there is correspondence in periodicals from women students, and
advertisements may be found from women practitioners, only the most
zealous research will uncover published works by women in the nineteenth
century. For that reason alone it seems worth reclaiming our astrological
Princess - Olivia Serres.
Throughout the history of astrology we have been honoured with doctors
and professors, plus occasional countesses. It has been common for
those seeking fame and fortune to claim academic titles and honourable
lineage. However, Olivia Serres is uniquely a British astrological
On 3 June 1824 the first issue of a new weekly periodical entitled
The Straggling Astrologer appeared. Costing 4d an issue,
the magazine was unique in being the first weekly magazine devoted
solely to astrology. Perhaps it would better have been titled The
Struggling Astrologer for by issue four, the then publisher,
William Charlton Wright, reduced its price to 3d, presumably to
boost its flagging circulation.
By the end of July, Robert Cross Smith (Raphael) had been appointed
as its editor. An announcement appeared advising readers that the
magazine "has been honoured with some astrological MSS. Appertaining
to the lot of individuals of the highest rank by Her Royal Highness
the Princess of Cumberland...who has, we are persuaded, been most
Who was Princess Olive? She was baptised Olivia Wilmot 3 April 1772,
the daughter of Olivia Wilmot and according to her claims, Henry
Frederick of Cumberland, the Duke of Cumberland. The date is commonly
given as her birth date but it is thought likely that her birth
took place some days before. Olivia herself gives this as her birthdate
and the time of her birth as 2 06 30 am. To understand her claim
to royal status we need to backtrack a little.
George III was born on 4 June 1738 in London, the eldest son of
Frederick, Prince of Wales, and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha.
He became heir to the throne on the death of his father in 1751,
succeeding his grandfather, George II, in 1760. The unsuitable secret
marriages made by his brothers were what forced into being the Royal
Marriages Act of 1772. Under this Act, the Sovereign must give consent
to the marriage of any lineal descendant of George II, with a few
exceptions. In 1811 it was acknowledged that the King was violently
insane. He remained in this state until his death on January 29
and Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland. The marriage, which was
said to have taken place on 5 December 1774 at Leicester House,
St Martin's, London, has not been proven. Or the possible marriage
on 4th March 1767.The Duke of Cumberland died 18th September 1790.
We do know, however, that he married Anne Lutrell, daughter of the
Earl of Carhampton on 2nd October 1771.
Attempting to untangle the possible familial relationships is a
nightmare. On 1st September 1791 Olivia married John Thomas Serres.
Serres was Olivia's art teacher and as she was under age the two
had to be married by special licence. By 1804 the couple were separated
and Olivia was free to pursue a career of writing, painting and
trying to be royal. She gave art lessons and exhibited her won works
at the Royal Academy in 1794 and from 1804-8, and the British Institute
in 1806. An involvement with the royal family began at this time
as she became landscape painter to the then Prince of Wales.
1815 she was told by Lord Woolwich that she was the Duchess of Cumberland.
Two years later she claimed to be the daughter of the Duke of Cumberland
and Mrs Payne, the sister of Dr Wilmot, her legal father. She believed
that she had been substituted ten days after her birth for the stillborn
child of Robert Wilmot. Wilmot was responsible for performing the
was no doubt a complete coincidence that in 1821 Oliva was arrested
for debt and claimed exemption on the basis of her royal lineage.
She appeared in court and before select committees several times
with documentary evidence of her claim.
was an active pen woman. A number of her articles were signed by
such pseudonyms as An Inquirer and it is under that name
that her first claim was made. She wrote a novel St Julian
in 1805, and her Flights of Fancy poems were published in
1806. In 1813 she published the memoirs of her legal father, Dr
Wilmot, five years after his death.
the time The Straggling Astrologer appeared in 1824, Olivia
was well known in England. The popular press delighted in publishing
stories of her activities and many were attracted to the fairy tale
story of the Princess given away at birth. Raphael appears to have
been amongst this number and convinced of her claim to royal blood.
wrote a regular column entitled Astrological Fragments. The
astrology was fairly standard for the time and written well enough.
Unfortunately, no scandalous revelations of royalty were included
though she did take a look at the late King's horoscope. In fact
she has been almost completely forgotten as an astrologer. Her claim
to royal blood has gone down in history and although many historians
reject it, it is a grey enough area for her to be recorded as a
possible daughter of the Duke of Cumberland. Olivia was similar
to Raphael in that she was a prolific writer, happy to cover a wide
subject area. Her writing is unexceptional in astrological terms
but she stands out as one of the few, very few women published in
astrology in the nineteenth century.
died 3 December 1834 and is interred at St James's Church, Westminster,
London. Her daughter, Lavinia, continued the fight but the documents
she produced as proof were found to be forgeries.