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George III's Unruly Sons: Not the House of Hanover's Finest

We expect royals to set the right example. No hope of that with George III's disreputable septet of princes.

Johan Zoffany's 1765 portrait of Queen Charlotte with Princes George and Frederick.

Johan Zoffany's 1765 portrait of Queen Charlotte with Princes George and Frederick.

The House of Hanover's Next Generation

King George III (1738-1820) and his wife Queen Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz’s (1744-1818) marriage produced fifteen children between 1762 and 1781. Nine of them were boys.

George, later King George IV, 1762-1830 (Reigned: 1820-1830)

The heir to the throne was intelligent but he lacked self-discipline which frustrated his parents enormously. He was a pleasure seeker, gambler and trendsetter. George’s wedding to Maria Fitzherbert was deemed illegal because Maria was not approved by George III and she was a Catholic and a commoner. George was forced into a marriage with his first cousin Caroline of Brunswick as a way to clear his substantial debts.

Princess Charlotte Augusta was the only child of the Wales’ tempestuous union. When Charlotte died in childbirth of a stillborn son in November 1817 the nation mourned. George was the Prince Regent during his father’s final illness from 1811 until his accession in January 1820. He passed away in 1830, mourned by few of his people.

Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, Prince-Bishop of Osnabruck (1763-1827)

At six months old Frederick became the Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück, part of the family’s Hanoverian inheritance. He was trained for an army life in Hanover and was denied permission to return to England for six years because George III didn’t want the Prince of Wales to influence him.

However, Frederick fathered an illegitimate son and gambled merrily in Hanover. He was made the Duke of York and Albany in 1784 and in 1791 he married “Freddie,” Princess Frederica of Prussia, but the union was strained thanks to his countless infidelities. The York’s had no issue and eventually separated.

In 1809, when Commander in Chief of the Forces of Great Britain, he was accused of selling military commissions after claims were made by his mistress Mary Anne Clarke. (An ancestor of the writer Daphne du Maurier.) He was acquitted. Frederick was with George III when he died in 1820. He survived him by just seven years.

An 1809 caricature by Isaac Cruickshank referring to the Mary Anne Clarke scandal.

An 1809 caricature by Isaac Cruickshank referring to the Mary Anne Clarke scandal.

King William IV: "Silly Billy" (1765-1837), Reigned 1830-1837

Aged thirteen, William became a midshipman in the Royal Navy and he loved his life onboard ship. “Silly Billy” soon fell into debt and debauchery. He had ten illegitimate offspring, the FitzClarences, with the Irish actress Dora Jordan. In 1789 he was made the Duke of Clarence and St. Andrews.

In 1817 William married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and they led a quiet and economical life but suffered a harrowing succession of stillbirths, miscarriages and the deaths of baby daughters Charlotte and Elizabeth.

In 1830 the sixty-five-year-old new king vowed not to die until his niece Princess Victoria of Kent was eighteen, old enough to rule without Victoire, Duchess of Kent and her comptroller Sir John Conroy’s interference. William IV died three weeks after Victoria’s eighteenth birthday.

William, later King William IV, enjoyed life in the navy.

William, later King William IV, enjoyed life in the navy.

Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn: Father of Victoria and "Canadian" (1767-1820)

Trained for an army career in Hanover, Edward disgraced himself by going absent without leave when he travelled to England after several years away from his family. He had two illegitimate daughters.

In 1791 Edward was sent to Canada with his regiment. He was accompanied by his long-term mistress Julie de Mongenêt de Saint-Laurent and they spent over a decade in the country. Edward was the first person to use the term “Canadian.” In 1799 he became the Duke of Kent and Strathearn, Commander in Chief of the British Forces in North America.

He was appointed Governor of Gibraltar in 1802 but his draconian approach led to his removal. He held the governorship in name only until his death as diplomats acted on his behalf.

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In 1817 he abandoned Julie after twenty years and married Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Their daughter Alexandrina Victoria was eight months old when Edward died on 23rd January 1820, six days before George III's death.

Ernest Augustus, the Distrusted Duke of Cumberland (1773-1851), Reigned (1837-1851)

He was created Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale in 1799 and became the King of Hanover in 1837 when Salic Law prevented Queen Victoria from claiming the Hanoverian throne. His military career with the Hanoverian army left him with scars that frightened his nieces Charlotte of Wales and Victoria of Kent.

He was dogged by accusations of murder and incest. Ernest married his mother Queen Charlotte’s scandalous niece Princess Frederike of Mecklenberg-Strelitz in May 1815. The queen refused to see Frederike. Her late husband had died under questionable circumstances.

Ernest and Frederike's son George was born three days after the Kent’s welcomed Victoria. The Cumberland's reputations led to the implementation of the Kensington System that protected Victoria from foul play. Ernest was appreciated more in Hanover.

Ernest Augustus became King of Hanover in 1837.

Ernest Augustus became King of Hanover in 1837.

Favourite Uncle: Augustus, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843)

Augustus suffered from asthma and was exempted from a military career. After studying at the University of Göttingen in Hanover he travelled around Italy and France, fell into debt and an illegal marriage to Augusta Murray. Together, they had a son and daughter, Augustus and Augusta, who George III refused to recognise. Augustus became the Duke of Sussex in 1801 and Augusta claimed to be the Duchess of Sussex much to George III’s horror.

Augustus was Princess Charlotte of Wales and Queen Victoria’s favourite uncle. A lifelong collector, his library at Kensington Palace filled twelve rooms. In 1831 Augustus married without William IV’s approval. His bride Lady Cecilia Buggin was not permitted to call herself the Duchess of Sussex either. They had no children. Augustus died in 1843. Queen Victoria created Cecilia the 1st (and last) Duchess of Inverness.

Augustus, Duke of Sussex in the robes of a Knight of the Order of the Thistle.

Augustus, Duke of Sussex in the robes of a Knight of the Order of the Thistle.

Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge: The Better Behaved Son (1774-1850)

Adolphus followed his brothers to Hanover. His army career saw him rise to the rank of Field Marshal. Unusually for a Hanoverian, he lived within his allowance, kept no mistresses and didn’t marry illegally or produce illegitimate offspring in his youth. He was made the Duke of Cambridge in 1801.

Adolphus married his cousin Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel in 1818. They had three children named George, Augusta and Mary Adelaide. The latter was the mother of King George V’s wife Queen Mary. Adolphus acted as the Viceroy of Hanover for brother kings George and William between 1816 and 1837. He was recalled to England by Queen Victoria so that the unlikeable Duke of Cumberland could rule the electorate as king.

Octavius (1779-1783) and Alfred (1780-1782)

Octavius was his father’s favourite, he died from smallpox aged four. He was the last British royal to succumb to the disease. Octavius was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey but George IV later arranged for his remains to be reburied in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor near to George and Charlotte’s graves.

Alfred also died from smallpox. King George IV, Alfred’s godfather, had his remains moved from Westminster Abbey to Windsor with Octavius’.

The surviving Hanoverian brothers were often subject to the nation’s disapproval. The British people saw firstly Princess Charlotte and then Princess Victoria as their great untarnished hope for the future.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Joanne Hayle

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