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Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843)

This article was written by Thomas Finlayson Henderson and was published in 1885

Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, was the sixth son and ninth child of King George III and Queen Charlotte, was born at Buckingham Palace 27 January 1773. He was made K.G. in 1786. From the time he entered the university of Göttingen until 1804 he mostly resided abroad, on account of delicate health. Probably his lengthened sojourn on the Continent tended to foster his intellectual tastes, and undoubtedly the opportunity it afforded for diversified social intercourse assisted to liberalise his sentiments and to impart a genial facility to his manner.

While resident in Rome in the winter of 1792, Prince Augustus made the acquaintance of Lady Augusta Murray, second daughter of the fourth Earl of Dunmore, and after four months' intimacy offered her his hand. The lady, who was some years older than the prince, at first declined the proposal, from regard to his interests; but on 21 March, 1793, they pledged eternal constancy to each other in a solemn written engagement. This was followed on 4 April by a marriage ceremony, performed by a clergyman of the Church of England named Gunn. To guard against the possibility of objections to the marriage from the fact that it had taken place in Roman jurisdiction, the ceremony was repeated at St. George's, Hanover Square, on 5 December following, under the disguised names of Augustus Frederick and Augusta Murray.

Shortly after the birth of a son on 13 January, 1794, news of the marriage reached the king, who, in accordance with the regulations of the Royal Marriage Act of 1772 (12 George III, c. 11), declared it void in August 1794. There were two children born of the marriage, Augustus Frederick, 13 January 1794, and Ellen Augusta, 11 August 1801, who married Sir Thomas Wilde, afterwards Lord Truro, and Lord Chancellor of England. They took the surname of d'Este, which belonged to common Italian ancestors of the father and mother, for Lady Augusta Murray was also of royal descent. For some years the prince ignored the decision of the court, but ultimately he acquiesced, and even in 1809 applied for the custody of his children, because he had heard that their mother was bringing them up in the idea that ‘they were princes and princesses.’ In 1806 Lady Augusta received royal license to assume the name of D'Ameland instead of Murray. The son, Sir Augustus Frederick d'Este, made various efforts to get his claims recognised, and in 1831 filed a Bill in chancery, ‘to prove the marriage good and valid’.

It was not till 1801 that Prince Augustus was raised to the peerage by the title of Baron Arklow, Earl of Inverness and Duke of Sussex. His adoption of liberal political views estranged him from his father and the court, and excluded him from lucrative employments similar to those enjoyed by the other royal dukes. Indeed, he had incurred the resentment of his father for political contumacy as early as his seventh year, when ‘he was by order of the king locked up in his nursery, and sent supperless to bed, for wearing Admiral Keppel's election colours’. The Duke of Sussex gave an energetic support to all the progressive political policy of his time, including the abolition of the slave trade, catholic emancipation, the removal of the civil disabilities of Jews and dissenters, the abolition of the corn laws, and parliamentary reform. His interest in the advancement of art and science was also genuine and enlightened, and he readily lent his influence to promote schemes of benevolence.

In his later years he was in great request as chairman at anniversary dinners. When his eldest brother became Prince Regent in 1811, he succeeded him as grand master of the freemasons. He was elected president of the Society of Arts in 1816, and from 30 November 1830 to 30 November 1838, was president of the Royal Society. In the latter capacity he gave brilliant receptions in his apartments at Kensington Palace to men of science, but the expense they incurred induced him to resign the presidentship, as he preferred to employ the money in making additions to his library. This collection, which amounted in all to over 50,000 volumes, included about 1,000 editions of the Bible, and many Hebrew and other ancient manuscripts, the duke being specially interested in the study of Hebrew and of biblical subjects. The Duke of Sussex contracted a second marriage with Lady Cecilia, ninth daughter of the Earl of Arran, and widow of Sir George Buggin. In 1840 the lady was created Duchess of Inverness. There was no issue by the marriage, and the duke died from erysipelas 21 April 1843.

By his will he directed that his remains should not be interred with the royal family at Windsor, but in the public cemetery at Kensal Green. As was the case with his brothers, there was in his character a strong vein of eccentricity and waywardness; but this was tempered by intentions which, on the whole, were well meant, by liberal and benevolent sympathies, and by genuine intellectual tastes. Most of the addresses delivered by the Duke of Sussex as president of the Royal Society have been published in pamphlet form, as has also his speech on the Roman Catholic Relief Bill in 1829.

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