The Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (Frederick Augustus; 16 August 1763 – 5 January 1827) was a member of the Hanoverian and British Royal Family, the second eldest child, and second son, of King George III. From the death of his father in 1820 until his own death in 1827, he was the heir presumptive to his elder brother, King George IV, both to the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Hanover.
As an inexperienced young military officer, he presided over the unsuccessful campaign against the forces of France in the Low Countries, during the conflict which followed the French Revolution. Later, as commander-in-chief of the British army, he made amends for his initial military setbacks during the late 1790s by brilliantly reorganising his nation’s forces, putting in place administrative reforms which enabled the British to defeat Napoleon’s crack troops. He also founded the United Kingdom’s renowned military college, Sandhurst, which promoted the professional, merit-based training of future commissioned officers.
Prince Frederick Augustus, or the Duke of York as he became in later life, belonged to the House of Hanover. He was born on 16 August 1763, at St. James’s Palace, London. His father was the reigning British monarch, King George III. His mother was Queen Charlotte (née Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz).
On 27 February 1764, when Prince Frederick was six months old, his father secured his election as Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück in today’s Lower Saxony. He received this title because the prince-electors of Hanover (which included his father) were entitled to select every other holder of this title (in alternation with the Holy Roman Emperor), to which considerable revenues accrued, and the King apparently decided to ensure that the title remained in the family for as long as possible. At only 196 days of age he is therefore listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest bishop in history. He was invested as Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1767 and as a Knight of the Order of the Garter on 19 June 1771.
Even though he was the second son, Frederick was favoured over his elder brother The Prince of Wales.
George III decided that his second son would pursue an army career and had him gazetted colonel in 1780. From 1781 to 1787, Prince Frederick lived in Hanover, where he drank and fornicated immoderately yet still found time to earnestly attend the manoeuvres of the Austrian and Prussian armies and studied (along with his younger brothers, Prince Edward, Prince Ernest, Prince Augustus and Prince Adolphus) at the University of Göttingen. He was appointed colonel of the 2nd Horse Grenadier Guards (now 2nd Life Guards) in 1782, and promoted major-general and appointed colonel of the Coldstream Guards in 1784.
Life in the Army
Frederick was created Duke of York and Albany and Earl of Ulster on 27 November 1784 and became a member of the Privy Council. He retained the bishopric of Osnabrück until 1803, when, in the course of the secularization preceding the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the bishopric was incorporated into Hanover. In the summer of 1787, American newspaper accounts said that a government plot was under way to invite Prince Frederick to become “King of the United States”. On his return to Britain, the Duke took his seat in the House of Lords, where, on 15 December 1788 during the Regency crisis, he opposed William Pitt’s Regency Bill in a speech which was supposed to have been caused by the Prince of Wales.
In 1795 The Duke of York took command of the regular British Army, including the Ordnance Corps, the Militia, and the Volunteers, and immediately declared “that no officer should ever be subject to the same disadvantages under which he had laboured”, reflecting on the Netherlands campaigns of 1793-94. The Duke of York’s participation in the Anglo-Russian invasion of North Holland in 1799 made a strong impression on him, and he was the single most responsible person in the British Army to institute reforms that created the force which later was able to serve in the Peninsular War, as well as the preparations for the expected French invasion of United Kingdom in 1803.
The Duke of York was his father’s favorite son. He remained, however, somewhat in the shadow of his flashy elder brother, George, Prince of Wales, especially after the latter became Prince Regent due to the mental incapacity of the King. However, the two brothers continued to enjoy a warm relationship. They had many interests in common and they both enjoyed indulging their physical desires; but generally speaking, the Duke of York took a more diligent approach to the discharge of his public duties than did the Prince Regent.
The 72nd Regiment of Foot was renamed 72nd (Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders) Regiment of Foot on 19 December 1823.
On 29 September 1791 at Charlottenburg, Berlin, and again on 23 November 1791 at Buckingham Palace, the Duke of York married his cousin Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia, the daughter of King Frederick William II of Prussia and Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Lüneburg. The new Duchess of York received an enthusiastic welcome in London, but the marriage was not a happy one. The couple soon separated and the Duchess retired to Oatlands Park, Weybridge, where she lived eccentrically and died in 1820. Their relationship after separation appears to have been amicable, but there was never any question of reconciliation.
The Duke and Duchess of York had no children, but the Duke was rumored to have sired several illegitimate offspring by different mothers over the years. Believed to be among the Duke’s extra-marital children are: Captain Charles Hesse (circa 1786-1832), a British military officer; Frederick George (1800–1848) and Louisa Ann (1802–1890) Vaniest; Colonel John George Nathaniel Gibbes (1787-1873), who served as a commissioned British officer in the Napoleonic Wars and became Collector of Customs for the Colony of New South Wales, Australia, from 1834 until his retirement in 1859; and army Captain John Molloy (1788/89-1867), a landowner and pioneer of Augusta in Western Australia.
In 1793, the Duke of York was sent to Flanders in command of the British contingent of Coburg’s army destined for the invasion of France, a force which captured and occupied Valenciennes in July that year. On his return to Britain in the following year, George III promoted him to the rank of field marshal, and on 3 April 1795, appointed him Commander-in-Chief in succession to Lord Amherst. His second field command was with the army sent to invade Holland in conjunction with a Russian corps d’armée in 1799. Sir Ralph Abercromby and Admiral Sir Charles Mitchell, in charge of the vanguard, had succeeded in capturing the Dutch ships in Den Helder. However, following the Duke of York’s arrival with the main body of the army, a number of disasters befell the allied forces. On 17 October, the Duke signed the Convention of Alkmaar, by which the allied expedition withdrew after giving up its prisoners.
These military setbacks were inevitable, given the Duke’s lack of combat experience as a field commander, the lamentable state of the British army at the time, and the intervention of pure bad luck during the campaign. Nonetheless, because of Flanders, the Prince was destined to be unfairly pilloried for all time in the rhyme The Grand Old Duke of York, which goes:
The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up.
And when they were down, they were down.
And when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down.
Mindful of the poor performance of the British army that he had experienced in Flanders, the Duke of York carried out many significant structural, training and logistical reforms to the British military forces during his service as the army’s commander-in-chief during the early 19th Century. These reforms contributed to Great Britain’s subsequent successes in the wars against Napoleon. In these positive outcomes, culminating in the victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke was aided by the military genius of the Duke of Wellington, who eventually would succeed him as commander-in-chief of the army. It should be noted that the Duke resigned for a time as commander-in-chief, on 25 March 1809, as the result of a scandal caused by the activities of his latest mistress, Mary Anne Clarke. Mary Anne Clarke is an ancestor of the writer Daphne du Maurier. Clarke was accused of illicitly selling army commissions under the Duke’s aegis. A select committee was appointed by the British House of Commons to enquire into the matter. The parliament eventually acquitted the Duke of having received bribes by 278 votes to 196. He nevertheless resigned because of the high tally against him. Two years later, on 29 May 1811, after it was revealed that Clarke had received payment from the Duke’s disgraced chief accuser, the Prince Regent reappointed the now exonerated Duke of York as commander-in-chief. The Duke would hold this post for the rest of his life. In addition, the Prince Regent created his brother a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Guelphic Order.
The Duke of York maintained a country residence at Oatlands near Weybridge, Surrey; but he was seldom there, preferring to immerse himself in his administrative work at Horse Guards (the British army’s headquarters) and, after hours, in London’s high life, with its gaming tables and attendant vices. (The Duke was perpetually in debt due to his excessive gambling on cards and racehorses.) Following the unexpected death of his niece, Princess Charlotte of Wales in 1817, the Duke became second in line to the throne, with a serious chance of inheriting it. This opportunity to become king improved further in 1820 when he became heir presumptive with the death of his father, the elderly and mentally ill George III.
The Duke of York died of dropsy and apparent cardio-vascular disease at the home of the Duke of Rutland on Arlington Street, London, in 1827. His dissipated lifestyle had no doubt led to his relatively early demise, thus denying him the throne. After lying in state in London, the Duke’s remains were interred in St. George’s Chapel, at Windsor.
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