Prince Frederick was the second son of King George III and Queen Charlotte, and heir presumptive to his elder brother, King George IV. In February 1764, at only six months of age, Frederick was elected Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück, Lower Saxony, a principality of the Holy Roman Empire, a role he held until 1803, when the bishopric was incorporated into Hanover. He was invested as a Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1767 and a Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1771. Destined for a career in the army, Prince Frederick was sent to Hanover to study military tactics and rules of discipline, as well as languages, in 1781. He was appointed Colonel of the 2nd Horse Grenadier Guards in March 1782; promoted to Major General in November that year; and Lieutenant General in October 1784. In November 1784, Prince Frederick was created Duke of York and Albany, and a member of the Privy Council. He is remembered rather for the wisdom and compassion that he displayed as Commander-in-Chief of the forces, a position that he held from 1799 until his death (save for a brief period of resignation due to a scandal relating to his mistress, Mary Anne Clarke, between 1809 and 1811).
Working from a photograph, Kenneth Garlick suggested that the present painting dates to before 1822, on the basis of Prince Frederick’s uniform (written communication, 14 April 1989). Lawrence had executed half-length and full-length portraits of the Duke, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1814 (no. 64) and 1816 (no. 61) respectively (K. Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence: A complete catalogue of the oil paintings, Oxford, 1989, p. 290, nos. 858a and 858b, respectively). In the former, the Duke wears the collar and badge of the Garter and of the civil Order of the Bath (63 x 52 in.; Puerto Rico, Museo de Arte de Ponce, Fondación Luis A. Ferré); in the latter, he wears a Field Marshal's uniform with the star of the Garter and the collars of the Garter and the military Order of the Bath, which he received in 1815 (108 x 70 in.; Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, Waterloo Chamber). The present painting appears to combine elements present in both works: the uniform and facial features are similar to those in the Puerto Rico portrait while the balustrade in the background appears again in the Windsor Castle version.