We recently posted a video tour of the tunnel beneath the Royal Pavilion. Numerous myths abound about tunnels beneath the Pavilion, but the most common belief is that a tunnel connected Prince George’s palace with the house of Maria Fitzherbert on the Old Steine.
In truth, there is no tunnel connecting the lovers’ homes. The tunnel that exists connects the Pavilion to the Dome, formerly the stables, and was built so that the unpopular King could move about his own estate in secret.
While Prince of Wales, George secretly married Mrs Fitzherbert in 1785. The wedding was conducted in secret as it was illegal for a member of the royal family to marry a Catholic. Maria Fitzherbert moved to Brighton in 1786, and although the couple never shared the same house, they openly presented themselves in Brighton as a couple. This is demonstrated by local newspaper reports of the time. Remarking on King George III’s ill health, the Sussex Weekly Advertiser reported that:
‘The king’s alarming indisposition occasioned the Prince and Mrs Fitzherbert, with their suite to leave Brighthelmstone, at least a fortnight earlier than they otherwise intended to have gone from that place of gaiety and pleasure. On Friday the Prince’s Household at Brighthelmstone were ordered to town in such haste that they were obliged to take their linen wet from the washer-woman.’
Sussex Weekly Advertiser, 10 November 1788
The relationship between the heir to the throne and a Catholic widow may have been a political scandal, but in Brighton it appears to have been regarded as perfectly acceptable.