1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cumberland, William Augustus, Duke of
CUMBERLAND, WILLIAM AUGUSTUS, Duke of (1721–1765), son of King George II. and Queen Caroline, was born on the 15th of April 1721, and when five years of age was created duke of Cumberland. His education was well attended to, and his courage and capacity in outdoor exercises were notable from his early years. He was intended by the king and queen for the office of lord high admiral, and in 1740 he sailed as a volunteer in the fleet under the command of Sir John Norris; but he quickly became dissatisfied with the navy, and early in 1742 he began a military career. In December 1742 he was made a major-general, and in the following year he first saw active service in Germany. George II. and the “martial boy” shared in the glory of Dettingen (June 27), and Cumberland, who was wounded in the action, displayed an energy and valour, the report of which in England founded his military popularity. After the battle he was made lieutenant-general. In 1745, having been made captain-general of the British land forces at home and in the field, the duke was again in Flanders as commander-in-chief of the allied British, Hanoverian, Austrian and Dutch troops. Advancing to the relief of Tournay, which was besieged by Marshal Saxe, he engaged that great general in the battle of Fontenoy (q.v.) 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. He himself was in the midst of the heroic column which penetrated the French centre, and his conduct of the inevitable retreat was unusually cool and skilful.
Notwithstanding the severity of his discipline, 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 successful career of Prince Charles Edward in the rebellion of 1745–1746. John (Earl) Ligonier wrote of him at this time: “Ou je suis fort trompé ou il se forme là un grand capitaine.” He was recalled from Flanders, and immediately 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 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 of 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 Pretender. He diverged, however, to Aberdeen, where he 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 experienced 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 withstand with firmness that onslaught on which all Highland successes depended; and he reorganized the forces and restored their discipline and self-confidence in a few weeks.
On the 8th of April 1746 he set out from Aberdeen towards Inverness, and on the 15th he fought the decisive battle of Culloden, in which, and in the pursuit which followed, the forces of the Pretender were completely destroyed. He had become convinced that the sternest measures were needed to break down the Jacobitism of the Highlanders. He told his troops to take notice that the enemy's orders were to give no quarter to the “troops of the elector,” and they took the hint. No trace of such orders remains (see Murray, Lord George), and it is probable that Cumberland had merely received word of wild talk in the enemy's camp, which he credited the more easily as he thought that those who were capable of rebellion were capable of any crime. On account of the merciless severity with which the fugitives were treated, Cumberland received the nickname of the “Butcher.” That the implied taunt was unjust need not be laboured. It was used for political purposes in England, and his own brother, the prince of Wales, encouraged, it appears, the virulent attacks which were made upon the duke. In any case there is a marked similarity between Cumberland's conduct in Scotland and that of Cromwell in Ireland. Both dared to do acts which they knew would be cast against them for the rest of their lives, and terrorized an obstinate and unyielding enemy into submission. How real was the danger of a protracted guerrilla warfare in the Highlands may be judged from the explicit declarations of Jacobite leaders that they intended to continue the struggle. As it was, the war came to an end almost at once. Here, as always, Cumberland preserved the strictest discipline in his camp. He was inflexible in the execution of what he deemed to be his duty, without favour to any man. At the same time he exercised his influence in favour of clemency in special cases that were brought to his notice. Some years later James Wolfe spoke of the duke as “for ever doing noble and generous actions.”
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. The duke took no part in the Flanders campaign of 1746, but in 1747 he again opposed the still victorious Marshal Saxe; and received a heavy defeat at the battle of Lauffeld, or Val, near Maestricht (2nd of July 1747). During the ten years of peace Cumberland occupied himself chiefly with his duties as captain-general, and the result of his work was clearly shown in the conduct of the army in the Seven Years' War. His unpopularity, which had steadily increased since Culloden, interfered greatly with his success in politics, and when the death of the prince of Wales brought a minor next in succession to the throne the duke was not able to secure for himself the contingent regency, which was vested in the princess-dowager of Wales. In 1757, the Seven Years' War having broken out, Cumberland was placed at the head of a motley army of allies to defend Hanover. At Hastenbeck, near Hameln, on the 26th of July 1757, he was defeated by the superior forces of D'Estrées (see Seven Years' War). 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 Richelieu, he capitulated at Klosterzeven on the 8th of the month, agreeing to disband his army and to evacuate Hanover. His disgrace was completed on his return to England by the king's refusal 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. In his retirement he made no attempt to justify his conduct, applying in his own case the discipline he had enforced in others. For a few years he lived quietly at Windsor, and subsequently in London, taking but little part in politics. He did much, however, to displace the Bute ministry and that of Grenville, and endeavoured to restore Pitt to office. Public opinion had now set in his favour, and he became almost as popular as he had been in his youth. Shortly before his death the duke was requested to open negotiations with Pitt for a return to power. This was, however, unsuccessful. On the 31st of October 1765 the duke died.
A Life of the duke of Cumberland by Andrew Henderson was published in 1766, and anonymous (Richard Rolt) Historical Memoirs appeared in 1767. See especially A. N. Campbell Maclachlan, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1876).