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The History of the Dukedom of Sussex

It’s been used once before and yet we’ve all been talking about it for months as if it were a royal regular. After a gap of almost two centuries, we have a new Duke of Sussex. The Queen has granted that title to Prince Harry who becomes just the second man to hold the dukedom while his bride, Meghan Markle, is the first ever Duchess of Sussex. As we celebrate the Royal Wedding and this royal title revival, Royal Central takes a look back at the history of the Dukedom of Sussex.

Sussex has had royal pedigree for thousands of years. It was one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England, tracing its history back to 477, but wasn’t associated with a royal dukedom until the early 19th century. The title we know today was created on November 24th 1801 for Prince Augustus Frederick, the sixth son of King George III who would go on to be Queen Victoria’s favourite uncle. In fact, she liked him so much she asked him to give her away at her wedding in 1840 to Prince Albert. By then, Augustus was in his sixties, a royal duke with a reputation for enjoying the arts and culture and promoting good causes. But he’d also been a royal rebel in his own discrete way.

Augustus as a young man by Louis Gauffier

Augustus had been born at Buckingham House, London on January 27th 1773, the ninth child of George and his wife, Queen Charlotte. He was given a good education but while his brothers went off to train for military careers, Augustus considered becoming a cleric with the Church of England. His love of theology and learning would stay with him all his life and he amassed a large library of theological tracts.

He also developed an interest in the relationship between science and religion and was a leading member of the Freemasons. In 1831, Augustus became Chief Ranger and Keeper of St. James Park and Hyde Park while his devoted niece, Victoria, made him Governor of Windsor Castle in 1842. And it’s perhaps no wonder that Victoria felt such an empathy with Augustus. For, like her, he married for love.

Unlike Victoria, his weddings broke regal rules with all the consequences that brought with it. In 1793, he secretly married Lady Augusta Murray and they went on to have two children, Augustus and Augusta. But the wedding had been in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act and was annulled. The couple parted in 1801 – the same year that Augustus became Duke of Sussex.

He married again, in 1831, to Lady Cecilia Buggin but as their wedding on May 2nd that year was in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act, his new wife was never called Duchess of Sussex. Not that Cecilia missed out completely. In the same year that Augustus gave his niece Victoria away, the young queen made her aunt by marriage Duchess of Inverness in her own right.

Cecilia, second wife of the first Duke of Sussex

Augustus, Duke of Sussex died on April 21st 1843 at the age of 70 and stipulated that he was not to be given a state funeral. And so the first Duke of Sussex was laid to rest at Kensal Green Cemetery in London on May 4th 1843.

His title reverted to the Crown with reports in 1999 that it might be given to Prince Edward on his marriage. In 2011, it was also spoken about as a possible for Prince William on his wedding day but it is only now, over 200 years since its creation, that Sussex gets its second duke and its first ever duchess.

Photo credit: Main image, Public Domain ex Wiki Commons/ Cecilia, Duchess of Inverness, Public Domain, ex Wiki Commons/

 

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