|HRH Ernest, Duke of Cumberland|
from A Biographical Memoir of Frederick,
Duke of York and Albany by J Watkins (1827)
Prince Ernest, Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover (5 June 1771 – 18 November 1851) was the the fifth son of George III and Queen Charlotte and a younger brother of George IV.
Prince Ernest Augustus was born at Buckingham House on 5 June 1771. Ernest grew up at Kew, housed with his younger brothers, Augustus and Adolphus. The three Princes were made Knights of the Garter on 2 June 1786 and shortly after, were sent to the University of Göttingen to study.
|Prince Ernest from The Lady's Magazine (1793)|
Ernest was destined for a military career and entered the Hanoverian army in 1790 as a Lieutenant in the 9th Hanoverian Hussars. He saw fierce action against the French in Flanders and the Netherlands and on one occasion, was reported to have single-handedly carried a French officer from the battlefield as a prisoner of war. He was injured at the Battle of Tournai on 22 May 1794 and returned to England in 1796 with a permanently scarred face and the loss of sight in one eye.
Although commended for fighting bravely, he had a reputation for treating his men harshly and, despite regular promotion and being gazetted Field Marshal in 1813, he never saw active service abroad again.
Duke of Cumberland
On 23 April 1799, Ernest was made Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale and Earl of Armagh and awarded a grant of £12000 a year by parliament.
Ernest was a radical Tory, unwaveringly Protestant in outlook and an opponent of political reform. He was vehemently opposed to Catholic emancipation and when the Duke of Wellington found it expedient to support it, Ernest used his influence over George IV to persuade him against it. As a result of his interference, Wellington’s government resigned. But it was a short-lived victory. Ernest did not have enough backing to form a government of radical Tories. Wellington was recalled and the act was passed in 1829.
from Memoirs of her late royal
highness Charlotte Augusta
by Robert Huish (1818)
Ernest was tall and elegant in person; whilst his brothers had a tendency to corpulence, he remained thin. He had handsome features, though one eye was disfigured in war and in later years he grew broad, drooping whiskers to mask his battle scars.
In character, he was radical and outspoken. He was able to wield a great deal of influence over weaker minds, notably over his brother George IV, whom he pushed towards his own radical Tory policies.
He was also inclined to be malicious. His brother William IV said of him: “Ernest is not a bad fellow, but if anyone has a corn, he will be sure to tread on it.”(1)
An unpopular marriage
On 29 May 1815, Ernest married Princess Frederica of Solms-Braunfels in Neustrelitz, whom he had met and fallen in love with a few years previously. Princess Frederica was a niece of Queen Charlotte’s who had been married twice before – to Prince Louis of Prussia and to Prince Frederick of Solms-Braunfels – and twice widowed. The marriage was solemnised again at Carlton House on 29 August 1815 but the Queen refused to receive the new Duchess.
|Frederica, Duchess of Cumberland|
from La Belle Assemblée (1830)
King of Hanover
When William IV died on 20 June 1837, his niece Victoria became Queen of England. But she could not accede to the throne in Hanover which could only pass to the male line, and so Ernest became King of Hanover. He entered his capital on 28 June and proceeded to attack the liberal constitution. He ruled autocratically, but listened to reasonable complaints and avoided any hint of revolution. Ernest was a good king and well-respected in Hanover and he successfully ruled during a very unsettled period in Europe.
A life of scandal
The Duke of Cumberland’s life was beset with scandal. On 31 May 1810, his valet was found dead and rumours circulated that he had murdered him, though the jury passed a verdict of suicide.
In 1813, he was involved in a political controversy over a parliamentary election in Weymouth. He was accused of influencing the outcome in favour of the Tories, which was considered improper behaviour for a member of the House of Lords.
Years later, he wrangled with Queen Victoria over some jewels that he declared were his by right under Queen Charlotte’s will and which his niece refused to give up. The bitter dialogue between the parties caused considerable embarrassment to the government and when Ernest visited England for three months in 1843, Queen Victoria showed her continued disapproval by only inviting him once to dinner.
Yet more scandal
In 1829, Ernest created a scandal over Lady Lyndhurst who claimed that he had tried to assault her and, when she resisted, had threatened to ruin her and her husband. The following year, he faced another over Lady Graves. Rumours of a relationship between Ernest and Lady Graves reached the ears of her estranged husband. Lord Graves wrote a note declaring that he did not believe them, but nevertheless committed suicide.
But the most serious scandal which confronted Ernest was in relation to his sister, Princess Sophia. His affection for her was judged by some to be unhealthily intense, and it gave rise to the rumour that he had fathered the illegitimate son she was said to have given birth to in 1800. Although this was almost definitely untrue, there are comments in her letters which hint at the possibility that he had tried to assault her.
from A Biographical Memoir of Frederick,
Duke of York and Albany
by John Watkins (1827)
Ernest outlived all his brothers but eventually died at Altes Palace in Hanover on 18 November 1851. He was succeeded in Hanover by his only son George, who had been blinded in an accident as a child. Ernest was buried on 26 November in the mausoleum at Herrenhausen, Hanover. Although despised in England, he was popular in Hanover and an equestrian statue was erected there in his memory, paid for by voluntary donations.
(1) From The Letters of Queen Victoria (1908)
Sources used include:
Fulford, Roger, Royal Dukes (1933, revised 1973)
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)
Palmer, Alan, Ernest Augustus (1771-1851), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004, online edn, May 2009, accessed 23 Mar 2013)
Victoria, Queen, The Letters of Queen Victoria, A Selection from Her Majesty's Correspondence between the years 1837 and 1861, edited Benson, AC and Esher, Viscount, Vol I 1837-1843 (1908)
Watkins, John, A Biographical Memoir of Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1827, London)