Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Children of George III: Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Cambridge

His Majesty’s seventh son, Adolphus Frederick (notice all the name recycling; by this time naming the kids must have been quite a chore) was born on February 24, 1774, at Kew, almost exactly a year after his brother Augustus...and like that brother, he would be a bit of a mold-breaker...but I’m getting ahead of myself.

As the third son in a sequence of three boys born within three years, Adolphus was lumped with his older brothers Ernest and Augustus and a pair of tutors into one household at Kew Green, which contained a whole set of houses for the royal children, for just about all of his childhood.

This lumping continued when the three brothers were sent to the University of Göttingen in 1786, when Adolphus was a lad of twelve. He seemed to thrive at the university and actually applied himself to his studies; being of such tender years, he couldn’t apply himself instead to the rowdier pastimes of university students like drinking to excess, dueling, or womanizing.

But by 1790 his college days were past, and Adolphus, like his older brothers, had entered the army. He saw active service in Holland, including being badly wounded and temporarily captured by the French in 1793 (though he was rescued by a timely sortie.) He returned to active military service until the Hanoverian forces withdrew in 1795, and returned with them to Hanover, where he lived for the next several years, still serving with honor and distinction in the army and generally charming everyone with his excellent manners and real interest in the arts and sciences (he was, it seems, an excellent violinist.) Napoleon’s advance across the continent forced his unwilling return to England—he would far rather have stayed to fight—after Hanover decided not to resist the approaching French forces

Adolphus (who had received his ducal title of Cambridge in 1801) lived quietly in London for the next decade or so. He spent much time with his parents and siblings and, unlike his brothers, lived within his means, proving to the world that not all of the king’s sons were “damned millstones” around the country’s neck (as the Duke of Wellington would at a later date describe them.) It is perhaps an indication of his character that even after Adolphus heartily promoted his eldest brother’s marriage to Caroline of Brunswick—an utterly disastrous marriage if there ever was one—the brothers remained the best of friends.

By 1813, with Napoleon’s fortunes on the wane, Adolphus was begged to return to Hanover and became its Governor-General, expecting to settle down and once more be of service to his family...until the death of Princess Charlotte a few years later kicked off the race for the king’s sons to produce a legitimate heir to the throne. Within two weeks of Charlotte’s death, Adolphus had proposed to and been accepted by Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel, all of twenty years old to Adolphus’s forty-three...but as it turned out, theirs was a very happy union. They duly produced a son in 1819, but the birth of children to Adolphus’s older brothers Edward and Ernest meant that the boy would likely inherit neither the throne of Great Britain nor Hanover. Two daughters followed over the years—Princess Augusta, who would be a close friend to her slightly older cousin Victoria, and Princess Mary, who would herself one day produce a queen for England.

Adolphus continued to serve Hanover until the death of his brother William in 1837 meant that the throne of Hanover would go to big brother Ernest, as Victoria, being female, could not inherit it. So he retired at last to England and spent the rest of his life doting upon his wife and continuing to do his duty for his family and country. Though his increasing eccentricities (he liked to sing along at concerts, make loud comments about sermons in church, and always wore a distinctive blond wig) made him a bit of a joke, they were harmless; and he showed his continued good sense by keeping out of politics (though he couldn’t resist trying to encourage a match between his son George and Victoria—neither of who were interested.) Family relations remained strained at times between him and Victoria (and Albert) because of a few small, foolish squabbles about nothing very important; eventually though, their relationship improved, and when Adolphus died in 1850, he was sincerely mourned by all.

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