As the second surviving son of King George II, Prince William Augustus had been intended by his parents for the office of Lord High Admiral, but after a brief and dissatisfied year in the Navy, he joined the army as Colonel to the First Regiment of Foot. He saw his first active service in Germany in December 1742 at the Battle of Dettingen, an important English victory over the French during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748). The Duke soon advanced to the summit of British military command and, in 1745, undertook his most prominent post as commander of the English forces against the Jacobite rebellion led by Charles Stuart.
From 1752 until 1764, the Swiss-born painter David Morier received the annual salary of £100 as ‘Limner’ (portraitist) to the Duke. The artist may indeed have been an eye-witness to the Battle of Culloden, and his careful depictions of the British and Jacobite uniforms certainly demonstrate a first-hand knowledge of both armies. Morier produced numerous portraits of leading figures in the British army and Royal family, exhibiting some at the Society of Artists in London from 1762. In many cases, Morier’s equestrian portraits were situated within military contexts, the sitters depicted as if poised to ride off into the fray. The present work, however, shows Cumberland riding comfortably on a large bay charger, the site identified as either the Thames or possibly Virginia Water, in the Great Park at Windsor.