Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/George William Frederick Charles
GEORGE WILLIAM FREDERICK CHARLES, second Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Tipperary and Baron Culloden (1819–1904), field-marshal and commander-in-chief of the army, was only son of Adolphus Frederick, first duke [q. v.], the youngest son of George III. His mother was Augusta Wilhelmina Louisa, daughter of Frederick, landgrave of Hesse Cassel. He was born at Cambridge House, Hanover, on 26 March 1819, and being at that time the only grandchild of George III, his birth was formally attested by three witnesses—the duke of Clarence (later William IV), the earl of Mayo, and George Henry Rose, P.C. His father was governor-general of Hanover, and Prince George lived there till 1830, when he was sent to England to be under the care of William IV and Queen Adelaide. His tutor was John Ryle Wood, afterwards canon of Worcester, who had great influence over him and won his lasting attachment. At Wood's instance he began a diary, as a boy of fourteen, a singularly naive confession of his shortcomings, and he kept it up to within a few months of his death. In 1825 he was made G.C.H., and in Aug. 1835 K.G. In 1836 he rejoined his parents in Hanover, his tutor being replaced by a military governor, lieutenant-colonel William Henry Cornwall of the Coldstream guards. He had been colonel in the Jäger battalion of the Hanoverian guards since he was nine years old; he now began to learn regimental duty both as a private and an officer.
On the accession of his first cousin, Queen Victoria, in June 1837, Hanover passed to the duke of Cumberland, and the duke of Cambridge returned with his family to England. On 3 Nov. Prince George was made brevet colonel in the British army, and in Sept. 1838 he went to Gibraltar to learn garrison duties. He was attached to the 33rd foot for drill. After spending six months there and six months in travel in the south of Europe, he came home, and was attached to the 12th lancers, with which he served for two years in England and Ireland. On 15 April 1842 he was gazetted to the 8th light dragoons as lieutenant-colonel, but ten days afterwards he was transferred to the 17th lancers as colonel. He commanded this regiment at Leeds, and helped the magistrates to preserve the peace of the town during the industrial disturbances in August.
On 20 April 1843 he was appointed colonel on the staff, to command the troops in Corfu. He spent two years there, and on Lord Seaton's recommendation he received the G.C.M.G. He was promoted major-general on 7 May 1845. After commanding the troops at Limerick for six months, he was appointed to the Dublin district on 1 April 1847, and held that command five years. He had a large force under him, and worked hard at the training of the troops. In 1848 political disturbances made his post no sinecure. By the death of his father on 8 July 1850 Prince George became duke of Cambridge, and an income of 12,000l. a year was voted him by Parliament. He was made K.P. on 18 Nov. 1851. For nearly two years from 1 April 1852 he was inspecting general of cavalry at headquarters, and the memoranda on the state of the army which he then drew up (Verner, i. 39–59) show how much he concerned himself with questions of organisation. He was in command of the troops at the funeral of the duke of Wellington. On 28 Sept. 1852 he was transferred as colonel from the 17th lancers to the Scots fusilier guards.
In February 1854 the duke was chosen to command a division in the army to be sent to the Crimea. He accompanied lord Raglan to Paris on 10 April, and went thence to Vienna, bearing a letter from the Queen to the Emperor Francis Joseph. Leaving Vienna on 1 May, he reached Constantinople on the 10th. He was promoted lieutenant-general on 19 June, went with his division (guards and highlanders) to Varna, and thence to the Crimea. At the Alma (20 Sept.) he and his men were in second line, behind the light division; but when the latter fell back before the Russian counter attack, the guards and highlanders came to the front and won the battle. At Inkerman (5 Nov.) the duke with the brigade of guards (the highlanders were at Balaclava) came to the help of the 2nd division very early in the day, and retook the Sandbag battery. His horse was shot under him, and he found himself left with about 100 men, while the rest pushed on down the slope. Kinglake describes him ‘with an immense energy of voice and gesture … commanding, entreating, adjuring’ the men to keep on the high ground. By the advance of another Russian column he was nearly cut off from the main position, and he and his aide-de-camp ‘had regularly to ride for it in order to get back’ (Verner, i. 79). The guards lost 622 officers and men out of 1361 engaged.
The duke's courage was high, but he had not the imperturbability needed for war, and his health had suffered at Varna. Of the Alma he notes, ‘When all was over I could not help crying like a child’ (Verner, i. 73). Three days before Inkerman he had written to Queen Victoria gloomily about the situation of the army. He was ‘dreadfully knocked up and quite worn out’ by the battle, and was persuaded to go to Balaclava for rest. He was on board the frigate Retribution, when it narrowly escaped wreck in the great storm of 14 November. On the 25th he left the Crimea for Constantinople, and on 27 Dec. a medical board invalided him to England. He was mentioned in despatches (Lond. Gaz. 8 Oct., 12 and 22 Nov. 1854) and received the thanks of parliament, the medal with 4 clasps, the Turkish medal, and the G.C.B. (5 July 1855). He declined the governorship of Gibraltar, and was anxious to return to the Crimea. When general Sir James Simpson [q. v.] resigned command of the army there in November, the duke tried in vain to succeed him. In January 1856 he was sent to Paris, to take part in the conference on the further conduct of the war, but the conclusion of peace in March made its plans of no effect.
On 15 July Lord Hardinge [q. v.] resigned, and the duke succeeded him as general commanding in chief. He was promoted general, and on 28 July was sworn of the privy council. The breakdown in the Crimea had led to great changes in army administration. The secretary of state for war (separated in 1854 from the colonies) took over the powers of the secretary at war, and of the board of ordnance, which was abolished. He also took over the militia and yeomanry from the home office and the commissariat from the treasury. He became responsible to parliament for the whole military administration; but the general commanding in chief, as representing the crown, enjoyed some independence in matters of discipline and command, appointments and promotions. The abolition of the board of ordnance brought the artillery and engineers under his authority, and the duke was made colonel of these two corps on 10 May 1861. The amalgamation (of which he was a strong advocate) of the European troops of the East India Company with the army of the crown in 1862 gave him general control of troops serving in India.
The volunteer movement of 1859 brought a new force into existence. He was not unfriendly to it, but had no great faith in it, and was opposed to a capitation grant. He became colonel of the 1st City of London brigade on 24 Feb. 1860. He was president of the National Rifle Association, which was founded in 1859 and had till 1887 its ranges at Wimbledon, on land of which he was principal owner; then he found it necessary to call upon it to go elsewhere, and the ranges were transferred to Bisley. He took an active part in military education, and helped to found the Staff College. He had been appointed a commissioner for Sandhurst and for the Duke of York's school in 1850, and was made governor of the Military Academy at Woolwich in 1862. On the death of the Prince Consort he exchanged the colonelcy of the Scots fusilier guards for that of the Grenadier guards. On 9 Nov. 1862 he was made field-marshal.
During the first thirteen years of his command the duke was in accord with successive war ministers, though he was continually remonstrating against reductions or urging increase of the army. But in December 1868 Edward (afterwards Viscount) Cardwell [q. v.] became secretary of state, with Gladstone as premier, and they took in hand a series of reforms which were most distasteful to him. First of all, the so-called dual government of the army, which divided responsibility and was a hindrance to reform, was abolished. By the War Office Act of 1870 the commander-in-chief was definitely subordinated to the war minister, and became one of three departmental chiefs charged respectively with combatant personnel, supply, and finance. To mark the change, the duke was required in Sept. 1871 to remove from the Horse Guards to Pall Mall. He regarded this as a blow not only to his own dignity but to the rights of the crown, and the Queen intervened on his behalf; but he had to give way.
The reconstruction of the war office was followed by the adoption of short service, the formation of an army reserve, the linking of battalions, and their localisation. The purchase of commissions was abolished, and seniority tempered by selection became the principle of promotion. The duke was opposed to all these innovations. His watchwords were discipline, esprit de corps, and the regimental system, all of which seemed to him to be threatened. But holding it to be for the interest of the crown and the army that he should remain at his post, he accepted a system of which he disapproved. The system held its ground notwithstanding party changes, and in 1881 it was carried a stage further by H. C. E. Childers [q. v. Suppl. I], the linked battalions being welded into territorial regiments in spite of the duke's efforts to unlink them.
On 24 Nov. 1882 he was made personal aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria, to commemorate the campaign in Egypt; and on 26 Nov. 1887, when he had completed fifty years' service in the army, he was made commander-in-chief by patent. At the end of that year his functions were much enlarged, the whole business of supply being handed over to him. Cardwell had assigned it to a surveyor-general of the ordnance, who was meant to be an experienced soldier; but the office had become political, and the complaints about stores during the Nile campaign led to its abolition. Everything except finance now came under the control of the commander-in-chief, with the adjutant-general as his deputy. During the next few years much was done to fit the army for war: supply and transport were organised and barracks improved; but the secretary of state found that the military hierarchy hindered his personal consultation of experts.
In June 1888 a very strong commission was appointed, with Lord Hartington (afterwards duke of Devonshire) [q. v. Suppl. II] as chairman, to inquire into naval and military administration; and in May 1890 they recommended that the office of commander-in-chief should be abolished when the duke ceased to hold it, and that there should be a chief of the staff. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman [q. v. Suppl. II], who became war minister in 1892, dissented from this recommendation; but he thought the powers of the commander-in-chief ought to be diminished, and the duke's retirement was a necessary preliminary. The call for this step grew louder, and in the spring of 1895 the duke consulted the Queen. Though 76 years of age, he felt himself physically and mentally fit for his office. The Queen replied, reluctantly, that he had better resign (Verner, ii. 395), and on 31 October he issued his farewell order, handing over the command of the army to Lord Wolseley. To soften the blow, the Queen appointed him her chief personal aide-de-camp and colonel-in-chief to the forces, with the right of holding the parade on her birthday.
In announcing to the House of Commons the duke's approaching retirement, on the eve of his own fall (21 June) Campbell-Bannerman touched on his attractive personality, his industry and activity, his devotion to the interests of the army, and his familiarity with its traditions and requirements; but dwelt especially on his common sense and knowledge of the world, his respect for constitutional proprieties and for public opinion. The army was attached to him because of his fairness. He bore no ill-will to officers who differed from him, but could discuss points of difference with good temper (Verner, ii. 272, seq.). Though in the training of the troops, as in other things, he was conservative, his thorough knowledge of close-order drill, and his outspoken, not to say emphatic, comments made him a formidable inspecting officer and kept up a high standard.
Devoted as the duke was to the army, it by no means absorbed all his energies. He undertook with alacrity the duties that fell to him as a member of the royal family, which were especially heavy after the death of the Prince Consort. For instance, in 1862 he was called upon to open the international exhibition, to entertain the foreign commissioners, and distribute the prizes. He was connected with a large number of charitable institutions, and took real interest in them; but two were pre-eminent—the London Hospital and Christ's Hospital—over both of which he presided for fifty years. He was elected president of Christ's Hospital on 23 March 1854, and was the first president who was not an alderman of the City. From that time onward he worked unsparingly for it, though latterly his efforts were mainly in opposition to the removal of the school to Horsham, ‘the most wanton thing that ever was undertaken’ (Sheppard, ii. 322). He was in great request as a chairman at dinners and meetings for benevolent purposes, for though not eloquent he was fluent, and had the art of getting on good terms with his audience.
In private life he was the most affectionate of men. His mother lived long enough to send her blessing to ‘the best son that ever lived,’ while he was being entertained at the United Service Club to celebrate his military jubilee. She died on 6 April 1889, and within a year he had another heavy blow in the death of his wife. Disregarding the Royal Marriage Act, he had married morganatically on 8 Jan. 1840 Miss Louisa Fairbrother, an actress, then 24 years of age. She lived in Queen Street, Mayfair, as Mrs. Fitzgeorge till her death on 12 Jan. 1890. She was buried at Kensal Green, the duke being chief mourner.
The duke had rooms at St. James's Palace from 1840 to 1859, when he removed to Gloucester House, Park Lane, left to him by his aunt, the duchess of Gloucester. On the death of the duchess of Cambridge the Queen granted him Kew Cottage for his life. He had been made ranger of Hyde Park and St. James's Park in 1852, and of Richmond Park in 1857. In addition to the orders already mentioned, he was made K.T. on 17 Sept. 1881, grandmaster and principal grand cross of St. Michael and St. George on 23 May 1869, G.C.S.I. in 1877, G.C.I.E. in 1887, and G.C.V.O. in 1897. Of foreign orders he received the black eagle of Prussia in 1852, the grand cordon of the legion of honour in 1855, St. Andrew of Russia in 1874, and the order of merit of Savoy in 1895. He was made colonel-in-chief of the king's royal rifle corps on 6 March 1869, of the 17th lancers on 21 June 1876, and of the Middlesex regiment on 9 Aug. 1898. He was also colonel of two Indian regiments—the 10th Bengal lancers, and the 20th Punjabis; of the Malta artillery, the Middlesex yeomanry, and the 4th battalion Suffolk regiment; of the Cambridge dragoons in the Hanoverian army (1852–66), and of the 28th foot in the Prussian army (Aug. 1889). He received the honorary degree of D.C.L. Oxford on 1 June 1853; of LL.D. Cambridge on 3 June 1864; and of LL.D. Dublin on 21 April 1868; and became one of the elder brethren of the Trinity house on 11 March 1885. He received the freedom of the City of London, with a sword, on 4 Nov. 1857, and on 19 Oct. 1896 he was presented with an address from the corporation and his bust (by Francis Williamson) was unveiled at the Guildhall. He was made a freeman of York in 1897, of Bath and of Kingston in 1898.
A series of banquets at the military clubs and messes marked the duke's retirement, but he continued for several years to preside at regimental dinners and to keep in close touch with the army. He was very vigorous for his age, rode in Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee procession of 1897, and at her funeral in 1901. He paid his last visit to Germany in August 1903, but his strength was then giving way. He died at Gloucester House on 17 March 1904 of hæmorrhage of the stomach, having outlived by a few weeks the commandership-in-chief which he held so long. On the 22nd he was buried, in accordance with his wish, beside his wife at Kensal Green. The first part of the service was at Westminster Abbey with King Edward VII as chief mourner. Five field-marshals and thirteen generals were pall-bearers. Tributes were paid to his memory in both houses of parliament. He had three sons: Colonel George William Adolphus Fitzgeorge; Rear-admiral Sir Adolphus Augustus Frederick Fitzgeorge, K.C.V.O., who became equerry to his father in 1897; and Colonel Sir Augustus Charles Frederick Fitzgeorge, K.C.V.O., C.B., who was his father's private secretary and equerry from 1886 to 1895.
In June 1907 a bronze equestrian statue of him by Captain Adrian Jones was placed in front of the new war office in Whitehall, and there is also a statue at Christ's Hospital, Horsham. There is a memorial window in the chapel of St. Michael and St. George in St. Paul's Cathedral. Of the many portraits of him the chief are one, at the age of 18, by John Lucas (at Windsor), and three as a field-marshal, by Frank Holl (at Buckingham Palace), Arthur S. Cope (at the United Service Club), and Sir Hubert von Herkomer (at the R.E. mess, Chatham). A caricature portrait appeared in ‘Vanity Fair’ in 1870.
[Willoughby C. Verner, Military Life of the Duke of Cambridge, 1905; J. E. Sheppard, George, Duke of Cambridge, a memoir of his private life, 2 vols. 1906; The Times, 18 March 1904; Letters of Queen Victoria, 1907; Kinglake, Invasion of the Crimea, 1863, &c.; The Panmure Papers, 1908; Sir Robert Biddulph, Lord Cardwell at the War Office, 1904; E. S. C. Childers, Life of Hugh C. E. Childers, 1901; Pearce, Annals of Christ's Hospital, 1908; Third Report of Lord Northbrook's committee on army administration, 12 Feb. 1870 (c. 54); Report of Royal Commission (Penzance) on Army Promotion, 5 Aug. 1876 (c. 1569); Report of Royal Commission (Hartington) on Naval and Military Administration, 11 Feb. 1890 (c. 5979); Catalogues of the Duke's collection of plate, pictures, porcelain, books, &c., sold at Christie's in 1904.]