He was born in London, England, where his parents had moved after his grandfather, King George I was invited to take the British throne. He became Duke of Cumberland when five years old, was well educated, and became his parents' favourite (so much so that his father would later consider ways of making him his heir in preference to his eldest brother). From childhood, he showed physical courage and ability. 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 early in 1742 he began an army career. In December 1742 he became a major-general, and in the following year he first saw active service in Germany. George II and the "martial boy" shared in the glory of the Battle of Dettingen (June 27, 1743), and Cumberland, who was wounded in the action, was reported as a hero in England, thus founding his military popularity. After the battle he was made lieutenant-general.
In 1745, having been made captain-general of the British land forces at home and in the field, the duke was again in Flanders as commander-in-chief of the allied British, Hanoverian, Austrian and Dutch troops. Advancing to the relief of Tournay, which was besieged by Marshal Saxe, he engaged that great general in the Battle of Fontenoy on May 11, 1745. Had the duke been supported by the allies in his marvellously courageous attack on the superior positions of the French army, Fontenoy would probably not have been recorded as a defeat for Britain. Cumberland himself was in the midst of the column which penetrated the French centre, and his conduct of the inevitable retreat was unusually cool and skilful.
Despite being a strict disciplinarian, the young duke was an inspiration to his men and created a very lively esprit de corps. As a general he had courage and resolution, but sometimes lacked wisdom and tact; but he displayed an energy and power in military affairs which pointed him out to the British people as the one commander upon whom they could rely to put a decisive stop to the successful career of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (The Young Pretender) in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 - 1746. John (Earl) Ligonier wrote of him at this time, Ou je suis fort trompé ou il se forme là un grand capitaine.
Recalled from Flanders, Cumberland immediately proceeded with his preparations for quelling the insurrection. He joined the midland army under Sir John Ligonier, and immediately began pursuit of the enemy. But the retreat of Charles Edward from Derby disconcerted his plans; and it was not till they had reached Penrith, and the advanced portion of his army had been repulsed on Clifton Moor, that Cumberland became aware how hopeless an attempt to overtake the retreating Highlanders would then be. Carlisle having been retaken, he retired to London, till the news of the defeat of Hawley at Falkirk roused again the fears of the English people, and centred the hopes of Britain on the royal duke. He was appointed commander of the forces in Scotland.
Having arrived in Edinburgh on January 30, 1746, he at once proceeded in search of the "Young Pretender". He made a detour to Aberdeen, where he spent some time training the well-equipped forces now under his command for the peculiar nature of the warfare in which they were about to engage. What the old and experienced generals of his time had failed even to understand, the young Duke of Cumberland, still only twenty-four years of age, accomplished easily. He prepared his army to withstand the aggressive charges on which all Highland successes depended; and he reorganised the forces and restored their discipline and self-confidence in a few weeks.
On April 8, 1746, he set out from Aberdeen towards Inverness, and on April 15 he fought the decisive Battle of Culloden, in which the forces of the Pretender were completely destroyed. Cumberland told his troops to take notice that the Jacobite enemy’s orders were to give no quarter to the "troops of the elector", and they took the hint to reciprocate; there is no evidence of any such orders. On account of the merciless severity with which the fugitives were treated, Cumberland received the nickname of "Butcher". This taunt was used for political purposes in England, and Cumberland's own brother, Frederick, 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. Like Oliver Cromwell in Ireland, Cumberland dared to act in a way which would be held against him for the rest of his life, and terrorised an obstinate and unyielding enemy into submission. How real was the danger of a protracted guerrilla warfare in the Highlands may be judged from the explicit declarations of Jacobite leaders that they intended to continue the struggle. As it was, the war came to an end almost at once.
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. At the same time he exercised his influence in favour of clemency in special cases that were brought to his notice. Some years later James Wolfe spoke of the duke as "for ever doing noble and generous actions".
The Duke's victorious efforts were acknowledged by his being voted an income of £40,000 per annum in addition to his revenue as a prince of the royal house. The duke took no part in the Flanders campaign of 1746, but in 1747 he again opposed the still victorious Marshal Saxe; and received a heavy defeat at the Battle of Lauffeld, or Val, near Maestricht (July 2, 1747).
During the ten years of peace from 1748 Cumberland occupied himself chiefly with his duties as captain-general, and the result of his work was clearly shown in the conduct of the army in the Seven Years' War. His 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, which was vested in Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, the Princess Dowager of Wales, who considered him an enemy. In 1757, the Seven Years' War having broken out, Cumberland was placed at the head of a motley army of allies to defend Hanover. At the Battle of Hastenbeck, near Hamelin, on July 26 1757, he was defeated by the superior forces of D'Estrées. In September of the same year his defeat had almost become disgrace. Driven from point to point, and at last hemmed in by the French under Richelieu, he capitulated at Klosterzeven on September 8, 1757, agreeing to disband his army and to evacuate Hanover.
His disgrace was completed on his return to England by his father George II's refusal to be bound by the terms of the duke's agreement. In chagrin and disappointment he retired into private life, after having formally resigned the public offices he held. In his retirement he made no attempt to justify his conduct, applying in his own case the discipline he had enforced in others. For a few years he lived quietly at Windsor, and subsequently in London, taking but little part in politics. He did much, however, to displace the Bute ministry and that of Grenville, and endeavoured to restore Pitt to office. Public opinion had now set in his favour, and he became almost as popular as he had been in his youth. Shortly before his death the duke was requested to open negotiations with Pitt for a return to power. This was, however, unsuccessful.
Text originally from http://1911encyclopedia.org]
A Life of the duke of Cumberland by Andrew Henderson was published in 1766, and anonymous (Richard Rolt) Historical Memoirs appeared in 1767. See especially A. N. Campbell Maclachlan, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (1876).
Text originally from http://1911encyclopedia.org]