Ernest Augustus (June 5, 1771 – November 18, 1851) was created Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale in 1799 before becoming King of Hanover in 1837 (by rights it was a title of the British Monarch, which was Queen Victoria, but the Hanoverian constitution did not allow women to hold the title). As the fifth son of King George III he was considerably down the pecking order in the line of succession – but no less pompous for that. Since none of his older siblings had any legitimate children and he outlived them – he took the German duchy’s throne. David Blomfield in Kew Past gives this unflattering assessment: “The Duke of Cumberland [was] famous for being the most unpopular of all the unpopular royal dukes… in 1818, by a bizarre chance Kew found itself at the centre of a crisis over the royal succession. For years the King’s sons had been famous for the number of their children, but nearly everyone of the children was illegitimate. This of course had no constitutional importance so long as the Prince of Wales’ one legitimate daughter, Charlotte, was alive. Her death in 1817 was therefore a disaster. Of the five eldest princes only the hated Cumberland was now likely to produce a legitimate heir. No one was more horrified than Queen Charlotte. She was a great hater in a family that knew how to hate, and her pet aversion was the Duchess of Cumberland. The grant Dukes of Clarence and Kent were urged to marry German princesses immediately…” Cumberland was born in Buckingham Palace (then plain Queen’s House) and spent the days of his infancy and boyhood at Kew, together with his younger brothers, the Dukes of Sussex and Cambridge. As a teenager he was sent to Hanover for his education and military training. During which time he suffered a disfiguring scar across his face, losing an eye, which is said to have made him look “like a villain”. Although his mother Queen Charlotte disapproved of his marriage in 1815 to her twice-widowed niece, Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, it proved happy. In 1810, while living at St James’s Palace, he was attacked by his Italian valet who attempted to run a sword through him as he slept. The valet, Joseph Sellis, managed to return to his room unnoticed under cover of darkness, where he killed himself. The Prince who suffered several wounds, survived was later accused of murdering his servant, The Times later explaining: “It must be admitted that the Duke’s contempt for public opinion frequently exposed him to a species of hostility which persons of better judgment might easily have avoided.” More scandal followed when he was accused of fathering his sister’s illegitimate child. The rumours were most certainly untrue, the boy’s father being one General Garth, one of her father’s equerries. In 1818 the Crown bought a large Georgian property called Hunter House – after its former owner Robert Hunter – and it became the home of the Duke until he became King of Hanover, thereafter it became known as Hanover House. On August 2, 1838 The Times reported: “Before the KING left Kew for Hanover he expressly stated, in answer to an address from the inhabitants of Kew, that he begged still to be considered as one locally connected with them, and that whenever he or the QUEEN paid an occasional visit to England, they would reside in a neighbourhood endeared to them by so many recollections.” The Duke, Hanover’s first resident ruler since George I, led a generally successful 14-year reign but excited controversy near its start when he dismissed the Göttingen Seven, including the Brothers Grimm, from their professorial positions for agitating against his policies. A revolution in 1848 was quickly put down. The kingdom joined the German customs union in 1850 despite his reluctance. On his death his former house in Kew became a library and Kew’s Herbarium (dried collections of preserved specimens). It later became known as The Herbarium. He was succeeded to Hanoverian throne by his son George.
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