The Fate Of Prince William, Duke of Cumberland (A Cautionary Tale)

Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland

As a resident of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, I find myself surrounded by reminders of my country’s relationship with the British Empire.  These reminders usually take the form of place names which have decidedly British-sounding names, such as King George’s County, Jamestown, Prince George’s County, etc…  Nowadays, most of the people inhabiting these places have no idea who they are named after.  Not so with your humble author, who enjoys looking up the details of those who have traveled before him.

My wife on a recent excursion, with Prince William Forest on her right

Which brings us to Prince William, Duke of Cumberland.  Among other things, he is the namesake for the county in which I live and the forest along the county’s southern border.  I pedal past Prince William Forest on the majority of my rides and have even ridden along the park’s roads once or twice.  When I do so, I often think of the prince’s story.

Born in 1721 as the second son to King George II, William had a lot going for him.  He was a bright student and was educated by some very prominent tutors of his day.  He was reportedly his parents’ favorite child.  I suspect he was pleased to learn at the age of ten that a county had been named after him in the colony of Virginia.  After dabbling with the navy, he convinced his parents that a career in the army would be best for him and he was made a major general at the age of 21.

Life was good for William.  He was bright, well-loved, fabulously wealthy, very popular with the citizenry for much of his life, and (despite some notable defeats) was generally considered to be a good officer.

Prince William suffered a stroke at the age of 44.  A few months later, he died of a heart attack.  A glance at the prince’s portrait will provide a clue as to the cause of death – the man was obese.

Why such a successful man should let himself go to this extent is not precisely recorded.  Some reports suggested he had a life-long battle with obesity.  Others refer to the “profligate lifestyle” he led after his ignominious defeat (and subsequent resignation from the Army at age 36) during The Seven Years War.  Still other references hint that a wound suffered at the age of 22 during the Battle of Dettingen kept him from enjoying a more vigorous lifestyle.  Whatever the cause, this much is clear: the man was fat and it ended his life decades before his expected lifespan and no amount of titles, wealth, prestige, education, or achievement could overcome that fact.

Prince William didn’t own a bicycle.  That invention was still a ways off during his day.  Fortunately for me, I have a couple of bikes and they have been very helpful in warding off the condition which proved to be William’s undoing.  As I pedal past Prince William Forest, I often ponder this fact and find that I am more motivated to continue the ride than before.

In the words of Fizzhogg, “Eat better.  Ride your bike.”

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4 thoughts on “The Fate Of Prince William, Duke of Cumberland (A Cautionary Tale)

  1. Apart from the enjoyment and exhiliration of riding bikes, they are also a means of transport that take us places. This combines the excitement of a sport with the discovery of our surroundings. That to me is the principal strength of cycling as a sport. If we open our eyes to what lies around us, and stop from time to time, we will discover so many diamonds in our own backyard. I do like this kind of post! Keep them coming.

  2. He was known as ‘Butcher’ Cumberland after his savage behaviour towards the Highland Scots after Culloden. Not generally a popular figure here although I am not one of those romantics who think well of Bonny Prince Charlie either. After Culloden his career is described as largely unsuccessful by one commentator. Interesting post. All I get to see round here are trees.

    • I thought you might mention the Jacobite angle on this story. To be fair, any serious discussion of Cumberland’s life must address his suppression of that rebellion. I didn’t see how I could do the topic justice in such a short space and, frankly, it was ancillary to the issue of his obesity. As near as I can tell, his military career can be summarized as routinely losing battles in Flanders over two wars and brutally repressing the Jacobites between those wars, for which he was roundly praised by all except those in the north who supported the Jacobites.

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