Friday, August 10, 2012

Consort Profile: Prince George of Denmark

Prince George, consort to Queen Anne of Great Britain, was born on April 2, 1653 in Copenhagen to King Frederick III of Denmark and Sophie Amelie of Brunswick-Lueneburg, their youngest son. Though there was little chance of him inheriting the Danish throne, Prince George seemed destined for great things. He was given a top level education with somewhat of an emphasis on military subjects, which is not surprising given that younger sons of royal houses were usually expected to take up a military career. He grew to be a well-rounded young man, he toured Europe, lingering in France and England so he had a good grasp of European affairs. He took his religion seriously and was genuinely interested in a variety of subjects but, perhaps because he was not subject to the pressures of an heir to the throne, had a rather relaxed attitude that put people at ease and made him seem very casual on the surface. His reputation was such that in 1674 no less a figure than King Louis XIV of France proposed him as a candidate to be King of Poland. However, Prince George refused to give up his Lutheran faith and Catholic Poland would not have a Protestant monarch, so the opportunity passed him by, going instead to the famous John Sobieski. Still, he distinguished himself during the Scanian War between Denmark and Sweden, fighting alongside his brother, by then King Christian V, at the battle of Landskrona. His actions were admirable but feuding Danish generals put them at a disadvantage and the battle was a Swedish victory.

Meanwhile, over in Britain, King Charles II was looking for a husband for his niece, Princess Anne, daughter of the Duke of York (later King James II). Royal marriages were a tricky subject at this time because anti-Catholicism was at a high point in Protestant Britain yet the King was supported by King Louis XIV of Catholic France. Prince George was known to be a devout Protestant and so was acceptable to most in London and Britain and Denmark were both rather upset with The Netherlands at the time. The hope of an Anglo-Danish alliance against the Dutch caused the King of France to support such a marriage just as it made the Dutch Prince of Orange (who was married to Anne’s sister Mary) oppose the match. James, Duke of York, was a staunch Catholic but he approved of his daughter marrying Prince George if for no other reason than that it pleased Louis XIV and angered his Protestant Dutch son-in-law. So, the agreements were all made and on July 28, 1683 Princess Anne and Prince George were married at St James’s Palace in London. Prince George was happy with his wife but found life in London rather too hectic for his laid-back personality. The court was riddled with gossip and intrigue and drama of all sorts between the allies of Holland and France, the Catholics and the Protestants, the girlfriends of the King and Prince George wanted no part of it. A quiet life and domestic happiness were his primary goals.

When it came to family, Prince George certainly went above and beyond the call of duty. Within months of their marriage Anne was pregnant with the first of seventeen children. However, to their great sorrow, these many pregnancies resulted in miscarriage after miscarriage, stillborn after stillborn with only one child surviving infancy and that one did not live to see his twelfth birthday. When King Charles II died the Duke of York became King James II and Prince George, now husband to a King’s daughter rather than niece, was given a place on the Privy Council. His brother-in-law refused to attend, being offended at Prince George being given preference over him, which is somewhat ironic given how little Prince George thought of such things. He critics describe him as being fat and dull but, in truth, he was quite intelligent but simply had no desire to get involved in court drama. As a foreign spouse he was content to remain on the sidelines, assisting his wife when needed but preferring peace and quiet to cliques and schemes. When William of Orange was preparing to invade England to overthrow King James II, Prince George was forewarned by his contacts in Denmark and he let it be known that moral was low in the English army and he would accept no post from his father-in-law, correctly predicting that he would lose the contest.

Protestant enemies of King James II had gravitated toward Princess Anne and Prince George but although Princess Anne joined those who raised doubts about the legitimacy of her newborn half-brother, Prince George preferred to stay out of it for the most part. Still, the time came when a side had to be taken and the King was rather upset when Prince George (the son-in-law he liked) declared for Prince William (the son-in-law he did not like). James II was forced to exile in France and the Prince and Princess of Orange became King William III and Queen Mary II. Prince George was rewarded with the title of Duke of Cumberland. However, relations between King William and Prince George were never friendly. The King never trusted him with any responsibility and only paid the extensive debts he owed to Prince George when Queen Mary II died and Princess Anne was the only Protestant left to inherit the throne. In 1702 William III died and Queen Anne took the throne with her faithful Prince consort beside her. She promptly appointed him commander of the army and Lord High Admiral but these offices were mostly ceremonial and Prince George had little to do with either branch of the forces.

Many of the accounts which dismiss Prince George as a nonentity can be attributed to the very different attitudes toward male consorts at a time when such were a rarity. The only previous examples had been Philip II of Spain and William of Orange, both of whom insisted on being granted the title of King and, in the case of William, the authority of a reigning monarch. Prince George, however, was ahead of his time in neither demanding nor desiring such a position. He was content to take second place to his wife the Queen, advising or assisting her when needed but making no effort to establish his own network of support and power base as so many expected. This does not, however, mean that he was unimportant. On the contrary, the moral support he gave to Queen Anne was vital. She had not had much preparation for becoming a reigning monarch and particularly after the loss of their only surviving child she was quite sad and became increasingly religious. This was something Prince George had in common with his wife and his own religious convictions are evident in the fact that, despite efforts to suppress non-conformists, he never joined the Church of England and remained a Lutheran throughout his life. He was a quiet and humble man but a devoted husband who was a great source of strength to his wife the Queen. He was, perhaps, overly fond of a well-set table but he was also friendly, trustworthy, honest and unassuming. A good man overall. In 1706 his health became noticeably worse and he had long suffered from asthma and dropsy. He died on October 28, 1708 at Kensington Palace at the age of only 55. Queen Anne was certainly worse off for his loss.


  1. Thank you for this well-rounded picture of Prince George. We were all raised (well us Anglophiles) to believe he was a dullard, of low intelligence, not wanting to be involved in anything (true), and only good for breeding purposes - which weren't very good as it turned out.

    Your attempt to provide a more humanized picture of him, should be a mandatory piece of reading for anyone interested in British history.

    I often wondered if there was something incompatible genetically between Prince George & Queen Anne. Even their young son was very ill. My sister & her ex had similar issues, and they determined that her eggs just didn't like his sperm - there's an actual genetic condition for this. It's too bad in the case of Queen Anne & Prince George, esp her, because she so wanted to be a mother. And then England could've avoided George IV and all his fiascos (not to mention the father/first born son hatred of the Hanovers).

    But then they wouldn't have had Queen Victoria & Prince Albert.

  2. Interesting to think of what would have happened had he actually sired a viable heir (Prince William's survival prospects always being shaky).

  3. Sorry to say, I can't bring myself to give much positive thoughts towards Anne or her husband for their disloyalty to James II. Anne in particular not only joined those who raised doubts about whether the newborn Prince of Wales was really her brother but was the principal instigator of those doubts (which everyone now knows not only to be false but ridiculous) and was the one who planted the doubts in Mary's (who was hesitant about overthrowing her father) head in the Netherlands. Anne deliberately excused herself from even attending the birth of her brother so she could do this.

    And then later on of course she not only never recognized her brother (who was the spitting image of their father) AS her brother but agreed with declaring him an outlaw and she also never recognized even the existence of her sister, Princess Louise, who was born in France and whose birth was never in question. Prince George backed her up in all this duplicity.

    1. If it makes you feel any better she later felt terrible about it and was convinced that her every misfortune was God's punishment on her for betraying her father.


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