Gibraltar Governor Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, (1767-1820), the fourth son of George III (1738-1820) and Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), was born on 2 November 1767 at Buckingham House, London. After an up-and-down career in the army, he became the father of Queen Victoria.
Prince Edward’s preceptor from 1780 to 1785 was John Fisher, a future bishop of Salisbury and an amateur artist. The young prince was taught etching by Alexander Cozens, and also shared in his family’s enthusiasm for music. In 1783 he was the first prince to be appointed a knight of the new Order of St Patrick. George III intended that all his younger sons should spend a large proportion of their lives in Germany, and in 1785 Edward was sent to Luneburg in his father’s electorate of Hanover, where he joined the garrison as a cadet in the Hanoverian foot guards. Under his governor, Lieutenant-Colonel George von Wangenheim, he studied German, law, history, religion, classics, and artillery. Wangenheim, a stingy bully, allowed Edward only 1 guineas a week pocket money out of £6000 a year for maintenance, leading Edward to acquire lifelong habits of indebtedness. Edward was gazetted brevet colonel in the British army in 1786, in which year he moved to Hanover and was appointed a knight of the Garter. George III also allowed him the pay of a colonel in the Hanoverian foot guards, but it was again directed through Wangenheim and Edward saw little of it, borrowing money to support his cherished regimental band. From 1788 to 1790 he concluded his education at Geneva. He accepted the command of the Royal Fusiliers (7th foot) in April 1789, but at the same time declined the same rank in the Hanoverian foot guards, perhaps a sign that he was tired of living in Europe. In January 1790 he returned home without leave but, after a brief meeting with his furious father, was virtually banished to Gibraltar, where he served in the garrison as an ordinary officer. While at Gibraltar he imported from Marseilles Therese-Bernardine Mongenet (1760-1830) to be his ‘chanteuse’ and long-term mistress. Known as Madame de Saint-Laurent, she probably used the forename Julie. She was the daughter of Jean Mongenet (b. 1726), a highway engineer from Besancon, and his wife, Claudine, nee Pussot (1734?-1805). She devoted herself to Edward for nearly twenty-eight years before she was set aside. Although evidence suggests that they had no children, many families in Canada have claimed descent from the couple. Edward also had at least two illegitimate children: Adelaide Victoire Auguste (b. 1789, d. in or after 1832), whose mother was Adelaide Dubus (d. 1789), who died in childbirth, and Edward Schencker Scheener (1789-1853), whose mother was Anne Gabrielle Alexandrine More.
Edward’s disciplinarian excesses (perhaps learned from Wangenheim) caused his removal in 1791 to Canada. In August that year he took up residence with his regiment in Quebec City, where his presence, and that of the regimental band, dramatically enhanced social life. Edward was the first member of the royal family to reside in North America for a prolonged period (his elder brother, the future William IV, had visited Nova Scotia in 1788) and in Quebec City became the focus-probably sometimes an organizing one-of assemblies, subscription concerts, and theatrical performances. He attended to his regimental duties, was promoted major-general on 2 October 1793, and seized the opportunity to shine, serving successfully in the West Indies campaign to reduce Martinique and St Lucia in 1794. On his way to the West Indies, Edward became the first prince to visit the United States since independence, travelling through Boston and New York. Following the campaign he was mentioned in dispatches and received the thanks of parliament. His father refused his request to return home, and instead he was stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There he attempted to maintain the standards of social life he had established in Quebec and entertained himself by making alterations to the house and grounds he rented from the governor of Nova Scotia, Sir John Wentworth. Edward was promoted lieutenant-general on 12 January 1796, but only when he suffered a fall from his horse was he permitted to leave Nova Scotia for Britain, landing at Plymouth on 15 November 1798. His North American career is remembered in the name of Prince Edward Island, adopted in 1799.
Edward’s career peaked in 1799. As well as being created duke of Kent and Strathearn on 24 April, he received the thanks of parliament and an income of £12,000, was gazetted general on 10 May, and in July was appointed commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, although he only held that post until 1800. Two years later he met with disaster. He was appointed governor of Gibraltar on 27 March 1802, with specific orders to restore discipline to the drunken garrison, but his severity provoked a mutiny that he suppressed by shooting three ringleaders and having another, Sergeant Benjamin Armstrong, flogged to death. Recalled in May 1803 and refused permission to return for an inquiry, he learned instead that the garrison had returned to their old licentious ways. He was promoted field marshal on 5 September 1805, but three days after his thirty-eighth birthday (5 November 1805) the duke accepted the reductio ad absurdum of his career: he was made keeper and paler of Hampton Court. He settled at Castle Hill Lodge, Ealing.
On the domestic front the prospect brightened with the duke’s new life in England, which put him in touch with his niece Princess Charlotte Augusta (1796-1817), heir apparent, and her suitor, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, whose successful courtship Edward assisted. They in turn urged him to marry Leopold’s sister Victoria Mary Louisa of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (1786-1861), the widow since 1814 of Emich Charles, prince of Leiningen, and the mother of a young son and daughter. Edward’s courtship, kept secret from Madame de Saint-Laurent, nevertheless hung fire. Suddenly the whole scene changed.
Edward had moved to Brussels in 1815, not to participate in the battle of Waterloo but to economize. In 1817 Princess Charlotte died in childbirth, and parliament backed a marriage marathon of unmarried princes to safeguard the succession. Madame de Saint-Laurent was distressed but accepted the separation with dignity and left Brussels for Paris; she was cared for by General William Knollys (whose son William was appointed comptroller to the future King Edward VII by Queen Victoria when Prince Albert died), and died in Paris on 8 August 1830. Edward married Victoria at Coburg on 29 May 1818 (Lutheran rite) and at Kew Palace on 13 July. They visited Victoria’s mother, the duchess of Coburg, who thought Edward was ’embarrassed’ at falling like a ‘bomb’ into their family circle (Coburg diary, Royal Archives). The bridal pair were striking: he tall, heavily built, blue-eyed, with dyed brown whiskers; she brown-eyed and black-ringletted. They lived mainly in Amorbach Castle, Leiningen, Victoria’s dower house, until late in Victoria’s pregnancy, when Edward rushed her back to Kensington Palace for the birth of their daughter, (Alexandrina) Victoria, the future queen, on 24 May 1819.
Money and creditors were still the duke’s problem. Bishop Fisher of Salisbury advised him to holiday in Devon, for reasons of both economy and health. But the duke caught cold in Fisher’s icy cathedral on the way there. He died of pneumonia in Woolbrook Cottage, Sidmouth, Devon, on 23 January 1820 and was buried in a giant coffin nearly 7 feet long in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, on 11 February.
The duke had been intensely proud of his infant daughter and would tell his friends to look at her well, for she would be queen of England. Queen Victoria herself managed to be proud of her father. Having read her mother’s diary after her death, she wrote: ‘All these notes show how very much She & my beloved Father loved each other!’ (Royal Archives, Y 106/14). Lord Melbourne said her father was as agreeable as George IV and more ‘pose’ than William IV, without his talkativeness; ‘from all what [sic] I heard’, Victoria added in her journal of 1 August 1838, ‘he was the best of all’.
Edward combined character defects with charm and abilities. His sisters called him Joseph Surface, Oliver Goldsmith’s hypocrite. Though a martinet, he believed his extreme methods the best way to secure high standards of military conduct, and introduced the first regimental school. Wellington rated him a first-class speaker. Sir Matthew Wood, the radical mayor of London, perhaps best remembered as Queen Caroline’s spokesman, was his trustee.
George Hardinge, a Welsh judge, emphasized Edward’s friendliness and popularity with servants. This tribute seems to contradict his known unpopularity with the army rank and file. The answer may be that the duke drew a distinction between correct military and civilian behaviour. He showed an interest in Robert Owen’s social experiments. He supported literary, Bible, and anti-slavery societies and voted for Catholic emancipation. And he performed his own duties with every bit as much rigour as he demanded of others.
Sources Duchess of Coburg, diary, Royal Arch., Kent papers + M. Gillen, The prince and his lady (1970) + E. Longford, Victoria RI (1964) + R. Fulford, Royal dukes (1933) + Annual Register (1820) + Tunbridge Wells Library, General Knollys MSS + P. H. Stanhope, Notes of conversations with the duke of Wellington, 1831-1851 (1888); repr. with introduction by E. Longford (1998) + J. Roberts, Royal artists: from Mary queen of Scots to the present day (1987) + DNB + Queen Victoria, journal, Royal Arch. + F. A. Hall, ‘A prince’s sojourn in eighteenth-century Canada’, Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 19 (1989), 247-66 + GEC, Peerage, new edn + The later correspondence of George III, ed. A. Aspinall, 5 vols. (1962-70) + D. M. Potts and W. T. W. Potts, Queen Victoria’s gene (1995) + C. Woodham-Smith, Queen Victoria: her life and times, 1: 1819-1861 (1972)
Archives LMA, deeds, financial and London estate papers + Royal Arch. | BL, corresp. with Sir James Willoughby Gordon, Add. MSS 49475 + BL, corresp. with Lord Grenville, Add. MSS 58868 + BL, corresp. with Lord Holland, Add. MS 51524 + BL, corresp. with Prince Lieven, Add. MSS 47287-47290 + BL, corresp. with earl of Liverpool, Add. MSS 38190, 38259-38323, 38564 passim + CBS, corresp. with Sir William Fremantle + CKS, corresp. with Lord Camden + CKS, letters to William Knollys + Devon RO, corresp. with Lord Sidmouth + Hunt. L., letters to Lord Moira + Morgan L., letters to Sir James Murray-Pulteney + NA Scot., letters to Sir Alexander Pope + NL Scot., corresp. with Sir Alexander Cochrane + Royal Arch., letters to George III + Royal Military Academy Library, Sandhurst, letters to Gaspard Le Marchant + Southampton City Archives, letters to J. G. Smyth + Staffs. RO, letters to Lord Dartmouth + TNA: PRO, letters to Lord Cornwallis, PRO 30/11 + TNA: PRO, letters to William Pitt, PRO 30/8 + U. Durham L., corresp. with Earl Grey + University of New Brunswick, letters to William Edmeston
Likenesses J. Zoffany, group portrait, oils, 1770 (George III, Queen Charlotte, and their six eldest children), Royal Collection · B. West, double portrait, oils, 1778 (with Prince William), Royal Collection · B. West, group portrait, oils, 1779 (Queen Charlotte with her children), Royal Collection · T. Gainsborough, oils, 1782, National Collection · T. Gainsborough, oils, c.1786-1788, YCBA · S. Weaver, oils, 1796, Nova Scotia Legislature Library; repro. in Gillen, The prince and his lady, frontispiece · J. Hoppner, oils, in or after 1799 (in uniform with Garter ribbon), Royal Collection · H. Edridge, pencil and wash drawing, 1802, Windsor Castle · W. Beechey, oils, 1814, Fishmongers’ Hall, London · J. Bacon jun., marble bust, 1818, Royal Collection · W. Beechey, oils, 1818, NPG [see illus.] · G. Dawe, two portraits, oils, 1818, Royal Collection; copies at Broadlands and at Kent House, Quebec · P. Turnerelli, marble bust, 1820, Royal Collection · P. Turnerelli, marble bust, 1820, Scot. NPG · Gahagan, bronze statue, 1823, Park Crescent, Portland Place, London · Francis, marble bust, 1832, Freemasons’ Hall, London · attrib. F. Cotes, oils (as Cupid in landscape), Royal Collection · J. Downman, drawing, Royal Collection · H. Edridge, drawing, Royal Collection · Fry, engraving (after Gahagan), repro. in European Magazine · H. D. Hamilton, drawing, Royal Collection · F. X. Winterhalter, oils, Royal Collection
Wealth at death under £80,000: Annual Register, 681-91