Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales (1 February 1707 – 31 March 1751) was heir apparent to the British throne from 1727 until his death. He was the eldest but estranged son of King George II and Caroline of Ansbach, as well as the father of King George III.
Under the Act of Settlement passed by the English Parliament in 1701, Frederick was high in line of succession to the British throne. He moved to Great Britain following the accession of his father, and was created Prince of Wales. He predeceased his father, however, and upon the latter’s death on 25 October 1760, the throne passed to Prince Frederick’s eldest son, George III.
Prince Frederick Louis was born on 1 February 1707 in Hanover, Germany, as Duke Friedrich Ludwig of Brunswick-Lüneburg, to Prince George, son of George, Elector of Hanover, who was also one of Frederick’s two godfathers. The Elector was the son of Sophia of Hanover, granddaughter of James VI and I and first cousin and heiress-presumptive to the English Queen Anne. However, Sophia died before Anne at age 83 in June 1714, which elevated the Elector to heir-presumptive; Queen Anne died on 1 August the same year, and Sophia’s son became King George I. This made Frederick’s father the new Prince of Wales and first-in-line to the British throne and Frederick himself second-in-line. Frederick’s other godfather was his grand-uncle Frederick I, King in Prussia and Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia. Frederick was nicknamed “Griff” within the family.
In the year of Anne’s death and the coronation of George I, Frederick’s parents, George, Prince of Wales (later George II), and Caroline of Ansbach, were called upon to leave Hanover for Great Britain when their eldest son was only seven years old. He was left in the care of his grand-uncle Ernest Augustus, Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück, and did not see his parents again for 14 years.
In 1722, Frederick was inoculated against smallpox by Charles Maitland on the instructions of his mother Caroline. His grandfather, George I, created him Duke of Edinburgh, Marquess of the Isle of Ely, Earl of Eltham in the county of Kent, Viscount of Launceston in the county of Cornwall, and Baron of Snaudon in the county of Carnarvon, on 26 July 1726. The latter two titles have been interpreted differently since – the ofs are omitted and Snaudon rendered as Snowdon.
Frederick arrived in England in 1728 as a grown man, the year after his father had become King George II. By then, George and Caroline had had several younger children, and Frederick, himself now Prince of Wales, was a high-spirited youth fond of drinking, gambling and women. The long separation damaged their relationship, and they would never be close. 1728 also saw the foundation of Fredericksburg, Virginia, which was named after him — his other namesakes are Prince Frederick, Maryland (1722), Fort Frederick, Maine (1729–30), Fort Frederick, South Carolina (1730–34), Fort Frederick, New York (completed 1735) and Fort Frederica, Georgia (founded 1736), whilst Fort Frederick, Maryland, Point Frederick, Ontario, Fort Frederick, Ontario and Fort Frederick, New Brunswick were also named after him posthumously.
Prince of Wales
The motives for the ill-feeling between Frederick and his parents may include the fact that he had been set up by his grandfather, even as a small child, as the representative of the House of Hanover, and was used to presiding over official occasions in the absence of his parents. He was not permitted to go to Great Britain until after his father took the throne as George II on 11 June 1727. Frederick had continued to be known as Prince Friedrich Ludwig of Hanover (with his British HRH style) even after his father had been created Prince of Wales.
In 1728, Frederick (his name now anglicised) was finally brought to Britain and was created Prince of Wales on 8 January 1729. He served as the tenth Chancellor of the University of Dublin from 1728 to 1751, and a portrait of him still enjoys a commanding position in the Hall of the Trinity College, Dublin.
He sponsored a court of ‘opposition’ politicians. Frederick and his group supported the Opera of the Nobility in Lincoln’s Inn Fields as a rival to Handel’s royally sponsored opera at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket. Frederick was a lover of music who played the viola and cello; he is depicted playing a cello in a portrait by Philip Mercier of Frederick and his sisters, now part of the National Portrait Gallery collection. He enjoyed the natural sciences and the arts, and became a thorn in the side of his parents, making a point of opposing them in everything, according to the court gossip Lord Hervey. At court, the favourite was Frederick’s younger brother, Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, to the extent that the king looked into ways of splitting his domains so that Frederick would succeed only in Britain, while Hanover would go to William.
Hervey and Frederick (using a pseudonym “Captain Bodkin”) wrote a theatrical comedy together which was staged at the Drury Lane Theatre in October 1731. It was panned by the critics, and even the theatre’s manager thought it so bad that it was unlikely to play out even the first night. He had soldiers stationed in the audience to maintain order, and when the play flopped the audience was given their money back. Hervey and Frederick also shared a mistress, Anne Vane, who had a son called FitzFrederick Vane in June 1732. Either of them or William Stanhope, 1st Earl of Harrington, another of her lovers, could have been the father. Jealousy between them may have contributed to a breach, and their friendship ended. Hervey later wrote bitterly that Frederick was “false … never having the least hesitation in telling any lie that served his present purpose.
A permanent result of Frederick’s patronage of the arts is “Rule, Britannia!”, one of the best-known British patriotic songs. It was composed by the English composer Thomas Arne and written by the Scottish poet and playwright James Thomson as part of the masque Alfred which was first performed on 1 August 1740 at Cliveden, the country home of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Thomas Arne was also one of Frederick’s favourite artists. A masque linking the Prince with both the ancient hero-king Alfred the Great’s victories over the Vikings and with the contemporary issue of building up the British sea power obviously went well with Frederick’s political plans and aspirations. Later the song got a life of its own regardless of the masque. Thomson, who supported the Prince of Wales politically, also dedicated an earlier work dedicated to him: Liberty (1734).
A Royal Giltwood Frame of Colossal Scale by Paul Petit made at the command of Frederick, Prince of Wales to contain a portrait of Frederick the Great by Antoine Pesne (1683–1757). Collection of Carlton Hobbs LLC.
Unlike the king, Frederick was a knowledgeable amateur of painting, who patronised immigrant artists like Jacopo Amigoni and Jean Baptiste Vanloo, who painted the portraits of the prince and his consort for Frederick’s champion William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath. The list of other artists he employed—Philip Mercier, John Wootton, George Knapton and the French engraver Joseph Goupy—represents some of the principal painterly figures of the English Rococo. The Prince was also crucially important for furthering the popularity of the Rococo style in the decorative arts, with a clear predilection for French Huguenot Craftsmen, patronising silversmiths such as Nicolas Sprimont (1713–1771), toyshop owners like Paul Bertrand and carver and gilders, the most notable being Paul Petit (1729–c.1756) who first worked for the prince on William Kent’s neo-Palladian state barge of 1732, which is still preserved in the National Maritime Museum. Petit worked on a handful of magnificent trophy frames in the Rococo style for Frederick that are among the most significant remaining testaments to his patronage of the decorative arts. One frame made for his namesake cousin in 1748, Frederick the Great of Prussia, was especially lavish and represented the esteem in which the Prince held his cousin, suggesting the Prince identified with Frederick the Great’s style of enlightened rule, over that of his own father George II. Petit’s frame contained a portrait of Frederick the Great painted by Antoine Pense, and remains today in the British Royal Collection.
None of Frederick’s homes are left standing except for the country residence of Cliveden, which is in a much altered state. His London houses of Norfolk House, Carlton House, Leicester House and Kew House or the White House have all been demolished.
Negotiations between George II and his brother-in-law Frederick William I of Prussia on a proposed marriage between the Prince of Wales and Frederick William’s daughter Wilhelmine were welcomed by Frederick even though the couple had never met. George II was not keen on the proposal but continued talks for diplomatic reasons. Frustrated by the delay, Frederick sent an envoy of his own to the Prussian court. When the King discovered the plan, he immediately arranged for Frederick to leave Hanover for England. The marriage negotiations foundered when Frederick William demanded that Frederick be made Regent in Hanover.
Frederick also almost married Lady Diana Spencer, daughter of Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland and Lady Anne Churchill. Lady Diana was the favourite grandchild of the powerful Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. The duchess sought a royal alliance by marrying Lady Diana to the Prince of Wales with a massive dowry of £100,000. The prince, who was in great debt, agreed to the proposal, but the plan was vetoed by Robert Walpole and the king. Lady Diana soon married John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford.
Although in his youth he was undoubtedly a spendthrift and womaniser, Frederick settled down following his marriage to the sixteen-year-old Augusta of Saxe-Gotha in 1736. The wedding was held at St James’s Palace and was presided over by the Bishop of London.
In May 1736, George II returned to Hanover, which resulted in unpopularity in England; a satirical notice was even pinned to the gates of St James’s Palace decrying his absence. “Lost or strayed out of this house”, it read, “a man who has left a wife and six children on the parish.” The King made plans to return in the face of inclement weather; when his ship was caught in a storm, gossip swept London that he had drowned. Eventually, in January 1737, he arrived back in England. Immediately he fell ill, with piles and a fever, and withdrew to his bed. The Prince of Wales put it about that the King was dying, with the result that George insisted on getting up and attending a social event to disprove the gossip-mongers.
Quickly accumulating large debts, Frederick relied for an income on his wealthy friend, George Bubb Dodington. The Prince’s father refused to make him the financial allowance that the Prince considered should have been his.
Frederick’s public opposition to his father’s government continued; he opposed the unpopular Gin Act 1736, which tried to control the Gin Craze. Frederick applied to Parliament for an increased financial allowance which had hitherto been denied him by the King, and public disagreement over the payment of the money drove a further wedge between parents and son. Frederick’s allowance was raised but by less than he had asked for.
In June 1737, Frederick informed his parents that Augusta was pregnant, and due to give birth in October. In fact, Augusta’s due date was earlier and a peculiar episode followed in July in which the Prince, on discovering that his wife had gone into labour, sneaked her out of Hampton Court Palace in the middle of the night, to ensure that the King and Queen could not be present at the birth. George and Caroline were horrified. Traditionally, royal births were witnessed by members of the family and senior courtiers to guard against supposititious children, and Augusta had been forced by her husband to ride in a rattling carriage while heavily pregnant and in pain. With a party including two of her daughters and Lord Hervey, the Queen raced over to St James’s Palace, where Frederick had taken Augusta. Caroline was relieved to discover that Augusta had given birth to a “poor, ugly little she-mouse” rather than a “large, fat, healthy boy” which made a supposititious child unlikely since the baby was so pitiful. The circumstances of the birth deepened the estrangement between mother and son.
Frederick was banished from the King’s court, and a rival court grew up at Frederick’s new residence, Leicester House. His mother fell fatally ill at the end of the year, but the King refused Frederick permission to see her. He became a devoted family man, taking his wife and eight children (his youngest daughter was born posthumously) to live in the countryside at Cliveden, where he fished, shot and rowed. In 1742, Robert Walpole left office and the realignment of the government led to a reconciliation between father and son, as Frederick’s friends gained influence.
After the Jacobite Rising of 1745, Frederick met Flora MacDonald, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London for aiding the escape of the Rising’s leader Charles Edward Stuart. He helped in securing her eventual release. In 1747, Frederick rejoined the political opposition, and the King responded by calling an early general election, which Frederick’s party lost.
By the time Frederick arrived in Great Britain, cricket had developed into the country’s most popular team sport and it thrived on gambling. Perhaps because he wished to Anglicise and so fit in with his new society, Frederick developed an academic interest in cricket and soon became a genuine enthusiast. He began to make wagers and then to patronise and play the sport, even forming his own team on several occasions.
The earliest mention of Frederick in cricket annals is in a contemporary report that concerns an important match on 28 September 1731 between Surrey and London, played on Kennington Common. No post-match report was found despite advance promotion as “likely to be the best performance of this kind that has been seen for some time”. The records show that “for the convenience of the gamesters, the ground is to be staked and roped out” – a new practice in 1731 and possibly done partly for the benefit of a royal visitor. The advertisement refers to “the whole county of Surrey” as London’s opponents and states that the Prince of Wales is “expected to attend”.
In August 1732, the Whitehall Evening Post reported that Frederick attended “a great cricket match” at Kew on Thursday 27 July.
By the 1733 season, Frederick was seriously involved in the game, in effect as a county cricketer for Surrey. He was said to have given a guinea to each player in a Surrey v Middlesex game at Moulsey Hurst. Then he awarded a silver cup to a combined Surrey & Middlesex team which had just beaten Kent, arguably the best county team at the time, at Moulsey Hurst on Wed 1 August. This is the first reference in cricket history to any kind of trophy (other than hard cash) being contested. On Friday 31 August, the Prince of Wales’ XI played Sir William Gage’s XI on Moulsey Hurst. The result is unknown but the teams were said to be of county standard, so presumably it was in effect a Surrey v Sussex match.
In the years following 1733, there are frequent references to the Prince of Wales as a patron of cricket and as an occasional player.
When he died on 20 March 1751, cricket suffered a double blow as his death closely followed that of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, the game’s greatest financial patron at the time. Accordingly, the number of top-class matches declined for several years, although economic difficulties and priorities from the wars of the period certainly inhibited many potential investors.
His political ambitions unfulfilled, Frederick died at Cliveden House at the age of 44 in 1751. In the past this has been attributed to a burst lung abscess caused by a blow from a cricket or a real tennis ball, but it is now thought to have been from a pulmonary embolism. He was buried at Westminster Abbey on 13 April 1751.