Firstly I have to say that Prince Frederick has not been dealt well with by history. Most people have never heard of him, and don’t realise that George III was the grandson, not the son of George II. If you have heard of him then most likely you think of him as a rake and a weakling. I do not believe this to be fair, and having read a good deal about him whilst researching for the Jacobite Chronicles, I came to like him – as readers may guess from the way I’ve portrayed him in my books. None of the actions that he takes in my novels would have been out of character for the man, and some of them he actually did take, and I’ve appropriated them for my story.
Certainly he was more than a rake and a weakling, but unfortunately never got the chance to prove what kind of king he would have been had he succeeded his father.
Prince Frederick Louis was born in Hanover on 20th January 1707, and at the start there were suspicions that he may have been a bastard, or was introduced into the royal bedchamber to ensure the succession. At this time royal childbirth was generally witnessed by state and church dignitaries who could state categorically that the child was definitely the mother’s at least. But none of these dignitaries were invited to the birth of the prince, and the rumours were later strengthened by King George’s unguarded comments when angry that Frederick was no son of his, or was a changeling.
It is highly unlikely that he was actually not the future George II’s child. For one thing he resembled his father in build and mannerisms if not in looks, and his mother in character, and Queen Caroline was never suspected otherwise of being unfaithful to her husband. Certainly no one ever questioned the paternity of Fred’s brother William, Duke of Cumberland, although he also did not resemble his parents.
In any case, the care of Prince Frederick’s upbringing was passed over to servants, and when his grandfather, the Elector of Hanover became King George I of Great Britain in 1714 and moved to England, George and Caroline and their other children moved with them, leaving Prince Frederick alone in Hanover, where he stayed for the next fourteen years. During this time he had no contact at all with his parents or siblings and saw his grandfather only very rarely.
During this time he acted as a representative of the absent Elector of Hanover in a ceremonial sense only, and although he had no power, he certainly learnt to become an accomplished courtier, and was very successful in this aspect of being a prince.
It’s quite astonishing that considering he was in direct line to succeed to the Electorship of Hanover and the British throne, his education was not undertaken by a carefully picked guardian, but instead he was educated by a series of ordinary school masters of Hanover. It is to both their credit and Prince Frederick’s that as an adult he was fluent in several languages, well informed and very much more at ease with people than either George I or II.
His companions however, were not those a prince would normally associate with, and he became known as a lover of the pleasures of the town and for his somewhat riotous juvenile behaviour, which was tolerated in Hanover, but not, later in London. He took his first mistress when still in his teens, which was normal for the day.
At this time King George I decided to try to ally himself to Prussia by marrying two of his grandchildren to children of the King of Prussia. One of these was Prince Frederick, who was proposed to marry Princess Wilhelmina, an attractive and intelligent girl. The marriage negotiations went on for some years, until King George I died. His son, now King George II brought the marriage talks to an end, but Prince Frederick, conceiving himself in love with the princess he’d never met, resolved to go to Berlin and marry her before anyone could stop him.
However, his father discovered the plot and put a stop to it by bringing his eldest son to England in a fit of temper. Prince Frederick was now twenty-one.
At this point, the prince did not know his parents at all, and had no relationship with them. But initially, in spite of the bad start, it appeared that all would be well. Frederick appeared mild-mannered, and the king saw no threat in him, and prepared to manage his son’s affairs as he already did the rest of the family’s. The King, Queen and Prince were seen out together, and it was remarked what a happy family they appeared to be.
In January 1729 Frederick was named Prince of Wales by his father, although only under pressure from the government. By this time the prince had shown himself to be an excellent courtier in Britain, impressing many with his wit, gallantry and dancing skills, to the annoyance of his parents. But he also had the common touch, wandering about London with a single servant and chatting with the people, and was very popular with the London mob, unlike his father, who was generally disliked as a foreigner.
His father, now King George II was already jealous and resentful of his son, who he thought had received favoured treatment from the late King George I. He saw Frederick as having usurped his own position as Elector in Hanover, and now thought the young prince was seeking to usurp him in Britain too. Somewhat stupidly, though, he now allowed Prince Frederick to cement his affections with the people and courtiers by going back to his beloved Hanover for a holiday which ended up lasting for two years.
When he did this, the king handed all duties to the queen, leaving Frederick with nothing to do except make friends and nurse grievances. This was the start of the intense lifelong feud between king and heir which led Frederick in later years to set up a sort of opposition court to his father, which attracted those disaffected to the king.
It was at this time, in his early twenties, with no duties, that he followed the example of other young aristocrats and gained the rakish reputation that he’s come down in history with. He certainly indulged in wild drinking, gambling, whoring and some practical jokes and vandalistic behaviour, for which he was soon brought to account.
He also got into debt, partly as a protest against his father’s extremely poor monetary allowance towards him, and in 1730 he bought Kew House, although he had to borrow the funds to buy it and to maintain it, but he succeeded in keeping it for the rest of his life. It was not difficult for him, as heir to the throne, to obtain credit, and he used this to his advantage.
For a time he maintained a somewhat tempestuous affair with Anne Vane which endowed Frederick with the lifelong enmity of her other lover, Hervey, who caused a lot of problems for Frederick by becoming a close friend of the queen and vilifying her son to her at every opportunity. Hervey succeeded in poisoning her against Frederick, and some of his vicious viewpoints colour our image of the prince today.