1902 Encyclopedia > William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (Prince William, Duke of Cumberland)

William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland
(also known as: Prince William, Duke of Cumberland)
British prince and field marshal
(1721-65)




WILLIAM AUGUSTUS, DUKE OF CUMBERLAND, son of George II. and Queen Caroline, was born on the 15th of April 1721. When five years of age he was created duke of Cumberland ; and when still very young he gave interesting amusement to his grandfather and the London public by the ability with which he drilled and manoeuvred a company of boy soldiers under his own charge. His education was well attended to, and his courage and capacity in outdoor exercises were notable from his early years. In 1740 he sailed as a volunteer in the fleet under the command of Sir John Norris ; but he quickly became dis-satisfied with the navy, and early in 1742 he began the military career in which he was destined to play so pro-minent a part.
The importance for England of the European struggle which began with the death of Charles VI. was that France had declared against the young Hungarian queen. The war on the part of Britain was begun by a force of over 16,000 men being despatched to Flanders under the com-mand of the earl of Stair. The English troops were reinforced by Hessians and Hanoverians in British pay and in 1743 George II. and the "martial boy " shared in the glory of Dettingen (27th June). The duke of Cumberland, who led the left of the victorious army, and was wounded in action, displayed an energy and valour on the report of which in England that tide of his popularity began to flow which was in flood at Culloden, and which steadily ebbed thereafter till his death.
In 1745 the duke was again in Flanders, and on this occasion he was in full command, having under him British, Hanoverian, Austrian, and Dutch troops to the number of 50,000. Advancing to the relief of Tournay, which was besieged by Marshal Saxe, he engaged the greatest general of the age at Fontenoy on the 11th of May. It cannot now be doubted that, had the duke been supported by the allies in his marvellously courageous attack on the superior positions of the French army, Fontenoy would not have been recorded as a defeat to the British arms. Three times renewing his attack in spite of repulse, he was at last forced to yield, which he did by effecting a dogged and masterly retreat.
Notwithstanding a severity of discipline which would astonish soldiers of the present day, the young duke had the power to inspire his men with a strong attachment to his person and a very lively esprit de corps. As a general his courage and resolution were not sufficiently tempered with sagacity and tact; but he displayed an energy and power in military affairs which pointed him out to the British people as the one commander upon whom they could rely to put a decisive stop to the marvellous successes of Prince Charles Edward in the rebellion of 1745-46.
He was accordingly recalled from Flanders, and immedi-dately proceeded with his preparations for quelling the insurrection. He joined the midland army under Sir John Ligonier, and was at once in pursuit of his swift-footed foe. But the retreat of Charles Edward from Derby disconcerted his plans ; and it was not till they had reached Penrith, and the advanced portion of his army had been repulsed by Lord George Murray on Clifton Moor, that he became aware how hopeless an attempt to overtake the retreating Highlanders would then be. Carlisle having been retaken, he retired to London, till the news of the defeat of Hawley at Falkirk roused again the fears Df the English people, and centred the hopes of Britain on the royal duke. He was appointed commander of the forces in Scotland.
Having arrived in Edinburgh on the 30th of January 1746, he at once proceeded in search of the young Pre-tender. (See CHARLES EDWARD.) He diverged, however, to Aberdeen, where he usefully and energetically employed his time in training the well-equipped forces now under his command for the peculiar nature of the warfare in which they were about to engage. What the old and ex-perienced generals of his time had failed to accomplish or even to understand, the young duke of Cumberland, as yet only twenty-four years of age, effected with simplicity and ease. He prepared to dispose his army so as to with-stand with firmness that onslaught on which all Highland successes depended ; and he inspired his men with courage by directing each, on the fierce assault being made, to transfix with his bayonet not his immediate opponent but the kilted warrior on his right.
On 8th April 1746 he set out from Aberdeen on that expedition so fruitful in disaster to his enemies, and so fatal to the last hopes of Jacobitism. To his astonishment he was not opposed on the Spey. To his great advantage the attempt of Lord George Murray to surprise his troops as they lay encamped near Nairn proved worse than futile to the exhausted and starving foe, whom on the morrow he engaged and defeated at Culloden. This battle, fought on

the 15th of April, resulted in the total overthrow of the Highland army. It is vain to deny that the men wounded in battle were deliberately despatched by orders of the duke, and that his hard and unsparing nature, coupled with his firm and unfeeling resolve to treat the vanquished merely as rebels, induced him to deny to those whom he had con-quered the privileges of war or their rights as fellow-country-men. His excesses have been over-estimated, but it cannot be gainsaid that they were unconstitutional and most cruel. The relief occasioned to Britain by the duke's victorious efforts was acknowledged by his being voted an income of £40,000 per annum in addition to his revenue as a prince of the royal house.
Henceforth, however, the career of Cumberland was to be one of signal defeat. In 1747 he was again on the Continent opposing the still victorious Marshal Saxe; and at Lauffeld, near Maestricht, the Dutch, Austrian, and English allies under the joint command of the duke and his brother-in-law Prince William of Nassau received a notable defeat. Ten years afterwards Cumberland soured his popu-larity both as a soldier and a statesman by the affair of Closterseven. When Frederick the Great was suffering the terrible defeats of Prague and Kolin, at the hands of the Austrians, the duke of Cumberland was attempting to defend Hanover at the head of a motley army, raised chiefly in Brunswick, Prussia, and the Electorate. But it was quite in vain ; and at Hastenbeck, near Hameln, on the 2Gth of July 1757, he was defeated by the superior forces of D'Estrees. In September of the same year his defeat had almost become disgrace. Driven from point to point, and at last hemmed in by the French under Bichelieu, he capitulated at Closterseven on the 8th of the month, abjectly agreeing to disband his army and to evacuate Hanover, which he had undertaken to defend. His disgrace was completed on his return to England by the king's re-fusal to be bound by the terms of the duke's agreement. In chagrin and disappointment he retired into private life, after having formally resigned the public offices he held.
It was not till shortly before his death that he again appeared on the stage of public affairs. In 1765, when the debates on the regency bill were agitating the people of England, George III., dissatisfied with Grenville and his ministry, applied to his royal uncle the duke of Cumber-land, who was now in failing health, to open negotiations with Pitt for a return to power. On Pitt's declinature, and symptoms of violence becoming evident among the populace, Cumberland again attempted to extricate the king from his unfortunate position by a second negotiation with the great and popular statesman. This too was, however, unsuccessful. On 31st October 1765 the duke died. His statue stands in Cavendish Square.
See, in addition to the histories of the time and the literature of
the Rebellion, Historical Memoirs of the Duke of Cumberland; A
Journey through part of England and Scotland along with the Army
under the command of H.E.H. the Duke of Cumberland; and
especially William Augustus Duke of Cumberland, by A. N.
Campbell-Maclachlan, 1876. (T. S.)








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