As an inexperienced young military officer, he presided over the unsuccessful campaign against the forces of France in the Low Countries, during the conflict which followed the French Revolution. Later, as commander-in-chief of the British army, he made amends for his initial military setbacks during the late 1790s by brilliantly reorganising his nation's forces, putting in place administrative reforms which enabled the redcoats to defeat Napoleon's crack troops. He also founded the United Kingdom's renowned military college, Sandhurst, which promoted the professional, merit-based training of future commissioned officers. The Duke is best remembered today as the inspiration for the nursery rhyme, "The Grand Old Duke of York".
On 27 February 1764, when Prince Frederick was six months old, his father secured his election as Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück in Lower Saxony. He received this title because the prince-electors of Hanover (which included his father) were entitled to select every other holder of this title (in alternation with the Holy Roman Emperor), to which considerable revenues accrued, and the King apparently decided to ensure that the title remained in the family for as long as possible. At only 196 days of age he is therefore listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest bishop in history. He was invested as Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1767 and as a Knight of the Order of the Garter on 19 June 1771.
In the summer of 1787, American newspaper accounts surfaced alleging that a government plot was under way to invite Prince Frederick to become "King of the United States". This of course never happened. On his return to Britain, the Duke took his seat in the House of Lords, where, on 15 December 1788 during the Regency crisis, he opposed William Pitt's Regency Bill in a speech which was supposed to have been inspired by the Prince of Wales.
In 1795 The Duke of York took command of the regular British Army, including the Ordnance Corps, the Militia, and the Volunteers, and immediately declared
that no officer, should ever be subject to the same disadvantages under which he had labouredreflecting on the Netherlands campaigns of 1793-94. The Duke of York's participation in the Anglo-Russian invasion of North Holland in 1799 made a strong impression on him, and he was the single most responsible person in the British Army to institute reforms that created the force which later was able to serve in the Peninsular War, as well as the preparations for the expected French invasion of United Kingdom in 1803.
The Duke of York was his father's favourite son. He remained, however, somewhat in the shadow of his flashy elder brother, George, Prince of Wales, especially after the latter became Prince Regent due to the mental incapacity of the King. However, the two brothers continued to enjoy a warm relationship. They had many interests in common and they both enjoyed indulging their physical desires; but generally speaking, the Duke of York took a more diligent approach to the discharge of his public duties than did the Prince Regent.
In 1793, the Duke of York was sent to Flanders in command of the British contingent of Coburg's army destined for the invasion of France, a force which captured and occupied Valenciennes in July that year. On his return to Britain in the following year, George III promoted him to the rank of field marshal, and on 3 April 1795, appointed him Commander-in-Chief in succession to Lord Amherst. His second field command was with the army sent to invade Holland in conjunction with a Russian corps d'armée in 1799. Sir Ralph Abercromby and Admiral Sir Charles Mitchell, in charge of the vanguard, had succeeded in capturing the Dutch ships in Den Helder. However, following the Duke of York's arrival with the main body of the army, a number of disasters befell the allied forces. On 17 October, the Duke signed the Convention of Alkmaar, by which the allied expedition withdrew after giving up its prisoners.
These military setbacks were inevitable, given the Duke's lack of combat experience as a field commander, the lamentable state of the British army at the time, and the intervention of pure bad luck during the campaign. Nonetheless, because of Flanders, the Prince was destined to be unfairly pilloried for all time in the rhyme The Grand Old Duke of York, which goes:
The Duke of York maintained a country residence at Oatlands near Weybridge, Surrey; but he was seldom there, preferring to immerse himself in his administrative work at Horse Guards (the British army's headquarters) and, after hours, in London's high life, with its gaming tables and attendant vices. (The Duke was perpetually in debt due to his excessive gambling on cards and racehorses.) Following the unexpected death of his niece, Princess Charlotte of Wales in 1817, the Duke became second in line to the throne, with a serious chance of inheriting it. This opportunity to become king improved further in 1820 when he became heir presumptive with the death of his father, the elderly and mentally ill George III.
The Duke of York managed to pre-decease the equally unhealthy George IV, however; he died of dropsy and apparent cardio-vascular disease at the home of the Duke of Rutland on Arlington Street, London, in 1827. The Duke of York's dissipated lifestyle had no doubt led to his relatively early demise, thus denying him the throne. After lying in state in London, the Duke's remains were interred in St. George's Chapel, at Windsor.
The towering Duke of York Column on Waterloo Place, just off The Mall, London was completed in 1834 as a memorial to Prince Frederick. It was paid for by the soldiers of the British Army who each gave up one day's wages to pay for the column. A statue to Fredrick's honour is also in Edinburgh. The inscription reads in main: "Field Marshal His Royal Highness Frederick Duke Of York and Albany KG Commander in Chief of the British Army". He founded The Duke of York's Royal Military School in 1803 in Chelsea, which relocated to Dover in 1909. Originally named the Duke of York's Royal Military Asylum, it was set up to look after orphans of military families. Now co-educational, the school remains exclusive to military children.
The 72nd Regiment of Foot was given the title Duke of Albany's Own Highlanders in 1823 upon its resumption as a Highland regiment, following its previous withdrawal of Highland status in 1809. In 1881,the regiment became 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders (Ross-shire Buffs, The Duke of Albany's).