Field Marshal His Royal Highness Prince George William Fredrick Charles, KG, KT, KP, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, KJStJ, ADC, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Tipperary, and Baron Culloden was born at Cambridge House in Hanover, Germany, the only son of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge and his wife, the former Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel. He was styled Prince George of Cambridge until he succeeded to his father's dukedom on 8 July 1850. King George VI created him Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Guelphic Order in 1825. King William IV appointed him a Knight of the Garter on 15 August 1835. Queen Victoria conferred the following honors upon him: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (1845); Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (1855); Order of St. Patrick (1861); and the Order of the Thistle (1881); and Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (1896). He became a personal aide-de-camp to the Queen in 1882 and to King Edward VII in 1901.
Prince George of Cambridge was educated in Hanover by the Rev. J. R. Wood, a canon of Worcester. Like his father, he embarked upon an army career. In November 1837, after he had served for a short time in the Hanoverian army, he received the rank of colonel in the British Army. He was attached to the staff at Gibraltar from October 1838 to April 1839. After serving in Ireland with the 12th Royal Lancers (the Prince of Wales's), he was appointed colonel of the 17th Light Dragoons (now Lancers), in April 1842. From 1842 to 1845, he served as a colonel on the staff in the Lorijan Islands.
The Duke of Cambridge became inspector of the cavalry in 1852. He held that post until 1854, when, upon the outbreak of the Crimean War, he received command of the 1st Division (Guards and Highland brigades) of the British army in the East. In June 1854, he was promoted to the rank of lieutentant general. He was present at the battles of the Alma, Balakiava and Inkerman, and at the siege of Sevastopol. On 5 July 1856, the Duke was appointed general commanding-in-chief of the British Army; a post that was retitled commander-in-chief of the forces by Letters Patent in 1887. In that capacity he served as the chief military advisor to the Secretary of State for War, with responsibility for the administration of the army and the command of forces in the field. However, the commander-in-chief was not subordinate to the secretary of state. He was promoted of the rank of field marshal on 9 November 1862.
The Duke of Cambridge was the longest serving head of the British Army, serving as commander-in-chief for 39 years. Although he has deeply concerned about the welfare of soldiers, he earned a reputation for being resistant to doctrinal change and for making promotions based upon an officer's social standing, rather than his merit. In the wake of the Prussian victory in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War, the Liberal Party government of Prime Minister William Gladstone and Secretary of State for War Edward Cardwell called for major army reforms. The resulting War Office Act, which Parliament passed in 1881, formally subordinated the office of commander-in-chief of the army to the secretary of state. The Duke of Cambridge strongly resented this move; a sentiment shared by a majority of officers. Under the Order-in-Council of February 1888, all responsibility for military affairs was vested in the office of commander-in-chief. An 1890 royal commission led by Lord Hartington (later the 8th Duke of Devonshire) criticized the administration of the War Office and recommend the devolution of authority from the commander-in-chief to subordinate military officers. The Duke of Cambridge was forced to resign his post on 1 November 1895, and was succeeded by Lord Wolseley, whose duties were considerably modified.
The Duke of Cambridge made no secret of his view that "arranged marriages were doomed to failure." He married privately and in contravention of the 1772 Royal Marriages Act at St. John's Church, Clerkenwell, London on 8 January 1847 to Sarah Louisa Fairbrother (1816-12 January 1890), the ninth child and fifth daughter of John Fairbrother, a partner in a family printing firm in Bow Street. Louisa Fairbrother became an actress in 1830, performing at Drury Lane, the Lyceum, and Covent Garden Theatre. Although morganatic marriage did not exist in British law, the duke's wife was never titled the Duchess of Cambridge or accorded the style Her Royal Highness. Instead, she known as "Mrs. FitzGeorge." She was not regarded as a member of the British Royal Family. The Duke of Cambridge and Mrs. FitzGeorge had three sons, two of whom were born before they legally married and all of whom pursued military careers:
The Duke of Cambridge died in 1904 at Gloucester House, Piccadily, London. He was buried next to Mrs. FitzGeorge in Kensal Green Cemetry, London. With his death, the 1801 creation of the dukedom of Cambridge became extint.