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Portrait of Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel

After Johann Christian August Schwartz. Pastel on paper. Contained in period frame. Image size: 36.5cm (14.75in) x 27.25cm (10.75in)

‘The Black Duke’ Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick (1771-1815) was one of Napoleon’s most intractable opponents. He was related to the British royal family through his mother and by his sister’s marriage to the Prince Regent. He entered Prussian service as a captain in 1789 and fought against revolutionary France. He succeeded to the dukedom in 1806 when his father died of wounds received in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt. With his lands incorporated into the short-lived Napoleonic Kingdom of Westphalia, he formed his ‘Black Legion’ for Austrian service. After Austria’s defeat, he marched it across Germany to be evacuated by British ships, and transferred to British service to continue the fight. Restored to his duchy in 1813-14, the Duke formed a new national army and led it in the Waterloo campaign, only to be shot dead at Quatre Bras while rallying his troops.  His hatred of the French was exemplified by the black uniforms and death’s head insignia with which he equipped his legion, and in the anti-French camp he was regarded as the model of a patriot:  ‘He is the only German Prince who has shown a determined mind, and a readiness to sacrifice his property; had every one acted as he had done with firmness and disinterestedness, the German nation would not have been reduced to the wretched state in which she is at present.’  The close ties with England were demonstrated by the fact that Freiderich Wilhelm’s son, Duke Karl II, who succeeded him as a minor, ruled until he came of age under the regency of the Prince Regent, later George IV.

 

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