Ernest Augustus I Hanover
- Born: 5 Jun 1771, Buckingham House, London, England
- Marriage: Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Hanover on 29 May 1815 in Neustrelitz, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany
- Died: 18 Nov 1851, Hanover, Niedersachsen, Germany at age 80
- Buried: Herrenhausen Gardens, Hanover, Niedersachesen, Germany
Ernest Augustus I, King of Hanover (5 June 1771 \endash 18 November 1851), also (1799-1851) the Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, was the fifth son and eighth child of King George III of the United Kingdom and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
Upon the death of his older brother William IV on 20 June 1837, he ascended the Hanoverian throne as senior male heir because Queen Victoria could not inherit under Salic Law that governed in the Germanic states dating back to the Holy Roman Empire. He was also the fourteenth Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin from 1805 to 1851 - an honorary position conferred on one of high rank.
Ernest Augustus was born at Buckingham House, now part of Buckingham Palace. He received tutoring at home before proceeding to the University of Göttingen in Germany in summer 1786 along with his younger brothers, Prince Adolphus and Prince Augustus.
In 1791, he and Prince Adolphus went to Hanover to receive military training under the supervision of Field Marshal von Freytag. He learned cavalry drill and tactics under Captain von Linsinger of the Queen's Light Dragoons. He proved to be an excellent horseman and good shot, despite his nearsightedness. After only two months of training, von Freytag was so impressed by the prince's progress that he gave him a place with the cavalry as captain. The King, also impressed by his son's prowess, allowed him to remain.
In March 1792, the Army officially commissioned Prince Ernest Augustus with the rank of colonel in the 9th Hanoverian Light Dragoons. The following year, he gained the command of the 1st Brigade of Cavalry. He served in Flanders during 1793-95 in the War of the First Coalition, under his elder brother the Duke of York, then commander of the combined British, Hanoverian and Austrian forces. During the Battle of Tourcoing (Battle of Cayghem) (18 May 1794) his left arm was injured by a passing cannonball, and when the sight of his left eye failed later on, he blamed the cannonball. Doctors, however, blamed 'a tumour', and it is significant that his son went blind at 13. Prince Ernest returned to Britain for the first time since 1786 to convalesce. He returned to the continent the following year, and commanded the rear guard, which saw sharp action during the British army's retreat through the Netherlands. The Duke of York had reduced him to command of a mere regiment, at which he complained bitterly to the Prince of Wales. However, his royal status and general military competence won him promotion to lieutenant general in 1798 and to general in 1803. On 29 March 1813, he became a field marshal. He served as honorary colonel of the 15th (The King's) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars) from 1801 to 1827 and as colonel of the Royal Horse Guards from 1827 to 1830.
Duke of Cumberland
On 29 August 1799, George III created Prince Ernest Augustus Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale and Earl of Armagh. The Duke of Cumberland became a Knight of the Garter in 1786. His elder brother, the Prince Regent (later King George IV), created him a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1815. In 1831, the Duke of Cumberland became a Knight of St. Patrick. Finally, upon the death of his older brother William IV on 20 June 1837, he ascended to the Hanoverian throne because Queen Victoria could not inherit under Salic Law that governed in the German states, and he became Sovereign and Grand Master of the Royal Guelphic Order.
On 29 May 1815, the Duke of Cumberland married his first cousin, Frederica (2 March 1778 \endash 29 June 1841), the daughter of Charles II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. She was also the former wife of Prince Louis of Prussia and the widow of Friedrich Wilhelm, Prince of Solms-Braunfels.
The two fell in love in 1813. Friedrich and Frederica's marriage had not been a success, and the Prince agreed to a divorce. However, his 1814 death conveniently removed the necessity\emdash in fact, some considered the death too convenient, suspecting the Princess of poisoning her husband. Queen Charlotte opposed the marriage, even though her future daughter-in-law was also her niece. Queen Charlotte refused to attend the wedding and advised her son to live outside of England with the Duchess. From her first two marriages, the new Duchess of Cumberland had eight children; from her marriage to Ernest, she had a further three children, only one of whom survived \emdash a son, who would become George V of Hanover.
Politics and popularity
The Duke of Cumberland had a reputation as one of the least pleasant of the sons of George III. Politically an extreme Tory, he opposed the 1828 Catholic Emancipation Bill proposed by the government of the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington. He was a founder member of the Orange Order - one of the first Orange Lodges formed bears his signature on their warrant. He also opposed the 1832 Reform Bill.
The Duke spent many of his middle years in the House of Lords, where he was assiduous in his attendance. Noted a contemporary observer, "He is literally\emdash the door-keeper of course excepted\emdash the first man in the House, and the last out of it. And this not merely generally, but every night . . ." The observer noted that the Duke was not noted for his oratory (delivering no speech longer than five minutes) and had a voice that was difficult to understand, though noting "his manner is most mild and conciliatory." He went on to denigrate the Duke's intellect and influence, though noting that the Duke had indirect influence over several members, and concluding, "he is by no means so bad a tactician as his opponents suppose."
Rumour strongly suggested that he had murdered his valet, although the accepted version, as found by a coroner's verdict, is that the valet had attempted to assassinate him and then had cut his own throat. Other horrific stories told about the Duke included rumours of incestuous relations with Princess Sophia, his sister. He is also alleged to have made an indecent assault on Sarah, Lady Lyndhurst, the wife of Lord Lyndhurst, three-times Lord Chancellor. Many of these tales are attributed by historians to Whig politicians (the Duke was a Tory) attempting, with some success, to discredit him.
A recent biography, "Wicked Ernest", suggests that Cumberland did indeed murder his valet and had a son by his sister. Other historians have not yet taken this position.
King of Hanover
On 20 June 1837, King William IV died, and his niece, Victoria, the only child of the late Duke of Kent, the fourth son of George III, succeeded as queen of the United Kingdom. However, Salic Law still prevailed in Hanover, meaning that William's legitimate male heir, the Duke of Cumberland, became King of Hanover. The royal houses of Hanover and the United Kingdom were thereby separated.
Ernest Augustus was, however, the Heir Presumptive of his niece from 20 June 1837 until 21 November 1840. On that date came the birth of his grand-niece Princess Victoria, Princess Royal who became Heiress Presumptive in his place. Because of the likelihood Ernest would be overseas if he succeeded to the English throne, an act was passed allowing regal powers to be exercised through a council of high officials until he could reach England.
On 28 June 1837, King Ernst entered his new domain, passing under a triumphal arch. For the first time in living memory (Hanover had received only one Royal visit, in 1821, in the last 82 years), Hanover would have a ruling monarch resident in the nation.
One matter that the King gave his early attention to was the constitution. Hanover had received its first constitution, granted by the Prince Regent, in 1819; this did little more than denote Hanover's change from an Electorate to a Kingdom, granted by the Congress of Vienna. The Duke of Cambridge, as King William's viceroy in Hanover, recommended a thorough reorganization of the Hanoverian government. William IV had given his consent to a new constitution in 1833; the Duke of Cumberland's consent was neither asked nor received.
On taking the throne, King Ernst was advised by a Hanoverian lawyer, von Falcke, that the constitution was subject to challenge for failure to obtain the then-heir presumptive's consent. King Ernst convened a panel of jurists, who upheld von Falcke's position. In November 1837, the King issued a patent, declaring the constitution void, but upholding all laws passed under it. Elections to the Estates of Hanover would continue as before 1833.
In carrying the King's Patent into effect, the Cabinet required all officeholders (including university professors) to renew their oaths of allegiance to the King. Seven professors at Göttingen University, which was inside the Kingdom, refused to take the oaths, and agitated for others to protest against the King's decree. Since they did not take the oaths, the seven lost their positions, and the King expelled three (including Jacob Grimm, one of the two Brothers Grimm) from Hanover. Only one of the seven was a citizen of Hanover and that one was not expelled. In the final years of the King's reign, the three were invited to return.
The King's actions appeared to have caused little public protest in the Kingdom, perhaps because the net effect of the decree was to cause a reduction in taxes. He was, however, criticized in England and elsewhere. The King received a deputation of Göttingen citizens, who, fearing student unrest, applauded the dismissals.
The King took great interest in plans to modernize the country. His support led to modern sanitation in the city, modern gas lighting, and the development of a new residential quarter. He had the plans altered in 1841, after Queen Frederica's death, to leave standing the Altes Palais, where the two had lived since arriving in Hanover. His interest in and support of the railroads led to Hanover becoming a major rail junction, much to the nation's benefit.
The King proved to be a conscientious worker, rarely leaving the country, and proved to be popular. Hanover was little affected by the revolutions of 1848 - a few small disturbances were put down by the cavalry without bloodshed. Afterwards, the King granted a new constitution.
Relations with Britain
Ernest Augustus is supposed to have asked the advice of the Duke of Wellington as to what course he should take after Victoria's accession, with Wellington supposedly saying "Go, before they pelt you out." One measure of the new King of Hanover's unpopularity in Britain is the fact that "To Hanover" tokens, showing the new King slinking off to his new domain on one side, and with Victoria on the other, were soon struck, and continued to be struck (mostly as game pieces) for most of the rest of the century.
One decision the new King had was whether, in his capacity as Duke of Cumberland, to swear allegiance to Victoria in the House of Lords. Lord Cottenham, the Lord Chancellor, is supposed to have stated that he would refuse to administer the Oath of Allegiance to the King, as a foreign Sovereign. In point of fact, the King appeared in the House of Lords, before his departure for Hanover, and subscribed to the Oath before the Chief Clerk as a matter of routine.
Almost immediately upon going to Hanover, the King became involved in a dispute with his niece. Victoria, wishing to have her mother near her\emdash but not too near her\emdash asked the King to give up his apartments at St. James's Palace in favour of the Duchess of Kent. The King, wishing to retain apartments in London in anticipation of frequent visits to England, and reluctant to give way in favour of a woman who had frequently fought with his brother, King William, declined, and Victoria angrily engaged a house for her mother. At a time when the young Queen was trying to pay off her father's debts, she saw this as unnecessary expense. Her ill-feeling towards the King increased when the King refused, and advised his two surviving brothers to similarly refuse, to give precedence to Prince Albert, on the grounds that standing of the various Royal Families had been settled at the Congress of Vienna, and the King of Hanover should not have to yield to one whom the King described as a "paper Royal Highness". While Prince Albert was given precedence next the Queen, this only applied in the United Kingdom, not elsewhere in Europe.
Matters came to a head when the King returned for what would prove to be his only visit to England as King, in 1843. He was welcomed warmly, everywhere but at the Palace. At the wedding of Princess Augusta of Cambridge, he attempted to insist on a superior place to that of Prince Albert. The fifty-years-younger prince settled things with what Albert described as a "strong push", and carefully wrote his name on the certificate under the Queen's, so close to his wife's as to leave no space for the King's signature. The King apparently held no grudge, as he invited the Prince for a stroll in the park. When Albert demurred on the grounds that they might be jostled by crowds, the King replied, "When I lived here I was quite as unpopular as you are and they never bothered me."
During his visit, the King found time to take his place as Duke of Cumberland in the House of Lords, stating that he would not participate in any debates, unless the Devil prompted him.
The monarchs engaged in one more battle - over jewels left by Queen Charlotte. Victoria, who possessed them, took the position that they belonged to the English Crown; the King, that they were to go to the male heir, that is, himself. The matter was arbitrated, and just as the arbitrators were about to announce a decision in Hanover's favour, one of the arbitrators died, voiding the decision. Despite the King's request for a new panel, Victoria refused to permit one during the King's lifetime, and took every opportunity to wear the jewels, causing the King to fume, "The little Queen looked very fine, I hear, loaded down with my diamonds." The King's son and heir, King George V, pressed the matter, and in 1858, after another decision in Hanover's favour, the jewels were turned over to the Hanoverian ambassador.
The King made a point of welcoming English visitors, and when one English lady told him that she had been lost in the city, the King denied that this was possible, as "the whole country is no larger than a fourpenny piece."
The King died in 1851 after an illness of several months. He was mourned greatly in Hanover; less so in England where The Times claimed "the good that can be said of the Royal dead is little or none." Both he and Queen Frederica rest in a mausoleum in the Herrenhausen Gardens.
A large equestrian statue of King Ernest Augustus may be found in a square named after him in front of the railway station in Hanover, inscribed with his name and the words (in German) "To the father of the nation from his loyal people". It is a popular meeting place; in the local phrase, people arrange to meet under the tail (that is, of the horse which the King rides).
Ernest married Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Hanover on 29 May 1815 in Neustrelitz, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. (Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Hanover was born on 3 Mar 1778 and died on 29 Jun 1841.)