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“Friendship like mine / Throws all Respects behind it”: Male Companionship and the Cult of Frederick, Prince of Wales

From: Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture
Volume 40, 2011
pp. 157-178 | 10.1353/sec.2011.0000

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Patriotic Friendship

In a recent article, Hannah Smith and Stephen Taylor have redirected attention to the process by which Frederick, Prince of Wales and John, Lord Hervey broke off what had been a close, intimate friendship in the early 1730s.1 The exact circumstances of this estrangement, the political or personal disagreements behind it, must remain obscure due to a scarcity of extant documentary evidence;2 however, by discussing the friendship and its breakdown in the light of contemporary ideas about court favoritism, masculinity, and political virtue, Smith and Taylor provide a broad contextual framework within which to understand the bitter hostility that arose between the prince and the courtier after their rift.3 Frederick is seen as distancing himself from an association that might have threatened the moral self-sufficiency, and also the heterosexual integrity, of his public image in the later part of the decade.4 The cult of the Patriot prince which was built around the Prince of Wales from the mid-1730s onwards can thus be seen as quelling anxieties raised by Frederick’s earlier behavior and choice of companions, the unspoken threat of immoderate homosocial affection as well as the more widely-publicized affairs with women which might have been attributed to Hervey’s bad influence.5 Whether by his own determination, or thanks to the many writers, artists, and politicians who cultivated his persona, Frederick was transformed from a wild youth, newly arrived from Hanover, into a morally unimpeachable and domestically appealing figurehead for the opposition to Sir Robert Walpole’s government.6

The current article does not seek to dispute with Smith and Taylor that the heir to the throne’s break with Lord Hervey may indeed have been motivated by some important concerns about the value of personal male friendships in a courtly setting. In particular, doubts about the very possibility of an equal relationship between men of obviously unequal rank seem pertinent to Frederick’s search for political and financial independence in the 1730s.7 However, where Smith and Taylor are content to contrast Frederick’s earlier, troubled mode of friendship with a more straightforwardly edifying idea of male companionship in the later Patriot propaganda, this article will argue that certain problems central to the prince’s initial friendships in Britain could not be so easily resolved. The prince continued to be reliant on the political and financial assistance of friends from different partisan backgrounds;8 the very divergence of ideological interests within the opposition camp ensured that the identification of true friends would be a constant, and problematic, theme within Patriot literature.9 And while this literature may indeed succeed in constructing its ideal prince as a reassuringly masculine figure, writers were nevertheless left with unanswered questions as to what personal friendship meant in a political context, how it might be compatible with Frederick’s need for moral autonomy, and whether Patriotism itself could ultimately accommodate particular attachments.

Addressing these questions is important not only as a way of exposing hesitations or inconsistencies within the rhetoric of particular opposition writers, but also insofar as the Patriot prince’s tribulations may reflect more general uncertainties about the connection between private behavior and public allegiance in the period. It has consistently been argued that whiggism of the late Stuart period had been bolstered as a political agenda by its cultural and social programs. J. G. A. Pocock describes the foremost goal of Addison and Steele’s Spectator as being “the advancement of a polite style, and so of a politics of style accompanied by a morality of politeness.”10 Lawrence E. Klein has further explored how theories of politeness and refined sociability rendered whig writers of the earlier eighteenth century impervious to political criticism, allowing them to absorb and diminish opposing ideologies through an attractive discourse that privileged friendship and impartiality.11 The dominance of this Addisonian or Shaftesburian discourse during the reigns of Queen Anne and George I has recently been questioned, with evidence brought forward for divergent whig views and for a less stable relationship between values of commerce and civility.12 However, what has as yet been under-examined is the impact of altered political circumstances on friendship’s...