H.R.H. Frederick, Duke of York, also Duke of Brunswick-Luneberg, second son of George III, was born in 1763. As Commander-in-Chief of the forces of Great Britain and Ireland, he was accused of corruption in 1809, chiefly on account of the practices of his mistress Mary Anne Clark in obtaining promotions for Army officers. He was acquitted by a vote of the House of Commons, but compelled to resign his post for two years. 'It is a foible of history that the Duke is now chiefly remembered in the public mind as the man who marched his army up and down a hill and ran it, as a commercial proposition, with the aid of this mistress' [Complete Peerage].
As a gourmand and connoisseur of wine, the Duke was well known. He employed Louis XVI's former chef, Louis Eustach Ude, who stayed with him until the Duke's death.
Following the example of his brother, the Prince Regent, the Duke amassed a considerable collection of silver, much of it in the antiquarian taste. A great deal of it was supplied by Kensington Lewis, a flamboyant retailer and the chief promoter of the more eclectic silver of the period. For these extravagant creations, he generally employed Edward Farrell as maker, a man of incredible imagination. The greatest candelabrum undertaken by Farell for Lewis and the Duke was the celebrated candelabrum weighing some 1144 ounces depicting Hercules slaying the Hydra, subsequently in the collection of Sir Clive Milnes-Coates, Bt., and sold by Christie's, London, October 18, 1967, lot 59.
On the Duke's death of dropsy in 1827, it was discovered that he had debts totalling between 200,000 and 500,000. It is indicative of the confused state of his financial affairs that his executors were unable to provide a more specific figure. On account of this, they took the unprecendented step of placing his collections up for public auction, entrusting the young James Christie II with the sale, which took place March 19-22, 1827.
The sale, which totalled 22,438, was not a success; Lewis was forced to buy back much of what he had sold the Duke at vastly inflated prices only a few years before. Many of the items, such as the Hercules candelabrum, failed to reach half of their original cost, prompting Christie to observe that 'the sacrifice was indeed great'.