Charles Joseph Briscoe: The Illegitimate son of King George IV?

Many visitors, and residents, of St. Andrews, Charlotte Co., New Brunswick, pass the Old Loyalist Burial Ground at corner of King and Prince of Wales Streets and perhaps only briefly glimpse through its gate at the few dozen weathered headstones. No doubt, this is the final resting place for the ancestor of some, those who once lived out their lives in and around the town of St. Andrews during the late 1700s/early 1800s. However, there is one particular occupant of the cemetery that may have taken a secret with him when he died in 1842. His name was and could have been an illegitimate son of King George IV.

St. Andrews Old Loyalist Cemetery

Below is a newspaper article from the St. Andrews Beacon which reports on, not only who Charles Briscoe was, but also on the exhuming of the body in 1902:

Royal Secret Revealed
King George IV was Married Secretly and Had a Son
Was That Son the Late Charles Briscoe of St. Andrews?
London, November 11. By permission of King Edward the Daily Chronicle asserts, a package of papers consigned to the care of Coutts’ Bank, by Mrs. Fitzherbert (Maria Anne Smythe), under the stipulation that it was not to be opened for a long period, has now after seventy years been opened and proved to contain the marriage certificate and other indisputable roofs that George IV was actually married to Mrs. Fitzherbert. Mr. Fitzherbert became the wife of the Prince of Wales, afterward George IV, in December 1785. The marriage of the Prince was invalid under English law, though it was sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, of which Mrs. Fitzherbert was a member. It was expected that the papers in Coutts’ would settle the question which as agitated the British public for over a century, as to whether there was issue from the marriage, but there is noting in the foregoing despatch to indicate that he question has been solved. It has long been reported that there actually was a male child, and that this child, emigrated to the United States and settled in Washington, where he died some years ago, after living quietly, but in good circumstances.

Did the King's son Live and Die in St. Andrews, New Brunswick?
The above paragraph may furnish a clue to the mystery surrounding the life and death of Mr. Charles Briscoe, who resided in St. Andrews for many years and was commonly reported to be the illegitimate son of King George the Fourth. Mr. Briscoe was connected with the Imperial customs while here. He left several daughters as issue, one of whom was married to the late David Shanks Kerr, of St. John. It was though that before he died he would clear up the mystery connected wit his birth, but he carried the secret to the grave with him, leaving directions that after the lapse of many years his grave should be opened, when the secret would be found revealed. His wishes were carried out a few years back, but the papers that were supposed to contain the hidden secret had crumbled into dust.

The Grave Refuded to Yeild Up Its Secret
In the issue of the Beacon of July 24, 1902, the following article bearing upon the opening of the Briscoe grave was published. The names of those who were present at the exhuming of the body were the deceased grandson, Mr. John Kerr. Of St. John, and the late Rev. Canon Ketchum, and the late Dr. S. T. Gove.

In a sheltered corner of the ancient burial ground of St. Andrews, protected by narrow wooden palings, stands a plain white marble table, which tells the above simple tale. Weather-beaten and moss-grown the stone is, but it still stands erect—in marked contrast to many others about it. The inscription is plainly discernible. To the wayfarer who knows nothing and cares less of the early history of St. Andrews and of the occupants of this humble tomb, the story told by the marbled page has little of interest, yet beneath the grave there lies hidden from mortal eyes a romance of real life such as the novelist’s pen has seldom written:--a romance in which no less a personage than a king of England is alleged to have played s leading part. The story has been closely guarded for many years, but with the death of the immediate members of the family the necessity for further concealment has been to a great extent removed.

1842
Here awaiting the final resurrection
Rest the mortal remains
Of
Charles Joseph Briscoe
And
Elizabeth Ann
His wife
To whose memory this
Tablet has been erected
By their children.
This corruption must put on incorruption and this mortal put on immortality.

Charles Joseph Briscoe was an Englishman by birth and was the reputed son of King George IV, his mother being said to be one of the ladies of the court with whom he had fallen in love. In order probably that he should be out of the reach of gossips of the court—for there were gossips in those days as there are now—he was appointed to a position in the Imperial Customs at St. Andrews. Capt. Grant being at the same time the chief officer here. There are a few people now living who can remember Mr Briscoe and who can recall him riding around the streets of St. Andrews in his scarlet hunting coat. He was tall man, of an autocratic disposition; would brook no interference and dept himself aloof from the common people. His wife was a lady of much culture and refinement and had been at court in England before coming to this country. Upon her husband’s demise she was under the necessity of supporting herself by teaching school. Some of the old people of the town were among her pupils. They can easily recall the stately, dignified figure of the old lady as she appeared in her school-room, with a white ruffed Elizabeth collar about her neck and gold-headed cane in her hand. It was generally expected that upon Mr. Briscoe’s death the mystery surrounding his life would be revealed, but the secret was hidden in the grave, where so many secrets are hidden. In his will, he left instructions that upon the death of the last of his children his grave should be opened, when papers would be found upon his body, which would reveal the history of his life and make clear all that was doubtful concerning his birth. It was nearly sixty years afterward that the last of the name passed form earth. Then, in the presence of two St. Andrews gentlemen, who have died within a few years, and a grandson of the deceased—who holds a responsible position in St. John—the grave was opened. But the precaution of enclosing the papers within a metallic or other suitable casket had not been taken, so that when the light touched hem they crumbled into dust, and the secret that had been so jealously guarded still remained the property of the tomb. A medallion portrait of the deceased’s wife was found in the coffin and is now among the priceless treasures which the deceased’s grandson has in his possession. It is somewhat dimmed by its long imprisonment in the grave, but the features are still recognized by those who knew the old lady.

Source: St. Andrews Beacon
16 November 1905

 

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