Duke of Cumberland, William Augustus

(1721—1765) army officer

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B. 15 Apr. 1721, 2nd surviving s. of George, prince of Wales (later George II), and Caroline; d. 31 Oct. 1765; bur. Westminster abbey.

The favourite son of George II, Cumberland followed a military career. He distinguished himself at Dettingen in 1743 and was in command at Fontenoy in 1744, when he fought a drawn battle against Saxe. From Flanders he was recalled to put down the Jacobite rebellion, conducting a competent campaign which ended at Culloden. The repression which followed gave him the nickname of ‘the Butcher’, though his admirers in England called him ‘Sweet William’ and he became a national hero. He returned to his duties in Flanders and was defeated by Saxe in 1747 at Lauffeld.

The death of his elder brother Frederick in 1751 enhanced his prominence, since he was an obvious guardian to the young prince George should the king die. Princess Augusta, Frederick's widow, regarded Cumberland with suspicion, fearing a military coup. He was again employed in the Seven Years War, but in 1757 was forced to sign an armistice at Kloster-Zevern; when George II repudiated it and recalled Cumberland in disgrace, he resigned all his military commands. In the new reign, his role was political and in July 1765 he was godfather to the Rockingham ministry. He had become grossly fat as the result of a wound, and died aged forty-four after several strokes.

William Augustus, duke of Cumberland. Badly wounded in the leg at Dettingen when he was 22, Cumberland put on weight rapidly. This portrait by Reynolds shows him aged 37. Source: © National Portrait Gallery, London

Subjects: British History.

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