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Friday, 26 October 2012

Henrietta Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough (1761-1821)

Harriet, Lady Bessborough
from La Belle Assemblée (1810)
Profile

Harriet, Lady Bessborough (16 June 1761 - 11 November 1821), was the younger sister of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. She was a leading figure in society and notorious for her affairs with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Lord Granville Leveson-Gower.
 
Early life

Henrietta Frances Spencer was born in Wimbledon, Surrey, on 16 June 1761, the second daughter of John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer and Lady Margaret Poyntz. Henrietta, known as Harriet, was tall and attractive, but lived in the shadow of her elder sister, Georgiana, who became the Duchess of Devonshire at the age of seventeen.

An unwise marriage 

Harriet was passionately attached to Georgiana and this encouraged her to choose Frederick Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon, the Duke’s cousin, as her husband, even though she was unsure of his character. They were married on 27 November 1780 and quickly became part of the Devonshire House set, with its dissolute habits.

Harriet became addicted to gambling and amassed thousands of pounds of debt that she could not afford to pay. Duncannon proved to be an abusive husband, desperate to get his hands on Harriet’s financial settlement, and frequently Harriet had to turn to her family for help. They had four children, John William (1781), Frederick Cavendish (1783), Caroline (1785) and William (1787).

Whig canvassing

In 1784, she canvassed for votes for the Whig leader, Charles James Fox, alongside her sister Georgiana, in the Westminster Election. Although their actions were similar, it was Georgiana who was ridiculed in the press, no doubt because of her greater position of popularity and importance in the ton. In the 1788 by-election, Harriet canvassed for the Whigs again; Georgiana stayed at home.

Affairs of the heart

Harriet was unhappy in her marriage and jealous of Lady Elizabeth Foster’s influence over Georgiana. She embarked upon an affair with Charles Wyndham, one of the Devonshire House set, but was prevented from eloping with him by her brother and mother. They successfully persuaded her to drop the connection before her husband found out.

But this did not stop her indulging in other affairs. In 1788, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the playwright and MP, became Harriet’s lover. The affair almost ended in divorce, but the Duke of Devonshire, with all the weight of the Cavendish family behind him, induced Harriet's husband to drop proceedings. He then insisted that the Duncannons visit him and Georgiana in Brussels, in order to avoid any possibility of further problems with Sheridan.

Years later, in 1805, Sheridan became obsessed with Harriet, causing her great distress by pressing his attentions on her in public.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan
from The Creevey Papers (1904)
Speculation and collapse

In 1791, Harriet and her sister were involved in a financial scandal. They had speculated in a risky share syndicate which failed. Both lost large sums of money.

At the same time, Harriet’s health collapsed. She had some kind of stroke which left her paralysed down one side and subject to fits. There has been much speculation as to the cause of this illness. It may have been as a result of a miscarriage or possibly an attempted abortion. Alternatively, it may have been caused by attempted suicide or ill treatment at her husband’s hands, which may in turn have been a response to her financial losses.

Bath

Whist still suffering from partial paralysis, Harriet caught bronchial pneumonia, and it looked as if she would not survive. Although the Duke was on bad terms with his wife over her enormous debts, he showed compassion on her and her ailing sister by renting a house in Bath for them and all their children to live in, so that Harriet could benefit from taking the waters.

Entrance to the Royal Baths, Bath
The exile party

But in the autumn of 1791, the situation changed drastically. Georgiana was sent abroad by the Duke in disgrace: she was pregnant with her lover’s child. This coincided with recommendations that Harriet visit a warmer climate to aid her recovery, providing a useful cover story for the party, which included Georgiana, Lady Spencer, Lady Elizabeth Foster and the Duncannons.

They travelled to Montpellier, where Georgiana had her baby, and then through southern France and Switzerland to Italy, where it was hoped that the warm, dry air would help Harriet’s lungs.

Countess of Bessborough

On 11 March 1793, Duncannon’s father died and he became 3rd Earl of Bessborough. He left Harriet, who was still far from well, in Naples, and returned to London.

Lord Granville

The Duke finally allowed Georgiana to return home in September 1793, but Harriet was too ill to travel and stayed with her mother in Naples. However, Lady Spencer’s presence did not prevent her from falling in love again.

When Harriet returned to England a year later, fully recovered save a weakness in her legs which necessitated the use of walking sticks, she was embroiled in the most serious love affair of her life. This time the object of her affections was Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, a handsome young man, twelve years her junior, who was both politically ambitious and very prone to falling in love.

Lord Granville Leveson-Gower
    from Lord Granville's
Private Correspondence
(1916)

Secret births

Harriet had two children by Lord Granville, Harriette Arundel Stewart (1800) and George Arundel Stewart (1802), to whom she gave birth in secret and then placed with foster parents. It was a source of great sorrow to her that she could never openly acknowledge these children as her own.

A volatile daughter

Harriet was an affectionate parent and worried about her emotionally volatile daughter, Caroline. She failed to dissuade her from marrying William Lamb in 1805. Lady Caroline Lamb’s public love affair with Byron, and extreme behaviour after it ended, was one of the greatest scandals of the day.

A dreadful bereavement

By 1805, Harriet’s health had started deteriorating. She wrote to Lord Granville that he would find her “quite a cripple” because she had “grown very lame again”. (1)
 
In 1806, Georgiana became seriously ill and died. Harriet was devastated. She wrote to Lord Granville: “Anything so horrible, so killing, as her three days’ agony no human being ever witness’d.” (2)

Georgiana Cavendish in the "picture hat"
after Thomas Gainsborough c1785-7
  from The Two Duchesses,
 Family Correspondence (1898)
Lord Granville's marriage

On Christmas Eve 1809, Lord Granville married Harriet’s niece, Georgiana’s daughter Harryo. The letters exchanged between Lord Granville and Harriet at the time suggest that, though it must surely have been painful, Harriet had encouraged the match. However, she later doubted whether Granville had ever really loved her and their previous intimacy must have caused considerable awkwardness in the family.

Ironically, the Prince of Wales chose to champion Harriet at this time, abusing Lord Granville to her face for his inconstancy and throwing himself at Harriet’s feet until she could talk him back to reason!

The final years

Harriet remained a popular figure in society, but found the greatest enjoyment in her family. She often stayed with her sons and their families, and it was while she was visiting William in Florence, Italy, that she died, on 11 November 1821. Harriet was buried in the Cavendish family vault in All Saints Church, Derby.

Notes
(1) From a letter from Harriet to Lord Granville 10 August 1805.
(2) From an undated letter from Harriet to Lord Granville after her sister's death.

Sources used include:
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée (John Bell, 1810, London)
Bourke, Hon. Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Cavendish, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and others, The Two Duchesses, Family Correspondence, ed by Vere Foster (Blackie & Son, 1898, London)
Creevey, Thomas, The Creevey Papers, A selection from the correspondence & diaries of the late Thomas Creevey, MP, ed by Sir Herbert Maxwell (John Murray, 1904, London)
Foreman, Amanda, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (HarperCollins, 1998, London)
Foreman, Amanda, Ponsonby, Henrietta Frances, Countess of Bessborough (1761-1821) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2008, accessed 14 Oct 2012)
Leveson-Gower, Lord Granville, Private correspondence 1781-1821, ed by Castalia, Countess Granville (John Murray, 1916, London)

 All photographs by Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

Friday, 19 October 2012

Lady Elizabeth Foster, later Duchess of Devonshire (1758-1824)

Lady Elizabeth Foster, later Duchess of Devonshire,  in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth
Lady Elizabeth Foster, later Duchess of Devonshire,
in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth
Profile

Lady Elizabeth Foster (baptised 13 May 1758 - 30 March 1824) was the intimate friend of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and the mistress of Georgiana's husband. She became the Duchess of Devonshire after Georgiana's death.

Early years

Elizabeth Christiana Hervey was baptised on 13 May 1758 in Horringer, Suffolk, the daughter of Frederick Hervey and Elizabeth Davers. The family moved to Ireland when Hervey was appointed Bishop of Cloyne (1767) and then Bishop of Derry (1768) through the influence of his brother. Elizabeth, known as Bess, spent her childhood in relative poverty, in Ireland and on the continent. The family fortunes changed drastically when Hervey became 4th Earl of Bristol in December 1779, but by this time, Bess was already married.

A short-lived marriage

On 16 December 1776, Bess married John Foster, an Irish MP. She had two sons, Frederick (1777) and Augustus (1780), but the marriage was not a success and in 1780, the couple separated. Foster was unfaithful, but on her side, Bess may have been regretting marriage to someone beneath her newly elevated status as Lady Elizabeth Foster. Bess gave up custody of her sons to Foster and returned to England, where she was forced to live in reduced circumstances.

The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire  in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth
In 1782, Bess met the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire in Bath. Seeing an opportunity to improve her circumstances, she attached herself to the emotionally-starved Duchess, with whom she formed an instant bond. She succeeded so well that when Georgiana went home, Bess was invited to accompany them. Eager to please, Bess provided the Duke with the companionship he needed and at some point became his mistress.

Intrigues abroad

Georgiana’s mother, Lady Spencer, was keenly jealous for Georgiana’s position and encouraged the Cavendishes to send Bess abroad for her health. Bess duly left for France in December 1782, acting as governess to Charlotte Williams, the Duke’s natural daughter. The doors of Parisian high society were closed to her as a governess, but she enjoyed the freedom of being on her own in receipt of a large income.

Rumours drifted back to the Duchess that Bess was involved in scandalous behaviour in Italy. Bess hastened to reassure Georgiana but did not hurry to return home, afraid that she would have lost her influence after the birth of Georgiana’s daughter. Eventually, Bess was persuaded to return to Devonshire House, in July 1784.

A secret birth

She did not remain long. At the end of 1784, Bess went abroad again, ostensibly for her health. The reality was that she was pregnant. This time, she was given letters of introduction to the Duchesse de Polignac to enable her to move in polite society in Paris. Despite carrying the Duke of Devonshire’s child, she became mistress to the Duke of Dorset.

Duchesse de Polignac    from Seven Splendid Sinners,   by WRH Trowbridge (1908)
Duchesse de Polignac
  from Seven Splendid Sinners,
 by WRH Trowbridge (1908)
When her pregnancy could no longer be hidden, she fled to her brother in Naples and confessed all. He arranged for her to have the baby in a squalid inn and quickly reappear in society to preserve secrecy. In July 1786, Bess left her daughter, Caroline, with the elderly Comte St Jules who agreed to accept paternity, and finally acquiesced to the Duke and Duchess’ pleas for her to come home.

Ménage à trois 

By this time, Georgiana could no longer be in any doubt about the relationship between her husband and her best friend, but, to the amazement of society, she accepted the strange threesome, or ménage à trois. It is unclear whether this was due to Georgiana’s emotional dependence on Bess or whether Bess was blackmailing her over her massive debts which she was anxious to conceal from the Duke.

William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire  after Sir Joshua Reynolds    stipple engraving pubd 1808    NPG D13723 © National Portrait Gallery, London
William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire
after Sir Joshua Reynolds
  stipple engraving pubd 1808
  NPG D13723 © National Portrait Gallery, London
An illegitimate son

In 1788, Bess was pregnant again and went abroad to have her child. She had her son, Augustus Clifford, in relative comfort, and left him with foster parents before returning to England. There was some question about Augustus’ paternity, as Bess had also had an affair with the Duke of Richmond, but the Duke of Devonshire accepted that the child was his. Two years later, she succeeded in having Caroline and Augustus brought to England, to be raised with the Cavendish children.

The bonds of friendship

After the birth of her son in 1790, Georgiana confessed her debts to the Duke. Bess stood by her throughout the ordeal. But the real test of her friendship came the following year when Georgiana was banished abroad because she was carrying Charles Grey’s child. Bess went with her.

After two years abroad, the Duke relented, and Georgiana and Bess came home in the autumn of 1793. They resumed their strange ménage à trois, but Georgiana and the Duke were getting on much better than before, and Bess feared that her influence was waning.

The Duke of Richmond

Anxious for her long-term future, Bess rekindled her affair with the Duke of Richmond and became his mistress. When, in 1796, both the Duchess of Richmond and her own husband died, she expected the Duke to marry her. But after many months of waiting, it was clear that the Duke had no intention of doing so.

Charles Lennox,  3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennoxl    by George Romney 1775-7    NPG 4877 © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Charles Lennox,
3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennox
  by George Romney 1775-7
  NPG 4877 © National Portrait Gallery, London.
The new Duchess of Devonshire

On 30 March 1806, Georgiana died. Bess was distraught. “She was the charm of my existence,” she wrote to her son, “my constant support in all my sorrows, the doubler and sharer of every joy.”1

Georgiana had secured her friend’s immediate future by making her sole guardian of her papers. The Cavendish children might resent her presence, but the Duke found he could not do without Bess to look after him.

Eventually, on 19 October 1809, the Duke and Bess were married. But Bess did not have long to enjoy the attainment of the position that she had coveted for so long. The Duke died on 29 July 1811, less than two years later.

Roman excavations

After the Duke’s death, Bess lived alone, in style, in Piccadilly before moving to Rome in 1816. Here, Bess found a new vocation as a devoted patron of the arts, in particular, archaeology. For eleven years, she funded the excavation of the Forum, enabling the recovery of the Column of Phocas and the stones of the Via Sacra. In Rome, she also found the last love of her life - Cardinal Hercule Consalvi, secretary of state to the Vatican.

The Forum, Rome
The Forum, Rome
Bess died in Rome on 30 March 1824 and was buried in the Cavendish family vault in Derby Cathedral.

Note
(1) From a letter from Lady Elizabeth Foster to her son Augustus (9 July 1806).

Sources used include:
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée (John Bell, 1810, London)
Bourke, Hon. Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Cavendish, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and others, The Two Duchesses, Family Correspondence ed by Vere Foster (Blackie & Son, 1898, London)
Foreman, Amanda, Cavendish, Elizabeth Christiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP 2004, online edn May 2010, accessed 11 Oct 2012)
Foreman, Amanda, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (HarperCollins, 1998, London)
Horringer Parish Registers with biographies (1900)
Trowbridge, WRH, Seven Splendid Sinners (1908)

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806)

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire  by Thomas Gainsborough  in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
by Thomas Gainsborough
in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth
Profile

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (7 June 1757 - 30 March 1806), was a leading member of late Georgian society, famous for her extrovert personality, her extravagant fashions and her championing of the Whigs led by Charles James Fox. She lived in a notorious “ménage à trois” with her husband and his mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster, and had an affair with the future prime minister, Charles Grey, which almost ruined her.

Born to privilege

Lady Georgiana Spencer was born in Althorp, Northamptonshire, on 7 June 1757. She was the eldest daughter of John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer, one of the richest men in England, and Margaret Georgiana Poyntz. She had two siblings, George and Henrietta, known as Harriet, later Lady Bessborough.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and her sister Harriet, Countess of Bessborough from Lord Granville Leveson Gower's private correspondence 1781-1821 (1916)
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
and her sister Harriet, Countess of Bessborough
from Lord Granville Leveson Gower's
private correspondence 1781-1821 (1916)
Her father’s temper was somewhat uncertain, but her mother doted on her and remained jealous for her affection throughout her life. Georgiana was brought up to be accomplished, but not too bookish, with a keen emphasis on etiquette. In short, she was raised to make a brilliant marriage.

An illustrious marriage

Georgiana married William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, on 7 June 1774, her 17th birthday. The Duke was extremely reserved and ill-matched to the emotionally demonstrative Georgiana.

William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire  after Sir Joshua Reynolds    stipple engraving pubd 1808    NPG D13723 © National Portrait Gallery, London
William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire
after Sir Joshua Reynolds
  stipple engraving pubd 1808
  NPG D13723 © National Portrait Gallery, London
She in turn was unprepared for her duties as Duchess and hungry for affection. The Duke already had a mistress, Charlotte Spencer, with whom he had a daughter, Charlotte Williams. All he required of Georgiana was to provide him with an heir and this she seemed unable to do.

Queen of fashion

Starved of the affection she craved, Georgiana threw herself into the fashionable world. The Duchess became the darling of the Beau Monde. Where Georgiana led, the ton followed. She set the fashions, whether for three foot high ostrich feathers or tall towers of hair with elaborate decorations or, later, the penchant for free-flowing muslin dresses tied simply with ribbon round the waist.

Devoted Whig

Georgiana enthusiastically embraced her husband’s politics and became “a zealous advocate of the Whigs”1. Devonshire House became the hub of the Whig party and Georgiana their leading hostess.

In 1780, Georgiana appeared on the hustings for the general election beside Charles James Fox, leader of the Whig party. In 1784, when Fox was struggling to keep his seat in the Westminster election, Georgiana and her sister went amongst the electorate, canvassing for votes for Fox. Their actions were successful and Fox held his seat, but the press was humiliating, accusing Georgiana of exchanging kisses for votes and forcing her to take a less visible role in the future.

Charles James Fox  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Charles James Fox
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Many years later, Georgiana was instrumental in persuading the different political factions to work together, eventually forming the Ministry of All Talents in 1806.

The Devonshire House Circle

The Devonshire House Circle was a wild set with loose morals that drank heavily and played deeply. It included Charles James Fox, George, Prince of Wales, the Countess of Jersey and Viscountess Melbourne who became Georgiana’s intimate friends.
George, Prince of Wales  from La Belle Assemblée (1830)
George, Prince of Wales
from La Belle Assemblée (1830)
Within the set, Georgiana popularised the Cavendish drawl – an affected manner of speaking that bespoke the aristocrat which she had learnt from the Duke.

Debts, debts and more debts

Georgiana was extravagant and gave the most splendid parties. But her real downfall was her addiction to gambling, resulting in ever-increasing debts which she did her best to hide from the Duke, placing a constant strain on her life. When she eventually confessed to her debts, it seemed for a while as if the Duke would divorce her, but instead he treated her with great forbearance.

Bess

In 1782, the Duke and Duchess went to Bath, where they met the fascinating Lady Elizabeth Foster. She was separated from her husband and living in restricted circumstances and eagerly seized the opportunity to improve her situation. Lady Elizabeth, known as Bess, attached herself to Georgiana and was invited to return home with them.

Lady Elizabeth Foster  from La Belle Assemblée (1810)
Lady Elizabeth Foster
from La Belle Assemblée (1810)
Bess succeeded in making herself indispensable to both Duchess and Duke, as friend to one and mistress to the other. Whether Georgiana’s emotional dependence clouded her judgement or whether Bess was blackmailing her over her ever mounting debts, Georgiana supported the strange “ménage à trois” that resulted.

Bess bore the Duke two illegitimate children, Caroline St Jules and Augustus Clifford, and became the Duchess of Devonshire after Georgiana’s death.

A devoted mother

Finally, in 1783, Georgiana, known as Little G, was born. Her sister, Harriet, known as Harryo, followed two years later, but it was not until 1790, when the hope of her ever producing an heir had almost disappeared, that William, Marquess of Hartington, known as Hart, was born.

The love of Georgiana’s life

The true love of Georgiana’s life was the handsome young Whig politician, Charles Grey. She embarked upon an affair, but in 1791 she faced the worst crisis of her life when she discovered that she was carrying his child. The Duke gave her an ultimatum: give up Grey and the child or she would never see her three children again. Grey was furious when she chose her children over him.

Charles Grey  by Thomas Lawrence 1828  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Charles Grey
by Thomas Lawrence 1828
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Exile

Georgiana fled abroad giving birth to Eliza Courtney in January 1792 and then handing her over to Grey’s parents to be brought up. She was never able to openly acknowledge her motherhood, although she did visit her daughter.

Eventually, the Duke sent word that she could return and in the autumn of 1793, she arrived in England after a two year absence.

Recluse

For several years following her exile, Georgiana lived a quiet life at Chatsworth House. She suffered a severe eye infection, possibly a tumour, which left her blind in one eye and her face scarred from the primitive treatment that she had received.

Chatsworth House  Country seat of the Duke of Devonshire  from The Lady's Magazine (1789)
Chatsworth House, country seat of the Duke of Devonshire,
from The Lady's Magazine (1789)
It was not until Little G was to be launched into society that Georgiana overcame her disability and once more entertained at Devonshire House. She rekindled her friendship with the Prince of Wales and became one of his main advisors.

Chatsworth House today
Chatsworth House today
See more of Chatsworth in my photo tour of Chatsworth.

An intelligent woman

Georgiana is usually associated with her extravagant behaviour, but there is a different side to her which is often overlooked. She was both a writer and a scientist.

In 1779 2, she published a satire, The Sylph, and she also wrote a number of poems, including The Passage of the Mountain of St Gothard and verses to accompany the bust of Charles James Fox at Woburn.

Find out about the plot of Georgiana's novel in my Regency History guide to The Sylph.

Discover more about Georgiana in my blog post: what The Sylph can tell us about Georgiana's life and feelings.

Whilst in exile abroad, Georgiana met the scientist Charles Blagden and developed a keen interest in chemistry. She also built a mineral collection at Chatsworth.

The library at Chatsworth House
The library at Chatsworth House
Death

Georgiana died on 30 March 1806 from a liver complaint. She was buried in the family vault at St Stephen’s Church, Derby, on 8 April, and all society mourned her passing.

"There is no part of the world, I believe, where the angelic Duchess will not be deeply regretted; her kindness and beneficence were wound up with the happiness of so many."3

Notes
(1) From La Belle Assemblée (1806).
(2) A newspaper report quoted in Amanda Foreman's biography suggests that The Sylph may have been published in December 1778 rather than in 1779.
(3) From a letter to Lady Elizabeth Foster from her son Augustus 28 May 1806, from The Two Duchesses, Family Correspondence (1898).

Sources used include:
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée (John Bell, 1806, 1810, London)
Bourke, Hon. Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Cavendish, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and others, The Two Duchesses, Family Correspondence ed by Vere Foster (Blackie & Son, 1898, London)
Foreman, Amanda, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (HarperCollins, 1998, London)
Hibbert, Christopher, George IV (1972, Longmans, 1973, Allen Lane, London)
McCalman, Iain, Devonshire, Duchess of, An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age (OUP 2009 Oxford Reference Online, accessed 14 November 2011)

Monday, 1 October 2012

Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (1767-1820)

HRH Edward, Duke of Kent  from A Biographical Memoir of Frederick,   Duke of York and Albany by John Watkins (1827)
HRH Edward, Duke of Kent
from A Biographical Memoir of Frederick,
 Duke of York and Albany by John Watkins (1827)

Profile

Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, (2 November 1767 - 23 January 1820) was the the fourth son of George III and Queen Charlotte and a younger brother of George IV.

Early years

Prince Edward Augustus was born at Buckingham House on 2 November 1767, the fifth child of King George III and Queen Charlotte. He was named after George III’s brother Edward, Duke of York, who died shortly before the new Prince’s birth. He was tutored by John Fisher who later became Bishop of Salisbury.

Army career

In 1785, Edward was sent to Luneburg to begin his career in the army as a cadet in the Hanoverian foot guards. He completed his military training under Lieutenant Colonel Baron Von Wangenheim, a strict military tutor whom Edward described as “a mercenary tyrant”.

He served in Hanover, Geneva, Gibraltar, the West Indies and Canada. He was gazetted brevet Colonel in the British army and elected a Knight of the Garter in 1786, subsequently rising to Major General (1793), General (1794) and Field Marshall (1805).

Harsh disciplinarian or respected leader?

Edward gained the reputation of a stern disciplinarian, making him unpopular with his men. This was brought to a head in 1802, when he was made Governor of Gibraltar and asked to bring the garrison back into order. His harsh actions resulted in a mutiny, but having successfully quelled it, he was recalled to England.

The Duke of York condemned Edward’s behaviour as “from first to last as marked by cruelty and oppression”. His brother allowed him no opportunity to defend himself and they quarrelled violently.
Prince Frederick, Duke of York  from La Belle Assemblée (1827)
Prince Frederick, Duke of York
from La Belle Assemblée (1827)
However, it would appear that Edward’s leadership was respected by the officers at Gibraltar who gave a fete in his honour in May 1791 before he was transferred to Quebec. He was also commended for helping to repress St Lucia and Martinique whilst serving under Sir Charles Grey in the West Indies in 1794.

The least worthy of sons

George III seemed to have little interest in Edward and yet was very quick to criticise him. Edward received very few letters from home and was spied on by his valet, Rhymers.
George III   from Memoirs of Queen Charlotte  by WC Oulton(1819)
George III
 from Memoirs of Queen Charlotte
by WC Oulton(1819)
Wangenheim gave Edward a very meagre sum out of the £6000 a year he was paid for his maintenance, forcing him to borrow in order to equip himself in the manner befitting a Prince. When his father learned that he was in debt, he was sent to Geneva in disgrace, but he was still not given an adequate allowance and his debts continued to amass.

Desperate for contact with home, in 1790 Edward escaped from his mentor and travelled to England. His father was furious. The King afforded Edward only a very short interview before effectively banishing him to Gibraltar. He was not allowed home on leave until he suffered a fall from his horse in October 1798.

Edward was created Duke of Kent and Strathearn on 24 April 1799 and parliament finally voted him an income of £12000 a year. However, his monetary problems continued to haunt him throughout the rest of his life.

Character

Despite his reputation for harsh military discipline, Edward was popular with his servants and Princess Charlotte’s favourite uncle, actively promoting the match between the Princess and Prince Leopold. He helped negotiate Mrs Fitzherbert’s return to the Prince of Wales in 1799 but also remained on friendly terms with Princess Caroline.

Princess Charlotte  from Huish's Memoirs of her late  royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Princess Charlotte
from Huish's Memoirs of her late
royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
His habits were remarkably similar to those of his father – he rose early, ate and drank sparingly and liked to spend time outside. He was very polite and attentive to women and placed a high value on his time. His conversation was intelligent and informed and he had a gift for public speaking. He was also a prolific correspondent.

He supported charitable works, such as the Literary Fund, and introduced regimental schools for the children of his men. He was interested in Robert Owen’s social experiments, supported anti-slavery and was in favour of Catholic emancipation, which may explain some of his father’s enmity towards him.

Madame de Saint-Laurent

Whilst serving in Gibraltar, Therese-Bernadine Mongenet became Edward’s mistress. She was known as Madame de Saint-Laurent and stayed with the Prince for almost 28 years, until the death of Princess Charlotte in 1817 prompted the royal Dukes to marry in order to secure the succession.

Marriage

On 29 May 1818, Edward married Princess Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in Coburg. She was the widow of Emich Carl, 2nd Prince of Leiningen and Prince Leopold’s sister. The ceremony was repeated in the Queen's drawing room in Kew Palace on 11 July 1818, at the same time as his brother William, Duke of Clarence, married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen.

Victoria, Duchess of Kent  from La Belle Assemblée (1825)
Victoria, Duchess of Kent
from La Belle Assemblée (1825)
Parliament refused to grant an additional sum for the maintenance of his enlarged household, and so the couple lived mainly at Amorbach Castle, Leiningen, Victoria’s dower house, in order to economise.

The birth of Princess Victoria

The couple lived abroad until shortly before the birth of Queen Victoria. Despite the Regent’s refusal to fund the trip, they travelled to England in April 1819 so that their baby could be born in Kensington Palace.

Alexandrina Victoria was born on 24 May 1819 and christened a month later, on 24 June. “Look at her well,” her proud father said, “for she will be Queen of England.”

Queen Victoria   by Dalton after F Winterhalter from The Girlhood of Queen Victoria (1912)
Queen Victoria
  by Dalton after F Winterhalter
from The Girlhood of Queen Victoria (1912)
Death

After the Princess’ birth, it was necessary for the Duke and Duchess once again to retrench. Bishop Fisher advised a sojourn in Devon for the sake of economy and health and they leased Woobrook Cottage in Sidmouth.

Woolbrook Cottage, Sidmouth
from The Life of Field-Marshal His Royal 
Highness, Edward, Duke of Kent
by Erskine Neale (1850)
Edward caught a cold, and subsequently became ill with pneumonia. He died in Sidmouth on 23 January 1820 and was buried on 12 February in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in a huge coffin almost 7½ feet long and 3 foot wide.

Read more about Queen Victoria's christening.

Sources used include:
Hibbert, Christopher, George III (1998, Viking, Great Britain)
Hibbert, Christopher, George IV (1972, Longmans, 1973, Allen Lane, London)
Hibbert, Christopher, Queen Victoria (HarperCollins, 2000, London)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of her late royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Longford, Elizabeth, Edward, Prince, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (1767-1820), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004, online edn, May 2009, accessed 10 Feb 2012)
Neale, Erskine, The Life of Field-Marshal His Royal Highness, Edward, Duke of Kent (Richard Bentley, 1850, London)
Oulton, Walley Chamberlain, Authentic and Impartial Memoirs of Her Late Majesty Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland (1819, London)
Watkins, John, A Biographical Memoir of Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1827, London)