Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Children of George III: Ernest

It’s been a while since we’ve met another one of George III’s numerous brood. As it happens, we’ve already met this particular son. But I’m getting ahead of myself...

The king’s fifth son and eighth child, Ernest Augustus, was born on June 5, 1771 at Buckingham House. His childhood seems to have been uneventful; it was spent growing up at Kew with his numerous siblings and sharing a household with his two younger brothers, Augustus and Adolphus. Ernest was a handsome, boisterous boy; unlike most of his brothers, he would never become corpulent, but remained lean his whole life.

At fifteen and still with his two younger brothers in tow, Ernest was sent to study at the University of Göttingen in Hanover, and received his earliest military training there as well. By 1792 he was commissioned as a cavalry colonel, being an excellent horseman and shot, and went on to fight against the French in several battles over the next few years, receiving a saber wound to his head (that would eventually result in a loss of vision in one eye) and other wounds. Though he would continue to serve in the military for another twenty years, returning to the continent and eventually attaining the rank of field marshal, his battle days were past.

However, his interest in politics was just beginning. When his father awarded him the title of Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale in 1799, he took his seat in the House of Lords and actually got involved. A dedicated Tory unlike his brothers Prinny and the Duke of York, he voted against bills for Catholic Emancipation and other liberal legislation and became a leader of the conservative end of his party. Also unlike his brothers, he was circumspect in his personal habits, which may have backfired on him as he acquired a reputation as a sinister figure who preferred to enjoy his vices privately. Rumors likely circulated by political opponents whirled around him, reaching their apex in the scandal around the death of his valet, Joseph Sellis.

The army and politics kept him sufficiently busy until 1813, when he became smitten by a cousin, Princess Frederica of Meckenburg-Strelitz. Though she was already married, the marriage was not a success and discussion of a divorce was underway when the princess’s husband died unexpectedly—a fact which became more grist for the rumor mill after Ernest and she married in 1815. Since Queen Charlotte did not approve of the marriage and would not receive her daughter-in-law, the couple eventually moved to Germany and had a son.

Over the next decade and a half, lurid rumors of murder and assault continued to circulate around Ernest, many of them probably politically motivated as he continued to involve himself in politics, being especially active in questions involving Ireland during the 1820s. The issue of the line of succession to the throne was an especially fraught one; after Prinny’s death in 1830, Ernest was next in line for the throne after young princess Victoria, and rumors that her life was in danger from her wicked uncle were rife even after she came to throne; only the births of her first children put those rumors to rest.

On the death of his older brother William IV Ernest became the king of Hanover, since Victoria as a female could not inherit the Hanoverian throne. He left England within the month to take up residence in his new kingdom, where he ruled according to his highly conservative bent (though he did eventually approve a more liberal constitution for Hanover.) He wasn’t very popular, but wasn’t unpopular either, and was appreciated for the fact that he kept Hanover out of the reaching grasp of Prussian expansionism. He died in 1851, at the age of 80.

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