Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Royal Profile: Prince Edward Duke of York

HRH Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany was the second son of Frederick Prince of Wales and Augusta of Saxe-Gotha; he was the younger brother of HM King George III. Edward was born on March 25, 1739 and was baptized Edward Augustus at Norfolk House by Thomas Secker, Bishop of Oxford. His godparents were King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia (Edward’s great-uncle) who was acted for by the Duke of Queensberry; the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuettel who was acted for by Lord Carnarvon and his aunt the Duchess of Saxe-Weissenfels who was acted for by Lady Charlotte Edwin, daughter of the fourth Duke of Hamilton.

As a boy the Duke of York, with his brother, went through long hours of schooling in arithmetic, Latin, geometry, writing, religion, French, German, Greek and even dancing to be well rounded. For the future George III the young Prince Edward, Duke of York, was his only constant companion but it was Edward who was their mother’s favorite. As he grew up, quite unlike his simple and solitary brother, the Duke of York became a very popular figure in London society. Having an interest in the sea the Duke requested and was granted a commission in the Royal Navy in which he served during the French and Indian War, taking part in the threatening moves and raids on the French coast and saw action in the British defeats at the battles of St Malo and St Caste in 1758. On April 1, 1760 Edward officially received his titles from his grandfather King George II and was created Duke of York and Albany and Earl of Ulster.

When King George III came to the throne he made the Duke of York a privy councilor. As was typical in the House of Hanover, family warmth and family loyalty did not all go together. Edward was there to welcome his brother’s bride to England, being very courteous to her, but he also later joined with members of the opposition to the King’s government. Those who knew the Duke of York described him as silly, frivolous, rather a chatter-box, someone who loved a good practical joke and who did not keep the most upright company. He was rather put off when his brother the King did not make him bishop of Osnabruck (which oddly enough did not require one to be a cleric) and the two never returned to the close companionship they had as children.

In 1767 the Duke of York was on a tour of the continent. He became ill while in France at a ball but refused to stop but insisted on going on his way to Genoa where he was to meet a mistress of his. On the way he stopped in at the Principality of Monaco where he stood in his full admiral's uniform while the Monegasque troops saluted and fired their artillery in welcome. Becoming more ill by the minute the Duke had to be taken to bed in the Princely Palace. HSH Prince Honore III rushed home to look after so prestigious a guest and saw to it the Duke received the best care he could provide but it was to no avail and the Duke of York passed away in a bed room in the Princely Palace of Monaco which has been known as the York Room ever since. Before his death on September 17 he dictated an apologetic letter to his brother George III (whom he had earlier forbidden Honore III to contact) and thanked Prince Honore for all his care. Prince Honore took great care to follow all protocol exactly with all of the pomp and ceremony for the lying in state and the send-off of the body that Monaco could muster. Afterwards the British king sent the Prince of Monaco two of his late brother's finest race horses and invited him to Britain.

British society mourned the loss of the Duke of York, known as a rather frivolous dandy but popular for all of that. There are a number of lasting reminders of this long past Duke of York, his name having been given to a peninsula that is the northernmost point in Australia, a group of islands off Papua New Guinea, a county in the Commonwealth of Virgnia and a room in the Princely Palace of Monaco.
(more details on the Duke's passing can be found at The Death of the Duke of York at Mad for Monaco)

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