In 1731 the king returned from Hanover to find his son grown independent and dangerous, and instead of giving him some responsibility to keep him useful and busy, decided to suppress him, cutting his allowance and doling it out in small sums reluctantly, refusing to give him an official residence as Prince of Wales, and appointing and dismissing the princes’ servants and attendants, as he was entitled to do. All of these things were hardly likely to mend the rift between them.
Indeed Robert Walpole (leader of the government, which would now be Prime Minister) advised the king against such treatment of his son, stating that it was making him more unpopular, and giving the increasingly popular Frederick the chance to set up a rival court. The king ignored this sensible advice, and as a result very soon disaffected politicians were trying to persuade Frederick to set up a centre for them.
At first, remaining loyal to his father, Frederick refused, but over time, as the king continued to malign him, Walpole’s prophesy came true, when Frederick openly defied his father for the first time over a political matter, and stood his ground.
This led to the most appalling and public hatred expressed by both king and queen against their son, which led eventually to a complete split between them. In fairness to Prince Frederick, he did show at times a willingness to try to resolve this, in spite of the fact that he was most definitely the one sinned against; but his parents would have none of it.
Frederick settled for living his own life, trying to avoid conflict with his parents, but not kowtowing to them.
He enjoyed playing cricket, a game which was at that time enjoying a renaissance, and also played the cello, apparently quite well. He used to give impromptu concerts for his staff by sitting at an open window of his house, playing and singing to a gathering of palace employees who formed a spontaneous audience.
In 1734 he made an open attempt to reconcile with his father by asking for an audience with him, which the king initially refused, but changed his mind when persuaded by Robert Walpole. Prince Frederick then requested that he be allowed to go on active service, have a regular income and be able to marry. The first request was refused, but there did seem to be some thawing in the ice between father and son, and the search for a suitable bride began, resulting in Prince Frederick marrying Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, his father’s choice of bride. She was apparently a somewhat gawky, unsophisticated girl, who, although seventeen, still played with dolls, but Frederick made an effort to make her feel at home, and the marriage appears to have been a successful one overall.
Certainly in later years she took her husband’s side against his parents, not surprising as the king seems to have ignored her, and the queen, although inviting Augusta to family dinners, made it plain that she thought her daughter-in-law stupid and boring.
After the marriage King George returned to Hanover. Everyone expected that he would now make his son regent, but he did not. Frederick was understandably upset by this public snub, which revived the thawing animosity between the king and his heir.
While the king was away from his realm, Frederick continued to become popular, giving a rousing and entertaining speech at a dinner where he was given the freedom of the city of London, and then becoming a hero after spending a night helping to fight a fire in the city.
Although at this point the crowd were heard to cry ‘crown him’, and people in general were complaining that if King George liked Hanover so much, perhaps he should stay there, Prince Frederick behaved with the utmost propriety. Even the following January when it was falsely reported the king had drowned on his way back to Britain, Frederick showed no sign of elation or eagerness to take the throne, even when approached to do so by the political opposition.
Consequently, when the king was reported safe and returned to London in January 1737, no one could complain about the Prince of Wales’ conduct. In spite of this the king continued to refuse to see his son and engaged in a policy of petty insults against his son, who, with his wife, still lived at St James’ Palace, where the king lived. He refused to allow the royal doctors to dine with Frederick, told Handel to refuse when the prince invited him to a concert, and would not let the royal servants collect ice from St James’ Park.
In 1737 Princess Augusta gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter also called Augusta, but the feud continued, and in September the king ejected his son and daughter-in-law from the royal residence, St. James’ Palace. It’s quite remarkable that he did not think about the fact that history was repeating itself exactly. King George I had enjoyed an equally acrimonious relationship with his eldest son, finally banning him from his house. And now that son, George II was doing exactly the same thing to his own son.
Although Walpole warned that this would give Frederick independence, the sympathy of the people and the ability to set up a rival court to the kings, George would not be moved, and so Frederick and his family moved to Kew House in September 1737. In November of the same year the queen died, King George even refusing to allow Prince Frederick to visit her as she lay dying.
For a few years Frederick and his growing family moved about, before finally settling on Leicester House, where his father and mother had lived when they were Prince and Princess of Wales. He also retained Kew House, and rented Cliveden as a country home.
The prince seems now to have settled down somewhat, and although he continued to argue with the king and had no official employment as Prince of Wales, the emotional intensity of his arguments with his father were gone, and, although he had a string of mistresses (thoroughly acceptable behaviour at the time), he became a devoted family man. Princess Augusta tolerated his mistresses, who came and went frequently, and she became his friend and constant companion.
They had nine children in total, the last one born after Frederick’s death, and when she was not actively breeding, they made a good number of joint public appearances, travelling round the country with some degree of splendour, and attracting a lot of attention. They were very popular with the public.
They were extremely devoted to their children, and in this Frederick made certain that the Hanoverian history of animosity between father and eldest son would not be repeated. He took especial care about the education of his two eldest sons, George (later King George III) and Prince Edward.
That his affection for his children was genuine is shown in the private letters he wrote to them when he had to be absent. Possibly recognising that the British people did not appreciate that their monarch showed little affection for the country, Frederick advised his eldest son to make himself English in every way, by birth, breeding and inclination, something which George later put in practice as king.
Although his sons had an intense education, spending some seven to eight hours a day, six days a week in the classroom, in the afternoons there were no classes, and the children either spent time gardening or playing their favourite sports – cricket, rounders or skittles. If the weather was wet the sports were played indoors.
The incidents I write about involving Prince Frederick in the Jacobite Chronicles are fictitious, but all could well have happened. The prince was a great fan of practical jokes, and loved to make his more sycophantic followers look ridiculous. His love of practical jokes did not wane as he grew older. He certainly forced his guests to join in games of cricket, whether they were athletically inclined or not.
He was very well read, patronised a number of literary figures, also loved the theatre, and once wrote an (unsuccessful) play. He attended the theatre regularly, and also enjoyed acting in the stage productions at his home, cutting an open-air theatre out of the chalk at Cliveden. He brought his children up to also enjoy and participate in acting, and they presented some quite complex performances at their home.
One hobby the prince and his wife shared was that of gardening – the whole household had plots, and visitors were recruited to help in weeding and digging. One diary entry by a friend of Prince Frederick’s in which he states that, after having constructed a new walk in the garden with all the other courtiers, they were rewarded only with a cold meal, inspired me to write my scene in ‘The Gathering Storm’.
The prince and princess became friendly with Lord Bute, and welcomed his botanical advice, as they began to collect foreign plants and build a summerhouse. After the prince died, Princess Augusta continued this, and many of the existing buildings at Kew Gardens date from her occupation of Kew House.