by Susan Flantzer
Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, the father of Queen Victoria, was born at Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace) in London, England on November 2, 1767. He was the fourth son and the fifth of the 15 children of King George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The infant prince was christened Edward Augustus after his paternal uncle Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany who had died seven weeks before his birth. His godparents were:
- Hereditary Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (his paternal uncle by marriage, later Karl II, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel)
- Prince Karl of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (his maternal uncle, later Karl II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz)
- Landgravine of Hesse-Cassel (his paternal great-aunt Mary, daughter of King George II)
- Hereditary Princess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (his paternal aunt Augusta, sister of King George III)
Edward was first educated at home by the Rev. John Fisher (later Bishop of Exeter and then Bishop of Salisbury). He then went to study in Lüneburg and Hanover (both now in Germany) and in Geneva, Switzerland accompanied by his tutor Baron von Wangenheim. In 1785, Edward began his military training with the Hanoverian Guards and was appointed a colonel the next year at the age of 18. His military training in Hanover was not unusual as his father was also King of Hanover. In 1790, Edward arrived back in England without permission and his angry father immediately had him sent to serve in the 7th Regiment of Foot (Royal Fusiliers) in Gibraltar.
While in Geneva, Edward became acquainted with Julie de Montgenêt de Saint-Laurent, who was his mistress from 1790 – 1818, and accompanied him wherever he went until when he married. After Edward’s marriage in 1818, Madame de Saint-Laurent went to Paris where she spent the rest of her life. There is no evidence that the couple had children, but several families in Canada have claimed descent from Edward and Julie.
In 1791, Edward was transferred to an army position in Canada and his mistress Julie accompanied him. The couple were popular in Canadian society and remained in Canada until 1798 when Edward was allowed to return to England following a fall from his horse. In 1799, Edward returned to Canada as the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America.
In 1802, Edward was appointed Governor-General of Gibraltar, but his harshness to the army forces there led to serious consequences. Edward refused to allow the army garrison to celebrate Christmas Day with any alcoholic drink. The soldiers became mutinous and peace was not restored until blood was shed. This led to Edward being recalled to England although he retained the title Governor-General of Gibraltar for the rest of his life. As a consolation for the end of his active military career, Edward was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal and appointed Ranger of Hampton Court Park, which provided him with a grace and favor residence there known as The Pavilion.
In November of 1817, the death in childbirth of Princess Charlotte of Wales, the only legitimate grandchild of King George III, necessitated the marriages of the unmarried sons of George III to provide an heir to the throne. Edward’s mistress Julie is said to have read the news of Edward’s engagement in the newspaper while seated at the breakfast table and reacted with violent hysterics. Edward was genuinely attached to her and deeply upset at their forced separation.
On May 29, 1818, 50-year-old Edward married 32-year-old Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld at Schloss Ehrenburg in Coburg. His new wife, the daughter of Franz Friedrich, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and sister of Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, widower of the recently deceased Princess Charlotte, was the widow of Emich Carl, 2nd Prince of Leiningen and had two children. Upon the couple’s return to England, they had a second marriage ceremony on July 13, 1818 at Kew Palace in the presence of Edward’s ailing mother Queen Charlotte.
In September of 1818, Edward and Victoria set out for Leiningen, where Victoria’s young son was the Sovereign Prince. However, when Victoria became pregnant, they were determined to return to England so that the possible heir to the throne would be born there. They took up residence in an apartment at Kensington Palace and it was there that their only child, the future Queen Victoria, was born on May 24, 1819.
Toward the end of 1819, Edward leased Woolbrook Cottage in Sidmouth, a town on the English Channel, due to the need to economize and the benefits the sea air would have for the duchess’ health. In early January, Edward caught a cold, but insisted on taking a walk out in the chilly weather. Within days, the cold worsened, he became feverish and delirious, and developed pneumonia. His condition was aggravated by the bleeding and cupping of the physician sent from London to treat him. Edward became increasingly weaker and died on January 23, 1820, just six days before his father, King George III died. The Duke of Kent was buried in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. He left only debts, which his daughter Victoria paid off when she became queen.