle stories for which there was probably not the slightest foundation.

The evidence as to Hannah Lightfoot being thus excluded, the examination of Mrs. Ryves, the petitioner, was continued. She remembered proceeding to Brighton, in 1805, where herself and her mother were introduced to the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV. The prince had subsequently many conversations with them, and had bestowed many kindnesses on them. She knew the Duke of Kent from a very early age—he being a constant visitor at their house from 1805 till the time of his death. In the spring of 1815 Lord Warwick's disclosure was made, and the Duke of Kent acknowledged the relationship even before he saw the proofs which were at the time at Warwick Castle. Thither the earl went to procure them, at the expense of Mrs. Serres, he being at this time so poor that he had not the means to go; indeed, Mrs. Ryves asserted that sometimes the earl was so terribly impoverished that he had not even a sheet of note-paper to write upon.

His mission was successful; and on his return he produced three sets of papers, one of which he said he had received from Dr. Wilmot, another set from Lord Chatham, and the third set had been always in his possession. One packet was marked "Not to be opened until after the king's death," and accordingly the seal was not broken; but the others were opened, and the papers they contained were read aloud in the presence of the Duke of Kent, who expressed himself perfectly satisfied that the signatures of George III. were in his father's handwriting, and declared that, as the Earl of Warwick might die at any moment, he would thenceforward take upon himself the guardianship of Mrs. Serres and her daughter. The sealed packet was opened in the latter part of 1819, and Mrs. Ryves, when questioned as to its contents, pointed out documents for the most part relating to the marriage of Dr. Wilmot and the Polish princess. Among other documents was the following:—

"Olive, provided the royal family acknowledge you, keep secret all the papers which are connected with the king's first marriage; but should the family's desertion (be) manifested (should you outlive the king) then, and only then, make known all the state secrets which I have left in the Earl of Warwick's keeping for your knowledge. Such papers I bequeath to you for your sole and uncontrolled property, to use and act upon as you deem fit, according to expediency of things. Receive this as the sacred will of

James Wilmot.

June—st, 1789.
          Witness, Warwick."

Mrs. Ryves maintained that up to the moment of the opening of the sealed packet her mother had believed herself to be the daughter of Robert Wilmot and the niece of Dr. Wilmot, and she did not know of any Olive Wilmot except her aunt, who was the wife of Mr. Payne. When the first information as to her birth was given to her by Lord Warwick, she supposed herself to be the daughter of the Duke of Cumberland by the Olive Wilmot who was afterwards Mrs. Payne, and had no idea that her mother was the daughter of Dr. Wilmot, and was another person altogether. There was a great consultation as to opening the packet before the king's death; but the Duke of Kent persisted in his desire to know its contents, and the seals were broken. The Duke of Kent died on the 26th of January, 1820, and George III. in the following week, on the 30th of the same month.

Mrs. Ryves then proved the identity of certain documents which bore the signatures of the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Kent. They were chiefly written on morsels of paper, and elicited the remark from the Lord Chief-Justice, that "his royal highness seemed to have been as poor as to paper as the earl." She said that these documents were written in her own presence. Among them were these:—

"I solemnly promise to see my cousin Olive, Princess of Cumberland, reinstated in her R—l rights at my father's demise.


"May  3, 1816."

"I bind myself, by my heirs, executors, and assigns, to pay to my dearest coz. Olive, Princess of Cumberland, four hundred pounds yearly during her life.


"May  3, 1818."

"I bequeath to Princess Olive of Cumberland ten thousand pounds should I depart this life before my estate of Castlehill is disposed of.


"June  9, 1819."

"I hereby promise to return from Devonshire early in the spring to lay before the Regent the certificates of my dearest cousin Olive's birth.


" Novr. 16, 1819."

"Jany. (illegible ).

"If this paper meets my dear Alexandria's eye, my dear cousin Olive will present it, whom my daughter will, for my sake, I hope, love and serve should I depart this life.


"I sign this only to say that I am very ill, but should I not get better, confide in the duchess, my wife, who will, for my sake, assist you until you obtain your royal rights. 
"God Almighty bless you, my beloved cousin, prays


"To Olive my cousin, and blessing to Lavinia."

Mrs. Ryves then went on to state that, after the death of the Duke of Kent and his father, the Duke of Sussex paid a visit to herself and her mother. On that occasion, and subsequently, he examined the papers, and declared himself satisfied that they were genuine.

In her cross-examination, and in answer to questions put by the court, Mrs. Ryves stated that her mother, Mrs. Serres, was both a clever painter and an authoress, and was appointed landscape painter to the court. She had been in the habit of writing letters to members of the royal family before 1815, when she had no idea of her relationship to them. Her mother might have practised astrology as an amusement. A letter which was produced, and described the appearance of the ghost of Lord Warwick's father, was in her mother's handwriting—as was also a manifesto calling upon "the Great Powers, Principalities, and Potentates of the brave Polish nation to rally round their Princess Olive, grand-daughter of Stanislaus," and informing them that her legitimacy as Princess of Cumberland had been proved. Her mother had written a "Life of Dr. Wilmot," and had ascribed the "Letters of Junius" to him, after a careful comparison of his MS. with those in the possession of Woodfall, Junius's publisher. She had also issued a letter to the English nation in 1817, in which she spoke of Dr. Wilmot as having died unmarried; and Mrs. Ryves could not account for that, as her mother had heard of his marriage two years previously.

A document was then produced in which the Duke of Kent acknowledged the marriage of his father with Hannah Lightfoot, and the legitimacy of Olive, praying the latter to maintain secrecy during the life of the king, and constituting her the guardian of his daughter Alexandrina, and directress of her education on account of her relationship, and also because the Duchess of Kent was not familiar with English modes of education. Mrs. Ryves explained that her mother refrained from acting on that document out of respect for the Duchess of Kent, who, she thought, had the best right to direct the education of her own daughter (the present queen). She also stated that her mother had received a present of a case of diamonds from the Duke of Cumberland, but she did not know what became of them.

The Attorney-General, on behalf of the crown, after explaining the provisions of the Act, proceeded to tear the story of the petitioners to pieces, pronouncing its folly and absurdity equal to its audacity. The Polish princess and her charming daughter he pronounced pure myths—as entirely creatures of the imagination as Shakspeare's "Ferdinand and Miranda." As to the pretended marriage of George III. and Hannah Lightfoot, the tale was even more astonishing and incredible, for not only were wife and children denied by the king, and a second bigamous contract entered into, but the lady held her tongue, the children were content to live in obscurity, and Dr. Wilmot faithfully kept the secret, and preached sermons before the king and his second wife Queen Charlotte. Not that Dr. Wilmot did not feel these grave state secrets pressing him down, but the mode of revenge which he adopted was to write the "Letters of Junius!"

Yet Dr. Wilmot died in 1807, apparently a common-place country parson. Surely there never was a more wonderful example of the possibility of keeping secrets. One would have imagined that the very walls would have spoken of such events; but although at least seven men and one woman (the wife of Robert Wilmot) must have been acquainted with them, the secret was kept as close as the grave for forty-three years, and was never even suspected before 1815, although all the actors in these extraordinary scenes seemed to have been occupied day and night in writing on little bits of paper, and telling the whole story. In 1815 the facts first came to the knowledge of Mrs. Serres; but, even then, they were not revealed, until the grave had closed over every individual who could vouch as to the handwriting.

As far as the petitioner, Mrs. Ryves, was concerned, the Attorney-General said he could imagine that she had brooded on this matter so long (she being then over 70 years of age), that she had brought herself to believe things that had never happened. The mind might bring itself to believe a lie, and she might have dwelt so long upon documents produced and fabricated by others, that, with her memory impaired by old age, the principle of veracity might have been poisoned, and the offices of imagination and memory confounded to such an extent that she really believed that things had been done and said in her presence which were entirely imaginary. He contended that Mrs. Serres, the mother of the petitioner, was not altogether responsible for her actions, and proceeded to trace her history. Between 1807 and 1815, he said, she had the advantage of becoming personally known to some members of the royal family, and being a person of ill-regulated ambition and eccentric character, and also being in pecuniary distress, her eccentricity took the turn of making advances to different members of that family. She opened fire on the Prince of Wales in 1809, by sending a letter to his private secretary, comparing His Royal Highness to Julius Cæsar, and talking in a mad way about the politics of the illustrious personages of the day. In 1810 other letters followed in the same style, and in one of them she asked, "Why, sir, was I so humbly born?"

Scattered about these letters were mysterious allusions to secrets of state and symptoms of insane delusions. In one she imagined she had been seriously injured by the Duke of York. In another, she fancied that some one had poisoned her. In one letter she actually offered to lend the Prince of Wales, £20,000 to induce him to grant the interview of which she was so desirous, although in other letters she begged for pecuniary assistance, and represented herself to be in great distress. The letters were also full of astrology; she spoke of her "occult studies;" and she further believed in ghosts. The manifesto to Poland also pointed to the same conclusion as to her state of mind. A person of such an erratic character, he said, was very likely to concoct such a story, and the story would naturally take the turn of trying to connect herself with the royal family.

During the interval between the death of Lord Warwick in 1816 and 1821, when it was first made public, her story passed through no less than three distinct and irreconcilable stages. At first she stated that she was the daughter of the Duke of Cumberland by Mrs. Payne, the sister of Dr. Wilmot; and in 1817 she still described herself as Dr. Wilmot's niece. It was said that she did not come into possession of the papers until after Lord Warwick's death, but this assertion was contradicted by the evidence of Mrs. Ryves, as to events which were within her own recollection, and which she represented to have passed in her presence.

The second stage of the story was contained in a letter to Mr. Fielding, the Bow Street magistrate, in October, 1817. Having been threatened with arrest, she wrote to him for protection, and in this letter she represented herself as the natural daughter of the late Duke of Cumberland by a sister of the late Dr. Wilmot, whom he had seduced under promise of marriage, she being a lady of large fortune. In connection with this stage of the story, he referred to another letter which she wrote to the Prince-Regent in July, 1818, in which she stated that Lord Warwick had told her the story of her birth in his lifetime, but without showing her any documents; that he excused himself for not having made the disclosure before by saying that he was unable to repay a sum of £2000 which had been confided to him by the Duke of Cumberland for her benefit; and then she actually went on to say that when Lord Warwick died she thought all evidence was lost until she opened a sealed packet which contained the documents. This was quite inconsistent with the extraordinary story of Mrs. Ryves as to the communication of the papers to her and her mother in 1815.

The claim of legitimate royal birth was first brought forward at a time of great excitement and agitation, when the case of Queen Caroline was before the public; and it was brought forward in a tone of intimidation—a revolution being threatened if the claim were not recognised within a few hours. The documents were changed at times to suit the changing story, and there was every reason to believe that they were concocted by Mrs. Serres herself, who was a careful student of the Junius  MSS., who was an artist and practised caligraphist, and who had gone through such a course of study as well prepared her for the fabrication of forged documents. The internal evidence of the papers themselves proved that they were the most ridiculous, absurd, preposterous series of forgeries that perverted ingenuity ever invented. If every expert that ever lived in the world swore to the genuineness of these documents, they could not possibly believe them to be genuine. They were all written on little scraps and slips of paper such as no human being ever would have used for the purpose of recording transactions of this kind, and in everyone of these pieces of paper the watermark of date was wanting.

At this stage of his address the Attorney-General was interrupted by the foreman of the jury, who stated that himself and his colleagues were unanimously of opinion that the signatures to the documents were not genuine.

The Lord Chief-Justice, thereupon, immediately remarked that they shared the opinion which his learned brethren and himself had entertained for a long time—that everyone of the documents was spurious.

After some observations by the counsel for the petitioner, who persisted that the papers produced were genuine, the Lord Chief-Justice proceeded to sum up the facts of the case. He said it was a question whether the internal evidence in the documents of spuriousness and forgery was not quite as strong as the evidence resulting from the examination of their handwriting. Two or three of them appeared to be such outrages on all probability, that even if there had been strong evidence of the genuineness of their handwriting, no man of common sense could come to the conclusion that they were genuine. Some of them were produced to prove that King George III. had ordered the fraud to be committed of rebaptising an infant child under a false name as the daughter of persons whose daughter she was not; another showed that the king had divested the crown of one of its noblest appendages—the Duchy of Lancaster—by a document he was not competent by law to execute, written upon a loose piece of paper, and countersigned by W. Pitt and Dunning; by another document, also written upon a loose piece of paper, he expressed his royal will to the Lords and Commons, that when he should be dead they should recognise this lady as Duchess of Cumberland. These papers bore the strongest internal evidence of their spuriousness. The evidence as to the marriage of the Duke of Cumberland with Olive Wilmot could not be separated from that part of the evidence which struck at the legitimacy of the Royal Family, by purporting to establish the marriage of George III. to a person named Hannah Lightfoot. Could any one believe that the documents on which that marriage was attested by W. Pitt and Dunning were genuine? But the petitioner could not help putting forward the certificates of that marriage, because two of them were written on the back of the certificate of the marriage of the Duke of Cumberland with Olive Wilmot. Men of intelligence could not fail to see the motive for writing the certificates of those two marriages on the same piece of paper. The first claim to the consideration of the royal family put forward by Mrs. Serres was, that she was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Cumberland by Mrs. Payne—a married woman. Her next claim was, that she was his daughter by an unmarried sister of Dr. Wilmot. She lastly put forward her present claim, that she was the offspring of a lawful marriage between the duke and Olive, the daughter of Dr. Wilmot. At the time when the claim was put forward in its last shape, it was accompanied by an attempt at intimidation, not only on the score of the injustice that would be done if George IV. refused to recognise the claim, but also on the score that she was in possession of documents showing that George III., at the time he was married to Queen Charlotte, had a wife living, and had issue by her; and consequently that George IV., who had just then ascended the throne, was illegitimate, and was not the lawful sovereign of the realm. And the documents having reference to George III.'s first marriage were inseparably attached to the documents by which the legitimacy of Mrs. Serres was supposed to be established, with the view, no doubt, of impressing on the king's mind the fact that she could not put forward her claims, as she intended to do, without at the same time making public the fact that the marriage between George III. and Queen Charlotte was invalid. Could any one believe in the authenticity of certificates like these; or was it possible to imagine that, even if Hannah Lightfoot had existed, and asserted her claim, great officers of state like Chatham and Dunning should have recognised her as "Hannah Regina," as they were said to have done?

In another document the Duke of Kent gave the guardianship of his daughter to the Princess Olive. Remembering the way in which that lady had been brought up, and the society in which she had moved, could the Duke of Kent ever have dreamed of superseding his own wife, the mother of the infant princess, and passing by all the other distinguished members of his family, and conferring on Mrs. Serres, the landscape painter, the sole guardianship of the future Queen of England? They must also bear in mind the way in which the claim had been brought forward. The irresistible inference from the different tales told was, that the documents were from time to time prepared to meet the form which her claims from time to time assumed. A great deal had been said about different members of the royal family having countenanced and supported this lady. He could quite understand, if an appeal was made on her behalf as an illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Cumberland, that a generous-minded prince might say, "As you have our blood flowing in your veins, you shall not be left in want;" and, very likely, papers might have been shown to some members of the royal family in support of that claim which they believed to be genuine. It was just as easy to fabricate papers showing her illegitimacy as to fabricate those produced; and probably such papers would not be very rigorously scrutinized. But it was not possible to believe that the documents now produced (including the Hannah Lightfoot certificates) had been shown to members of the royal family, and pronounced by them to be genuine. He could not understand why the secret was to be kept after the Duke of Cumberland's death, when there was no longer any danger that he would incur the risk of punishment for bigamy; and why the death of George III. should be fixed upon as the time for disclosing it. The death of George III. was the very time when it would become important to keep the secret, for if it had been then disclosed, it would have shown that neither George IV. nor the Duke of Kent were entitled to succeed to the throne. Why then should the Duke of Kent stipulate for the keeping of the secret until George III. died? They must look at all the circumstances of the case, and say whether they believed the documents produced by the petitioner to be genuine.

The jury at once found that they were not  satisfied that Olive Serres, the mother of Mrs. Ryves, was the legitimate daughter of Henry Frederick Duke of Cumberland, and Olive his wife; that they were not satisfied that Henry Frederick Duke of Cumberland was lawfully married to Olive Wilmot on the 4th of March, 1767. On the other issues—that Mrs. Ryves was the legitimate daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Serres, and that the younger petitioner, W.H. Ryves, was the legitimate son of Mr. and Mrs. Ryves—they found for the petitioner.

On the motion of the Attorney-General, the judges ordered the documents produced by the petitioners to be impounded.

It may be noted, in conclusion, that if Mrs. Ryves had succeeded in proving that her mother was a princess of the blood royal, she would at the same time have established her own illegitimacy. The alleged marriage of the Duke of Cumberland took place before the passing of the Royal Marriage Act; and, therefore, if Mrs. Serres had been the duke's daughter, she would have been a princess of the blood royal. But that Act had been passed before the marriage of Mrs. Serres to her husband, and would have rendered it invalid, and consequently her issue would have been illegitimate. As it was, Mrs. Ryves obtained a declaration of her legitimacy; but in so doing she sacrificed all her pretensions to royal descent.