Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Children of George III: Edward

I’m rather glad, for Queen Charlotte’s sake, that she finally got her baby girl in September of1766...because a year later, on November 2, 1767, yet another boy would be arriving in the nursery at Buckingham House. The new baby happened to arrive while his papa’s favorite brother, Edward, Duke of York, was awaiting burial just a short distance away at St. James’s Palace...so it seemed natural to name this newcomer after his late uncle, Edward.

Though he was fond of telling acquaintances later in life about how he’d been destined from birth to lead a life of gloom and struggle, Edward's first seventeen years seem remarkably gloom- and struggle-free. Just as the King’s two eldest sons were paired together, so Edward and his brother William would be: Edward was sent from the nursery at age nine to live with William in a pleasant house on Kew Green, and after William went to sea, Edward had the house and staff and a generous housekeeping budget to himself.

All that changed when he was sent to Germany in 1785 to start his education as a soldier. His governor, a Baron Wangenheim, was evidently a bit of a hard case, and Edward, himself more than a little spoiled, chafed under his tutelage—enough that finally, after receiving his first commission in Geneva, he bolted back to England without leave in early 1790. His highly annoyed father sent him to Gibraltar in disgrace, but at least he’d rid himself of the Baron...and acquired a “chère amie” in the form of a Madame de Saint-Laurent, who would remain faithfully with him for the next twenty-eight years until...but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Edward did not make himself loved in Gibraltar; he was a stickler for discipline (thanks to his training under Wangenheim, probably) and ferociously extravagant. The soldiers and shopkeepers of the Rock breathed a sigh of relief when he was sent next to Canada, where he would remain for the next nine years, once again deeply unpopular with the army but wildly popular socially. He was briefly stationed in the West Indies, then sent back to Canada, then back to Gibraltar in 1802 as its governor. But he lasted just a year before being recalled to England because his harsh discipline sparked a mutiny among his troops. His recall home pretty much ended his military career, though he retained some honorary military positions and honors (and the governorship of Gibraltar, though he never set foot there again.)

The next decade and a half were spent in his various houses (he seemed to regard four as the minimum he required) in England with Madame de Saint-Laurent while Edward’s debts only grew—he still hadn’t unlearned his habit of extravagance. He might well have lived out his life in this fashion, spending money and taking an interest in science and political theory, but the unexpected death in childbirth of his niece, Princess Charlotte, in 1817 precipitated him into the great matrimonial race of1818, when the sons of George III scrambled to find wives in order to provide a legitimate heir for the next generation. Edward’s choice landed on Victoire of Leiningen, the widowed sister of Charlotte’s husband Leopold; Edward proposed and was accepted...and according to legend, let his chère amie Madame Saint-Laurent find out about his upcoming marriage by reading about it in the newspaper. (She retired to a convent after their parting.)

Edward settled contently with his new bride at her home in Amorbach, where the cost of living was cheaper than in England, spending money he didn’t have on improvements to the ducal manor. But when Victoire became pregnant, Edward resolved that his child, a potential heir to the throne, should be born on English soil, and accordingly, when Victoire was seven months pregnant, Edward ordered an expensive traveling coach and they trundled across Europe and back to England (despite big brother Prinny telling them not to.) Edward’s daughter was born in May and christened Alexandrina Victoria. He was delighted with the sturdy baby and not at all disappointed in her gender; doubtless he assumed a brother or two would eventually join her in the nursery.

But little Drina would have no further brothers and sisters; when she was but eight months old and the family visiting the Devon coast, her papa caught a cold...and though he'd often declared his health vastly superior to that of his brothers and that he'd survive them all, his cold devolved into pneumonia...and within a few days, in January 1820, he was dead. Though Victoria would later idolize her late father (note the miniature of him she's clutching in the picture at right by Henry Bone), he doesn't seem to have endeared himself to many in his lifetime...and yet, you can't think too badly of a man who remained so faithful to his mistress for so many years.

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