King George 1- Prince of Hanover and King Of England

King George 1

King George as Prince of Hanover from a portrait  in 1680 by Sir Geoffrey Kneller
King George as Prince of Hanover from a portrait in 1680 by Sir Geoffrey Kneller | Source

George 1, Prince of Hanover

King George 1 was born the son of the Duke of Hanover in 1660 in the same year as Charles II was restored to the English throne. His mother was the granddaughter of James 1 and the baby’s distant claim to the English throne was not even considered as it was believed to be so remote.

The young George grew up to be like his father, short, coarse featured with a gentle attitude. His interests were limited to horses and women and the need and belief that Hanover should be first in everything. He was a hungry man; preoccupied with eating and hated being the centre of attention at large gatherings. This made him suspicious and he trusted only those whom he had known for years. He had absolute power in Hanover following the death of his father in 1699 and ruled the state in a style akin to that of a benevolent despot. The state was prosperous with good farming and a lively woolen and linen trade with silver mines in the Hartz Mountains.

Sophia Dorothea

Sophia Dorothea with her two children in a painting  attributed to Jacques Vaillant
Sophia Dorothea with her two children in a painting attributed to Jacques Vaillant | Source

Queen Anne of England

A tinted engraving of Queen Anne of England, artist unknown
A tinted engraving of Queen Anne of England, artist unknown | Source

Marriage, family and Divorce

George married Sophia Dorothea the daughter of the Duke of Celle and their eldest son who was to become George Ii was born in 1683. The couple were ill matched and disliked each other. Sophia Dorothea was intelligent and lively whilst he was dull and there was no place in his court for a lively wife. The couple were divorced in 1694 and the Duchess banished to a monastery after an supposed affair with the Count Philip Von Konigsmark.

In 1700 the Duke of Gloucester died, he was the only chid of the Stuart Princess Anne and after her only one other branch of the Stuart family remained- George’s mother the granddaughter of James 1. It has been calculated that there were 57 other Stuart descendants with a claim to the English throne. In 1701 the Act of Succession decreed

“ that the most excellent Princess Sophia, Electress and Dowager Duchess of Hanover, daughter of Elizabeth, late Queen of Bohemia, daughter of James 1, shall be next in succession to the crown”

Princess Sophia died on 8th June 1714 less than two months before Queen Anne and never became Queen.

As Queen Anne aged the rival factions in England were vying for power- those who supported the Stuart candidate the “Great Pretender” wanted him to succeed to the throne. The Lords realising that Anne’s death could lead to civil war acted quickly when she had her final illness. The Privy Council worked hard to appoint George 1 as her successor and garrisons were drafted into London and ports were sealed. Men in official positions such as Lord Mayors, Mayors and Naval and Garrison commanders were sent instructions to welcome the new King George as he was the rightful heir under the Act of Succession. All of this was done whilst Queen Anne was on her death bed. Anne died on August 1st 1714 and George was proclaimed King that day in his absence.

King George1 proclaimed King in 1714

The newly proclaimed King George 1 did not immediately leave Hannover for London as instead he organised his affairs in Hannover delegating some authority to his privy councillors but telling them to refer all major decisions to himself in London despite the inevitable time delay. He arrived in London on 18th September 1714 after a leisurely journey, in thick fog to a welcome by a large and fairy enthusiastic crowd with candles and torches lighting the way to the newly constructed Greenwich Palace. The King came from Hannover with his entourage of 18 cooks and menservants at least one of his mistresses and his two Turks Mustapha and Mahomet the latter who were loyal and undemanding men. He also brought his two key ministers Bothmar and Roberthan who drew up a list of the King’s ministers.

The Kings’ coronation took place in Westminster Abbey on 20th October 1714- a spectacle that he did not enjoy as he hated pomp and ceremony- he was greeted by vast crowds in the Abbey and many spectators outside. However there was opposition to the coronation within the country and on the day there was rioting in Bristol, Chippenham, Norwich, Reading and Birmingham. Whilst George was treated with suspicion by a large part of the population owing to his strange habits and his need to surround himself with German advisors he was welcomed by men of business who thought that he was the countries best chance for stability which would encourage trade.

The Pretender to the throne

The pretender James  Francis Edward Stuart
The pretender James Francis Edward Stuart | Source

The Old Pretender- James Francis Edward

The Old Pretender to the throne was James Francis Edward Stuart and he received some support, mainly in Scotland and the Earl of Mar raised his standard in rebellion against the King on 6th September 1715, However although short term gains such as the capture of Perth were made; long term progress was thwarted by the lack of finance from France as the pro Stuart King Louis XIV had died and been replaced by a pro Hanoverian regent. Political assessments at the time believed that it was vitally important that Scotland be held as if it fell then England might rise against the King. The general feeling was that a large part of the population was watching events uncommitted as they had little enthusiasm for either man to be King.

Attempted landings by the Duke of Ormande were repulsed in October and December 1715 and so England and Wales and many of the major Scottish cities were loyal to King George. An invasion of England from Scotland was halted by General Wills at Preston and on the same day at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in Scotland, neither the Scots nor English came away with a victory. The Pretender anded in Scotland on 22nd December 1715 and did not like what he saw, the land was cold wet and windy. When it became clear that there would be no help from the French he left, barely six weeks after he had landed, firstly to France and then forced from Avignon he fled to Italy. Once it was clear that the Pretender had fled Genera Cadogan took over Scottish rule and within 18 months an amnesty was granted to all the former rebels, The English who had risen were treated less mercifully but the death sentences were limited to 20 plus officers and Viscount Kenmure and the Earl of Derwentwater.

Family squabbles

By July 1716 the King had received permission from Parliament to return to Hannover for a visit- his son George for whom he had little love and no respect was appointed “Guardian of the Realm”- a high sounding title but one with little in the way of real power. However upon the Kings return the situation between father and son deteriorated. An error of understanding by the Duke of Newcastle led to him thinking that Prince George had threatened to kill the Duke and this caused a furious King to call a cabinet meeting. Prince George called the Duke a liar and as a result he and his wife Caroline were sent away from St. James’ Palace and refused permission to take their young children with the. The couple were given only weekly access visits and no responsibility for their conduct or education. Following the Prince’s banishment from Court the King started to reduce his involvement in every day governance. He stopped attending cabinet meetings simply because he had relied on his son to translate what was happening and also because he had a general lack of interest in British items and could not stir himself to learn the language.

The King and Prince were reconciled in the Spring of 1720 by the diplomacy of Robert Walpole who wanted power at Court and was able to persuade Parliament to wipe off £600,000 of the King’s debts and work in union with the Princes wife who wanted to see more of her children. It was a fragile relationship between the father and son and the pair always looked “grave and out of humour” when they were with each other.

Robert Walpole
Robert Walpole | Source

Increasing levels of National Debt

Economic crises and National Debt are not only modern phenomenon, the bursting of the South Sea Bubble in 1719 caused many British Investors to get their fingers burned and the economy was facing one of its darkest periods. The King returned from Hannover where he had been on another visit and Robert Walpole was recalled to power and In April 1721 he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Lord of the Treasury. He was able to impose stability which let the banks including the Bank of England recover- no government bail outs under King George1! Following the deaths of his rivals, Stanhope and Sunderland the King summoned Robert Walpole to St. James’s Palace and gave him the office of First Minister a role he occupied for some thirty years.

The plots against the King were still not over and a group decided that the 1722 parliamentary elections would be a good time to attack the King’s rule. The main antagonist was the Bishop of Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester and a supporter of the Pretender. The King’s proposed visit to Hanover was cancelled and news was circulated that a threat had been made to assassinate the King- troops were billeted by the thousands in Hyde Park and people of the catholic faith were ordered to leave the city. There was little evidence against the loud voiced cleric and he was simply banished although it did reinforce the strength of Walpole’s position with the King.

Death of the King 1627

As the King’s reign progressed he became more accepted by the population and indeed found support when he took an English mistress, Anne Brett who was the daughter of the Countess of Macclesfied. It was seen by many as a signal that George was now able to put British interests above those of Hannover. After a decade in England he was now able to follow a conversation unless it was too long or used difficult words- although his speech was poor. He did not have a lavish court preferring to spend his time in his apartments cutting patterns from papers for a hobby. He visited the provinces only once and was rarely seen outside of his court unless at the Opera which he made a discreet rather than open entrance to.

In 1727 King George was 67 years old and was planning yet another trip to Hannover. His wife Sophia Dorothea had died in the previous year having spent 33 years of her adult life in a monastic prison. There were stories about how a French oracle prophesised that the King would not survive her death by more than a year and she had died in November 1726. The King left England on June 3rd having suffered what was termed as “fits” a few weeks before he went. The party arrived in Holland where George who had a very keen appetite had a large meal. The party left Delden where they had stayed the night and proceeded onwards despite the King fainting, It was the King’s wish to carry on. The King died later in the day probably around Osnabruck as the details are rather cloudy of the place of his actual death. The doctors gave the cause of his death as apoplexy brought about by a large serving of melons at the previous nights lodgings. News of the Kings death was sent to Walpole in London and the Prince was informed that he was now King. .

King George1 buried in Hanover

King George was one of the few monarchs of Britain whose body was not buried in this country., he was interred in Hannover but not until the end of September when the wrangling had stopped over where his body should lie.

What had been achieved in the King’s reign. He had begun his rule in a country where there were outright acts of rebellion where there was in fighting between the two political parties and in a land where he didn't understand the language. By recognizing the power and spirit of a man such as Robert Walpole he enabled the country to be left on a secure footing with power in the hands of the government and civil war avoided. King George left a good inheritance albeit to a son that he hated.

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