“THE ‘UN’ GEORGE”
Frederick Louis, eldest son of George II, was born in Hanover, Germany in 1707, where he lived as Duke Friedrich Ludwig of Hanover, until shortly after his father’s succession to the throne of England in 1727, when he officially became Prince of Wales. Young Frederick’s parents had left Hanover in 1714 upon his grandfather, George I’s succession to the English throne, when Frederick was seven years old. He never saw his parents again until his arrival in England at age twenty one.
By then, Frederick had several younger siblings, whom he had never known, and was in reality a stranger in his own family. For reasons not completely understood, George II and Queen Caroline rejected Frederick in every sense of the word, referring to him as a “foundling” and nicknaming him “Griff,” short for the mythical beast known as a griffin. His younger brother, Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, was the darling of both of his parents, who sought ways of passing over Frederick in the succession.
Shockingly, his own mother despised him, and is reputed to have said:
“Our first-born is the greatest ass, the greatest liar, the greatest canaille and the greatest beast in the whole world and we heartily wish he were out of it.”
Rejected by his family, Frederick, assiduously courted the good will of his adopted countrymen, and soon created for himself a shadow court at his personal residence at Leicester House, counseled by such brilliant men as Lord Chesterfield, Sir William Pulteney, and future Prime Minister William Pitt, men vehemently opposed to the policies of his father’s chief minister, Sir Robert Walpole.
Frederick was a sincere patron of the arts and natural sciences, unlike his father, who held “boets” and scribblers in especial contempt. Frederick was also a knowledgeable amateur of art, and patronized immigrant artists like Amigoni and Jean Baptiste Vanloo, as well as Philip Mercier, John Wootton, Phillips, the French engraver Joseph Goupy, and English architect William Kent.
A genuine music lover, the prince himself played the cello (He and his sisters are depicted as musicians in an oil portrait by Philip Mercier) and was an avid supporter of Italian opera at a time when German-born Handel reigned supreme.
Setting himself up as a rival to his father in all things, Frederick and his set formed The Opera of the Nobility in Lincoln’s Inn Fields as a rival to the Second Royal Academy of Music Company under George and Caroline’s favorite, Mr. Handel. Frederick’s company patronized the Italian composers and poached some of Handel’s best singers, but eventually went bankrupt and dissolved, forcing Handel’s company into bankruptcy as well.
Like his father and grandfather before him, Frederick felt a need to keep mistresses, at one time even sharing one (Lady Anne Vane) with the bisexual courtier and gentleman of the bedchamber, Lord Hervey. Some speculate that the arrangement may have been a ménage-a-trois, or that Hervey and Frederick may have used Lady Vane to cover their own homosexual relationship. In either case, the two who once were close expressed outright animosity after the alleged affair.
Lord Hervey said of Frederick in his memoirs:
“The prince’s best qualities always gave one a degree of contempt for him; his carriage whilst it seemed engaging to those who did not examine it, appearing mean to those who did. He was indeed as false as his capacity would allow him to be…never having the least hesitation from principle or fear of future detection, in telling any lie that served his present purpose. He had a much weaker understanding, and, if possible, a more obstinate temper than his father. Had he one grain of merit at the bottom of his heart, one should have had compassion for him… for he had a father that abhorred him, a mother that despised him, sisters that betrayed him, and a brother set up against him.”
A profligate spender, Frederick accumulated large debts, relying in great part on the financial support of his wealthy friend, George Bubb Dodington, to whom he promised many favors that remained unfulfilled.
After the king refused to raise Frederick’s living allowance that was actually far less than he had lived on when Prince, Frederick appealed to Parliament to intervene, resulting in further bad feelings between the king and his son.
When Frederick eventually wed the sixteen-year-old Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, he was actually quite devoted to her and their seven children (his eighth child, a daughter was born posthumously). Nevertheless, poor Frederick would never wear the crown.
Death claimed him prematurely at age 44 when what appeared a simple cold, became an abscess that burst in his lung.At the death of George II in 1760, the British crown skipped a generation to be settled on the monarch’s grandson, Frederick’s eldest child, George III.