Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Frederick Louis

FREDERICK LOUIS, Prince of Wales (1707–1751), eldest son of George II and Queen Caroline, and father of George III, was born 6 Jan. 1707 at Hanover, of which his father was electoral prince. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in 1716, speaks of the grace and charm of his behaviour (Works, ed. 1837, i. 316). In 1717 he was created Duke of Gloucester, the following year he was installed a knight of the Garter, and 11 June 1727 received the title of Duke of Edinburgh. In his infancy a marriage had been arranged by the mothers between him and his cousin, Sophia Dorothea Wilhelmina, princess royal of Prussia, afterwards margravine of Baireuth, it being also agreed that his sister, the Princess Amelia, should marry Prince Frederick of Prussia, afterwards Frederick the Great (see narrative of the 'Double Marriage Project' in Carlyle's Frederick, bks. v. vi. and vii.) The arrangement was in 1723 virtually sanctioned by George I, but the final signature of the treaty was always delayed by the English king, and at his death in June 1727 was not completed. On the accession of George II Frederick still remained in Hanover, and being, in the words of Carlyle, ‘eager to be wedded to Wilhelmina as one grand, and at present grandest, source of his existence,’ entered into communications with her mother to have the marriage celebrated privately. The mother, who had set her heart on the match, eagerly consented, but having unsuspectingly informed Dubourgay, the English ambassador, of the project, he thought it his duty to prevent it. The antipathy existing between George II and Frederick William proved an insuperable barrier to the match, and after negotiations had been for some time in a state of suspense, they were definitely and finally broken off in 1730. In December 1728 the prince came to England; but, though welcomed by the nation, was received with marked coldness by his father. On 9 Jan. 1729 he was created Prince of Wales. The original cause of the estrangement between the prince and the king, the scandal of the reign, was probably the wreck of the marriage project, but though the breach was also widened by other circumstances, it can only be fully accounted for by the peculiarities of the prince's temper. His power of exasperating his relations, and especially his father, without committing against him any really great offence, indicated fatal incompatibilities of temper between them. His sister Amelia grudged him every hour he continued to live; the queen, his mother, wished a hundred times a day that he were dead, and is said to have remarked: ‘My dear firstborn is the greatest ass, and the greatest liar, and the greatest canaille, and the greatest beast in the whole world, and I heartily wish he was out of it.’ His father's stingy treatment of him in money matters, and his determination to keep him in a position of dependence, were peculiarly galling to the prince. His filial sentiments were, however, less replaced by indignation than contempt, which he loved on every opportunity to manifest, partly as a proof of his own superiority. He undoubtedly carried this feeling to an extreme when he wrote, or instigated the writing in 1735 of, ‘Histoire du Prince Titi’ (of which two English translations appeared in 1736), in which the king and queen were grossly caricatured. With George Bubb Dodington as his chief counsellor, he also formed an opposition court of his own, and used every influence to undermine the authority of Walpole, his father's favourite minister. Possessing easy manners and great good humour when his wishes were not thwarted, he set himself deliberately to outshine his father in popularity, and the fact that he could pose before the public as one who was to some extent ill-used told greatly in his favour. Partly because of his money embarrassments, and partly possibly because he knew he would deeply pain his father, he entered into negotiations with the old Duchess of Marlborough for the hand of her favourite granddaughter, Lady Diana Spencer, afterwards Duchess of Bedford, stipulating that he should receive 100,000l. for her portion. A day is said to have been actually fixed for the secret marriage in the duchess's lodge in Windsor Great Park, but the project was discovered, just in time to prevent it, by Sir Robert Walpole. The marriage of the princess royal to the Prince of Orange in 1734 was regarded by Frederick as something in the nature of a personal grievance, from the fact that she had anticipated him not only in getting married, but in obtaining a permanent grant from parliament, and an establishment of her own. The rivalry between the two came prominently before the public in connection with the ‘Tweedledum Tweedledee’ controversy, as to the respective merits of the operas of Handel and his Italian rival Buononcini, the princess being a special friend and patron of Handel at the Haymarket, and the prince heading those of the nobility who supported Buononcini at Lincoln's Inn Fields. The marriage of the princess induced Frederick to go to the antechamber of St. James's and request an audience of the king, to whom he made three demands: permission to serve in the Rhine campaign, a fixed income suitable to his circumstances, and the arrangement for him of a suitable marriage. The first was peremptorily refused, but the king promised favourably to consider the second and third, provided Frederick in future acted with proper respect towards the queen. Some time afterwards, with the prince's consent, a negotiation was entered into for the hand of the Princess Augusta, daughter of Frederick, duke of Saxe-Gotha, and the marriage was solemnised at St. James's, 26 April 1736. Instead, however, of proving a means of reconciliation between the king and the prince, the marriage was the occasion of embittering their relations for the remainder of the prince's life. George II himself, when prince of Wales, had obtained an annuity of 100,000l. out of a civil list of 700,000l., and the prince naturally thought himself entitled to at least an equal sum when the civil list had increased to 800,000l. The king proposed to give only 50,000l., whereupon the prince resolved, on the advice of his friends the leaders of the opposition, to appeal to parliament against his father. The address on the subject was, however, rejected in both houses—by 30 in the commons, and by 103 to 40 in the lords. The mortification of the prince was permanent, and he felt his disappointment the more from the fact that he was deeply in debt. He showed his resentment by neglecting to acquaint the king and queen with his wife's condition before the birth of Augusta, his eldest child. When the pains of child-birth came on he hurried her from Hampton Court in the middle of the night to St. James's, where not only had no preparations been made, but the beds had not been properly aired, and the only lady in attendance was Lady Archibald Hamilton, the reputed mistress of the prince, who had accompanied them from Hampton Court. The prince excused himself on the ground that the princess had been seized with the pains of labour much sooner than he expected, but there is little doubt that the chief reason for his extraordinary conduct was to prevent the queen being present at the birth (see Lord Hervey's Memoirs, ed. 1848, ii. 360–74). In any case the king rejected all his endeavours for conciliation, and on 10 Sept. 1737 sent him a message peremptorily ordering him to quit St. James's with all his family, as soon as the princess could bear removal. The order was immediately obeyed, the prince removing in the first instance to Kew, and subsequently to Norfolk House, St. James's Square. Copies of the correspondence which passed between father and son were sent by the king to each of the British ambassadors abroad and the foreign ambassadors in England, the latter being at the same time requested not to visit the prince's family, as ‘a thing that would be disagreeable to his majesty’ (Marchmont Papers, ii. 83; the letters between George II and the Prince of Wales were published in 1737). From this time the prince's home became a great centre of the opposition, Bolingbroke, Chesterfield, Carteret, Wyndham, and Cobham being numbered among the prince's special friends. Walpole, shortly before his overthrow, in the beginning of 1742, advised the king to make an effort to detach the prince from his party, on whom his patronage conferred undoubted influence in the country. Secker, bishop of Oxford, was therefore sent to the prince to intimate that if he would send to the king a letter couched in proper terms of regret for the past, and promising amendment for the future, an addition of 50,000l. would be made to his revenue, and in all probability his debts, which now reached an enormous sum, would be paid by the king; but the prince, who it may be supposed was well aware that Walpole's position was becoming desperate, replied that if the message had come directly from the king he might have been disposed to consider it favourably, but as it had evidently emanated from Walpole, he refused to entertain it so long as Walpole remained at the head of the government. After the resignation of Walpole a partial reconciliation with the king took place, but, possibly because the king took no steps towards increasing the prince's allowance, matters were soon again on their old footing. When the rebellion broke out in 1745, Frederick warmly solicited the command of the royal army. It is said to have been through the intercession of Frederick that Flora Macdonald received her liberty, after a short imprisonment for succouring the chevalier. Frederick died suddenly at Leicester House, 20 March 1751, from the bursting of an abscess which had been formed by a blow from a tennis ball. He had been ailing for a short time, and, when his death happened, Desnoyers, a dancing-master, had been amusing him by playing the violin at his bedside. Desnoyers supported him in his last moments. He was buried on 13 April, ‘without either anthem or organ,’ in Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey. The princess survived to witness the coronation of her son, and, dying 8 Feb. 1772, was interred in Westminster Abbey. Frederick was the father, by his wife, of four sons besides George III, and of two daughters, viz. Edward Augustus, duke of York and Albany (1739–1767); William Henry, duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1743–1805); Henry Frederick, duke of Cumberland (1745–1790); Frederick William (1750–1765); Augusta (1737–1813), wife of Charles William Ferdinand, hereditary prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel; and Caroline Matilda (1751–1775), wife of Christian VII, king of Denmark.

‘The chief passion of the prince,’ says Horace Walpole, ‘was women; but, like the rest of his race, beauty was not a necessary ingredient.’ A natural son, ‘Cornwell Fitz-Frederick,’ by Anne Vane (‘Beautiful Vanella’), daughter of Gilbert, second lord Barnard, was buried in Westminster Abbey 26 Feb. 1735–6 (Chester, Westm. Abbey Reg. p. 345). He was also much addicted to gambling, but in all his money transactions his conduct was not regulated by any ordinary considerations of honour. Though he affected to patronise the arts and literature, his tastes were not otherwise refined, and in their pursuit he was not too regardful of his dignity. ‘His best quality,’ says Horace Walpole, ‘was generosity, his worst insincerity and indifference to truth, which appeared so early that Earl Stanhope wrote to Lord Sunderland what I shall conclude his character with: “He has his father's head and his mother's heart”’ (Walpole, George II, i. 77). His popularity partly arose from the belief that he was hardly used by the king, and partly from the unpopularity of the king, and antipathy felt towards the prince's brother, the Duke of Cumberland, whose regency, should the king die before his successor was of age, was regarded with general dread. When Frederick's death became known, elegies were cried about the streets, to which the people responded with, ‘Oh! that it was but his brother!’ and ‘Oh! that it was but the butcher!’ Perhaps, however, the real sentiment of the nation was expressed in the lines beginning with

    Here lies Fred,
    Who was alive and is dead;

and ending with

    There's no more to be said.

Two songs of which Frederick was the author, one in French, the other in English, are printed in Walpole's ‘George II,’ i. 432–5.

[Lord Hervey's Court of George II; Walpole's Reminiscences, Memoirs, and George II; Wraxall's Memoirs; Coxe's Life of Walpole; Dodington's Diary; Opinions of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough; Warburton's Horace Walpole and his Contemporaries, i. 225–69; Jesse's Court of England, ed. 1843, iii. 119–60; Carlyle's Frederick the Great; Stanhope's Hist.]

T. F. H.