The First Duke of Sussex

When Prince Harry married Meghan Markle he was created Duke of Sussex. It is quite usual for senior royals to be given an aristocratic title upon marriage; Prince William, for instance, became the Duke of Cambridge. While the Queen may select any title she wishes, certain names tend to be revived rather than created anew. The latest occasion was true to this tradition.

Prince Frederick Augustus, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) by Guy Head (1798)

The first Duke of Sussex was Prince Augustus Frederick, son of George III. His brothers included the sensuous and gluttonous Prince Regent (later George IV), the army general known in nursery rhymes as ‘the Grand Old Duke of York’, and the naval enthusiast who lived for years in an open and unmarried relationship with an actress (who in more sober times came to the throne himself as William IV).

Prince Augustus fitted well into this company. A man of passionate enthusiasms, he loved learning and the arts. He once boasted to a lady, apparently without humour, that ‘I have the most wonderful voice that was ever heard’ and amassed the largest single collection of bibles then known. He filled his rooms with songbirds and his garden at Kensington Palace was widely praised. Also fascinated by science, he served as president of the Royal Society and at his death he even offered his body to medical science (though this was not taken up).

He was just as passionate in his love affairs. Before his parents could arrange a suitable dynastic marriage for him, Prince Augustus fell in love with an Englishwoman he met in Rome. While her father was an earl and Governor of the Bahamas, Lady Augusta Murray and her prince feared the king would not approve the match. Indeed, to prevent unsuitable connections, the Royal Marriages Act 1772 rendered any marriage made without the monarch’s permission would be void.

In spite of this, while still in Rome, Prince Augustus and an English clergyman were smuggled into Augusta’s room one evening while her mother was attending a party. A few months later, back in London, they married again under slightly disguised names, she being heavily pregnant. Not long after, the marriage was annulled and their child became illegitimate.

Although the couple lived together happily in Germany for a time, Prince Augustus was ultimately lured back by the promise of a parliamentary grant to give him financial independence. The money was paid, but only when he renounced Augusta. Around the same time he was given the title Duke of Sussex.

In spite of his marriage being void and the occasional difficulties Augusta caused him after the split, Prince Augustus avoided any new commitment until her death many years later. It was then that his passionate soul once more led him to marry without the royal permission, this time to Cecilia Buggin, the widow of a knight. Caring little for the official disapproval, he promptly appeared in public at a party where the couple were treated as Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

On official occasions, though, Cecilia had no appropriate rank. Queen Victoria, however, sympathised with the lovers’ plight and created her Duchess of Inverness in her own right, giving her something of the precedence she ought to have had.

When he died, the Duke asked to be buried not with the Royal Family at Windsor (where Cecilia would be excluded), but in the public cemetery at Kensal Green in London. In due course his wife was buried beside him.

Jeremy Goldsmith

For more about Prince Augustus, please see the July 2018 issue of Majesty magazine where a longer version of this piece appears

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