Abbotts Ann, village south of Andover.
Red Rice House
This village south of Andover is remarkable for two disparate reasons: a custom in honour of its deceased virgins; and the scene of the marriage of the Heir to the Throne of a woman who had previously been twice married.
Almost to the end of the last century a quaint and homely ceremony attended the funeral rites of virgins. Ornate white paper garlands, with the names of the dead maidens attached, were displayed inside the parish church.
Several other villages in the area did likewise, though Abbotts Ann continued to offer the charming memorials for decades after they had been discontinued elsewhere. In the 18th century the celebrated Reverend Gilbert White of Selborne recalls in his Antiquities that in his parish the church’s beams were “hung with garlands in honour of young women who”, he adds with a touch of ungallant cynicism, “were reputed to have died virgins”.
A mile from Abbotts Ann is the mansion of Red Rice House where, in 1785, the Prince of Wales (afterwards George IV) was said to have married Mrs. Fitzherbert, a Roman Catholic.
The lady’s two former husbands were Edward Weld, of Lulworth Castle, Dorset, and Thomas Fitzherbert, of Swinnerton Park, Staffordshire, who died in 1781.
The marriage to the Heir to the Throne was illegal under the Royal Marriage Act and the earlier Act of Settlement: the Prince was a minor, being only twenty-three and therefore two years short of reaching his majority as stipulated by the Act; and Mrs. Fitzherbert was a Roman Catholic, which contravened the Act of Settlement. But the Royal Family recognised the marriage and the couple lived together until1803.