Military Wiki
Prince George
Preceded by Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge
Personal details
Born (1819-03-26)March 26, 1819
Cambridge House, Hanover
Died 17 March 1904(1904-03-17) (aged 84)
Gloucester House, Piccadilly
Spouse(s) Sarah Fairbrother
Occupation Military
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Rank Field Marshal
Commands Commander-in-Chief of the Forces

Prince George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge, KG KT KP GCB GCH GCSI GCMG GCIE GCVO VD PC (Ire) (George William Frederick Charles; 26 March 1819 – 17 March 1904) was a member of the British Royal Family, a male-line grandson of King George III and maternal uncle of Queen Mary, consort of King George V. The Duke was an army officer by profession and served as Commander-in-Chief of the Forces (military head of the British Army) from 1856 to 1895. He became Duke of Cambridge in 1850 and Field Marshal in 1862.

Early life

Prince George was born at Cambridge House in Hanover, Germany.[1] His father was Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge,[1] the 10th child and 7th son of King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. His mother was The Duchess of Cambridge (née Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel).[2]

He was baptised at Cambridge House on 11 May 1819, by the Reverend John Sanford, his father's Domestic Chaplain. His godparents were The Prince Regent (represented by The Duke of Clarence and St Andrews), The Duke of Clarence and St Andrews (represented by The Earl of Mayo) and The Dowager Queen of Württemberg (represented by The Countess of Mayo).[3]

Military career

Prince George of Cambridge was educated in Hanover and from 1830 in England by the Rev. J. R. Wood, a canon of Worcester Cathedral.[2] Like his father, he embarked upon a military career initially becoming a colonel in the Hanoverian Army and then, on 3 November 1837, becoming a brevet colonel in the British Army.[4] He was attached to the staff at Gibraltar from October 1838 to April 1839.[1] After serving in Ireland with the 12th Royal Lancers (the Prince of Wales's), he was appointed substantive lieutenant-colonel of the 8th Light Dragoons on 15 April 1842[5] and colonel of the 17th Lancers on 25 April 1842.[1]

From 1843 to 1845, he served as a colonel on the staff in the Ionian islands,[1] then was promoted Major-General on 7 May 1845.[6] He succeeded to his father's titles of Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Tipperary, and Baron Culloden on 8 July 1850.[1]

Collodion of Prince George, 1855, by Roger Fenton

The Duke of Cambridge became Inspector of the Cavalry in 1852.[1] In February 1854, at an early stage in the Crimean War, he received command of the 1st Division (Guards and Highland brigades) of the British army in the East.[7] On 19 June 1854, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general.[8] He was present at the battles of the Alma,[7] Balaclava and Inkerman,[7] and at the siege of Sevastopol.[2] His state of health necessitated his returning first to Malta and then to Britain before the conclusion of the campaign.[9]

On 5 July 1856, the Duke was appointed general commanding-in-chief of the British Army,[7] a post that was retitled field marshal commanding-in-chief on 9 November 1862 and commander-in-chief of the forces by Letters Patent on 20 November 1887.[10] In that capacity he served as the chief military advisor to the Secretary of State for War, with responsibility for the administration of the army and the command of forces in the field. He was promoted to the rank of general on 15 July 1856[11] and to the rank of field marshal on 9 November 1862.[12]


The Duke of Cambridge served as commander-in-chief for 39 years.[7] Although he was deeply concerned about the welfare of soldiers, he earned a reputation for being resistant to doctrinal change and for making promotions based upon an officer's social standing, rather than his merit. Under his command, the British Army became a moribund and stagnant institution, lagging far behind its continental counterparts. In the late 19th century, whereas 50 per cent of all military literature was written in Germany and 25 per cent in France, just one per cent came from Britain. It is said that he rebuked one of his more intelligent subordinates with the words: "Brains? I don't believe in brains! You haven't any, I know, Sir!" He was equally forthright on his reluctance to adopt change: "There is a time for everything, and the time for change is when you can no longer help it."[13]

Prince George, Duke of Cambridge – statue on Whitehall, London

Early in his term he encouraged the army to trial various breech-loading carbines for the cavalry, one of which—the Westley-Richards—was so effective that it was decided to investigate the possibility of producing a version for the infantry. In 1861, 100 were issued to five infantry battalions; in 1863, an order of 2,000 was placed for further trials.[14] He was also involved in the creation of the Staff College, the Royal Military School of Music, and became governor of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich:[15] he further sought to improve the efficiency of the army by advocating a scheme of annual military manoeuvres.[2] In 1860, he introduced a new system to restrict corporal punishment: soldiers were now eligible for flogging only in case of aggravated mutinous conduct in time of war, unless they committed an offence serious enough to degrade them to the second class and make them once again subject to corporal punishment. A year's good behaviour would return them to the first class, meaning that only a hard core of incorrigible offenders tended to be flogged.[16]

Opposes reforms

In the wake of the Prussian victory in the 1870–71 Franco-Prussian War, the Liberal Party government of Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone and Secretary of State for War Edward Cardwell called for major army reforms.[17] Cardwell succeeded in pushing through a number of reforms, including one that made the Commander in chief nominally report to the Secretary of State for War.[18] The Duke was opposed to most of the reforms because they struck at the heart of his view of the army. He feared that the newly created force of reservists would be of little use in a colonial conflict, and that expeditionary forces would have to strip the most experienced men from the home-based battalions in order to fill the gaps in their ranks.[2] His fears seemed to be confirmed in 1873, when Wolseley raided battalions for the expedition against the Ashanti. In 1881, when the historic numbers of regiments were abolished and facing colours standardised for English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish regiments, the duke protested that regimental spirit would be degraded; the majority of facing colours were restored by the First World War, although the numbers were not.[2]

The reforming impetus, however, continued. Parliament passed the War Office Act 1870, which formally subordinated the Commander-in-Chief of the Forces to the Secretary of State for War and abolished the custom of purchasing an office. The Duke of Cambridge strongly resented this move, a sentiment shared by a majority of officers, who would no longer be able to sell their commissions when they retired.[2] The Duke cared deeply about the welfare of soldiers, but ignored new ideas in strategy, tactics, technology and organisation. He made promotions based upon an officer's social standing and family, rather than his merit. As commander in chief for 39 years and of royal standing, he could ignore pressures from the cabinet. His British Army became a moribund and stagnant institution, lagging far behind its continental counterparts.[19]

Pressures for reform built up as the Duke of Cambridge aged; his strongest ally was his cousin Queen Victoria. An 1890 royal commission led by Lord Hartington (later the 8th Duke of Devonshire) criticised the administration of the War Office and recommended the devolution of authority from the commander-in-chief to subordinate military officers.[2] A number of opponents banded together, including Campbell-Bannerman and Lansdowne, the Liberal and Conservative Secretaries for War. The leading generals eager to replace him were Wolseley, Buller, Roberts and the Duke of Connaught. The Duke of Cambridge was forced to resign his post on 1 November 1895, and was succeeded by Lord Wolseley.[20]

Funerary monument, Kensal Green Cemetery, London

Marriage and mistress

It is believed William IV, who had been his godfather when Duke of Clarence, had George brought up at Windsor in hope of steering him to eventually marry his cousin Princess Victoria of Kent, who was two months younger, a prospective match favoured by George's own parents, but this was forestalled by her uncle Leopold I of Belgium securing for Victoria her betrothal to his nephew, their mutual cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which became formal after she succeeded to the British throne. In 1839 Queen Victoria wrote to Albert about George's father: "The Duke told Lord Melbourne he had always greatly desired our marriage, and never thought of George: but that I don't believe."[21] George was one of a range of suitors considered by Victoria, the most prominent of whom, Prince Alexander of the Netherlands, was openly favoured by William.[22]

The Duke of Cambridge made no secret of his view that "arranged marriages were doomed to failure." He married privately and in contravention of the 1772 Royal Marriages Act at St. John's Church, Clerkenwell, London on 8 January 1847 to Sarah Fairbrother (1816–12 January 1890), the daughter of John Fairbrother, a servant in Westminster. Sarah Fairbrother had been an actress since 1827, performing at Drury Lane, the Lyceum, and Covent Garden Theatre. As the marriage was contrary to the Royal Marriages Act, the Duke's 'wife' was not titled Duchess of Cambridge or accorded the style Her Royal Highness, nor was their son born after the 'marriage' able to succeed to the Duke's titles. Indeed, Sarah's very existence was ignored by the Queen. Instead, Sarah called herself "Mrs. Fairbrother" and later "Mrs. FitzGeorge." The Duke was a very weak man where women were concerned and it seems likely that he had been cajoled into marriage by Sarah (then pregnant for the fifth time), she herself obtaining the licence. Legend has created for the couple an idyllic relationship that is far from the reality; the Duke having other affairs and being quite unworthy of her steady attachment.[23]

From 1837 the Duke had known Mrs. Louisa Beauclerk whom he later described as 'the idol of my life and my existence'. He saw much of her in 1847 and she was his mistress from at least 1849 until her death in 1882. As early as 1849 he had decided that he would be buried near Mrs Beauclerk and it was solely on her account that Mrs. FitzGeorge and he were deposited in the mausoleum in Kensal Green Cemetery, about sixty feet away from Mrs Beauclerk's grave.[24]

Later life

The Duke of Cambridge served as colonel-in-chief of the 17th Lancers,[25] Royal Artillery[26] and Royal Engineers;[26] the The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge's Own)[27] and King's Royal Rifle Corps;[28] colonel of the Grenadier Guards;[29] honorary colonel of the 10th (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) Bengal Lancers,[30] 20th Duke of Cambridge's Own Punjabis,[31] 4 Battalion Suffolk Regiment,[32] 1st City of London Volunteer Brigade[33] and the Scots Fusilier Guards.[34] He became the ranger of Hyde Park and St. James's Park in 1852,[35] and of Richmond Park in 1857; governor of the Royal Military Academy in 1862,[15] and its president in 1870.[36] He was the patron of the Oxford Military College from 1876–1896.[37]

Cambridge's strength and hearing began to fade in his later years. He was unable to ride at Queen Victoria's funeral and had to attend in a carriage.[38] He paid his last visit to Germany in August 1903.[2] He died of a haemorrhage of the stomach in 1904 at Gloucester House, Piccadilly, London.[2] His remains were buried five days later next to those of Mrs. FitzGeorge in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.[2]

In 1904, his estate was probated at under 121,000 pounds sterling.[39]

The Duke is today commemorated by an equestrian statue standing on Whitehall in central London; it is, somewhat ironically, positioned outside the front door of the War Office that he so strongly resisted.[40]

His title, Duke of Cambridge, fell into extinction upon his death. It was not revived until 107 years later, when Elizabeth II awarded the title to her grandson, Prince William, on 29 April 2011, the day of his wedding. This did not become official until 26 May 2011, when Letters Patent to that effect were signed and recorded in the Crown Office on the Roll of the Peerage.[41]

Titles, styles and honours

Titles and styles

  • 26 March 1819 – 8 July 1850: His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge
  • 8 July 1850 – 17 March 1904: His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge

As the male-line grandson of a King of Hanover, Prince George of Cambridge also bore the titles of Prince of Hanover and Duke of Brunswick and Lüneburg.





The Duke of Cambridge and Mrs. FitzGeorge had three sons, two of whom were born before their marriage, invalid as a result of the Royal Marriages Act 1772, and all of whom pursued military careers.

Name Birth Death Notes
George FitzGeorge 24 August 1843 2 September 1907 m. Rosa Baring; had issue
Adolphus FitzGeorge 30 January 1846 17 December 1922 m. (1) Sofia Holden; had issue; (2) Margaret Watson; no issue
Augustus FitzGeorge 12 June 1847 30 October 1933 Col Sir Augustus FitzGeorge, KCVO, CB



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Heathcote, p. 141
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 "Prince George, Duke of Cambridge". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  3. "No. 17479". 22 May 1819. 
  4. "No. 19555". 3 November 1837. 
  5. "No. 20091". 15 April 1842. 
  6. "No. 20469". 9 May 1845. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Heathcote, p. 142
  8. "No. 21564". 22 June 1854. 
  9. "The King and his Navy and Army" 26 March 1904
  10. "No. 25762". 29 November 1887. 
  11. "No. 21902". 15 July 1856. 
  12. "No. 22679". 10 November 1862. 
  13. "After the triumph of the Royal Wedding, now we need a stronger monarchy". The Freedom Association. 30 April 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  14. "HBSA lecture Monday 15 March 2010 at Imperial War Museum – Westley Richards Monkeytails". Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 "No. 22600". 21 February 1862. 
  16. "Flogging in the Army". The Times. 14 January 1860. Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  17. Ensor, p. 16
  18. Spiers (1994)
  19. Searle, pp 254–255
  20. Brian Bond, "The Retirement of the Duke of Cambridge," Journal of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies (1961), Vol. 106 Issue 624, pp 544-553.
  21. Fulford, Roger (1973). Royal Dukes, The Father and Uncles of Queen Victoria. Fontana. pp. 300–301. ISBN 0-00-633589-6. 
  22. Longford, Elizabeth (1964). Victoria R.I.. Weidenfeld and Nicholson. pp. 51–52. ISBN 0-297-17001-5. 
  23. Anthony J. Camp, Royal mistresses and bastards: fact and fiction 1714–1936 (London, 2007) 330–38.
  24. Camp, op.cit., 339.
  25. "No. 24338". 20 June 1876. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 "No. 26676". 1 November 1895. 
  27. "No. 26992". 2 August 1898. 
  28. "No. 23479". 16 March 1869. 
  29. "No. 22598". 14 February 1862. 
  30. Heathcote, p.143
  31. "No. 25265". 31 August 1883. 
  32. "No. 26311". 29 July 1892. 
  33. "No. 22361". 28 February 1860. 
  34. "No. 21362". 28 September 1852. 
  35. "No. 21371". 22 October 1852. 
  36. "No. 23598". 15 March 1870. 
  37. "Visit by the Duke of Cambridge, Oxford Military College". Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  38. "No. 27316". 22 May 1901. 
  39. Spiers, Edward M.. "Prince George, Duke of Cambridge". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 10 February 2008. 
  40. "Duke of Cambridge Statue, Whitehall". Hansard. 19 November 1928. Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  41. "Kate and William become Duke and Duchess of Cambridge". BBC News. 29 April 2011. Retrieved 2 March 2011. 
  42. "No. 19301". 28 August 1835. 
  43. 43.00 43.01 43.02 43.03 43.04 43.05 43.06 43.07 43.08 43.09 43.10 The Complete Peerage, Volume II. St Catherine's Press. 1912. p. 499. 
  44. "House of Guelph". Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  45. "No. 24467". 2 June 1877. 
  46. "No. 24464". 30 May 1877. 
  47. "No. 25712". 21 June 1887. 
  48. "No. 26871". 9 July 1897. 
  49. "No. 26725". 27 March 1896. 
  50. Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes, 1895. Kelly's. p. 227. 
  51. "No. 26676". 1 November 1895. 


  • Ensor, R.C.K. (1963). England 1870–1914, The Oxford history of England 14, New edition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285261-2. 
  • St. Aubyn, Giles (1963). The Royal George, 1819–1904: The Life of HRH Prince George, Duke of Cambridge. London: Constable. ISBN 978-0571281701. 
  • Heathcote, Tony (1999). The British Field Marshals 1736–1997. Pen & Sword Books Ltd. ISBN 0-85052-696-5. 
  • Searle, Geoffrey Russell (2004). A New England?: Peace and War, 1886-1918. Oxford U.P.. 
  • Spiers, Edward M. The Late Victorian Army, 1868-1902 (Manchester History of the British Army, 1992)
  • Spiers, Edward M. "The Late Victorian Army, 1868-1902," in David Chandler, ed., The Oxford History of the British Army (1994) pp 187–210
  • Spiers, Edward M. "George, Prince, Second Duke of Cambridge (1819–1904)// Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (2008)online accessdate=10 February 2008
  • Weir, Alison (1996). Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy. London: Pimlico. ISBN 978-0099539735. 
  • "The Late Duke of Cambridge", The Times, 19 March 1904, p. 7.

External links

Prince George, Duke of Cambridge
House of Hanover
Cadet branch of the House of Welf
Born: 26 March 1819 Died: 17 March 1904
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Benjamin Clifton
Colonel of the 17th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Lancers)
Succeeded by
Thomas William Taylor
Preceded by
Prince Albert
Colonel of the Scots Fusilier Guards
Succeeded by
Sir Alexander Woodford
Preceded by
The Viscount Hardinge
Commander-in-Chief of the Forces
Succeeded by
The Viscount Wolseley
Preceded by
Prince Albert
Colonel of the Grenadier Guards
Succeeded by
The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn
Other offices
Preceded by
Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge
President of the Foundling Hospital
Succeeded by
Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge
Grand Master of the Order of St Michael
and St George

Succeeded by
George, Prince of Wales
later became King George V
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Prince Adolphus
Duke of Cambridge
4th creation

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