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Don't forget about the Georgian Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales

Date: 07 May 2014

Author: Polly Putnam

If you know anything about Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, it will probably be the story of the 'Midnight Flit' from Hampton Court Palace. When his wife Augusta was in the throes of labour with their first child, Frederick bundled her into a carriage in the middle of the night. They travelled from Hampton Court Palace to St James' in a remarkable one hour and 25 minutes.

This was a pretty reckless thing to do and it doomed his relationship with his parents, George II and Queen Caroline, to failure. Historians, including my colleagues, interpret this in two ways. Some see this as the actions of a petty madman determined to annoy George II, who had insisted they remain at Hampton Court.

Portrait of a young man in the 18th century. He wears a red suit and white wig. Cherubs surround him playing music.

Image: Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-51) 1735 by Jacopo Amigoni. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

I see this as a desperate measure by someone determined to ensure his and his children's rightful succession to the throne of England. St James' was the traditional birthplace of English kings.

All the signs were that his brother, William Duke of Cumberland, would inherit. Swanky new apartments designed by William Kent were being built for him at Hampton Court and certainly, there is evidence that George II was discussing this possibility with his politicians. In this context, the race to St James' wasn't the nice thing to do, but it was an understandable action.

Historical debates aside, I thought I would tell you three things that you should know about Frederick:

He was George III's father

Some readers will know this, but it's probably the most important thing about Frederick. King George III was hugely influenced by his father, who died suddenly in 1751 and never became king.

George's interest in science and music were all inherited traits from his father but most importantly, he followed Frederick's advice to the letter: 'I shall have no regret never to have worn the Crown if you but fill it worthily. Convince the nation that you are not only an Englishman born and bred, but that you are also this by inclination'.

He lived at Kew

Frederick spent much of his time in a house known as the White House, which was situated just in front of Kew Palace. This was a glamorous mansion and in the 1730s he employed William Kent to enlarge and improve it. It would have been a spectacular place – an entire floor was devoted to scientific instruments. Most importantly, he and later on his wife, Augusta, would develop the gardens which form the basis of today's Royal Botanic Gardens.

It's because of Frederick we have Thomas Arne's 'Rule Britannia'

In 1740, in order to celebrate the birthday of his first child, Augusta, and to rally the support of his political followers called the Patriots, Frederick commissioned an elaborate masque called 'Alfred the King'. At its climax, 'Rule Britannia' was played. As well as an obvious display of patriotism, it was a jibe against George II and his politicians, whom the patriots considered to be respectively far too German and rather weak.

I should mention quickly that Fredrick was deeply musical and passionate about commissioning and collecting marvellous works of art. There is so much more to say about Frederick and I urge everyone to find out more about him and wonder, like I do, what sort of king he would have made.

Polly Putnam
Collections Curator

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