George, Prince of Denmark (DNB00)
|←George IV||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 21
George, Prince of Denmark
GEORGE, Prince of Denmark (1653–1708), husband of Queen Anne, second son of Frederick III of Denmark and Sophia Amalia, daughter of George, duke of Brunswick-Liineburg, the grandfather of George I, was born on 23 April 1653 (se Hübner, Doyle dates his birth 21 April). His governor from 1661 to 1665 was Otto Grote, a man of great ability, to whom the house of Hanover afterwards largely owed its new electoral dignity (Vehse, Höfe d. H. Braun- schweig, i. 39; cf. Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, ix. 178). In his youth the prince travelled through France, Italy, and Germany, and gained some experience of naval training as well as of active service under arms (Burnet, v. 391–2). In 1674 efforts were made to place him on the Polish throne, but his aversion to catholicism caused the scheme to break down, and Sobiesky was elected (see a notice of ‘C. H. Brasch, det polske Kongevalg,’ 1674, Copenhagen, 1882, in Revue Historique, xxv. pt. ii. 397). After a preliminary visit to England in 1681 he was, on 28 July 1683, married to the Princess Anne, the second daughter of the Duke of York. Charles II presented his niece on her marriage with Wandsworth manor-house, where she lived with her husband for eighteen years. In the year after his marriage Prince George was created a K.G. (Luttrell, i. 294). He made a good personal impression at the English court, but as his brother, Christian V, was now at peace with France, the match was attributed to French influence, and the conversion of the prince to the church of Rome was thought likely to follow. But he had been brought up a strict Lutheran, and even after his wife's accession to the throne ‘kept his chapel in the Lutheran way,’ though ready to ‘conform occasionally’ to the church of England (Burnet, v. 53). A French intrigue, carried on in England by an agent named Bonrepos (March 1686), for converting the Princess Anne to catholicism, was thought by the agent to be favoured by Prince George (Klopp, iv. 205–6), but it failed completely; in the summer of the following year he paid a visit to Denmark (Luttrell, i. 407, 411). Prince George, from whom, ‘whether drunk or sober,’ Charles II had failed to extract anything at all, seems in the next reign to have made no difficulty in acquiescing with his wife in the schemes for the overthrow of her father's throne; and after William's landing, though he accompanied the royal army on its march, and on its retreat as far as Andover, where he supped with James II, on the same evening (25 Nov. 1688) rode away with the Duke of Ormonde, the Earl of Drumlanrig, and Mr. H. Boyle to join the Prince of Orange at Sherborne, where they came in on 30 Nov. King James is said, in allusion to the phrase repeated by the prince as each fresh case of desertion became known, to have exclaimed, ‘So Est-il possible is gone too,’ and to have kindly ordered his servants and equipage to follow their master (Clarke, Life of James II, ii. 227, and note; cf. Diary of Henry, Earl of Clarendon, ii. 208, and 213 and notes; for the prince's letter to the king see Kennet, p. 531). The prince, who took his wife's subsequent departure from London very coolly (Clarendon, ii. 216), soon joined her in her progress at Oxford, and returned with her to Whitehall. His adhesion was rewarded by the king's assent to the act for his naturalisation (April 1689; see Luttrell, i. 517), and by his admission a few days afterwards into the English peerage as Baron of Ockingham, Earl of Kendal, and Duke of Cumberland; a year later he was made chief commissioner of appeal for prizes (Doyle). These honours may have had some connection with the successful efforts of William III to hold Denmark to his alliance, and to obtain Danish troops for Scotland and Flanders (Luttrell, i. 587, 603, ii. 117, 148; cf. as to the alliance of 1696, ib. iv. 142). But the extreme personal coldness which King William soon began to show towards Prince George proved one of the causes of the estrangement between the princess and her sister the queen (see art. Anne; cf. Marchmont Papers, ii. 418). In August 1691, when applying in vain with the princess for a Garter for Marlborough, Prince George reminded the king that this was the only request he had ever addressed to him (Klopp, vi. 26). After the death of Queen Mary (December 1694), the relations between them assumed a more friendly aspect. But the death of the prince's only surviving son, the young Duke of Gloucester (1700), made it indispensable to introduce the house of Hanover by name into the succession, and the proposal made by Lord Normanby during the debates on the Act of Settlement, that in the event of Anne's accession to the throne the title of king should be conferred on her husband, was rejected (May 1701; ib. ix. 266).
When Anne became queen (March 1702) her first thoughts were for her husband, and one of the first orders issued in the new reign was designed as a mark of attention to the Danish court (cf. Luttrell, v. 152). She had to relinquish the intention of associating him with herself in the royal dignity (a motion to this effect in the commons was made and lost as late as November 1702), and her plan for inducing the States-General to name him their captain-general in William III's place came to nothing (Klopp, x. 18, 32, 72). When Marlborough was appointed captain-general of the army, George received the sounding title of generalissimo of all her forces (17 April 1702), Marlborough declaring himself ‘ravished’ to serve under the prince (Marlborough Despatches, i. 44). Of a far more questionable nature was his appointment (21 May) to the office of lord high admiral, with a council to conduct the administration of the navy in his name. To these honours were added the lord wardenship of the Cinque ports and the captain-generalship of the London Artillery Company (June). A bill exempting the prince from the operation of the clause in the Act of Settlement excluding foreigners from offices passed the lords with great difficulty, but no opposition was offered to the annuity of 100,000l. proposed for the prince, ‘though it was double of what any queen of England ever had in jointure’ (Burnet, v. 55–6; cf. Stanhope, pp. 77–8). To hold his office of lord high admiral it was necessary for the prince to ‘conform occasionally’ to the church of England by receiving the sacrament according to its rites; but he deferred to the queen in voting for the Occasional Conformity Bill in 1702, though assuring an opponent of the bill, ‘My heart is vid you.’ When it came up again in 1703, and the queen, to oblige the Duke of Marlborough, slackened her opposition, the prince was allowed to absent himself from the division (Stanhope, vol. iii.). At the end of the year he took an active part in the reception of the Archduke Charles, titular king of Spain, on his visit to Windsor (Burnet, v. 83). But in general he played no part in public affairs. In 1706 he carried a message of encouragement from the queen to Godolphin (Elliott, Life of Godolphin, 1888, pp. 288–9), but in 1707 the tory intriguers endeavoured to gain his support by representing to him that the influence of Marlborough and the lord treasurer shut him out from his proper share in the control of affairs (Burnet, v. 336). According to an unkind story the queen's secret interviews with Harley first became publicly known through the indiscreet remark of her husband that she had hurt her eyes by sitting up late at night (Somerville, p. 267). In June 1708 Godolphin complained of his, as well as the queen's, ill-will (Klopp, xiii. 166), and at the beginning of the year the whigs had begun to threaten that if the queen did not retract her promise to appoint certain tory bishops they would, among other things, ‘show up’ the admiralty in such a way that the prince should be obliged to give up his post as high admiral (Lord Raby to Leibniz, 17 Jan., ap. Kemble, p. 464). The inefficient system of naval administration of which the prince was the figure-head had almost from the first given rise to loud complaints (Burnet, v. 90), and an address on the subject had been voted by the House of Lords in 1704, and very sharply answered by the queen (Klopp, xi. 33–4; it seems to have been a factious motion). Parliament was to meet on 16 Nov. with the whigs in the majority, and already their demand for the admission of Somers into the cabinet was coupled with renewed menaces against Prince George, who had for some time been suffering very severely from asthma. His obnoxious favourite, Admiral George Churchill, to whom the conduct of the naval administration had been chiefly entrusted, was persuaded by his brother, the Duke of Marlborough, to offer his resignation. But the whigs were determined to transfer the management of the admiralty from the prince to Lord Pembroke, in order that his offices might be given to Somers and Wharton; and in order to screen her suffering husband from a personal attack the queen (22 Oct. 1708) signified to Godolphin her assent to the admission of Somers. Whether the resignation of the prince would have been still insisted on remains uncertain, for on 28 Oct. he died; ‘nature was quite worn out in him, and no art could support him long’ (Godolphin to Marlborough, ap. Coxe, chap. lxxv.). The queen, who during his illness had shown the most unremitting care to her husband, was inconsolable for his loss, and gave touching proofs of her remembrance of him by her generosity to his servants and dependants (cf. Wentworth Papers, pp. 63–4; Treasury Papers, 1714–19, pp. 270, 373). During his lifetime she had regretted his excessive good-nature to them (Clarendon, Diary, ii. 315). Steele was gentleman usher to the prince (see A. DOBSON, Richard Steele, 1886, pp. 55–6).
Prince George was said, probably with truth, to have neither many friends nor many enemies in England. He was too old for active service after Anne's accession. His incapacity at the head of the admiralty was due to the system which placed him there, at least as much as to himself (see note to Burnet, v. 392). He was a fellow of the Royal Society, and seems to have taken an intelligent interest in navigation and in the sciences connected with it. He liberally promoted the publication of Flamsteed's important astronomical work (see Treasury Papers, 1714–19, p. 197). In 1702 he resigned his share of prizes taken during the war to such merchants as should fit out privateers (Luttrell, v. 179), and it was his intention (and the queen's after his death) to settle the royal house and park at Greenwich upon the Naval Hospital (Treasury Papers, 1714–19, p. 157). Although the Copenhagen professor who devoted a funeral oration to him (ib. 1708, pp. 14, 115) may not have found his achievements a fertile theme, he seems to have been too freely caricatured. In Macky's ‘Characters’ it is said of him that ‘he is very fat, loves news, his bottle, and the queen,’ but he is there further described as ‘a prince of a familiar, easy disposition, with a good understanding, but modest in showing it.’ Burnet (v. 391), who asserts that Prince George ‘knew much more than he could well express,’ adds that ‘his temper was mild and gentle,’ and that ‘he was free from all vice.’ The evident sincerity of these simple tributes and his long, happy wedded life should help to temper the ridicule which his name has suffered.
Kneller, Riley, and Dahl painted the prince's portrait. That in the National Portrait Gallery is by Wissing. Others are at Althorp and Middleton.[Most of the authorities cited above are given in full under Queen Anne; several particulars mentioned there concerning Prince George of Denmark have not been repeated here. Doyle's Official Baronage, i. 498, s. v. ‘Cumberland,’ contains a collection of passages descriptive of the prince's person, with a woodcut after Kneller.]