Many of you who have visited the London clubhouse over the years will have spent time in the Duke of York Bar, sipping a gin and tonic, watching Wimbledon or just gazing out over Green Park. But have you ever wondered why it is named after the Grand Old Duke of York, King George III's favourite son? 

The story begins in 1816 when 16 Arlington Street was bought by the Fifth Duke of Rutland, from whom the house that now makes up part of ROSL HQ got its name. Rutland threw a lot of parties for his friends in Arlington Street, many of whom were part of the Royal Family, including Prince Regent and his brother Frederick, Duke of York.

Frederick trained as a professional soldier in Germany and, throughout his life, he made a substantial contribution to the advancement of a modern army. He founded both the Royal Military College and Sandhurst in 1800. 

In 1791 he married the niece of Frederick the Great, Princess Frederica, and brought her back to a life of prestige: a house in London, a seat in the country and a grant of £10,000 per year from his father, King George III. He was then appointed Commander of the Forces in 1793.

Everything was going well for Frederick until 1803 when he became infatuated with a certain Mrs Clarke and set up house with her in Portman Square. After a few years the passion burnt itself out, but a public scandal blew up in 1809 and their names were once again linked. A member of Parliament urged that a committee be appointed to investigate the conduct of Frederick in his capacity of Commander of the Forces, in regard to the general state of the army. There was conclusive evidence that Mrs Clarke has taken money in return for influencing Frederick to approve promotions and others changes in the army. Frederick was found guilty of personal corruption and resigned immediately to avoid further humiliation.

Frederick Duke of York in Garter Robes

Nonetheless, George III re-appointed Frederick as Commander of the Forces just five years later and due to his new interest in educational and charitable projects he soon became the closest advisor and companion to his brother, the corrupt and unpopular Prince Regent.

In 1820 both George III and the Duchess of York died. The new King, George IV, was childless and hated the nearness to the throne of his niece Victoria, daughter of the Duke of Kent. Within a week of the death, George IV was already encouraging Frederick to remarry and produce an heir and had even drawn up a list of eligible young ladies. But Frederick had already discovered the lady of his dreams and before long was seen regularly in the company of the Duchess of Rutland, the wife of his close friend.

By now Frederick's circumstances were diminished: he no longer had the £10,000 a year he had received for looking after his invalid father, and he had lost his house in the country. Yet he felt that it would not be long before he became king and began building his royal palace next to St James's.

In 1826, the Duchess of Rutland died and Frederick was devastated. He went to Brighton for his health, but he was failing fast and was rushed to London for an operation for dropsy. After the operation he had no place to recuperate as his palace was not yet complete. Ironically the Duke of Rutland invited him to stay at his house in Arlington Street.

It was in 1827, with his creditors banging at the door and the sound of the workmen building his palace down the road, that Frederick died. He was found, as if asleep, sitting in his great armchair overlooking Green Park, in the smaller of the two rooms that now make up the Duke of York Bar, in the house of the man he had cuckolded in public.

Had the Duke of Rutland taken revenge on the man who had publicly humiliated him by having an affair with his wife? Or, did he look after Frederick in his final hours out of respect for the Royal Family and a close friend?  Whatever happened, the most significant aspect of Frederick's death was that he died childless. The way was open for Victoria to become Queen and the reign of the Hanover's to come to an end.

Pin It