Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Frederick, Duke of York (1763-1827)

Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany
from La Belle Assemblée (1827)
The Duke of York

Prince Frederick was born on 16 August 1763 at St James’ Palace, London, the second son of King George III and Queen Charlotte.

He was made Duke of York and Albany and Earl of Ulster on 27 November 1784 and became heir presumptive to the British throne on the death of his father, George III, in 1820.

Frederick never acceded to the throne, however, because he died before his brother, George IV, on 5 January 1827.

Family relationships

Frederick was George III’s favourite son. Despite this, the Duke enjoyed a warm relationship with his brother, George, the Prince of Wales, and supported him during the Regency crisis of 1788. They shared the same extravagant lifestyle, though the Duke took his official duties rather more seriously than his brother. However, Frederick was constantly in debt from his passion for gambling, both on horses and cards. He was nearly killed in a duel by Colonel Charles Lennox.

He spent several years in Hanover after joining the army, studying at the University of Gottingen, with his younger brothers.

The Duchess of York

Frederica, Duchess of York
from A Biographical Memoir of Frederick,
 Duke of York and Albany
by John Watkins (1827)
On 29 September 1791 in Berlin, the Duke married his cousin, Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia. The ceremony was repeated at Buckingham Palace on 23 November 1791. The marriage was not successful; they had no children and the couple soon separated. The Duchess of York retired to Oatlands Park in Weybridge, where she lived an eccentric life until her death in 1820. She was a popular local benefactress and was buried in Weybridge Old Church.

Military career

Frederick was destined for a military career and he joined the army in 1780. As an inexperienced officer, he was put in command of the army in Flanders and suffered humiliating defeat.

He became commander-in-chief of the British army in 1795 and embarked upon a series of reforms which revolutionised the army. He took control of discipline, training the troops in drill and field manoeuvres. He also ensured the provision of greatcoats bought with public funds rather than the old system of leaving colonels to clothe their own regiments. In addition, he introduced a system for sending confidential reports to head office.

The Duke created and trained the Rifle Brigade – the 95th Regiment – and equipped them with deadly accurate Baker rifles and uniforms designed for camouflage rather than display. The same desire for merit-based promotion led to the establishment of the Royal Military College in 1802 for the training of military officers.
Baker Rifle

The Mrs Clarke scandal

In January 1809, Lloyd Wardle, a radical member of parliament, brought accusations against the Duke of York and his mistress, Mrs Clarke. It was revealed that Mrs Clarke, an extravagant actress under the Duke’s protection, had accepted money from people wishful of buying promotion or favours in the military. The Duke was accused of knowing about her sales of office and even sharing the proceeds.

Parliament examined the evidence closely before clearing the Duke of personal corruption or aiding the corruption of his mistress. However, it was clear that Mrs Clarke had been told far too much information of an official nature by her royal lover, and the Duke was obliged to resign his official appointments due to the embarrassment caused by this scandal.

The Duke was, however, exonerated by his elder brother and reappointed commander-in-chief in 1811 when George became Prince Regent.

Sources used include:
Chedzoy, Alan, Seaside Sovereign - King George III at Weymouth, (2003)
Fry, Plantagenet Somerset, The Kings & Queens of England & Scotland, (1990)
Watson, J. Steven, Oxford History of England: The Reign of George III 1760-1815, (1960)

1 comment:

  1. Being an Englishman of nearly 80 years I feel ashamed that I never took any interest in the Regency period of our history. From Saxon times to 1649 and from 1914 1950 have always held me, I'm particularly fond of the Plantagenet's.

    It was only in the past year that I sat up and started to take notice after reading Pride & Prejudice for would you believe the first time. I wont go into why it took me 74 (I started reading at age 3) years to discover Jane Austen. Now I can not stop, I'm hooked and this website will now take up a considerable amount of my time. It is an amazing site. Thank you.