Profile of Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland

William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Born April 21, 1721 in London, Prince William Augustus was the third son of future King George II and Caroline of Ansbach. At the age of four, he was conferred with the titles Duke of Cumberland, Marquess of Berkhamstead, Earl of Kennington, Viscount of Trematon, and Baron of the Isle of Alderney, as well as was made a Knight of the Bath. The majority of his youth was spent at Midgham House in Berkshire and he was schooled by a series of notable tutors including Edmond Halley, Andrew Fountaine, and Stephen Poyntz. A favorite of his parents, Cumberland was directed towards a military career at an early age.

Joining the Army

Though enrolled with the 2nd Foot Guards at age four, his father desired that he be groomed for the post of Lord High Admiral. Going to sea in 1740, Cumberland sailed as a volunteer with Admiral Sir John Norris during the early years of the War of the Austrian Succession. Not finding the Royal Navy to his liking, he came ashore in 1742 and was permitted to pursue a career with the British Army. Made a major general, Cumberland traveled to the Continent the following year and served under his father at the Battle of Dettingen.

Army Commander

In the course of the fighting, he was hit in the leg and the injury would trouble him for the remainder of his life. Promoted to lieutenant general after the battle, he was made captain-general of British forces in Flanders a year later. Though inexperienced, Cumberland was given command of the Allied army and began planning a campaign to capture Paris. To aid him, Lord Ligonier, an able commander, was made his advisor. A veteran of Blenheim and Ramillies, Ligonier recognized the impracticality of Cumberland's plans and correctly advised him to remain on the defensive.

As French forces under Marshal Maurice de Saxe began moving against Tournai, Cumberland advanced to aid the town's garrison. Clashing with the French at the Battle of Fontenoy on May 11, Cumberland was defeated. Though his forces mounted a strong attack on Saxe's center, his failure to secure nearby woods led to him having to withdraw. Unable to save Ghent, Bruges, and Ostend, Cumberland retreated back to Brussels. Despite having been defeated, Cumberland was still viewed as one of Britain's better generals and was recalled later that year to aid in putting down the Jacobite Rising.

The Forty-Five

Also known as "The Forty-Five," the Jacobite Rising was inspired by the return of Charles Edward Stuart to Scotland. The grandson of the deposed James II, "Bonnie Prince Charlie" raised an army largely composed of the Highland clans and marched on Edinburgh. Taking the city, he defeated a government force at Prestonpans on September 21 before embarking on an invasion of England. Returning to Britain late in October, Cumberland began moving north to intercept the Jacobites. After advancing as far as Derby, the Jacobites elected to retreat back to Scotland.

Pursuing Charles' army, the lead elements of Cumberland's forces skirmished with the Jacobites at Clifton Moor on December 18. Moving north, he arrived at Carlisle and forced the Jacobite garrison to surrender on December 30 after nine-day siege. After briefly traveling to London, Cumberland returned north after Lieutenant General Henry Hawley was beaten at Falkirk on January 17, 1746. Named commander of forces in Scotland, he reached Edinburgh by the end of the month before moving north to Aberdeen. Learning that Charles' army was to the west near Inverness, Cumberland began moving in that direction on April 8.

Aware that Jacobite tactics relied on the fierce Highland charge, Cumberland relentlessly drilled his men in resisting this type of attack. On April 16, his army met the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden. Instructing his men to show no quarter, Cumberland saw his forces inflict a devastating defeat on Charles' army. With his forces shattered, Charles fled the country and the rising ended. In the wake of the battle, Cumberland instructed his men to burn houses and kill those found to be sheltering rebels. These orders led him earned the sobriquet "Butcher Cumberland."

A Return to the Continent

With matters in Scotland settled, Cumberland resumed command of the Allied army in Flanders in 1747. During this period, a young Lieutenant Colonel Jeffery Amherst served as his aide. On July 2 near Lauffeld, Cumberland again clashed with Saxe with similar results to their earlier encounter. Beaten, he withdrew from the area. Cumberland's defeat, along with the loss of Bergen-op-Zoom led both sides to make peace the following year via the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Over the next decade, Cumberland worked to improve the army, but suffered from decreasing popularity.

The Seven Years' War

With the beginning of the Seven Years' War in 1756, Cumberland returned to field command. Directed by his father to lead the Army of Observation on the Continent, he was tasked with defending the family's home territory of Hanover. Taking command in 1757, he met French forces at the Battle of Hastenbeck on July 26. Badly outnumbered, his army was overwhelmed and compelled to retreat to Stade. Hemmed in by superior French forces, Cumberland was authorized by George II to make a separate peace for Hanover. As a result, he concluded the Convention of Klosterzeven on September 8.

The terms of the convention called for the demobilization of Cumberland's army and a partial French occupation of Hanover. Returning home, Cumberland was severely criticized for his defeat and the terms of the convention as it exposed the western flank of Britain's ally, Prussia. Publically reprimanded by George II, despite the king's authorization of a separate peace, Cumberland elected to resign his military and public offices. In the wake of Prussia's victory at the Battle of Rossbach in November, the British government repudiated the Convention of Klosterzeven and a new army was formed in Hanover under the leadership of Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick.

Later Life

Retiring to Cumberland Lodge in Windsor, Cumberland largely avoided public life. In 1760, George II died and his grandson, the young George III, became king. During this period, Cumberland battled with his sister-in-law, the Dowager Princess of Wales, over the role of regent during times of trouble. An opponent of the Earl of Bute and George Grenville, he worked restore William Pitt to power as prime minister in 1765. These efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful. On October 31, 1765, Cumberland suddenly died from an apparent heart attack while in London. Troubled by his wound from Dettingen, he had grown obese and had suffered a stroke in 1760. The Duke of Cumberland was buried beneath the floor in the Henry VII Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey.

Selected Sources

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Profile of Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). Profile of Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Profile of Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).