The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Edward, Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria.

by John Cramp

Address to SAMHS Jhb branch on 11 September 2007


The dying words of Edward, Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria.

I think we have just done that! I've asked the question many times at my Queen Victoria presentations, and I've only had one reply which indeed was close, but wrong. "Wasn't he the Duke of York?"

Why is there this lack of knowledge about him? It's properly because Queen Victoria was such a dominating figure of the 19th, Century, that she overshadowed everybody else, including her Mother and Father.

If her father was forgotten to us, he equally became the Forgotten Son to his parents.

To find out about his character let's look at his CV

Born: Nov 2, 1767 at Buckingham House, London.

His parents were King George III and Queen Charlotte and he was the 4th born out of a total of 15 siblings. King George III was known as the farmer King and he gave America its independence in 1776. He and his Queen led an ordered life, strict in discipline. They were fearful that their sons would take up the immoral, debauched style of life, as his previous ancestors had. A strict regime with laid down rules, specified meals per day of the week, frequency of haircuts, number of pairs of shoes per year, which resulted in all the sons reaching an early maturity at about the age of 12. They were "Little Men", When the sons became of age. This style of parenting could set their life styles into one of 2 ways.

Freedom and total promiscuity; or
Withdrawal into one's self muttering that "someone will pay for this"

Edward's brothers went the first route and he himself went the 2nd!

At the age of 17, Edward started Cadet Training for the Army when the King sent him to Germany in Feb 1785, there being no training facilities in England at that time. This move was to cause and determine the most dramatic directions his life would take thereafter. They set his destiny! He started at Luneberg where he came under the governorship of Baron Wangenheim. The Baron received orders from the King to exercise the severest discipline over his charge and the Baron took full advantage of these orders. He was described as an unpleasant person, in both mind and body. The King made an allowance of 6,000 per year for expenses while in Germany. Out of this, 1,000 was intended for the personal needs of the Prince. Wangenbeim, with an eye on his own comfort, only allowed Edward a Guinea and a Half a week (thirty one and a half shillings, in todays currency, R22). This totally unsuitable amount did not allow Edward to live as a young officer, let alone a royal prince! He was forced to borrow money, and this was the start of his life long accumulation of debt. This was "Lifelong tendency #1". Additionally, the training he received was to set his military career in the ways of a brutally strict and unbending Prussian system. Edward was a good learner, popular with his brother officers and he became an above-standard soldier of that system. This was "Lifelong Tendency #2".

Wangenheim was also censoring mail in both directions, which gave rise to Edward asking why did the King not answer his simple requests, and the King unable to understand his sons lack of communication. He was sent to Geneve as a finishing school and the Baron went with him, still taking advantage, but realising his good fortune would soon end. The problem of lack of communication between father and son grew to such a point, that Edward decided he must confront his father and talk it out. And indeed, an hour's talk between them would have properly cleared the air. Edward therefore left Geneve secretly and drove himself in a 2 horse open carriage to London, 700 miles away. He arrived before news of his leaving had reached London. The King was outraged and refused to see him, even though it was 6 years since they last met. He had left Geneve without his permission! Two weeks later Edward was ordered (banished?) to Gibraltar as Colonel of the 7th, Royal Fusiliers. The King met him for under an hour before he left. Additionally, the King allocated a paltry 500 for his equipment. A further major niggle to the Princes debt problems.

At this stage let's look at his lifelong military career:

His was a Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde personality:
Social Military
Kind Crushing brutality
Considerate Sadistic with an iron hand
Gracious host In-Human treatment
Respectful to women Tyranny over details
Entertained no scandal The discipline of a Prussian officer
Concern for the poor Out and out Martinet
An English Prince  

The debts which he had started incurring as a cadet had become such a problem by the time he reached 50 that he had to increase his income:
the only certain way to get the British Parliament to increase his provision was to get legally married - so secret negotiations to secure a legal bride were started.

Whilst in Gibraltar he had visited a Gypsy woman renowned for her fortune-telling capabilities.
The Duke had a strong sterak of superstition and the words he heard that day were to become more and more in his thoughts as the years passed, until they were almost an obsession.
"You will have losses and crosses but die in happiness. You will have a daughter and she will become a great Queen."

Julie found out from the newspapers which were urging the necessity of his marriage..
From then on Julie knew that her days on the homes of Royalty were numbered and she must leave the side of the man with whom she had walked through a quarter of a century of time. Shortly afterwards they parted, never to meet again.

He died on Sunday January 23rd 1820 at the age of 52 - Victoria being 8 months old at the time. A Gypsy had foretold that 2 members of the Royal Family would die in 1820.


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