Prince Edward, Duke of Kent: Father of the Canadian Crown by Nathan Tidridge (Review)

Long before King George III’s fourth son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent became the father of the future Queen Victoria, he spent the 1790s in British North America. The Duke of Kent left his mark on the map of present day Canada, lending his name to both Prince Edward Island and Prince Edward county. In Prince Edward, Duke of Kent: Father of the Canadian Crown, Nathan Tidridge, author of Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy reveals that Duke also had a lasting influence on Canadian institutions and eventual nationhood.

Prince Edward, Duke of Kent: Father of the Canadian Crown is the first biography of the Duke of Kent to focus on the Prince’s impact on the development of Canada. British North America in the 1790s was vulnerable to invasion by the newly independent United States of America. The Duke applied his military experience in Hanover, Geneva and Gibraltar to improving the defences of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Tidridge presents compelling evidence that the Duke of Kent’s improvements to Halifax’s defences, including the renovation of Fort George on Citadel Hill and the introduction of a semaphore telegraph system deterred the Americans from attacking the city during the War of 1812.

Although the Duke of Kent resided in British North America in a military capacity, his vision for the region went far beyond improving city fortifications and introducing new technologies. Decades before Canada’s confederation in 1867, the Duke of Kent recognized the potential for the Crown to unify the diverse colonies and their inhabitants.

When rioting broke out during the 1792 elections to the Lower Canada (modern day Quebec) legislature, the Duke addressed the crowd in French, stating, “Can there be a man among  who does not take the King to be the father of his people?…Part then in peace; I urge you to unanimity and concord. Let me hear no more of the odious distinctions of French and English. You are all his Britannic Majesty’s Canadian subjects.” Prior to this speech, the term “Canadian” referred to French Canadians alone. The Duke of Kent saw the potential for English and French speaking inhabitants of British North American to assume a common identity as Canadians.

In addition to discussing the Duke of Kent’s numerous contributions to the making of modern day Canada, Tidridge also provides a rich portrait of British North American society in the 1790s. In contrast to London, where royal mistresses were not received in polite society, the Duke’s partner, Madame Julie St. Laurent, acted as his hostess in North America and traveled with him from the Maritimes to modern day Ontario. Both the Duke and Madame St. Laurent socialized with the most prominent figures of late eighteenth century British North America including John Graves Simcoe, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (modern day Ontario), and his wife, the geographer and diarist Elizabeth Simcoe. There were even visits from foreign royalty as the French Revolution brought the Duke d’Orleans to the Halifax harbour.

Previous biographies of the Duke of Kent focus on his real and imagined personal life including his often strained relationship with his parents and siblings, alleged obsession with military discipline and rumoured affairs that reputedly left Canada populated with half-siblings of Queen Victoria. Tidridge analyzes this reputation critically, creating a more nuanced and accurate portrait of the Duke. His focus on the Duke of Kent’s relationship with Canada is a fresh approach that reveals the Prince’s full significance as a historical figure in both Canada and the United Kingdom. Nathan Tidridge’s lively and insightful biography, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent: Father of the Canadian Crown, restores the Duke to his rightful place in Canadian history.

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