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Papers of Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn

Edward, Duke of Kent, by George Dawe, 1818. RCIN 407177 ©

The papers of Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, form a vast, wide-ranging collection of over one thousand documents, which encompasses records from account and lesson books to personal and official correspondence from his time as Commander-in-Chief of British forces in the Maritime Provinces of North America. As with most other collections within the Georgian Papers, these should be consulted in conjunction with other collections which contain further documents to, from and regarding the Duke of Kent and Strathearn.

Prince Edward Augustus was born on 2 November 1767 at Buckingham House and was the fourth son, and fifth child, of George III and Queen Charlotte. His education was initially delivered by his preceptor John Fisher (later Bishop of Salisbury whom he maintained friendship with throughout his life (see GEO/ADD/7/1384)), but in 1785 the Prince moved to the Electorate of Hanover to continue his studies. He was not to be educated in Göttingen, as his elder brother Prince Frederick had been, but instead began military training in Lüneburg as a cadet in the Hanoverian Foot Guards. This was under the instruction of his tutor, Lieutenant Colonel George von Wagenheim, and writing to his father of his studies shortly after arriving stated that ‘Every morning in the Week, I study 4 hours in German, in Law, in Artillery, and one in History; and also one hour every evening, 3 times a week upon Religious subjects, and 3 times a week the Classicks [sic]’ (GEO/MAIN/45709-45710). His lesson books from this time can also be found within this collection.

Prince Edward by Thomas Gainsborough, 1782. RCIN 401013 ©

In 1786, Prince Edward became a Knight of the Garter and was appointed Brevet Colonel in the British Army, declining an additional position in the Hanoverian Foot Guards. In 1788 and 1789 he lived in Geneva where he completed his education and became acquainted with Madame Julie Saint-Laurent (Therese Benard née Mongenet) (1760-1830), who became his long-term mistress of twenty-seven years and to whom he wrote passionately from Gibraltar in 1790 (GEO/MAIN/46651-46652). He had a previous mistress, Adelaide Dubus, who died giving birth to his daughter, Adelaide Victoire Auguste (1789-1833), who was raised by her maternal aunt. It is not thought that his relationship with Madame Saint-Laurent resulted in any children.

Whilst still on the continent, in 1789, Prince Edward was appointed Colonel of the 7th Regiment of the Foot (Royal Fusiliers), but in 1790 he returned home without leave and, as a result of his father's displeasure, was sent to serve in Gibraltar as an ordinary officer. He was not to remain in Gibraltar long, as in 1791, due to his strict military discipline (possibly learnt from von Wagenheim) he was transferred to Canada (British North America), residing in Quebec City. Upon his departure he wrote touchingly to George III saying ‘If my conduct during my residence in the Garrison of Gibraltar has in any ways incurred your Majesty’s displeasure, which I am led to fear by your silence, I am particularly unfortunate, as I have spared no endeavours, & no pains, in striving to merit your approbation…I hope in Canada the most steady perseverance in those Exertions…I so earnestly wish to obtain, your good will & your notice’ (GEO/MAIN/45859). Whilst in Quebec he witnessed the Constitutional Act of 1791 and became not only the first member of the Royal Family to live in North America but also the first Prince to visit the United States when in 1794 he travelled to Boston. He was promoted to Major General in October 1793 and served in the West India campaign of the Coalition Wars, acting as Commander of the British Camp at La Coste in the Battle of Martinique. The Prince wrote to his father in April 1794 from Guadeloupe upon the completion of the ‘successful’ campaign (GEO/MAIN/45916-45917), and his service was mentioned in dispatches. In 1794 Prince Edward requested a return to England, but was refused and he was instead sent to the Head Quarters of the Royal Navy in North America, Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was integral to transforming the base and its defences and also influenced the politics and society of the area. A fall from his horse in 1798 led to permission to return to England, and in the same year he was bestowed with the titles of Duke of Kent and Strathearn, and Earl of Dublin, in addition to admittance to the Privy Council. The Duke was also promoted to Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in the Maritime Provinces of North America, and in 1799 returned to Halifax, although this time he would only remain a year, leaving for England in 1800, his role as Commander-in-Chief at an end.

Letter from Prince Edward to George III, 23 May 1791. RA GEO/MAIN/45859 Royal Archives/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

In 1802, the Duke of Kent received his next military posting, which would see his return to Gibraltar as Governor at the request of the War Office to resolve the Garrison's discipline issues. However, the Duke's strict measures led to a mutiny of the 25th Regiment on 24 and 26 December. The Duke composed a memorandum of the events in January 1803 describing that ‘men of the battalion had broken out of their Barracks with their arms’ and once quelled he ‘gave them a very severe lecture with which the business appeared to be ended’, however another regiment broke out but were again quickly put down. Ten out of the twelve ringleaders were sentenced to be shot by Court Martial but the Duke only ‘selected the 3 worst characters & carried the sentence into execution’. He believed that the cause of the rebellion was ‘with the officers…being used to do just as they pleased before I arrived (as well as the men)’. To ensure the unrest would not occur again he vowed to ‘adopt most studiously every measure that I can consistently with my duty do, to keep up harmony & good humour’ (GEO/MAIN/46066-46067). However, as a result of the events, his brother Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, acting as Commander-in-Chief, recalled him from his posting in May 1803. The Duke of Kent refused to leave until a successor had arrived, but once back in England an inquiry into events decreed the Duke could never return to Gibraltar, although he maintained his position as Governor until his death.

The mutiny signalled the end of his military career and in 1805 he took the appointment as Ranger of Hampton Court Park. In addition to the residence which accompanied the position he lived at Castle Hill Lodge, Ealing, which he purchased from Maria Fitzherbert in 1801. The Duke had a variety of interests, including the arts, and was a liberal, supporting various causes from Catholic emancipation and the union of the American Colonies, to Abolitionist societies. He was considered a good, intelligent speaker, and, in common with his father, gained a reputation for vast correspondence. He was also a Mason, joining the Masonic Lodge in Geneva in 1789 and becoming an English Grandmaster in 1813.

Victoria, Duchess of Kent, with Princess Victoria by Sir William Beechey, 1821, RCIN 407169 ©

In 1815, in addition to becoming a Knight of the Bath and Knight of the Grand Cross of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order, he moved to Brussels in an effort to economise in the face of his mounting debts, a trait he shared with his siblings. However, after the sudden ‘melancholy catastrophe’ (GEO/MAIN/46578) of the death of his niece Princess Charlotte of Wales, the sole legitimate heir of George IV, he was looked to as the eldest unmarried son of George III to provide a new heir. This sudden change in circumstance led to a separation from his long-term mistress, Madame Saint-Laurent (although a settlement created for her in 1799 would continue to provide for her (GEO/ADD/7/1508-1510)), and a proposed marriage to the late Princess Charlotte's sister-in-law, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1786-1861). Princess Victoria was a widow and had two children from her first marriage with Emich Carl, 2nd Prince of Leiningen, Carl and Feodora. The Duke’s marriage took place on 29 May 1818 at Schloss Ehrenburg, Coburg, in a Lutheran ceremony with a second ceremony held upon their arrival in England at Kew Palace on 11 July 1818. In July, upon the Duke’s return to Britain, he wrote to Baron de Mallet that his wife seemed to provide the ‘promise of domestic happiness’, but also stated his painful duty of relinquishing his ‘companion’ [Madame Saint-Laurent] for his country and family (GEO/MAIN/45332-45333). After marriage the Duke and Duchess resided principally at Amorbach Castle, Leiningen, although they returned to Kensington Palace for the birth of their only child, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent and Strathearn (1819-1901), the future Queen Victoria. A list of those in attendance at her birth included the Duke of Wellington and the Archbishop of Canterbury amongst others (GEO/ADD/7/1396-1397).

List of those present at Princess Victoria's birth, 23-24 May 1819. RA GEO/ADD/7/1396-1397 Royal Archives /© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

After Princess Victoria's birth, the Kent's leased a house in Sidmouth in another effort to economise and offset the debts amassed by the Duke (these would not be fully settled until his daughter came to the throne and a list of claims against his estate was created for her consideration in 1837). Their residence did not last long as Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn died on 23 January 1820 of pneumonia at Woolbrook Cottage, Sidmouth, six days before the death of his father and whilst his daughter was still under a year old. The papers within this collection demonstrate the concern surrounding his short illness and feature doctor’s bulletins sent to George IV, whilst still Prince Regent, of his brother’s condition, accompanied by letters from Sir Frederick Augustus Wetherall (the Duke’s Equerry) to Sir Benjamin Bloomfield (the Prince Regent’s Private Secretary) (GEO/MAIN/46618-46632). The Duke was interred at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, on 12 February 1820 and his wife and daughter took up residence at Kensington Palace.

Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn's legacy remains prominent in Canada and Prince Edward Island is named after him. He is also often credited with impacting the development of the country and with the first use of 'Canadian' to mean both French and British citizens.