Duchess of Cambridge

11 May 2011

Dave and I had a chat about Prince William’s future title before the Royal Wedding. We often chat about stuff like this by the way – my husband may not be altogether keen on history, but he is COMPLETELY au fait with the scandals of Louis XIV’s court and the complexities of Charles II’s personality. Anyway, back to this conversation – Dave said that Princess William sounded clunky and a bit rubbish and I, in an unusual flash of PSYCHIC BRILLIANCE, said that they’d probably be made a Duke and Duchess on the royal wedding day. I then listed some ‘royal’ dukedoms, immediately discounting Clarence because it has unfortunate connotations and predicting that Cambridge would be the one as it is suitably academic for a couple who met at university.

I should be a Royal Expert for someone, I really should. I could totally rock the whole Jennie Bond look. Anyone want a pink haired royal pundit? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

Anyway, there hasn’t been all that many Dukes of Cambridge and even fewer Duchesses, which is surprising as the title seems redolent of history and grandeur doesn’t it? In fact, half of all the Dukes of Cambridge were sons of James II who died in infancy.

The first Duchess of Cambridge was Caroline of Ansbach, wife of the future George II of England, who was given the title of Duke of Cambridge after the 1701 Act of Settlement made his grandmother, Sophia and father, George (later George I) the official heirs of Queen Anne.

Caroline and George immediately fell for each other when he visited the court of her guardian, the Elector of Brandenburg incognito to check her out. Of course, it helped that Caroline was no fool and immediately realised that the unknown Monsieur de Busch was the son of the Elector of Hanover, while he in his turn was dazzled by her fair haired prettiness and intelligence and declared that having seen her, he would not marry any other girl. Luckily for him, the match was approved of by everyone and the young couple were married only a few months later, in the Autumn of 1705.

The Cambridges were to have four children before the 1st August 1714, when their English cousin Queen Anne died, making Caroline’s father in law, George I of England. Anne had banned her Hanoverian cousins from ever so much as setting foot in England during her lifetime so their journey from the Hague to Margate was to be the first and last time that Caroline, now Princess of Wales (and the first woman to hold this title since Catherine of Aragon) ever crossed the sea.

By all accounts, Caroline was an astonishing and enlightened woman who loved reading and also learning for its own sake, with a particular interest in physics, philosophy, medicine and penal reform. George, who was rather less intellectually incisive, was very lucky to have such a woman at his side and, luckily, seems to have really appreciated it – later making her regent more than once when, as King, he was absent from the country.

We art historians also have much to be grateful to Caroline for – she is said to have rediscovered several lost sketches by Leonardo and Holbein that had been put in drawers at Hampton Court and then forgotten about.

There was no Duchess of Cambridge for over a hundred years until the Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel married Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge on the 1st of June 1818 at Buckingham Palace. Adolphus was the tenth child and seventh son of George III and Queen Charlotte and as such had no real chance of becoming King and so had settled into the same indolent life of womanising, drinking and accumulating debts as the rest of his siblings. However, the sudden death in 1817 of his niece, Princess Charlotte, who was astonishingly the only legitimate grandchild and heir of George III, made them all spring into action and begin scouring the courts of Europe in search of suitably fecund and Protestant brides.

Adolphus’ choice fell upon a cousin, Princess Augusta and after a brief courtship they were married at her family home in Kassel on the 7th May 1818 before a second ceremony a month later in London. Augusta was twenty one years old, while Adolphus was forty three. The couple immediately returned to Hanover, where they remained until the accession of Adolphus’ niece, Queen Victoria in 1837 meant that Hanover, which followed Salic Law and so could only be ruled by a male heir, became independent of Britain.

Not much is known about Augusta – the impression gained is of a quiet, modest woman with none of the scandalous eccentricities or extravagances of her in laws. Then again, unlike most of her husband’s family she managed to produce three children – Prince George (who inherited his father’s title of Duke of Cambridge and was the last Duke before Prince William), Princess Adelaide and Princess Mary (who was to be mother of George V’s Queen Mary and so ancestress of the present Royals) and a lasting legacy.

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