Olivia Serres
Olivia Serres known as Olive, was a British painter and writer. She is also known as an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 impostor, who claimed the title of Princess Olive of Cumberland, born at Warwick.

Origins and Early Career

Olive was born Olivia Wilmot, the daughter of Robert Wilmot, a house painter, in Warwick
Warwick is the county town of Warwickshire, England. The town lies upon the River Avon, south of Coventry and just west of Leamington Spa and Whitnash with which it is conjoined. As of the 2001 United Kingdom census, it had a population of 23,350...

. At the age of ten she was sent to board with her uncle, James Wilmot
James Wilmot
James Wilmot was an English clergyman and scholar from Warwickshire. During his lifetime, he was apparently unknown beyond his immediate circle....

, rector of Barton-on-the-Heath
Barton-on-the-Heath is a village and civil parish in the Stratford-on-Avon district of Warwickshire, England. According to the 2001 census the parish had a population of 85. The village is in the extreme south of Warwickshire, close to the borders with Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire...

. In 1789 she rejoined her father in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. She had a talent for painting and studied art with John Thomas Serres
John Thomas Serres
John Thomas Serres was an English maritime painter who enjoyed significant success, including exhibiting extensively at the Royal Academy, and was for a time Maritime Painter to King George III.-Life:...

, (1759–1825), marine painter to George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

, and she married Serres in 1791. They had two daughters. Olive exhibited her paintings at the Royal Academy of Arts and the British Institution
British Institution
The British Institution was a private 19th-century society in London formed to exhibit the works of living and dead artists; it was also known as the Pall Mall Picture Galleries or the British Gallery...

, but was financially reckless; both she and her husband were imprisoned for debt. The Serres came to a parting of the ways, with acrimony on both sides: from Serres because Olive had had several affairs when he was away, and from Olive because she was given an allowance of only £200 per annum. George Fields, an artist friend, moved in with Olive and she gave birth to his son prior to her divorce in 1804. She then devoted herself to painting and literature, producing a novel, some poems and a memoir of her uncle, the Rev. Dr Wilmot, in which she endeavoured to prove that he was the author of the Letters of Junius.

Claims to Royalty

In 1817, Olive wrote a letter to the Prince Regent
George IV of the United Kingdom
George IV was the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and also of Hanover from the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820 until his own death ten years later...

, claiming that she was the natural daughter of Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland by Mrs. Olive Payne (who was James Wilmot's sister and her actual aunt). She asked the prince for financial support. In a petition to George III, she put forward a claim to be the natural daughter of the Duke of Cumberland, the king's brother.

In 1820, after her father, her uncle, and King George III had died, she revised her story. James Wilmot, she claimed, had secretly married the princess Poniatowski, sister of King Stanislaus I of Poland, and their daughter had married the Duke of Cumberland in 1767 at the London house of a nobleman. Olive claimed to be the only child of this marriage, and that her mother had died "of a broken heart" on the Duke of Cumberland's "second" and "bigamous" marriage to Anne Horton.

She herself, ten days after her birth, was, she alleged, taken from her mother, and substituted for the still-born child of Robert Wilmot. According to Olive Serres, King George III had learned the truth and had given her £5000 in cash and a yearly pension of £500 for life. She also claimed to have received support from the king of Poland and to have been created the Duchess of Lancaster by George III in May 1773, which, she said, entitled her to the income of the Duchy of Lancaster
Duchy of Lancaster
The Duchy of Lancaster is one of the two royal duchies in England, the other being the Duchy of Cornwall. It is held in trust for the Sovereign, and is used to provide income for the use of the British monarch...

. In a memorial to George IV
George IV of the United Kingdom
George IV was the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and also of Hanover from the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820 until his own death ten years later...

 she assumed the title of Princess Olive of Cumberland, placed the royal arms on her carriage and dressed her servants in the royal liveries.

Defending Her Claims

Olivia Serres's claim was supported by documents, and she bore sufficient resemblance to her alleged father to be able to impose on numerous gullible people. In 1821, she had herself rebaptized as the daughter of the Duke of Cumberland
Duke of Cumberland
Duke of Cumberland is a peerage title that was conferred upon junior members of the British Royal Family, named after the county of Cumberland.-History:...

 at Islington Church, and "announced" her parentage in several letters to the newspapers and in pamphlets. She actually succeeded in obtaining some courtesies in response to her claims of royal status, such as being permitted to pass through the Constitution Gate.

The same year, however, she was arrested again for debt and placed in the King's Bench Prison
King's Bench Prison
The King's Bench Prison was a prison in Southwark, south London, from medieval times until it closed in 1880. It took its name from the King's Bench court of law in which cases of defamation, bankruptcy and other misdemeanours were heard; as such, the prison was often used as a debtor's prison...

. She appealed to the public for contributions, placing posters reading "The Princess of Cumberland in Captivity!" all over London, and publishing, in 1822, further details of her claims. On her release, she had an affair with Sheriff J. W. Parkins, a London eccentric, who turned against her when she failed to honour her debts to him. She next had an affair with a young man who called himself William Henry FitzClarence, who claimed to be an illegitimate son of the Duke of Clarence
William IV of the United Kingdom
William IV was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover from 26 June 1830 until his death...


Olive managed to persuade Sir Gerard Noel, a member of Parliament, to make inquiry into her claims, but by this time the royal family was fighting back. Having located her birth certificate, a statement by Robert Wilmot stating that he was her natural and lawful father , and a statement from Princess Poniatowski that none of King Stanislaus's sisters had ever been to England. In 1823 Sir Robert Peel
Robert Peel
Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet was a British Conservative statesman who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 10 December 1834 to 8 April 1835, and again from 30 August 1841 to 29 June 1846...

, then Home Secretary
Home Secretary
The Secretary of State for the Home Department, commonly known as the Home Secretary, is the minister in charge of the Home Office of the United Kingdom, and one of the country's four Great Offices of State...

, speaking in parliament
A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French , the action of parler : a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which...

, responded to Noel's speech in Olive's favour with a denunciation of her documents as forgeries and her story as a fabrication. It was concluded that her claims were false, but Olive escaped prosecution for forgery.

Her husband, who had never given her pretensions any support, expressly denied his belief in them in his will. Olive continued to have economical problems and was for the rest of her life in and out of debtors' prisons. In 1830 she again published a pamphlet staking a claim on royalty. She died on 21 November 1834 leaving two daughters.

Elder Daughter

Her elder daughter married Antony Ryves, a portrait painter. She upheld her mother's claims and styled herself Princess Lavinia of Cumberland
Lavinia Ryves
Lavinia Jannetta Horton Ryves, née Lavinia Serres , was a British woman claiming to be a member of the British royal family, calling herself "Princess Lavinia of Cumberland"....

. In 1866 she took her case into court, producing all the documents on which her mother had relied, but the jury, without waiting to hear the conclusion of the reply for the crown, unanimously declared the signatures to be forgeries.


Serres's pretensions has been called the result of an absurd vanity. Between 1807 and 1815 she had made the acquaintance of some members of the Royal family. From from this time onwards, she is claimed to have been obsessed with the idea of raising herself, at all costs, to their social level. The tale once invented, she brooded so continuously over it that she may have ended by believing it herself.

The account of her claim of birth follows the Establishment version of events. The union of Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland to widow Anne Horton (née Luttrell) in October 1771 was the principal reason why the Royal Marriage Act of 1772 was passed. If Olive (b 1772) had been born from this union, it would have been very 'inconvenient'. Hence a powerful reason to deny the existence of the child. There is a growing body of evidence (as yet unpublished, Feb 2010) that the 'official' version of events is in fact inaccurate .

On November 21, 2009 The Times published an In Memoriam notice which said: OLIVE Princess of Cumberland, died in penury November 21, 1834. Injustice is not forgotten.

External links

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