Frederick Augustus, duke of York - Encyclopedia

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FREDERICK AUGUSTUS YORK, DUKE OF (1763-1827), second son of George III., was born at St James's Palace on the 16th of August 1763. At the age of six months his father secured his election to the rich bishopric of Osnabruck. He was invested a knight of the Bath in 1767, a K.G. in 1771, and was gazetted colonel in 1780. From 1781 to 1787 he lived in Germany, where he attended the manoeuvres of the Austrian and Prussian armies. He was appointed colonel of the 2nd horse grenadier guards (now 2nd Life Guards) in 1782, and promoted major-general and appointed colonel of the Coldstream Guards in 1784. He was created duke of York and Albany and earl of Ulster in 1784, but retained the bishopric of Osnabruck until 1803. On his return to England he took his seat in the House of Lords, where, on December 15, 1788, he opposed Pitt's Regency Bill in a speech which was supposed to have been inspired by the prince of Wales. A duel fought on Wimbledon Common with Colonel Lennox, afterwards duke of Richmond, served to increase the duke of York's popularity, his acceptance of the challenge itself and his perfect coolness appealing strongly to the public taste. In 1791 he married Princess Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina (b. 1767), daughter of Frederick William II. of Prussia. The princess was enthusiastically received in London, but the marriage was not happy, and a separation soon took place. The princess retired to Oatlands Park, Weybridge, where she died on the 6th of August 1820.

In 1793 the duke of York was sent to Flanders in command of the English contingent of Coburg's army destined for the invasion of France (see French Revolutionary Wars). On his return in 1795 the king promoted him field-marshal, and on April 3rd, 1798, appointed him commander-in-chief. His second command was with the army sent to invade Holland in conjunction with a Russian corps d'armee in 1799. Sir Ralph Abercromby and Admiral Sir Charles Mitchell in charge of the vanguard had succeeded in capturing the Dutch ships in the Helder, but from time of the duke's arrival with the main body of the army disaster followed disaster until, on the 17th of October, the duke signed the convention of Alkmaar, by which the allied expedition withdrew after giving up its prisoners. Although thus unsuccessful as commander of a field army the duke was well fitted to carry out reforms in the army at home, and to this task he devoted himself with the greatest vigour and success until his enforced retirement from the office of commander-in-chief on the 18th of March 1809, in consequence of his relations with Mary Ann Clarke (1776-1852), who was convicted of profiting by her intimacy with the duke to extract money from officers by promising to recommend them for promotion. A select committee was appointed by the House of Commons to inquire into the matter, and the duke was acquitted of having received bribes himself by 278 votes to 196. Two years later, in May 1811, he was again placed at the head of the army by the prince regent, and rendered valuable services in this position. He died on the 5th of January 1827 and was buried at St George's Chapel, Windsor.

A firm friendship seems to have existed between the duke and his elder brother, afterwards George IV., and he is also said to have been his father's favourite son. He was very popular, thanks to his amiable disposition and a keen love of sport, but it is as the organizing and administrative head Of the army that he has left his mark. He was untiring in his efforts to raise the tone of the army, restore discipline, weed out the undesirables, and suppress bribery and favouritism. He founded the Duke of York's School for the sons of soldiers at Chelsea, and his name is also commemorated by the Duke of York's column in Waterloo Place.

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