Prince William, Duke of Cumberland

Prince William
Duke of Cumberland

Portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1758
Born (1721-04-26)26 April 1721 (New Style)
Leicester House, Westminster, London, England, Kingdom of Great Britain
Died 31 October 1765(1765-10-31) (aged 44)
London, England
Burial Westminster Abbey, London
Full name
William Augustus
House Hanover
Father George II
Mother Caroline of Ansbach

Prince William Augustus KG KB FRS (26 April 1721 [N.S.] – 31 October 1765), was the third and youngest son of George II of Great Britain and Caroline of Ansbach, and Duke of Cumberland from 1726. He is best remembered for his role in putting down the Jacobite Rising at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, which made him immensely popular throughout Britain.[1][2] He is often referred to by the nickname given to him by his English Tory opponents: 'Butcher' Cumberland.[3][4] Despite his triumph at Culloden, he had a largely unsuccessful military career. Following the Convention of Klosterzeven in 1757, he never held active military command and switched his attentions to politics and horse racing.

Early life

William was born in Leicester House, in Leicester Fields (now Leicester Square), Westminster, London, where his parents had moved after his grandfather, George I, accepted the invitation to ascend the British throne.[3] His godparents included the King and Queen in Prussia (his paternal aunt), but they apparently did not take part in person and were presumably represented by proxy.[5] On 27 July 1726,[6] at only five years old, he was created Duke of Cumberland, Marquess of Berkhamstead in the County of Hertford, Earl of Kennington in the County of Surrey, Viscount of Trematon in the County of Cornwall, and Baron of the Isle of Alderney.[7]

The young prince was educated well; his mother appointed Edmond Halley as a tutor.[8] Another of his tutors (and occasional proxy for him) was his mother's favourite Andrew Fountaine.[9] At Hampton Court Palace, apartments were designed specially for him by William Kent.[10]

William's elder brother Frederick, Prince of Wales, proposed dividing the king's dominions. Frederick would get Britain, while William would get Hanover. This proposal came to nothing.[11]

Early military career

From childhood, he showed physical courage and ability, and became his parents' favourite.[12] He was enrolled in the 2nd Foot Guards and made a Knight of the Bath aged four.[13] He was intended, by the King and Queen, for the office of Lord High Admiral, and, in 1740, he sailed, as a volunteer, in the fleet under the command of Sir John Norris, but he quickly became dissatisfied with the Navy, and, instead secured the post of colonel of the First Regiment of Foot Guards on 20 February 1741.[14]

War of the Austrian Succession

In December 1742, he became a major-general, and, the following year, he first saw active service in Germany.[3] George II and the "martial boy" shared in the glory of the Battle of Dettingen (27 June 1743),[15] where Cumberland was wounded in the leg by a musket ball.[3] After the battle he was made a lieutenant general.[16]

The Battle of Fontenoy in 1745 was Cumberland's first battle as commander.

In 1745, Cumberland was given the honorary title of Captain-General of the British land forces and in Flanders became Commander-in-Chief of the allied British, Hanoverian, Austrian and Dutch troops despite his inexperience. He initially planned to take the offensive against the French, in a move he hoped would lead to the capture of Paris, but was persuaded by his advisors that this was impossible given the vast numerical superiority of the enemy.[17]

Jacobite satire of the Duke of Cumberland in the Highlands

As it became clear that the French intention was to take Tournai, Cumberland advanced to the relief of the town, which was besieged by Marshal Saxe. In the resulting Battle of Fontenoy on 11 May 1745, the Allies were defeated by the French.[18] Saxe had picked the battleground on which to confront the British, and filled the nearby woods with French marksmen. Cumberland ignored the threat of the woods when drawing up his battle plans, and instead concentrated on seizing the town of Fontenoy and attacking the main French army nearby. Despite a concerted Anglo-Hanoverian attack on the French centre, which led many to believe the Allies had won, the failure to clear the woods and of the Dutch forces to capture Fontenoy forced Cumberland's force onto the retreat. Following the battle Cumberland was frequently criticised for his tactics, particularly the failure to occupy the woods.[19] In the wake of the battle, Cumberland was forced to retreat to Brussels and was unable to prevent the fall of Ghent, Bruges and Ostend.[20]

British Royalty
House of Hanover
Quarterly, I Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or impaling Or a lion rampant within a double-tressure flory-counter-flory Gules; II Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or; III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent; IV tierced per pale and per chevron, I Gules two lions passant guardant Or, II Or a semy of hearts Gules a lion rampant Azure, III Gules a horse courant Argent, overall an escutcheon Gules charged with the crown of Charlemagne Or
George II
Frederick, Prince of Wales
Anne, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange
Princess Amelia
Princess Caroline
Prince William, Duke of Cumberland
Mary, Landgravine of Hesse-Cassel
Louise, Queen of Denmark and Norway
Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick
George III
Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany
Princess Elizabeth of Wales
Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh
Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn
Princess Louisa of Wales
Prince Frederick of Wales
Caroline Matilda, Queen of Denmark and Norway
Princess Sophia of Gloucester
Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh
"The Highlanders Medley", or "The Duke Triumphant"
Published according to Act of Parliament, 1749
"The Tombstone", published October 1765

Jacobite rebellion "The Forty-Five"

As the leading British general of the day, he was chosen to put a decisive stop to Charles Edward Stuart, a direct descendant of James VII of Scotland and II of England (James VII/II was the last Stuart king on the male line), in the Jacobite rising of 1745. His appointment was popular, and caused morale to soar amongst the public and troops loyal to King George.[21]

Recalled from Flanders, Cumberland proceeded with preparations for quelling the Stuart (Jacobite) uprising. The Jacobite army had advanced southwards into England, hoping that English Jacobites would rise and join them. However, after receiving only limited support such as the Manchester Regiment, the followers of Charles decided to withdraw to Scotland.[22]

Cumberland joined the Midland army under Ligonier, and began pursuit of the enemy, as the Stuarts retreated northwards from Derby.[3] On reaching Penrith, the advanced portion of his army was repulsed on Clifton Moor in December 1745, and Cumberland became aware that an attempt to overtake the retreating Highlanders would be hopeless.[23] Carlisle was retaken, and he was recalled to London, where preparations were in hand to meet an expected French invasion.[3] The defeat of his replacement as commander, Henry Hawley, roused the fears of the English people in January 1746, when, under a hail of pistol fire, "eighty dragoons fell dead upon the spot" at Falkirk Muir.[24]


Main article: Battle of Culloden

Arriving in Edinburgh on 30 January 1746, he at once proceeded in search of Charles. He made a detour to Aberdeen,[25] where he spent some time training the well-equipped forces now under his command for the next stage of the conflict in which they were about to engage. He trained his troops to hold their fire until the enemy came within effective firing range, fire once, and then bayonet the man to the right thereby catching the enemy under their lifted sword arm.[26]

On 8 April 1746, he set out from Aberdeen for Inverness, and, on 16 April, he fought the decisive Battle of Culloden, in which the Stuart forces were completely destroyed.[22] Cumberland ordered his troops to show no quarter against any remaining Jacobite rebels (French Army personnel, including those who were British- or Irish-born, were treated as legitimate combatants). His troops traversed the battlefield and stabbed any of the rebel soldiers who were still alive.[27] When Cumberland learned that a wounded soldier lying at his feet belonged to the opposing cause he instructed a major to shoot him; when the major (James Wolfe) refused to do so, Cumberland commanded a private soldier to complete the required duty.[27]

The British Army then embarked upon the so-called 'pacification' of Jacobite areas of the highlands. All those the troops believed to be 'rebels' were killed, as were non-combatants; 'rebellious' settlements were burned and livestock was confiscated on a large scale.[28] Over a hundred Jacobites were hanged.[29] Women were imprisoned and droves of people were sent by ship to London for trial and as the journey took up to 8 months many of them died on the way.[27]

"Butcher Cumberland"

Following Culloden, Cumberland was nicknamed "Sweet William" by his Whig supporters and "The Butcher" by his Tory opponents[30] the latter being a taunt first recorded in the City of London[31] and used for political purposes in England. Cumberland's own brother, the Prince of Wales (who had been refused permission to take a military role on his father's behalf), seems to have encouraged the virulent attacks upon the Duke. Cumberland preserved the strictest discipline in his camp. He was inflexible in the execution of what he deemed to be his duty, without favour to any man. In only a few cases he exercised his influence in favour of clemency. The Duke's victorious efforts were acknowledged by his being voted an income of £25,000 per annum over and above his money from the civil list.[3] A thanksgiving service was held at St Paul's Cathedral, that included the first performance of Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, composed especially for Cumberland, which contains the anthem "See the Conquering Hero Comes".[32]

Return to the Continent

Main article: Battle of Lauffeld

The Duke took no part in the Flanders campaign of 1746, during which the French made huge advances capturing Brussels and defeating the Allies at Rocoux. In 1747, Cumberland returned to the Continent and he again opposed the still-victorious Marshal Saxe and received a heavy defeat at the Battle of Lauffeld, or Val, near Maastricht, on 2 July 1747.[33] This and the fall of Bergen-op-Zoom compelled the two sides to the negotiating table and in 1748 the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle was concluded and Cumberland returned home.[34]


Cumberland's unpopularity, which had steadily increased since Culloden, interfered greatly with his success in politics, and when the death of the Prince of Wales brought the latter's son, a minor, next in succession to the throne, the Duke was not able to secure for himself the contingent regency. As a compromise, the regency was vested in the Dowager Princess of Wales, who considered him an enemy, but her powers were curtailed and she was to be advised by a committee of twelve men, headed by Cumberland.[35]

Seven Years' War

In 1757, the Seven Years' War having broken out, Cumberland was placed at the head of the Hanoverian Army of Observation, a force of German allies paid for by Britain which intended to defend Hanover from a French attack.[36] At the Battle of Hastenbeck, near Hamelin, on 26 July 1757, Cumberland's army was defeated by the superior forces of d'Estrées. Despite seemingly having the advantage towards the end of the battle, Cumberland's forces began to retreat. Within a short time discipline had collapsed, and Cumberland's army headed northwards in total disorder. Cumberland hoped that the Royal Navy might bring him reinforcements and supplies which would allow him to regroup and counterattack, but the British mounted an expedition to Rochefort instead, despite suggestions that it should be sent to aid Cumberland.[37]

By September 1757 Cumberland and his forces had retreated to the fortified town of Stade on the North Sea coast. The King gave him discretionary powers to negotiate a separate peace.[38] Hemmed in by the French, under Richelieu, he agreed to Convention of Klosterzeven, under which Cumberland's army was to be disbanded and much of Hanover was occupied by French forces, at the Zeven Convent on 8 September 1757.[39]

On Cumberland's return to London he was treated badly by his father despite the fact that he had previously been given permission to negotiate such an agreement. When they met George II remarked "Here is my son who has ruined me and disgraced himself".[40] In response, Cumberland resigned all the military and public offices he held and retired into private life.[41]

Final years

Cumberland's final years were lived out during the first years of the reign of his nephew, George III, who acceded to the throne on the death of William's father on 25 October 1760: Cumberland became a very influential advisor to the King and was instrumental in establishing the First Rockingham Ministry.[3] Cabinet meetings were held either at Cumberland Lodge, his home in Windsor, or at Upper Grosvenor Street, his house in London.[3] Cumberland never fully recovered from his wound at Dettingen, and was obese.[3] In August 1760, he suffered a stroke[42] and, on 31 October 1765, he died at Upper Grosvenor Street in London.[3] He was buried beneath the floor of the nave of the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.[43] He died unmarried.[3]

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

The Duke's full style as proclaimed at his funeral by Garter King-of-Arms was: "the [...] most High, most Mighty, and most Illustrious Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, and Duke of Brunswick and Lunenburgh, Marquess of Berkhamstead, Earl of Kennington, Viscount Trematon, Baron of the Isle of Alderney, Knight of the most Noble Order of the Garter, and First and Principal Companion of the most Honourable Order of the Bath, third Son of His late most Excellent Majesty King George the Second".[44]


British Honours



On 20 July 1725, as a grandchild of the sovereign, William was granted use of the arms of the realm, differenced by a label argent of five points, the centre point bearing a cross gules, the first, second, fourth and fifth each bearing a canton gules. On 30 August 1727, as a child of the sovereign, William's difference changed to a label argent of three points, the centre point bearing a cross gules.[47]


Prince William County, Virginia is named for him,[48] as well as Cumberland County, Maine[49] and Cumberland County, North Carolina.[50] Various other places in the American colonies were named after him, including the Cumberland River,[51] the Cumberland Gap[52] and the Cumberland Mountains.[53] In 2005 he was selected by the BBC History Magazine as the 18th century's worst Briton.[54]

There is a memorial Obelisk to the Duke's military services in Windsor Great park. It is inscribed "THIS OBELISK RAISED BY COMMAND OF KING GEORGE THE SECOND COMMEMORATES THE SERVICES OF HIS SON WILLIAM DUKE OF CUMBERLAND THE SUCCESS OF HIS ARMS AND THE GRATITUDE OF HIS FATHER THIS TABLET WAS INSCRIBED BY HIS MAJESTY KING WILLIAM THE FOURTH". According to a local park guide, the Obelisk was originally inscribed "Culloden" but Queen Victoria had "Culloden" removed.[55]

An equestrian statue of the Duke was erected in London's Cavendish Square in 1770, but was removed in 1868 since by that time the 'butcher of Culloden' was generally reviled. The original plinth remained.[56]


Cumberland Obelisk, Great Windsor Park
Elegy on the much lamented death of His Royal Highness William, Duke of Cumberland..


  1. For example, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow. "On This Day: 27th of June". University of Glasdow. Retrieved 17 February 2014.
  2. Hannah Smith, 'Georgian Monarchy', Cambridge University Press, 2006
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 "Prince William, Duke of Cumberland". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  4. MacDonald, Callum (27 December 2005) "Butcher Cumberland among Britain's greatest villains". Glasgow. The Herald. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  5. "Yvonne's Royalty Home Page: Royal Christenings". Retrieved 21 June 2010.
  6. "Yvonne's Royalty: Peerage". Retrieved 21 June 2010.
  7. 1 2 3 The London Gazette: no. 6494. p. 1. 12 July 1726. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  8. Van der Kiste, p. 46
  9. The London Gazette: no. 6382. p. 2. 15 June 1725. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  10. Thurley p. 279
  11. Van der Kiste, p. 150 (1736 plan suggested by Prince of Wales)
  12. Van der Kiste, p. 111
  13. 1 2 Van der Kiste, p. 78
  14. The London Gazette: no. 8094. p. 2. 16 February 1741. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  15. The London Gazette: no. 8286. p. 2. 20 December 1743. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  16. The London Gazette: no. 8240. p. 4. 12 July 1743. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  17. Browning p. 206
  18. Browning p. 212
  19. Browning pp. 207-213
  20. Browning p. 219
  21. Longmate p. 155
  22. 1 2 Pollard p.41-42
  23. "Clifton skirmish". Paisley Tartan Army. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  24. Tomasson, p 119
  25. The London Gazette: no. 8521. p. 2. 22 March 1746. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  26. Bellesiles, p.145
  27. 1 2 3 Thompson, p.519
  28. Plank, p.116
  29. Clee, p.42
  30. Jonathan Oates, 'Sweet William or The Butcher: The Duke of Cumberland and the '45 (2008)
  31. "The Letters of Horace Walpole, Volume 1 by Horace Walpole Part 15 out of 18". Retrieved 21 June 2010.
  32. Speck, p. 170.
  33. Stanhope, p. 334
  34. Sosin, p.516-535
  35. Van der Kiste, p. 195
  36. Rolt, p.498
  37. Anderson p.177
  38. Van der Kiste, p. 205
  39. Anderson p. 211
  40. Anderson p. 212; Van der Kiste, p. 206
  41. Van der Kiste, p. 207
  42. Van der Kiste, p. 212
  43. Stanley, p.200
  44. The London Gazette: no. 10573. p. 2. 9–12 November 1765.
  45. The London Gazette: no. 8119. p. 1. 15 May 1742. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  46. "Former Chancellors". University of Dublin. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  47. Francois R. Velde. "Marks of Cadency in the British Royal Family". Retrieved 21 June 2010.
  48. "Commemorating the 275th anniversary of Prince William County, Virginia". Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  49. "Cumberland County, Maine". Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  50. "Cumberland County, North Carolina". Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  51. "KY-2045 Naming of the Cumberland River". Historical markers. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  52. "VA-K1 Cumberland Gap". Historical markers. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  53. "1911 Classic Encyclopedia". Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  54. "'Worst' historical Britons list". BBC News. 27 December 2005. Retrieved 21 June 2010.
  55. East Berks Ramblers Map, ISBN 978-1-874258-18-6
  56. "Cavendish Square Gets Statue Made From Soap". Londonist. 27 June 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2013.


Further reading

External links

Prince William, Duke of Cumberland
Cadet branch of the House of Welf
Born: 15 April 1721 Died: 31 October 1765
Peerage of Great Britain
New creation Duke of Cumberland
Military offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Scarbrough
Colonel of the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards
Succeeded by
The Duke of Marlborough
Preceded by
Sir Charles Wills
Colonel of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards
Succeeded by
The Viscount Ligonier
Vacant Captain-General
Preceded by
George Wade
Commander-in-Chief of the Forces
Succeeded by
The Viscount Ligonier
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Chandos
Chancellor of the University of St Andrews
Succeeded by
The Earl of Kinnoull
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