Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Cambridge--Steadfast Son of King George III, 1774-1850

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Author: Malcolm Lester
Date: Spring 2004
From: Albion(Vol. 36, Issue 1)
Publisher: North American Conference on British Studies
Document Type: Book review
Length: 815 words

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Grace E. Moremen. Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Cambridge--Steadfast Son of King George III, 1774-1850. (Studies in British History, Vol. 71.) Lewiston, N. Y: The Edwin Mellen Press. 2002. Pp. xxxvii, 442. $139.95. ISBN 0-7734-6836-6.

Grace Moremen's biography of Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Cambridge is a significant revision of Whig and Radical views of the sons of George III. Shelley's description of them as "princes, the dregs of thy dull race" who "leach like to their fainting country cling" was equaled in scorn by the Tory Duke of Wellington who described them as "the damndest millstones about the neck of any government than can be imagined." Wellington, however, might well have regretted including Adolphus, the seventh son of George III, in this lot as he respectfully awaited in 1850 the arrival of the Cambridge funeral cortege at Kew Church.

For Wellington by the time of the Duke's death must have recognized that of the seven sons of George III, he was the most decent, dutiful, and useful of the brood. The author's delineation of Adolphus as the "steadfast" son of George III aptly describes the nature of the Duke's service to the monarchy and realm. Indeed, it is not farfetched to compare his devoted and conscientious service to that of his granddaughter, the late Queen Mary, consort of George V and example par excellence for Elizabeth II. Moremen's biography, which is based on extensive research in both published and unpublished work, contributes to an overdue rehabilitation of royal reputations in the late Georgian era. In her account of Adolphus the author has uncovered much that has not been known or sufficiently appreciated.

In an introductory chapter Moremen gives a perceptive analysis of the religious and intellectual roots of George Il's concepts of conduct and duty. Of the king's seven sons who reached maturity, Adolphus was the most faithful in following his father's example. Born in 1774 he was brought up in the exemplary royal household at Kew. His education was broadened when the king in 1786 sent him and his two older brothers to the University of Gottingen in Hanover. The Gottengen years began his connection of nearly a half century with Hanover and German affairs that lasted until 1837.

Adolphus early expressed an interest in a military career, and in 1792 was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Hanoverian infantry. During the French Revolutionary War, he served in the Low Countries where he was wounded. Attaining the rank of lieutenant general in 1798, he was created Duke of Cambridge in 1801. When Hanover was overrun by the French in 1803, he returned to England and was transferred to the British military establishment where his services were largely administrative. He first became colonel of the King's German Legion and then became commander of the Home District for the defense of London. His appointment as colonel of the Coldstream Guards was an assignment that he proudly held until the end of his life. During these years in London, he often served as a trusted intermediary between members of the royal family and for a time acted as the king's secretary and aide de camp. Before his military career ended, he was commissioned a general and was made a field marshal.

The second and most important period in the Duke's career was his viceroyalty of Hanover. Requested by the Prince Regent to serve as a military governor when the French withdrew in 1813, he was named viceroy when the Congress of Vienna elevated the electorate of Hanover into a kingdom. He served as viceroy until his older brother Ernest, Duke of Cumberland became king of Hanover on the accession of Queen Victoria, who under Salic law could not succeed to the Hanoverian throne. During his twenty-four years as viceroy, the Duke of Cambridge because of his temperament and long acquaintance with the region pursued a moderate and wise course by encouraging concessions and reforms. The author is convincing in maintaining that the Duke was instrumental in preventing revolution in Hanover. Undoubtedly his conciliatory management helped preserve Hanover for the British dynasty during the 1830s. Although a staunch conservative, he was, though absent from England during his viceroyalty, a supporter of such liberal measures as Catholic Emancipation and the Reform Bill of 1832.

After the Duke returned to England in 1837, his remaining years in retirement were useful and productive. Although he did not have a cordial relationship with his niece Queen Victoria, he was respected and esteemed by the royal court. His labors in behalf of numerous philanthropic and cultural enterprises won approval and appreciation of the British public.

Moremen's solid work, despite occasional tedious detail, pedestrian style, shoddy format, and prohibitive cost, is the best biography of a son of George III with the possible exception of George IV. The dukes of York, Clarence, Kent, Cumberland, and Sussex await biographers of Moremen's caliber.


Davidson College

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A123333035