“[George I] was rather a good sort of man than a shining king,” wrote Horace Walpole in his Reminiscences, “And, as the duchess [sic] of Kendal was no genius, I heard very little of either when he and her power were no more.”92 Walpole wasn’t alone, and when George Louis died, Melusine quietly assumed a different sort of life. The Duchess of Kendal became an English gentlewoman.
The British Journal reported in late June that “A House is hired in Park place [sic] in St. James’s-street for the Duchess of Kendal and the Countess of Walsingham, who are daily expected from Osnaburg,”93 but the expectation that Melusine and her daughter would be back in England anytime soon proved to be a false one. Instead the grieving duchess elected to remain in Hanover until the coronation of George II had taken place. Melusine was not the king’s widow and had never been his queen. It was better that she take her time to say goodbye. Soon the updates on her expected arrival in England changed to stories of a serious turn in her health and even false reports of her death. In truth, Melusine was utterly bereft.
Melusine had no wish to be reminded of all that she had lost and in George’s ancestral lands, where he now rested, she could at least be close to her late partner in some small way. What awaited her in England now, she couldn’t say. Melusine’s relationship with George II was pleasant enough and she was on good terms with his wife, Caroline of Ansbach, but beyond that the world had suddenly become a very uncertain place for the Duchess of Kendal. With the passing of her companion, the man she undoubtedly loved and had, despite his grumpy ways, loved her in return, Melusine’s life had changed forever.
As 1727 drew to a close Melusine was still unwell, but she had recovered sufficiently to purchase “an [sic] House of about 5000l. near Hanover-Square.”94 It was to this house that Melusine, Young Melusine and Luise withdrew. When winter turned to spring, they retired to Kendal House, a newly built residence on the banks of the Thames at Isleworth. Here Melusine lived a quiet life, for what influence could she offer ambitious politicians now?
Melusine sold off her estate in Holstein for a handsome profit, and she received a sum of nearly £22,000 in the late king’s will. In addition to this, she received a further £7,000 that George Louis had left in trust to keep his companion comfortable should he predecease her. This money went partially to fund a dowry for Young Melusine when she married Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, and partly towards the bill for Kendal House. Despite her marriage, Young Melusine continued to live with her mother whilst her husband indulged his mistresses in London.
The elder Melusine, meanwhile, faded from the public consciousness as swiftly as she had entered it. Once the closest thing to a queen that England would see during the reign of George I, now the only excitement that punctuated her routine days was the breaking of a mirror. It was still enough to occupy the press, but it was hardly the South Sea Bubble.
“Yesterday, as two Porters were carrying thro’ St. Martin’s Church-Yard, a Pier Glass about 5 Foot long, belonging to her Grace the Dutchess [sic] of Kendal, a Boy passing by with a Two Quart Pot in his Hand, clapt the Pot on the Glass, and broke it into several Pieces: He was carried before a Justice of the Peace, who send him to the Round House, till his Friends should make good the damage.”95
But Melusine didn’t concern herself with such trifling matters. She was too busy ruing all that she had lost. Years earlier, if legend is to be believed, George Louis had promised Melusine that even death couldn’t part them. Now, with George Louis gone and Melusine alone at Isleworth, Horace Walpole claimed that the king’s promise had unexpectedly come true. As Melusine watched the world go by from Kendal House, a vast black raven supposedly flew through an open window and settled beside her. From that day forward the raven reputedly became Melusine’s constant companion. Once the candles were extinguished and the house fell silent, she could be heard talking to the pampered bird about her day, just as she and the king had once whiled away the evenings together in her royal apartments.
Whether the story of the raven is true is debateable, but the best legends often are. Horace Walpole was an inveterate teller of tales and this one, Gothic and romantic, feels like something from one of his novels. True or not though, Melusine mourned her lost king for the rest of her life.