Politics and Unpopularity
In 1826, Parliament finally voted to increase Ernest's allowance. The Liverpool Government argued that the Duke needed an increased allowance to pay for Prince George's education; even so, it was opposed by many Whigs. The bill, which passed the House of Commons 120–97, required Prince George to live in England if the Duke was to receive the money.
In 1828, Ernest was staying with the King at Windsor Castle when severe disturbances broke out in Ireland among Catholics. The Duke was an ardent supporter of the Protestant cause in Ireland, and returned to Berlin in August, believing that the Government, led by the Duke of Wellington, would deal firmly with the Irish. In January 1829, the Wellington Government announced that it would introduce a Catholic emancipation bill to conciliate the Irish. Disregarding a request from Wellington that he remain abroad, Ernest returned to London, and was one of the leaders against the Catholic Relief Act 1829, influencing King George against the bill. Within days of his arrival, the King instructed the officers of his Household to vote against the Bill. Hearing of this, Wellington told the King that he must resign as Prime Minister unless the King could assure him of complete support. The King initially accepted Wellington's resignation, and Ernest attempted to put together a government united against Catholic emancipation. Though such a government would have considerable support in the House of Lords, it would have little support in the Commons, and Ernest abandoned his attempt. The King recalled Wellington. The bill passed the Lords and became law.
The Wellington Government hoped that Ernest would return to Germany, but he moved his wife and son to Britain in 1829. The Times reported that they would live at Windsor in the "Devil's Tower"; instead, the Duke reopened his house at Kew. They settled there as rumours flew that Thomas Garth, thought to be the illegitimate son of Ernest's sister Princess Sophia, had been fathered by Ernest. It was also said that Ernest had blackmailed the King by threatening to expose this secret, though Van der Kiste points out that Ernest would have been ill-advised to blackmail with a secret which, if exposed, would destroy him. These rumours were spread as Ernest journeyed to London to fight against Catholic emancipation. Whig politician and diarist Thomas Creevey wrote about the Garth rumour in mid-February, and there is some indication the rumours began with Princess Lieven, wife of the Russian ambassador.
Newspapers also reported, in July 1829, that the Duke had been thrown out of Lord Lyndhurst's house for assaulting his wife Sarah, Lady Lyndhurst. In early 1830, a number of newspapers printed articles hinting that Ernest was having an affair with Lady Graves, a mother of fifteen now past fifty. In February 1830, Lord Graves wrote a note to his wife expressing his confidence in her innocence, then cut his own throat. Two days after Lord Graves's death (and the day after the inquest), The Times printed an article connecting Lord Graves's death with Sellis's. After being shown the suicide note, The Times withdrew its implication there might be a connection between the two deaths. Nonetheless, many believed the Duke responsible for the suicide—or guilty of a second murder. The Duke later stated that he had been "accused of every crime in the decalogue". Ernest's biographer, Anthony Bird, states that while there is no proof, he has no doubt that the rumours against the Duke were spread by the Whigs for political ends. Another biographer, Geoffrey Willis, pointed out that no scandal had attached itself to the Duke during the period of over a decade when he resided in Germany; it was only when he announced his intent to return to Britain that "a campaign of unparalleled viciousness" began against him. According to Bird, Ernest was the most unpopular man in England.
The Duke's influence at Court was ended by the death of George IV in June 1830 and the succession of the Duke of Clarence as William IV. Wellington wrote that "The effect of the King's death will ... be to put an end to the Duke of Cumberland's political character and power in this country entirely". King William lacked legitimate children (two girls having died in infancy) and Ernest was now heir-presumptive in Hanover, since the British heir-presumptive, Victoria, as a female could not inherit there. William realized that so long as the Duke maintained a power base at Windsor, he could wield unwanted influence. The Duke was Gold Stick as head of the Household Cavalry; William made the Duke's post responsible to the Commander in Chief rather than to the King, and an insulted Ernest, outraged at the thought of having to report to an officer less senior than himself, resigned. King William again emerged triumphant when the new Queen, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, wished to quarter her horses in the stables customarily used by the consort, but which were then occupied by Ernest's horses. Ernest initially refused the King's order to remove the horses, but gave in when told that William's grooms would remove them if Ernest did not move them voluntarily. However, Ernest and William remained friendly throughout the latter's seven-year reign. Ernest's house at Kew was too small for his family; the King gave the Duke and Duchess lifetime residence in a nearby, larger house by the entrance to Kew Gardens. Ernest opposed the Reform Act 1832, and was one of the "diehard" peers who voted against the bill on its final reading when most Tories abstained under threat of seeing the House of Lords flooded with Whig peers.
Ernest was the subject of more allegations in 1832, when two young women accused him of trying to ride them down as they walked near Hammersmith. The Duke had not left his grounds at Kew on the day in question, and was able to ascertain that the rider was one of his equerries, who professed not to have seen the women. Nevertheless, newspapers continued to print references to the incident, suggesting that Ernest had done what the women stated, and was cravenly trying to push blame on another. The same year, the Duke sued for libel after a book appeared accusing him of having his valet Neale kill Sellis, and the jury found against the author. Also in 1832, the Cumberlands suffered tragedy, as young Prince George went blind. The Prince had been blind in one eye from infancy; an accident at age thirteen took the sight of the other. Ernest had hoped his son might marry Princess Victoria and keep the British and Hanoverian Thrones united, but the handicap made it unlikely George could win Princess Victoria's hand, and raised questions about whether he should succeed in Hanover.
The Duke spent William's reign in the House of Lords, where he was assiduous in his attendance. Wrote newspaper editor James Grant, "He is literally—the door-keeper of course excepted—the first man in the House, and the last out of it. And this not merely generally, but every night." Grant, in his observations of the leading members of the House of Lords, indicated that the Duke was not noted for his oratory (he delivered no speech longer than five minutes) and had a voice that was difficult to understand, though, "his manner is most mild and conciliatory." Grant denigrated the Duke's intellect and influence, but stated that the Duke had indirect influence over several members, and that, "he is by no means so bad a tactician as his opponents suppose."
Controversy arose in 1836 over the Orange Lodges. The lodges (which took anti-Catholic views) were said to be ready to rise and try to put the Duke of Cumberland on the Throne on the death of King William. According to Joseph Hume, speaking in the House of Commons, Princess Victoria was to be passed over on the grounds of her age, sex, and incapacity. The Commons passed a resolution calling for the dissolution of the lodges. When the matter reached the Lords, the Duke defended himself, saying of Princess Victoria, "I would shed the last drop of my blood for my niece." The Duke indicated that the Orange Lodge members were loyal and were willing to dissolve the lodges in Great Britain. According to Bird, this incident was the source of the widespread rumours that the Duke intended to murder Princess Victoria and take the British Throne for himself.
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“I played by the rules of politics as I found them.”
—Richard M. Nixon (19131995)