Prince George, Prince William's Predecessor as Duke of Cambridge

Prince George Duke of Cambridge was the last holder of the title before Prince William. He led an extraordinary life for his time. He had a most successful army career; he had firm beliefs on how it should be run to which he stuck without fail. His views on private life were no less firm and highly unconventional. 

HRH The Duke of Cambridge

Prince George was born in Cambridge House in Hanover in 1819. He was the only son of Prince Adolphus, 1st Duke of Cambridge, Prince of the United Kingdom, Prince of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg, just to mention the full title once. He had two younger sisters, Princess Augusta who would marry Frederick William Prince Hereditary of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (later Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), and Princess Mary Adelaide who would marry Francis Prince of Teck (later Duke of Teck).

Prince George received his education by a private tutor in Hanover where his father was acting as Viceroy for his brothers George IV and William IV. The Hanoverian line on the throne of the United Kingdom was part of the House of Guelph. He entered the Royal Hanoverian Army but was called to the British Army two years later.

He served on Gibraltar, in Ireland, and on the Ionian Islands before taking part in the Crimean War. He was involved in the battles of the Alma, Balaclava, and Inkerman, and in the siege of Sevastopol. He was made chief of the army in 1856 under the title of general commanding-in-chief (the title was changed to Commander-in-Chief in 1887) and received the additional title of field-marshal in 1862.

As head of the army, he imposed his own ideas on it. One of his ideas was that breeding is more important than merit, which saw him overlook talent too often. Another was that flogging was not the way to treat people whom you wanted to trust. He changed the flogging practice in use (you could at that time be flogged for almost everything); flogging was now reserved to soldiers who committed sustained mutiny.

He also invented deferred sentencing on probation. He split the soldiers into first and second class soldiers; first class soldiers could not be flogged, but could be demoted to second class; second class soldiers were under threat of flogging, but would be reinstated to first class after a year’s impeccable behaviour. It was in fact a one year’s probationary period under another name.

He was a stickler for the proper equipment of the forces and was following developments in armament with a keen interest and early trials of weapon systems. He also promoted the idea of annual general manoeuvres to improve the army’s records. As head of the army, he was not subject to the Secretary of State, and moved outside the government while having a role as advisor to the Secretary of State.

When he retired from his post as Commander-in-Chief in a huff in 1895, the army had been absorbed into the government, the head of the army had become a lackey of the Secretary of State, and a useless quango by the name of War Office had taken over mismanaging Britain’s manpower. The members of that body are too brainless to appreciate it, but it is quite ironic that the statue of Prince George is facing their entrance.

Privately, his views were extreme to the point of being offensive. He didn’t believe in arranged marriages and therefore refused them. Instead, he married a Drury Lane actress named Sarah Fairbrother in a private ceremony. The marriage contravened the 1772 marriage act and was therefore morganatic. Sarah took the name of her sons and called herself Mrs FitzGeorge.

Marrying his actress wasn’t quite enough for the Duke of Cambridge to fall out of line with accepted respectability in Victorian England; he also kept a mistress for most of the duration of that marriage by the name of Louisa Beauclerk as well as several other short term involvements.

Prince George died in 1904. With his death, the Duchy of Cambridge lapsed. The Duke of Cambridge and Mrs FitzGeorge are buried at Kensal Green Cemetery only yards from Louisa Beauclerk. 

Further reading
William and Kate: Title History
How Royal Succession Works in The United Kingdom
Princes: Not All That Glitters