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Papers of Frederick, Duke of York and Albany

Frederick, Duke of York, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1816. RCIN 404935 ©

The papers of Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, comprise financial records, correspondence (the majority of which is to George IV) and various legal documents. It also includes a collection of over 30 letters by his wife, Frederica, Duchess of York and Albany (written in French and also predominantly sent to George IV). These papers would benefit from consideration alongside other collections within the Georgian Papers, which heavily feature letters to, from and regarding the Duke and Duchess. George IV's private papers for example, include details of their marriage settlement and the return of the Duchess’s dowry to Prussia upon their deaths.

Prince Frederick Augustus was born at St James's Palace on 16 August 1763, the second son of George III and Queen Charlotte. The following year, upon the death of Klemens August of Bavaria (1700-1761), Prince Frederick gained the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück (a title of the Holy Roman Empire which alternated between members of the Catholic and Protestant faith). He held this position until 1803 when, due to the German Mediatisation, it was incorporated into the Electorate of Hanover.

Prince Frederick lived in Hanover from 1781 to 1787 and wrote to his father shortly after his arrival on 27 January 1781 describing his journey from Brussels (GEO/MAIN/43370-43371). Whilst in Hanover he attended the University of Göttingen, as did his younger brothers. During his time there he wrote regularly to his brother, George, Prince of Wales (later George IV), and the letters can be discovered within this collection alongside their replies, all of which demonstrate their close and open relationship. One such discourse in 1781 details the Prince of Wales’ encounter with a lover of Prince Frederick at a masquerade at the Pantheon, Letty Smith, who professed she could not live without him and wished to travel to Hanover (GEO/MAIN/43373-43374). Upon learning this Prince Frederick replied that the Prince of Wales should prevent her from doing so as everyone who arrives in the town has to state from ‘whence they came and why…which is immediately reported…so the whole town would know everything about Her & me’ (GEO/MAIN/43381-43382).

Whilst Prince Frederick resided on the continent he was bestowed with the Dukedom of York and Albany and Earldom of Ulster in November 1784, and became a member of the Privy Council, taking up his seat in the House of Lords upon his return to Britain in 1787. The Prince had also become a Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1767 (of which he became Grand Master; his seal can be viewed in the catalogue at GEO/ADD/6/144), followed by a Knight of the Garter in 1771. In addition to these honours he became Warden of Windsor Forest in 1805.

The Duke of York became a professional soldier, leading the campaign of the First Coalition War and commanding the Flanders Campaign from 1791 to 1795. He held various positions including: Lieutenant General of the 2nd Horse Grenadier Guards in 1784, Colonel of the Coldstream Guards in 1784, Colonel of the 60th Regiment of the Foot in 1797, and became Commander in Chief of the Military in April 1795, although he did not take official command until 1798.  However, his service became marred in scandal and controversy resulting in his resignation as Commander in Chief in 1809. This was caused by the discovery that his mistress, Mary Anne Clarke, had been selling commissions in his name. Even though the Duke was eventually acquitted by the Select Committee in March (as they found no evidence to link him to the accusation) he resigned his post due to his tarnished reputation. It subsequently emerged that his chief accuser, Gwyllym Wardle, had in fact paid Clarke and the exonerated Duke regained his position as Commander in Chief in 1811. During his term as Commander in Chief he oversaw the Napoleonic Wars and the restructure (both administrative and structural) of the British military. His reforms arose as he was aware of the inherent flaws and inefficiencies within the system, such as large numbers of incompetent officers, and therefore increased promotion through merit, supported the establishment of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and improved the poor conditions for all soldiers. The Duke’s distinguished career was not only marred by the commission scandal but saw him unflatteringly immortalised as the 'Grand Old Duke of York’ due to a failed campaign of the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland in 1799, which had resulted in withdrawal.

The Duke of York married Princess Frederica of Prussia (1767-1820) at Charlottenburg, Berlin, on 29 September 1791, with a second ceremony held upon their arrival in Britain a few months later at Buckingham House on 23 November 1791. He had written to the Prince of Wales on 5 September of his impatience to be married so that he could return to England (GEO/MAIN/43997-43998) and this was shortly followed by a letter to his father to persuade him to approve the marriage as soon as possible (GEO/MAIN/43999). His persuasion worked and after gaining consent the Duke wrote to George III on 30 September to state that the marriage had taken place (GEO/MAIN/44012). Although the union was celebrated and well received by the public it was not a successful marriage. The couple became estranged after three years, with the Duchess principally residing at Oatlands, Surrey, and the Duke at Horse Guards. Their union would remain without issue and the Duchess died at Oatlands of consumption in August 1820.

The Marriage of Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, to Frederica, Princess Royal of Prussia, by Henry Singleton c.1791. RCIN 402495 ©

Earlier that same year in January the ‘melancholy events’ of George III’s death (and his brother, Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn’s the same month) was referred to in a letter to Lady Louisa Murray in February when the Duke wrote of seeing his ‘most dear and ever to be lamented father and King’ buried at Windsor (GEO/ADD/6/153). This event led to the Duke of York becoming heir presumptive to the British and Hanoverian thrones, a position he held until his death on 5 January 1827 from an attack of dropsy at the Duke of Rutland's residence, Rutland House. He was subsequently buried at St George's Chapel, Windsor on 20 January 1827. A large number of papers dealing with the affairs of his estate upon his death can be found within this collection including a ‘list of articles valued and placed at the disposal of Princess Sophia’ (the Duke’s sister) (GEO/ADD/6/70-70A), such as a gold toothpick, bells, inkstands, pen trays, and a bible and prayer book both bound in blue morocco.