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Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent and Strathern (1767-1820)

This article was written by James McMullen Rigg and was published in 1892

Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent and Strathern, was the fourth son of George III, by Queen Charlotte, born on 2 November 1767 at Buckingham House. He had his early education in England under John Fisher, successively bishop of Exeter and Salisbury, and completed it on the continent under Baron Wangenheim, with whom he spent two years (1785-7) at Luneburg and Hanover, and two years more at Geneva. On 30 May 1786 he was gazetted brevet-colonel. Wangenheim treated him with needless rigour, allowed him only a guinea and a half a week pocket-money out of the annuity of £6,000 provided for his maintenance, and intercepted his letters home. The prince accordingly borrowed largely, and the debts thus contracted were a burden to him throughout life. In June 1790 he came home from Geneva without leave. The king was much displeased, gave him peremptory orders to embark for Gibraltar, and saw him for only five minutes on the night before he sailed on 1 February. At Gibraltar he was put in command of the 7th regiment of foot (royal fusiliers). A thorough martinet, he became so unpopular with his men that in May 1791 he was sent to Canada.

He was now in receipt of an income of £5,000 a year, but out of this he had to pay the interest on his debts. In October 1793 he was advanced to the rank of major-general, and received at his own request orders to join Sir Charles (afterwards Lord) Grey's force in the West Indies. He arrived on 4 March 1794 at Martinique. In command of a brigade of grenadiers he took part in the reduction of that island, and also of St. Lucia, was honourably mentioned in despatches, and received the thanks of parliament. On the close of the operations he returned to Canada; on 16 January 1796 was promoted lieutenant-general, and in October 1798, being invalided, returned to England.

In March 1799 parliament granted him an annual income of £12,000, and on 23 April he was raised to the peerage as Duke of Kent and Strathern and Earl of Dublin. On 10 May he was gazetted general, and on 17 May commander-in-chief of the forces in British North America. He sailed in July, but was compelled by ill-health to return to England in the autumn of the following year. On 27 March 1802 he was appointed governor of Gibraltar, where he arrived on 10 May with express instructions from the Duke of York, then commander-in-chief, to restore the discipline of the garrison, which was seriously demoralised. He accordingly issued a general order, forbidding any but commissioned officers to enter the wine-shops, half of which — there were ninety on the Rock — he summarily closed at a personal sacrifice of £4,000 a year in licensing fees. The incensed wine-sellers plied the soldiers with liquor gratis, and a mutiny, to which it was thought some of the officers were privy, broke out on Christmas eve 1802. The mutiny was promptly quelled, three of the ringleaders were shot, discipline was thoroughly restored, and in the following March the duke was recalled. On his return to England he demanded a formal investigation of his conduct, which was refused. He then asked to be permitted to return to Gibraltar; this also was refused. He still remained nominally governor, but without pay; the standing orders he had issued while in command were set aside by the lieutenant-governor, Sir Thomas Trigge, and the garrison relapsed into its former condition.

On 7 September 1805 the duke was gazetted field-marshal, and on 25 November following, keeper and paler of Hampton Court. For some years he resided at Castle Hill, near Ealing, taking little part in state affairs. He was, however, the confidant and adviser of the Prince of Wales in his matrimonial difficulties. In 1810 he opposed the Regency Bill as unconstitutional. In 1812 he spoke in favour of catholic emancipation, and became a patron of the British and Foreign School Society, the Anti-Slavery Society, the Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, and the Bible Society. In 1815 and 1816 he took the chair at the Literary Fund dinner.

Finding his pecuniary embarrassments increase, and getting no relief from government, he made in 1815 an assignment of the bulk of his property in favour of his creditors, and retired to Brussels, where he lived in the simplest possible style. In 1818 he married, for reasons of state, Victoria Mary Louisa, widow of Emich Charles, prince of Leiningen. The marriage was solemnised on 29 May at Coburg, and on 13 July following at Kew. Returning with his bride to the continent, he resided with her at her palace of Amorbach, Leiningen, until the spring of 1819, when he brought her to England for her confinement. After the birth of the child (Queen Victoria) on 24 May, at Kensington Palace, he took the duchess and the princess to Sidmouth, Devonshire, and applied to parliament for authority to dispose of his establishment at Ealing by lottery, a sale being unadvisable, for the benefit of his creditors. The petition was refused, and the duke had made up his mind to return to Amorbach, when he died suddenly of inflammation of the lungs at Sidmouth on 23 January 1820. During his illness he was attended with the utmost devotion by the duchess, to whom he left his entire property. He was buried in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, on 11 February.

As a soldier the duke never had an opportunity of gaining high distinction, and his pedantic, almost superstitious, insistence upon minutiæ of military etiquette, discipline, dress, and equipments, made him unpopular in the army. He was, however, the first to abandon flogging and to establish a regimental school. He was extremely regular in his habits, a model of punctuality and despatch in the discharge of duty, and sincerely pious. He was a knight of the orders of the Garter, Bath, and St. Patrick, and a knight grand cross of the Bath and of the order of the Guelphs.

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