J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, August 08, 2016

His Royal Highness, the Teen-Aged Midshipman

The English Historical Fiction Authors blog just reran the late M. M. Bennetts’s article about Prince William Henry, third son of George III and Queen Charlotte, and his adventures in the American War:
In 1778, when he was twelve, Prince William’s concerned parents conceived the idea that he should be educated at sea in the service of the Royal Navy, as a sort of royal “leading from the front” kind of exercise. As a dutiful parent, King George visited Portsmouth and boarded the 90-gun flagship, Prince George, to see for himself the accommodation; he “visited the three Decks to see the Men exercise as in action…” and decided firmly that the Navy was an ideal environment for the education of this starting-to-be-dangerously-wild third son.

Coincidentally, Prince William’s embarkation on a naval career would also have the effect of stirring up patriotic support for the Navy during this awkward period of war with the American colonies. A win-win situation in the king’s mind.

Thus on 15 June 1779, Prince William Henry boarded the Prince George to begin his new life at sea. He’d been kitted out with the finest naval uniform by his father—including some 3 dozen shirts and stocks, a mattress, bolster and pillows, pens, ink powder and paper, log books and journal books and a number of weighty tomes on navigation and mathematics—and a special tutor, a Cantabrigian, by the name of Mr. Majendie. Both the Prince and his tutor were given the rank of Midshipman.
Prince William Henry was at the 1780 Battle of the Cape of St. Vincent, a significant British victory over the Spanish, though he saw only a little bit of the action.

By September 1781, the prince was a teenager who had spent years with other naval officers—not the sort of experience likely to make him less wild. In that month the Prince George and its fleet arrived in New York harbor. “Prince William Henry was the first member of the royal family ever to visit North America and the loyalists received him with rapturous delight, and indeed—just as the king had hoped—rallied to the royal banner.”

Outside New York, Lt. Col. Matthias Ogden of the Continental Army had a different response to news of the royal midshipman. He proposed to Gen. George Washington to kidnap the prince in order to force the Crown to speed up peace negotiations. Christian M. McBurney finished that story at the Journal of the American Revolution.

Though you might well guess the outcome when I report that the prince survived to become King William IV of Great Britain.

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