He was baptised at Cambridge House on 11 May 1819, by the Reverend John Sanford, his father's Domestic Chaplain. His godparents were The Prince Regent (represented by The Duke of Clarence and St Andrews), The Duke of Clarence and St Andrews (represented by The Earl of Mayo) and The Dowager Queen of Württemberg (represented by The Countess of Mayo).
The Duke of Cambridge became Inspector of the Cavalry in 1852. He held that post until 1854, when, upon the outbreak of the Crimean War, he received command of the 1st Division (Guards and Highland brigades) of the British army in the East. In June 1854, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General. He was present at the battles of the Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman, and at the siege of Sevastopol. On 5 July 1856, the Duke was appointed general commanding-in-chief of the British Army; a post that was retitled commander-in-chief of the forces by Letters Patent in 1887. In that capacity he served as the chief military advisor to the Secretary of State for War, with responsibility for the administration of the army and the command of forces in the field. However, the commander-in-chief was not subordinate to the secretary of state. He was promoted of the rank of field marshal on 9 November 1862.
The Duke of Cambridge was the longest serving head of the British Army, serving as commander-in-chief for 39 years. Although he was deeply concerned about the welfare of soldiers, he earned a reputation for being resistant to doctrinal change and for making promotions based upon an officer's social standing, rather than his merit. Under his command, the British Army became a moribund and stagnant institution, lagging far behind its continental counterparts. In the late 19th century, whereas 50 per cent of all military literature was written in Germany and 25 per cent in France, just one per cent came from Britain. It is said that he rebuked one of his more intelligent subordinates with the words: "Brains? I don't believe in brains! You haven't any, I know, Sir!" He was equally forthright on his reluctance to adopt change: "There is a time for everything, and the time for change is when you can no longer help it."
Despite his reputation as a hidebound traditionalist, however, the Duke took a keen interest in army reform. Under his influence, the army trialled various breech-loading carbines for the cavalry, one of which- the Westley-Richards- was so effective that it was decided to investigate the possibility of producing a version for the infantry. In 1861, 100 were issued to five infantry battalions; in 1863, an order of 2,000 was placed for further trials. He was also involved in the creation of the Staff College, and became governor of the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich: he further sought to improve the efficiency of the army by advocating a scheme of annual military manoeuvres. In 1860, he introduced a new system to restrict corporal punishment: soldiers were now eligible for flogging only in case of aggravated mutinous conduct in time of war, unless they committed an offence serious enough to degrade them to the second class and make them once again subject to corporal punishment. A year's good behaviour would return them to the first class, meaning that only a hard core of incorrigible offenders tended to be flogged: the number of floggings fell from 218 in 1858 to 126 in 1862.
In the wake of the Prussian victory in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War, the Liberal Party government of Prime Minister William Gladstone and Secretary of State for War Edward Cardwell called for major army reforms. The Duke was extremely worried about the nature of these reforms, which struck at the heart of his view of the army. He feared that the newly-created force of reservists would be of little use in a colonial conflict, and that expeditionary forces would have to strip the most experienced men from the home-based battalions in order to fill the gaps in their ranks. His fears seemed to be confirmed in 1873, when Wolseley raided battalions for the expedition against the Ashanti: by 1879, the 59 battalions remaining at home were hard pressed to send replacements to the 83 abroad. In 1881, when the historic numbers of regiments were abolished and facing colours standardised for English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish regiments, the duke protested that regimental spirit would be affected: the majority of facing colours were restored by the First World War, although the numbers were not.
The reforming impetus, however, continued. The War Office Act, which Parliament passed in 1870, formally subordinated the office of commander-in-chief of the army to the secretary of state. The Duke of Cambridge strongly resented this move, a sentiment shared by a majority of officers, many of whom would not have gained their posts on merit alone. Under the Order-in-Council of February 1888, all responsibility for military affairs was vested in the office of commander-in-chief. An 1890 royal commission led by Lord Hartington (later the 8th Duke of Devonshire) criticized the administration of the War Office and recommended the devolution of authority from the commander-in-chief to subordinate military officers. The Duke of Cambridge was forced to resign his post on 1 November 1895, and was succeeded by Lord Wolseley, whose duties were considerably modified.
The Duke of Cambridge served as colonel-in-chief of the 17th Lancers, Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers; the Middlesex Regiment and King's Royal Rifle Corps; colonel of the Grenadier Guards; honorary colonel of the 10th Duke of Cambridge's Own Lancers, 20th Duke of Cambridge's Own Punjabis, Royal Malta Artillery, 4 Batt. Suffolk Regiment, Middlesex Imperial Yeomanry, and 1st City of London Volunteer Brigade. He became the ranger of Hyde Park and St. James's Park in 1852, and of Richmond Park in 1857; a governor of the Royal Military Academy in 1862, and its president in 1870.
Cambridge's strength and hearing began to fade in his later years. He was unable to ride at Queen Victoria's funeral and had to attend in a carriage. He paid his last visit to Germany in August 1903. He died of a haemorrhage of the stomach in 1904 at Gloucester House, Piccadilly, London. He was buried five days later next to Mrs. FitzGeorge in Kensal Green Cemetery, London. With his death, the 1801 creation of the dukedom of Cambridge became extinct.
In 1904, his estate was probated at under 121,000 pounds sterling.
The Duke is today commemorated by an equestrian statue standing on Whitehall in central London; it is, somewhat ironically, positioned outside the front door of the War Office that he so strongly resisted.
Several pubs in England are named in his honour (most notably in London and Oxford).
|George FitzGeorge||24 August 1843||2 September 1907||m. Rosa Baring; had issue|
|Adolphus FitzGeorge||30 January 1846||17 December 1922||m. (1) Sofia Holden; had issue; (2) Margaret Watson; no issue|
|Augustus FitzGeorge||12 June 1847||30 October 1933||Col Sir Augustus FitzGeorge, KCVO, CB|