Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Children of George III: The noble Duke of York

Do you remember that rhyme about the noble Duke of York and his ten thousand men, marching up to the top of a hill and marching down again? More about that shortly. ☺

Image result for frederick duke of yorkThe second child and second son of George and Charlotte was born a year and a day after his elder brother George, on August 16, 1763, and unusually for royalty was given just one name—Frederick. The brothers were to remain fast friends their entire lives, and were raised almost as twins and educated by the same tutors; but from an early age young Fred manifested an interest in all things military which would lead his father in 1780 to send the boy off to Germany, to receive a military education from his uncle the Duke of Brunswick, regarded as the finest soldier in Europe. He didn’t return to England until almost seven years had passed, and amazingly, much of the correspondence between him and his family has been reserved, giving us a picture of a young man whose passion for the military was probably somewhat greater than his ability...but who retained a fundamental kindness and sweetness of character despite years of living amongst the less-than-kind-and-sweet royal military caste of the continent.

After a few years of riotous living in England (following in his elder brother’s footsteps once again, much to their father’s dismay) Frederick proposed to a girl he’d met during his years on the continent, Frederica of Prussia, great-niece of Frederick the Great. It wasn't a love match, and the fact that they had no children allowed them to drift apart, but they always remained good and loyal friends and Frederick visited her frequently at the country estate she preferred to live at, Oatlands, where she was able to indulge her extreme fondness for dogs and other animals. Her husband, in the meanwhile, continued his military career; though Frederick tried, he ended up doing poorly not through incompetence but through bad luck and unreliable allies (the “noble Duke of York” rhyme might have come about from his participation in the disastrous Flanders Campaign against France in 1793-94.) A further campaign in 1799, a joint invasion of Holland with the Russians, also ended badly.

Image result for frederick duke of yorkAfter that, Frederick retired to England to take a desk job back home as Commander-in-Chief...and finally came into his own. His bad experiences as a field commander with the woefully undersupplied and inadequately trained British army led him to a program of military infrastructure building: among other things he strongly supported the establishment of the military college at Sandhurst to train officers and encouraged promotion by merit, not birth or wealth. This work made possible the success of the Peninsular Campaign, driving Napoleon out of the Iberian peninsula, and laid the foundation for the future British Empire’s military might.

A scandal in 1809 involving the sale of officers’ commissions by the Duke's mistress Mary Ann Clark, supposedly with his tacit permission—a scandal that seems to have been constructed by poor Fred’s political opponents—led to his resignation as C-in-C, though the uncovering of the plot came to light soon after, and he was reinstated by his brother, now the Prince Regent, in 1811. Fortunately, the rest of his life went on quietly—he did his job, continued to amiably carouse and gamble away vast amounts of money, and remained a fundamentally nice guy. To Prinny’s enormous sadness his favorite brother died in 1827.

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