Skip to content

The Rebellious Royal: The Life and Legacy of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex

![[Prince_Augustus_Frederick,_Duke_of_Sussex.jpg]] Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex by Guy Head (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the annals of British royal history, Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) stands out as a fascinating and controversial figure. The sixth son of King George III, Augustus charted a different course than his brothers, dedicating himself to intellectual and political pursuits rather than military service. His secret marriages, liberal views, and patronage of the arts and sciences made him a rebel in a family bound by tradition and protocol.

Early Life and Education

Born on January 27, 1773 at Buckingham House in London, Prince Augustus was the ninth child and sixth son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. As a young prince, he was educated at home before being sent with his brothers to the University of Göttingen in Germany in 1786.

Augustus was set apart from his siblings by his physical stature and chronic health issues. He grew to be over 6 feet 3 inches tall and was said to bear a strong resemblance to his eldest brother, the future George IV. However, severe asthma prevented him from following his brothers into the military. He briefly considered joining the clergy before embarking on a life of travel and intellectual endeavors.

Marriages and Scandals

In defiance of the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, which required the monarch‘s permission for members of the royal family to wed, Prince Augustus married twice in secret. In 1793, he wed Lady Augusta Murray in Rome and again in London. When the marriage was exposed, it was annulled on the grounds that it contravened the Act. The couple‘s two children were deemed illegitimate.

![[Prince_Augustus_wedding.jpg]] A 19th century illustration depicting the wedding of Prince Augustus Frederick and Lady Augusta Murray (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

After Lady Augusta‘s death in 1830, the prince found himself embroiled in scandal once again when he married Lady Cecilia Underwood in 1831 without the knowledge or consent of his brother, now King William IV. Though Lady Cecilia was later given the title of Duchess of Inverness by Queen Victoria, the marriage further strained Augustus‘ relationship with the royal family.

Political Activism and Liberal Views

Prince Augustus was known for his progressive political stances, which put him at odds with the conservative establishment. He was a vocal advocate for the abolition of slavery, using his platform to speak out against the slave trade. In 1810, he hosted a meeting of abolitionists at his London residence, Kensington Palace.

The Duke of Sussex was also a supporter of Jewish emancipation and the removal of civil restrictions on British Jews. He became the first royal patron of a Jewish charity, the Jews‘ Hospital and Orphan Asylum (now known as Norwood). His championing of Jewish causes was groundbreaking for the time.

![[Abolition_meeting.jpg]] An 1810 meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, which Prince Augustus hosted and attended (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

These liberal views contributed to a falling out between Augustus and his brother, the Prince Regent (later George IV). The rift deepened when Augustus supported their niece, Princess Charlotte, during a dispute with her father. Augustus appealed to the Prime Minister on Charlotte‘s behalf, pushing for her to be granted more freedom and allowed to travel for her health.

Intellectual Pursuits and Patronage

Prince Augustus was celebrated for his intellect and his extensive library, which contained over 50,000 books, including rare biblical manuscripts and volumes in Hebrew. He was a noted bibliophile and served as president of the Royal Society from 1830 to 1838.

As a patron of the arts and sciences, Augustus supported and associated with luminaries of the age. He was a friend of the writer Sir Walter Scott and the artists John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. The prince also had a keen interest in music and was known to host concerts and recitals at his residences.

In 1816, he was elected president of the Society of Arts, a position he held until his death. Under his leadership, the society expanded its programs and became a prominent voice for the promotion of the arts and sciences in Britain.

![[Royal_Society.jpg]] Prince Augustus Frederick presiding over a meeting of the Royal Society in the 1830s (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Legacy and Impact

Prince Augustus Frederick‘s legacy is one of a royal who dared to challenge the status quo. His advocacy for abolition and Jewish rights was ahead of its time, and his dedication to intellectual pursuits set him apart from other members of the royal family.

Though his secret marriages and political views caused friction with his relatives, Augustus remained close to his niece, Queen Victoria. She appointed him as her honorary Regimental Colonel and often sought his counsel. Upon his death in 1843, Victoria wrote in her diary, "He was so kind and good and so clever too. I shall miss him very much."

The prince‘s final act of rebellion came with his burial. Rather than being interred with other royals, Augustus requested to be buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, directly opposite his sister Princess Sophia. This break with tradition was a fitting end for a royal who had always charted his own course.

![[Augustus_tomb.jpg]] The tomb of Prince Augustus Frederick at Kensal Green Cemetery (David Hawgood, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, left an indelible mark on British history. His progressive politics, intellectual curiosity, and defiance of convention made him a true rebel royal. In the words of historian Mollie Gillen, "He was a prince who dared to be different, and who made a difference."

While the title of Duke of Sussex fell into abeyance after Augustus‘ death, it was revived in 2018 when Queen Elizabeth II bestowed it upon her grandson, Prince Harry, on his wedding day. In many ways, Harry has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, using his platform to champion charitable causes and forge his own path outside the confines of royal tradition.

The life and legacy of Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, serves as a reminder that even within the rigid strictures of the monarchy, there is room for individuality and progressive change. His story continues to resonate with those who seek to challenge the status quo and make a difference in the world.