An honoured guest: The 1764 journeys across Piedmont of Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany

Matteo Moro

Abstract: Travelling under the alias of‘Earl of Ulster’, Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of York and Albany, was the first member of the English Royal Family to visit Italy as a grand tourist, from 28 November 1763 to 17 August 1764. Based on contemporary archival and printed sources, this discussion will focus on Prince Edward’s two journeys and stays in Piedmont. It aims to highlight the important role played by ceremonial rules in the social interactions that took place during his journeys, to the ways in which the Italian hosts judged the British guest and to the impact of Prince Edward’s presence at the Court of Savoy in Turin in the context of the political, diplomatic, and commercial relationships between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Sardinia.


Popular from around the 1660s onwards, the Grand Tour was for a long time the prerogative of the European aristocratic and upper-class young men of sufficient means and rank. The aim was to visit Europe and, above all, Italy, in order to take in the principal cities and sites of cultural interest and to enjoy the refined amusements and occasions of conviviality they offered (such as receptions, balls, gala dinners, hunts, theatre plays, etc.).1 Prince Edward Augustus, Duke ofYork and Albany (25 March 1739 to 17 September 1767), and younger brother of George III, King of the United Kingdom, was the first member of the English royal family to visit Italy as a grand tourist, from 28 November 1763 to 17 August 1764.2 His Italian Grand Tour, and especially his two stays in Piedmont (from 10 February to 7 March 1764 and from 10 to 27 July 1764), provide the focus of this investigation.

Edward’s journey took place in a crucial moment in European history, only a few months after the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War (1956-63). This conflict, later termed the ‘first world war’ by Winston Churchill,3 had ended with a decisive victory of the Anglo-Prussian coalition, while France’s supremacy in Europe was destroyed, and Austria lost its claim for Silesia. Overall, the war redefined the political balance in Europe, increasing and strengthening the importance of Britain. Due to a lack of relevant interests at stake, none of the Italian states had

MAP 12.1 Prince Edward’s travel routes across Piedmont in 1764. The places that he visited or in which he stopped are represented by grey dots, those he only planned to see, by white dots. (© Graphics: Matteo Moro and Dirk H. Steinforth).

joined the war.3 Few of them, however, had good diplomatic relationships with Britain at the time of Edward’s visit, as they were linked to Austria for political or dynastic reasons, while in the Papal States a strong feeling of Jacobitism was still alive/’ However, this did not apply to the Kingdom of Sardinia. Although some of his advisors had urged a more aggressive and opportunistic policy, pressing for an intervention in the Seven Years’ War, its king, Charles Emmanuel III, decided to stay carefully neutral, and rather attempted to interpose his good offices of peace-maker between France and Britain, in the vain hope of enforcing the rights of the House of Savoy on Piacenza. In the years that followed, he trod a careful line among the principal European powers. This was for two reasons: first, in order to promote his kingdom as the mainstay of the Continental balance system; and second, because the historical-political context hampered any ambition of territorial expansion.8 As a result of his policies, the diplomatic relationships between the Courts of Sardinia and Britain remained cordial and without tensions.9

Prince Edward’s arrival in the Peninsula was anticipated with expectation and hope. Horace Mann (1706-86), who then was a British resident in Florence,10 reported that his tour seemed to be in fact more than ‘a party of pleasure and curiosity’.11 Indeed, as shall be seen, besides the novelty of the event, the Italian states considered it a great opportunity to rebuild or to reinforce their diplomatic relationships with Britain, in order to protect or to promote their own political and economic interests.

In comparison with these aims, Prince Edward’s agenda was much more modest. Together with his brother George, he had spent much of his youth studying a diverse array of subjects, including astronomy, maths, French, Greek, Latin, history, music, geography, trades, agriculture, and constitutional law. While George was very shy, solitary, and taciturn, Edward turned out to be a cultured and refined man, a lover of music and theatre, enjoying an extraordinary popularity among both the high society in London and the foreign courts he visited.12 Thanks to his education, he developed a great passion for travels and for the sea and joined the Royal Navy in 1759. His military career, however, was mostly spent in fighting France, and lacked accomplishments. Despite this, his privileged status allowed him to rise through the naval hierarchy, until he was appointed vice admiral in 1762.13 When his brother George was crowned king of the United Kingdom in 1761, he appointed Edward to his Privy Council, making him one of the closest official advisors of the Crown. It is in the context of his naval career that Prince Edward decided to visit Italy, presumably for cultural purposes and also to grant himself a period of relaxation.14 To avoid being recognised and incurring the nuisance of ceremonials,15 he travelled incognito under the alias of ‘Earl of Ulster’.16 However, his demands of anonymity frequently were ignored, as they clashed with the intrusive attentions that - with typical Italian warmth - some sovereigns wanted to honour him with.

By studying his movements and the reactions of his hosts, we gain an important understanding of political, diplomatic, economic, and cultural relations between Britain and Italy in this particular period.

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