Duke of Kent and Trathearn

Edward, Duke of Kent and Trathearn, National Portrait Gallery

EDWARD
DUKE OF KENT & TRATHEARN,
K.G. K.T. K.St.P. ETC. ETC.

(2nd November, 1767 – 23rd January 1820)


THE life of one born to an exalted station, yet not involving the charge of arduous duties, would seem at first to be one of those fortunate lots which are cast in pleasant places. The younger son of an English monarch, surrounded with luxury, and elevated by rank, appears to many an object of envy. It will be a useful lesson to the spirit of discontent, so inherent in our nature, to show the fallacy of such belief. The envy of any adventitious good, in which we are so ready to indulge, is usually as false in its conclusions, as it is erroneous in its premises. The repining of one situation is best answered by an exposue of the evils attendant on another. The advantages of mankind are more equally balanced than we ourselves are willing to admit: the truth of this assertion, the life of the Duke of Kent will strikingly illustrate-

EDWARD Augustus. the subject of our present sketch, and fourth son of George the IIId, was born Nov. 2, 1767. Destined for a military career, he was sent at the age of seventeen to Germany, where the severest and most minute discipline was enforced, without respect to youth or birth. The policy of this conduct was very questionable ; as no habits possess the strength of those acquired in early life; and it could scarcely be considered desirable that an English Prince should imbibe his youthful impressions in a foreign country. The effect on the Duke of Kent was decidedly injurious. It required the experience of years to relax his strict ideas of martial observance, and of the overpowering importance of correct accoutrements ; at seventeen his chief education was confined to the rigorous and unabated performance of the duties imposed by the drill and the parade.

It is an old saying, that those who are to command, ought first to learn how to obey. A good rule may, however, be carried too far, since a routine of tedious minutiae must be calculated rather to narrow, than to enlarge the mind. Something more was to be expected and desired, than the mere formation of a skilful tactician. The Duke used to observe in after-life, " I never exacted more obedience than I had myself gives ; for when serving as a cadet, while the regiment on duty was discharged with the usual forms, I had to be dismissed from my place with a peculiar and distinct ceremony. Once this was omitted: while cold, weary, and in the most uneasy position, I was forgotten for more than four hours, when at last the commanding officer rode up. and apologized. Unless he had given the order I should have remained at my post, Sir, till I had sunk with fatigue."

The pecuniary difficulties which embarrassed so much of his after-life began at an early age. When in Hanover his allowances were intercepted, and the pocket-money allotted to him, a young man of nineteen, was considerably under a hundred a year ; a sum far exceeded by the customary stipends of half the youths at Eton or Westminster. This was most acutely felt at Geneva, which he next visited, where he met many English noblemen of his age, and by whom inability to support youthful expense was considered meanness. On reaching his twenty-third year, he was recalled to England, where he held the rank of Colonel of the 70th foot ; and ten days after, he was ordered to Gibraltar. This state of almost exile, it is well known, was severely felt by His Royal Highness.

He had now arrived at an age when it was natural for him to expect the same provision that had been made for his elder brothers. His own family, his early friendships, and his country presented all the attraction of affectionate intercourse; and it is much to be regretted, that he was not permitted to form associations in his native land ; since an earlier acquaintance with British feelings and habits, would have counteracted the effects of German severity. This, however, was not permitted. He joined his regiment at Gibraltar, and in 1791 sailed with it for Quebec ; from which place he went to the West Indies, under General Sir Charles, afterwards Lord Gray. This expedition against the French possessions was completely successful. The detached camp at La Coste was placed under the command of His Royal. Highness ; whose first display of gallantry was at the attack of Fort Royal, in Martinique, on which occasion he led the storming party. It was afterwards, in compliment to himself, called Fort Edward. He further distinguished himself at St. Lucie, and Guadaloupe ; and during a course of active and perilous service, the home despatches gave him high and deserved praise, while his bravery and good conduct obtained repeated encomiums from the Commander-in-Chief.

Prince Edward having returned to North America, was soon after made Governor of Nova Scotia, and in 1796 he obtained the rank of Lieutenant-General. His health having been injured by an accident, arising from his horse falling under him, he repaired to England ; where being called to the House of Lords in 1799, he was created Duke of Kent and Strathearn, and Earl of Dublin. After the lapse of a few weeks, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of all the forces in British America. Thither he repaired ; and a mutual attachment having been formed between him and the people, as a mark of the approbation excited by his conduct, the Assembly unanimously voted him five hundred guineas for the purchase of a diamond star ; but his constitution, weakened by sudden and violent changes of climate, was unable to resist a severe bilious attack.

In 1800, having solicited and obtained permission to revisit England ; he was, soon after his arrival, nominated Colonel of the Royal Scots, which regiment he retained during his life. The Duke of Kent being made Governor of Gibraltar in 1803, the effects of a foreign and entirely military education were now to be manifested. Looking upon martial support as the chief security of a country, and thinking that the sole excellence of a soldier was his approximation to a machine, he at once prepared to enforce the utmost severity of German tactics. His own personal character must also be taken into consideration, as we rarely make allowances for faults to which we are ourselves disinclined.

The Duke of Kent was a military anchorite. He rose by day-break, and his habits were as abstemious as they were regular. Unaccustomed to indulgence in wine, a vice then too prevalent, he was himself a model of soldierly obedience, and his ideas of subordination were absolute. The state of Gibraltar was disgusting even to those whose opinions were much more lax than those of His Royal Highness. The inhabitants were incessant in their complaints of the licentiousness of the soldiery. who were as unruly as they were slovenly; and the means of intoxication were so easily obtained, that its effects were risible in every street. The Duke of Kent immediately took the most vigorous measures for reforming these abuses. Many of the wine shops were directed to be closed ; the troops ordered to remain in their barracks, and a regular system of inspection was organized :—so far his proceedings were as judicious as they were imperative. But his German education had imbued him with the most exaggerated ideas of the importance of minutiae. Parade crowded upon parade, and review upon review. A man's accoutrements were of more consequence than his actions ; even the hair was to be cut after the regulated standard, and changes and precision in uniform, not less expensive to the officers than vexatious to the men, were to be enforced. This reform of the garrison ended in mutiny; but it was put down by the exertions of several of the officers, and the opportune arrival of a detach-ment of artillery under Captain Dodd, whose services on the occasion were always kindly and gratefully acknowledged by his commander.

Much prejudice, however, prevailed against the Duke of Kent on his return to England; where the necessity for the reformation was lost in an exaggerated idea of its severity. It was forgotten, that the discipline he enforced was the same to which he had himself first submitted, and was, moreover, the system which from his earliest years he had been accustomed to consider a model of excellence.

Of the uselessness of such precise observances, and the advantage to an English soldier of being animated by a higher spirit than that of merely harsh discipline, no man could be more convinced than the Duke of Kent was in after years. As a proof of this, he was the first to set the practical example of substituting solitary confinement for corporal punishment in his regiment. We should also mention, that the inhabitants and civil officers of Gibraltar transmitted to His Royal Highness a thousand guineas for the purchase of a piece of plate and a diamond garter, as a mark of their respect for his conduct. From the late King, then Prince of Wales, he met with the most brotherly and affectionate support. In public, he made a point of accompanying him arm in arm to the Parade at the Horse Guards. This, though a slight act in itself, was of much import at the time, both in the feeling it evinced, and the countenance it gave.

In 1805 the Duke was promoted to the rank of Field MarshaL His talents were not however called into any active employment ; for at this time an unfortunate jealousy occurred between him and the Duke of York. Of all dissensions it is most difficult to pronounce an opinion on those which arise between near connexions ; there being a thousand small causes in domestic differences, of which the public can know nothing. Unhappily, the actions of those in exalted stations are always liable to the misrepresentations of envy, or to the insinuations of interest ; and many will have their own little motives for sowing strife, from which they themselves hope to reap a profitable harvest. It was most unwarrantably hinted to the Duke of York, that his brother took advantage of the Parliamentary inquiry, to draw invidious parallels, and wished by censure of his conduct to attract praise and attention to himself. It need scarcely be stated, that this untrue and malicious charge was met with proper spirit, and put down by positive proof.

Though not employed in actual military service, the Duke of Kent was far from being an idle or inefficient member of society. He first introduced the most excellent plan of regimental schools, the merit of which proceeding will be properly appreciated in the present day ; and was the useful and efficient patron of more than forty of those benevolent institutions. which do such honor to the British nation. The Duke of Kent considering that those only deserve riches, who in their possession remember poverty, was not only liberal in his donations. bat he rave also his time and his trouble. It
nneeds but a moment's reflection on the influence of example is high rank.. to see the advantage of such patronage. Many a speech in oar legslative assemblies has not half the beneficial effect of one from the royal or noble advocate, who takes the chair to support the appeal of the unfortunate, and aid with his eloquence and his example the cause of charity. The wants of the many are only to be relieved by the assistance of the many, and that assistance is only to be obtained by drawing public attention to the good work in hand. In all these respects the conduct of the Duke of Kent merits the highest praise. Simple yet dignified in his manner, ready and impressive in speech, the eloquence which he possessed found at these meetings a useful and honorable field.

The ensuing years of his residence in England, were harassed by pecuniary difficulties ; he having reached his thirty-second year before he obtained a settled income, and then £12,000 per annum was inadequate to meet the necessities of his station. and the demands of his creditors. We talk of the allowances to be made for the temptations to which the young and highborn are exposed; but in reality these allowances are never made.

Moreover, the policy which kept the Duke's income unascertained for so long a period, appears to have been at least ill judged ; since uncertainty induces indefinite reliance, hope takes the place of
calculation, and the knowledge of one difficulty is too apt to occasion recklessness towards others. The man who might have lived within a moderate income is yet likely to exceed the bounds of expectancy. Economy is one of those virtues whose effects are invaluable, whether it regards ourselves or others ; invaluable too for the moral respectability which is its reward. But economy is more likely to be taught by a fixed income, than by supplies raised on expectations. We cannot but consider the immense credit given by tradespeople as most hurtful in its influence ; the purchaser being led on in the first instance by the apparently easy compliance with his wishes, and startled in the second by the exorbitant reckoning entailed by their gratification. The creditor has his avarice awakened by the hope of enormous profits ; payment becomes a species of speculation ; and on the deteriorating influence of a gambling spirit in matters of business, we need not enlarge.

The princes of the blood have much of appearance to support, many inevitable expenses to meet, many who look to them for patronage to sustain, and many charitable demands which they are expected to answer. An ample income ought to be allotted for these claims ; while strong principles of economy, the character it will give, and the moral and individual advantages that result from its observance, cannot be too strictly impressed on their minds. This was not the case with the Duke of Kent : his income was left unsettled ; no outfit of plate, furniture. carriages, &c., was provided for his entrance into life and a singular series of misfortunes during his military career, continually destroyed the property obtained on credit: 1. His Royal Highness' equipment was lost in Lake Champlain ; 2. by the capture of the Antelope packet ; 3. by the capture of the Tankerville packet. 4. by the capture of the Recovery transport ; 5. by the plunder of the Diamond packet.

A circumstance much to the credit of His Royal Highness,may be here mentioned ; namely, that the reforms at Gibraltar were enforced at the expense of his own interest. On his departure, the demand for an outfit was refused, on the plea of the lucrative nature of the situation ; the fees from the numerous wine-houses having under other governors amounted to from fourteen to twenty thousand pounds. The resolute suppression of these houses by the Duke reduced this profitable branch of his income to one-sixth of its former amount. Many a violent advocate of economy would have passed over, in silence, irregularities so advantageous to himself. Long negociations respecting the embarrassed state of his affairs had taken place between the Duke and Mr. Pitt, but the promises made by that minister, (promises he was the last man to have made without seeing their necessity,) were not fulfilled by his successor.

The Duke of Kent now used every possible effort to meet the demands upon his funds. A present of twenty thousand pounds from his Father had some time previously been applied to liquidate his debts; and in 1807 he conveyed one-half of his income to trustees,for the purpose of paying of his encumbrances, at the same tine narrowing his expenses, and re-ducing his establishment . In addition to these, his wines were sold, his plate mortgaged, and his life insured. Still the claims of his creditors were most pressing, many of whom being small tradespeople suffered much from the delay of payment. It is on this class of people that a non-fulfilment of engagements presses most heavily : the claimants of small sums are usually those who can least afford to wait. Finally, the Duke of Kent resolved on quitting Kensington Palace, where he had for some years held apartments, and making over his income to a committee of respectable persons, in order to pay off his debts within a limited period.

To reduce his expenditure within the narrowest practicable bounds, and to enforce a degree of retrenchment impossible in England, in 1816 he went to Brussels ; where, renting a house from an English officer for three hundred pounds a year, he lived in the utmost retirement and at the smallest expense. His chief amusement was the theatre, for which he inherited his Father's predilection. He also made several excursions into Germany, and repeatedly visited different branches of his family. It was, during one of these visits that he saw and admired the lady afterwards his consort.

The lamented death of the Princess Charlotte having left all the royal brothers childless, a failure of the succession was to be apprehended ; the King therefore expressed his desire for the younger branches of the family to marry, and, at the earnest wish of his mother, the Duke of Kent addressed the Princess Vitoria-Maria-Louis, youngest daughter of the late Duke of Saxe-Cobourg, to whom he was soon after united. At the early age of sixteen, family interests had occasioned her union with the hereditary Prince of Liningen, by whom she had two children, the present reigning prince of Liningen, and Feodore lately married to Prince Hohenlohe of Lindenberg. Having been a widow for several years, she was united to the Duke of Kent in 1818; first at her Father's court by the Lutheran rites, and afterwards at Kew, according to the ceremonials of the Church of England. By this second marriage she forfeited part of her dowry.

All the younger branches of our Royal Family appear to have been most fortunate in their matrimonial alliances. The Duke of Kent's was no exception. United and domestic in their habits, the royal couple concurred in the general example given by the other members of their illustrious family. We may be permitted to add, that the affection, and propriety of conduct now displayed from England's highest station, its throne—could never exert an influence more powerful or valuable than it does at this present and critical period. We apply the words of the Palmist to no vain use when we say, The people of Great Britain may truly " rejoice in their King." But to return to the subject of our memoir.

The happiness of the royal pair was for a time overcast by the death of their first child, a daughter. Immediately after this occurrence, the Duke of Kent's affairs still requiring the strictest economy, they returned to the continent, and settled at Amorbach, the former residence of the Duchess while regent of the principality, and guardian of her son. Their intended sojourn was shortened by her situation, the Duke naturally desiring that his expected child should be born in England. Great additional expense was incurred by this removal to Kensington Palace, where, in 1819, the Duchess gave birth to another daughter, Alexandrina Victoria, now presumptive heir to the British Crown. Report speaks of her as an amiable, intelligent and accomplished Princess ; pretty and lady-like in her appearance, she certainly is. We, in common with the whole nation, can only hope she will prove worthy of the care and affection of her mother, who has devoted herself to her education.

The Duchess of Kent recovering but slowly from her confinement, it was resolved to try the pure and mild air of Devonshire. Accordingly the royal pair prepared to pass the winter at Sidmouth. and the effects of this change were most beneficial to Her Royal Highness. Their domestic happiness was, how-ewer. destined to be but transitory. Returning home with wet feet, the Duke of Kent, disregarding the advice of his attendants. delayed changing his damp boots. He loitered about, giving various orders; and the nurse passing the hall with the princess he took the infant from her, and remained playing with and caressing the royal babe, so soon to be an orphan. Fever came on rapidly; alarming symptoms grew fatal; the Duchess scarcely left his side ; and he expired in her arms. This melancholy event took place on Sunday, January 23, 1820 ; in the fifty-third year of his age. A noble specimen of a fine family, in his person he was tall and athletic, while his air was dignified and commanding. His features were expressive ; he had peculiarly piercing eyes, and a high and ample forehead, which became bald in early life. Like most of his royal race, he possessed the charm of manner, and to the petitioner for his assistance he was uniformly kind and gracious.

His habits were singularly methodical. He rose early all the year round ; and during the winter nights a manservant, who slept in the day-time, was appointed to attend his fire : at six he took coffee, and the morning was invariably devoted to business. This regularity accounts for its uncommon despatch ; it being well known that H. R. H. never suffered a letter to remain unanswered longer than a day : from the general to the soldier, all were certain of their reply. His household was regulated with the precision of a machine ; every morning a bill of yesterday's expenditure was brought before him ; the chief servants presented their bills ; and the various expenses were adjusted with the most minute attention, from the food and the wine, down to the very condiments, such as pepper, salt, &c. The Duke's talents were great; he had a ready perception, and a most excellent memory. He was charitable, even to a fault ; and to this day his loss is severely felt by the many institutions to which he was so invaluable a patron and friend. His speeches at many of these meetings were clear, graceful, and impressive, and showed what his eloquence would have been in a wider field.

His tastes were magnificent, in building and furnishing : the rooms at Kensington palace were crowded with splendid articles. His houses at Ealing and Knightsbridge were also fitted up in the most exquisite manner, and the arrangements of the grounds at Castlebar, (laid out in the most perfect style,) were executed under his own inspection.

With regard to the unpopular period of the Duke's life, in consequence of his government at Gibraltar—the education he had received, and the circumstances in which he was placed, may at least suspend the balance in his favour. The reform which proceeds from authority is never popular. The wretched state of Gibraltar required vigorous measures, and it was not to be expected that a licentious soldiery would like the curb that restrained their excesses. Neither should it be forgotten, that the Duke of Kent gave up a large portion of his income to effect this most desirable reformation. His strict and cautious attention to military minutiae, were entirely the result of his German education. An English Prince ought to imbibe English feelings. The change effected in his opinions in after-life, were equally honorable to the energy and candour of his 'nature. It is difficult enough to alter the opinions of others; it is much more difficult to alter our own. All the earlier part of the Duke of Kent's life was passed in his country's active service; and the debt of respect and regret due to his memory cannot be better evinced, than in the affectionate interest manifested towards his orphan child.