Duchess of Marlborough, Duke of Cumberland, George I of Great Britain, Glorious Revolution, King James II-VII of England, Lady Sarah Churchill, Prince George of Denmark and Norway, Queen Anne of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen Mary II of England
Prince George of Denmark (April 2, 1653 – October 28, 1708) was the husband of Anne, Queen of Great Britain. He was the consort of the British monarch from Anne’s accession on March 8, 1702 until his death in 1708
George was born in Copenhagen Castle, and was the younger son of Frederik III, King of Denmark and Norway, and Sophie Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg. His mother was the sister of Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, later Elector of Hanover, whose son, George Louis, would succeed his future wife as King of Great Britain. This made Prince George of Denmark and King George I of Great Britain first cousins.
His father died in 1670, while George was in Italy, and George’s elder brother, Christian V, inherited the Danish throne. George returned home through Germany. He travelled through Germany again in 1672–73, to visit two of his sisters, Anna Sophia and Wilhelmine Ernestine, who were married to the electoral princes of Saxony and the Palatinate.
Prince George of Denmark and Norway, Duke of Cumberland
In 1674, George was a candidate for the elective Polish throne, for which he was backed by King Louis XIV of France and Navarre. George’s staunch Lutheranism was a barrier to election in Roman Catholic Poland, and John Sobieski was chosen instead.
As a Protestant, George was considered a suitable partner for the niece of King Charles II of England, Lady Anne. They were distantly related (second cousins once removed; they were both descended from King Frederik II of Denmark), and had never met.
George was hosted by Charles II in London in 1669, but Anne had been in France at the time of George’s visit. Both Denmark and Britain were Protestant, and Louis XIV was keen on an Anglo-Danish alliance to contain the power of the Dutch Republic.
Anne’s uncle Laurence Hyde, 1st Earl of Rochester, and the English Secretary of State for the Northern Department, Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, negotiated a marriage treaty with the Danes in secret, to prevent the plans leaking to the Dutch. Anne’s father, James, Duke of York, welcomed the marriage because it diminished the influence of his other son-in-law, Dutch Stadtholder William III of Orange, who was naturally unhappy with the match.
George and Anne were married on July 28, 1683 in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, London, by Henry Compton, Bishop of London. The guests included King Charles II, Queen Catherine, and the Duke and Duchess of York. Anne was voted a parliamentary allowance of £20,000 a year, while George received £10,000 a year from his Danish estates, although payments from Denmark were often late or incomplete.
George was not ambitious, and hoped to live a quiet life of domesticity with his wife. He wrote to a friend: “We talk here of going to tea, of going to Winchester, and everything else except sitting still all summer, which was the height of my ambition. God send me a quiet life somewhere, for I shall not be long able to bear this perpetual motion.”
Charles II, Anne’s uncle, famously said of Prince George, “I have tried him drunk, and I have tried him sober and there is nothing in him”.
In February 1685, King Charles II died without legitimate issue, and George’s father-in-law, the Roman Catholic Duke of York, became king as James II in England and Ireland and James VII in Scotland. George was appointed to the Privy Council and invited to attend Cabinet meetings, although he had no power to alter or affect decisions.
Prince George of Denmark and Norway, husband of the Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland, wearing a ducal robe with the collar of the Garter.
William of Orange refused to attend James’s coronation largely because George would take precedence over him. Although they were both sons-in-law of King James, George was also the son and brother of a king and so outranked William, who, although a Prince, was an elected stadtholder of a republic.
George was unpopular with his Dutch brother-in-law, William III, Prince of Orange, who was married to Anne’s elder sister, Mary. Anne and Mary’s father, the British ruler James II and VII, was deposed in the Glorious Revolution in 1688, and William and Mary succeeded him as joint monarchs with Anne as heir presumptive.
In early April 1689, William assented to a bill naturalizing George as an English subject, and George was created Duke of Cumberland, Earl of Kendal and Baron of Okingham (Wokingham) by the new monarchs. He took his seat in the House of Lords on 20 April 1689, being introduced by the Dukes of Somerset and Ormonde.
William excluded George from active military service, and neither George nor Anne wielded any great influence until after the deaths of Mary and then William, at which point Anne became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. In 1707 with the Act of Union between England and Scotland and the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen Anne’s title changed accordingly.
During his wife’s reign, George occasionally used his influence in support of his wife, even when privately disagreeing with her views. He had an easy-going manner and little interest in politics; his appointment as Lord High Admiral of England in 1702 was largely honorary.
George was quiet and self-effacing. John Macky thought him “of a familiar, easy disposition with a good sound understanding but modest in showing it … very fat, loves news, his bottle & the Queen.”
The previous husband’s of a British queen regnant had become King Consorts. Felipe II of Spain was a King Consort to his wife Queen Mary I of England. King François II of France and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, were King Consorts to Mary I of Scotland.
William of Orange, one the other hand, had become a joint sovereign king, and not a King Consort, with his wife, refusing to take a subordinate rank to Mary.
William III and Mary II had exemplified the traditional gender roles of seventeenth-century Europe: Mary was the dutiful wife and William wielded the power.
Prince George of Denmark and Norway, Duke of Cumberland and Queen Anne of Great Britain and Ireland
George and Anne, however, reversed the roles: George was the dutiful husband and it was Anne who exercised the royal prerogatives. William had assumed incorrectly that George would use his marriage to Anne as a means of building a separate power base in Britain, but George never challenged his wife’s authority and never strove to accrue influence.
In Britain at this time Husbands had a legal right to their wife’s property, and it was argued that it was unnatural and against the church’s teachings for a man to be subject to his wife. George made no such claim or demand; he was content to remain a prince and duke. “I am her Majesty’s subject”, he said, “I shall do naught.”
Anne’s seventeen pregnancies by George resulted in twelve miscarriages or stillbirths, four infant deaths, and a chronically sick son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, who died at the age of eleven. Despite the deaths of their children, George and Anne’s marriage was a strong one.
George died on October 28, 1708 aged 55 from a recurring and chronic lung disease, much to the devastation of his wife.
His death has flung the Queen into an unspeakable grief. She never left him till he was dead, but continued kissing him the very moment his breath went out of his body, and ’twas with a great deal of difficulty my Lady Marlborough prevailed upon her to leave him.
Anne wrote to her nephew, Frederick IV of Denmark, “the loss of such a husband, who loved me so dearly and so devotedly, is too crushing for me to be able to bear it as I ought.” Anne was desperate to stay at Kensington with the body of her husband, but under pressure from the Duchess of Marlborough, she reluctantly left Kensington for St James’s Palace.
The immediate aftermath of George’s death damaged their relationship further. He was buried privately at midnight on 13 November in Westminster Abbey.