Prince William's new title Duke of Cambridge carries 350 years of royal history and all of the hope, heritage, sentiment, misfortune and even scandal that usually comes with such a legacy.
Before the wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, speculation over what royal title the Queen would grant the Prince was rampant. While some put their money on Duke of Cambridge, others thought Duke of Clarence might be the Queen's choice. Personally, when I heard the latter mentioned, it seemed highly unlikely to me that the Queen would give her grandson a title that was last held by the ill-fated Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, who died in 1892.
Prince Eddy, as he was known, was the prematurely-born first child of The Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra). Despite being second in line to the throne (as Prince William, of course, is now) life did not smile on Prince Eddy. As a young man, he was rumored to have been a patron of a male brothel on Cleveland Street in London. Not long after, a certain Mrs. Haddon accused the Prince of fathering her son whom she had named Clarence. Although neither incident was ever "proven," they certainly did not do much for the Prince's reputation, either during his life or after.
After several failed attempts to find a suitable wife for the Prince, an arrangement was finally made between Prince Eddy and his cousin, Princess May of Teck. Before the union could be made, however, the Prince died. (Princess May, as we well know, went on to marry Eddy's younger brother, Prince George, and they became King George V and Queen Mary.)
After this unhappy history, it's no wonder the Queen chose not to grant her grandson the title Duke of Clarence. That said, the title Duke of Cambridge has also had its bad moments in history, but it also holds a special connection to the Queen's beloved grandmother, Queen Mary, and even to Prince William’s late mother, Diana.
The last holder of the title was Queen Mary's uncle, Prince George, the only son of Prince Adolphus, the 1st Duke of Cambridge (fourth creation), who was himself the seventh son of King George III. Queen Mary's mother, HRH Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, was Adolphus' daughter, which made Princess May a great-granddaughter of King George III. But because Princess Mary Adelaide, affectionately known as "Fat Mary," had married HSH Prince Francis of Teck, Princess May grew up as a mere "Serene Highness." This rankled the young woman, who was very proud of her lineage, but was treated as second-rate by her "Royal Highness" cousins. In the end, Princess May had the last laugh as Her Majesty Queen Mary.
Considering that much of Queen Elizabeth's young life was spent under the careful tutelage of Queen Mary and that she inherited many of her grandmother's greatest jewels, including the beautiful Cambridge emeralds, it's not too difficult to see how it would please her to pass that title to her grandson and, through him, to his new wife.
It would be hoped, however, that the title will grant the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge better luck than past holders, especially the earliest ones: the Stuarts. The first three, all children of James Stuart, Duke of York (later King James II), died very young. The first use of the title was in 1660, when the first son of the Duke of York was styled Duke of Cambridge, but died as an infant before he was formally created with the title.
In 1664, another son of the Duke of York was officially created Duke of Cambridge in the Peerage of England, but he died as a very young child. The Duke of York's fourth son was created Duke of Cambridge in 1667 and, again, died in infancy. Ten years later, in 1677, the Duke of York tried again with his fifth son, styling him Duke of Cambridge, but with the same result as in 1660: the boy died as an infant without being officially created with the title.
Finally, in 1706, the third creation of the title was granted to an heir-to-the-throne who actually lived and made it to the throne. George Augustus, Electoral Prince of Hanover, and son of George, Elector of Hanover (later King George II and King George I, respectively), was given the title Duke of Cambridge when he became a naturalized British subject. When he became King in 1727, the title merged with the Crown until it was again given to Prince Adolphus in 1801.
This fourth creation died out with Queen Mary's uncle, Prince George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge, in 1904. The end must have been bitter to the Queen (then Princess of Wales) since it was associated with the private and royally unrecognized marriage of her uncle to an actress named Sarah Fairbrother, known as Mrs. FitzGeorge following her marriage, with whom he had five children (two before the marriage).
This was not the only embarrassment to the Cambridge legacy that Queen Mary had to endure. Her brother, Prince Francis, inherited on their mother’s death the rich bounty of the Cambridge emeralds, which had come into the family around 1818 when the wife of Prince Adolphus, 1st Duke of Cambridge, won the 40 or so cabochon emeralds in a charity lottery in Frankfurt.
These beautiful emeralds were ultimately made into several fine pieces of jewelry, including earrings and a necklace that were passed down to Princess Mary Adelaide. After the unmarried Prince Francis inherited them, he gave them to his mistress, Lady Kilmorey, who still had them in her possession when the Prince died unexpectedly in 1910. Deeply aware that these prized family jewels should not be in the hands of a former mistress, Queen Mary sent someone to retrieve them. As if to remove the stain, in 1911, the Queen had the necklace reset as a choker in the Art Deco style, and the jewels were eventually inherited by Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1985, Diana, as Princess of Wales, caused a sensation when she wore the Cambridge emerald choker, which the Queen had given her as a wedding gift, as a bandeau across her forehead because she was sunburned and couldn't wear it around her neck. The pictures of her wearing the Cambridge emeralds in this fashion as she danced with Prince Charles at a charity ball in Australia are singular in that the couple looks quite happy together.
Considering that the Cambridge emeralds are not Crown jewels, but personal property of the Queen and therefore within her gift, it is fun to think that perhaps the Queen will give them to the new Duchess of Cambridge. Like Diana before her, she would no doubt breathe new life into these historic jewels, just as the young royal couple has breathed new life into the centuries-old Cambridge title.