The Military Commander
It was common for second sons of monarchs to embark upon a military career. So on November 4, 1780, 17-year-old Prince Frederick was made a colonel. He was then sent off to study at the University of Gottingen for seven years.
In the meantime, the student Prince acquired several other military titles- all without lifting a sword. His father appointed him colonel of the 2nd Horse Grenadier Guards in March 1782-and promoted him to Major General that same November! Other appointments in absentia followed: lieutenant general in October 1784 and colonel of the Coldstream guards in 1784. Finally, on November 27, 1784, he was created Duke of York and Albany- a title commonly passed to the king’s second son.
Two years after the new Duke of York returned to England, in 1789, the French Revolution occurred. The new republic was seized with a zealous desire to spread its principles across Europe- something that made neighboring monarchies decidedly nervous- especially as the new French army had swelled its ranks by the introduction of conscription.
In 1792, the War of the First Coalition had begun. The Duke of York, inexperienced but now a full general, found himself in charge of a military expedition to Flanders. Although the Duke started well, taking the port of Dunkirk, he soon lost it again and was pushed back. For the next few months, his British and German troops found themselves marching ‘back and forth’ as they made gains and then lost them again. Eventually, in July 1794, the British lost Flanders outright and York and his troops were evacuated. These events inspired the rhyme, which immortalizes the Duke.
Despite this defeat, George III, went on to promote his son to Commander in chief of the army. In 1799, York once again took to the field, this time as part of the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland. He fared no better. The invasion soon began to falter and on October 17, 1799, he signed the Convention of Alkmaar, which saw the withdrawal of allied troops.