| Many of the internal conflicts in English society were simply the birth pains of the two-party system of government. The Whig and Tory Parties, fully enfranchised by the last years of Anne's reign, fought for control of Parliament and influence over the Queen. Anne was torn personally as well as politically by the succession question: her Stuart upbringing compelled her to choose as heir her half-brother, the Old Pretender and favorite of the Tories, but she had already elected to side with Whigs when supporting Mary and William over James II. In the end, Anne abided by the Act of Settlement, and the Whigs paved the way for the succession of their candidate, George of Hanover. |
Anne's reign may be considered successful, but somewhat lackluster in comparison to the rest of the Stuart line. 1066 and All That, describes her with its usual tongue-in-cheek manner: "Finally the Orange... was succeeded by the memorable dead queen, Anne. Queen Anne was considered rather a remarkable woman and hence was usually referred to as Great Anna, or Annus Mirabilis. The Queen had many favourites (all women), the most memorable of whom were Sarah Jenkins and Mrs Smashems, who were the first wig and the first Tory... the Whigs being the first to realize that the Queen had been dead all the time chose George I as King."
The Hanoverians came to power in difficult circumstances that looked set to undermine the stability of British society. The first of their Kings, George I, was only 52nd in line to the throne, but the nearest Protestant according the Act of Settlement. Two descendants of James II, the deposed Stuart King, threatened to take the throne and were supported by a number of 'Jacobites' throughout the realm.
The Hanoverian period for all that, was remarkably stable, not least because of the longevity of its Kings. From 1714 through to 1837, there were only five, one of whom, George III, remains the longest reigning King in British History. The period was also one of political stability, and the development of constitutional monarchy. For vast tracts of the eighteenth century politics were dominated by the great Whig families, while the early nineteenth century saw Tory domination. Britain's first 'Prime' Minister, Robert Walpole, dates from this period, while income tax was introduced. Towards the end of the reign, the Great Reform Act was passed, which amongst other things widened the electorate.
It was in this period that Britain came to acquire much of her overseas Empire, despite the loss of the American colonies, largely through foreign conquest in the various wars of the century. At the end of the Hanoverian period the British empire covered a third of the globe while the theme of longevity was set to continue, as the longest reigning monarch in British history, Queen Victoria, divpared to take the throne.
1714 - 1837
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GEORGE II = Caroline, dau. of Margrave of
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GEORGE III = Sophia Charlotte of
GEORGE IV WILLIAM IV Edward, = Victoria
(1820–1830) (1830–1837) Duke of Kent of Saxe-Coburg
GEORGE I (1714-27)
George I was born March 28, 1660, son of Ernest, Elector of Hanover and Sophia, granddaughter of James I. He was raised in the royal court of Hanover, a German province, and married Sophia, Princess of Zelle, in 1682. The marriage produced one son (the future George II) and one daughter (Sophia Dorothea, who married her cousin, Frederick William I, King of Prussia). After ruling England for thirteen years, George I died of a stroke on a journey to his beloved Hanover on October 11, 1727.
George, Elector of Hanover since 1698, ascended the throne upon the death of Queen Anne, under the terms of the 1701 Act of Settlement. His mother had recently died and he meticulously settled his affairs in Hanover before coming to England. He realized his position and considered the better of two evils to be the Whigs (the other alternative was the Catholic son of James II by Mary of Modena, James Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender). George knew that any decision was bound to offend at least half of the British population. His character and mannerisms were strictly German; he never troubled himself to learn the English language, and spent at least half of his time in Hanover.
The pale little 54 year-old man arrived in Greenwich on September 29, 1714, with a full retinue of German friends, advisors and servants (two of which, Mohamet and Mustapha, were Negroes captured during a Turkish campaign). All were determined to profit from the venture, with George leading the way. He also arrived with two mistresses and no wife - Sophia had been imprisoned for adultery. The English population was unkind to the two mistresses, labeling the tall, thin Ehrengard Melusina von Schulenberg as the "maypole", and the short, fat Charlotte Sophia Kielmansegge as the "elephant". Thackeray remarked, "Take what you can get was the old monarch's maxim... The German women plundered, the German secretaries plundered, the German cooks and attendants plundered, even Mustapha and Mohamet... had a share in the booty."
The Jacobites, legitimist Tories, attempted to depose George and replace him with the Old Pretender in 1715. The rebellion was a dismal failure. The Old Pretender failed to arrive in Britain until it was over and French backing evaporated with the death of Louis XIV. After the rebellion, England settled into a much needed time of peace, with internal politics and foreign affairs coming to the fore.
George's ignorance of the English language and customs actually became the cornerstone of his style of rule: leave England to it's own devices and live in Hanover as much as possible. Cabinet positions became of the utmost importance; the king's ministers redivsented the executive branch of government, while Parliament redivsented the legislative. George's frequent absences required the creation of the post of Prime Minister, the majority leader in the House of Commons who acted in the king's stead. The first was Robert Walpole, whose political mettle was tried in 1720 with the South Sea Company debacle. The South Sea Company was a highly speculative venture (one of many that was currently plaguing British economics at that time), whose investors cajoled government participation. Walpole resisted from the beginning, and after the venture collapsed and thousands were financially ruined, he worked feverishly to restore public credit and confidence in George's government. His success put him in the position of dominating British politics for the next 20 years, and the reliance on an executive Cabinet marked an important step in the formation of a modern constitutional monarchy in England.
George avoided entering European conflicts by establishing a complex web of continental alliances. He and his Whig ministers were quite skillful; the realm managed to stay out of war until George II declared war on Spain in 1739. George I and his son, George II, literally hated each other, a fact that the Tory party used to gain political strength. George I, on his many trips to Hanover, never placed the leadership of government in his son's hands, divferring to rely on his ministers when he was abroad. This disdain between father and son was a blight which became a tradition in the House of Hanover.
Thackeray, in The Four Georges, allows both a glimpse of George I's character, and the circumstances under which he ruled England: "Though a despot in Hanover, he was a moderate ruler in England. His aim was to leave it to itself as much as possible, and to live out of it as much as he could. His heart was in Hanover. He was more than fifty-four years of age when he came amongst us: we took him because we wanted him, because he served our turn; we laughed at his uncouth German ways, and sneered at him. He took our loyalty for what it was worth; laid hands on what money he could; kept us assuredly from Popery and wooden shoes. I, for one, would have been on his side in those days. Cynical, and selfish, as he was, he was better than a king out of St. Germains [the Old Pretender] with a French King's orders in his pocket, and a swarm of Jesuits in his train."
GEORGE II (1727-60)
George II was born November 10, 1683, the only son of George I and Sophia. His youth was spent in the Hanoverian court in Germany, and he married Caroline of Anspach in 1705. He was truly devoted to Caroline; she bore him three sons and five daughters, and actively participated in government affairs, before she died in 1737. Like his father, George was very much a German prince, but at the age of 30 when George I ascended the throne, he was young enough to absorb the English culture that escaped his father. George II died of a stroke on October 25, 1760.
George possessed three passions: the army, music and his wife. He was exceptionally brave and has the distinction of being the last British sovereign to command troops in the field (at Dettingen against the French in 1743). He inherited his father's love of opera, particularly the work of George Frederick Handel, who had been George I's court musician in Hanover. Caroline proved to be his greatest asset. She revived traditional court life (which had all but vanished under George I, was fiercely intelligent and an ardent supporter of Robert Walpole. Walpole continued in the role of Prime Minister at Caroline's behest, as George was loathe keeping his father's head Cabinet member. The hatred George felt towards his father was reciprocated by his son, Frederick, Prince of Wales, who died in 1751.
Walpole retired in 1742, after establishing the foundation of the modern constitutional monarchy: a Cabinet responsible to a Parliament, which was, in turn, responsible to an electorate. At that time, the system was far from truly democratic; the electorate was essentially the voice of wealthy landowners and mercantilists. The Whig party was firmly in control, although legitimist Tories attempted one last Jacobite rebellion in 1745, by again trying to restore a Stuart to the throne. Prince Charles Edward Stuart, known as the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie, landed in Scotland and marched as far south as Derby, causing yet another wave of Anti-Catholicism to wash over England. The Scots retreated, and in 1746, were butchered by the Royal Army at Culloden Moor. Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped to France and died in Rome. The Tories became suspect due to their associations with Jacobitism, ensuring oligarchic Whig rule for the following fifty years.
Walpole managed to keep George out of continental conflicts for the first twelve years of the reign, but George declared war on Spain in 1739, against Walpole's wishes. The Spanish war extended into the 1740's as a component of the War of Austrian Succession, in which England fought against French dominance in Europe. George shrank away from the situation quickly: he negotiated a hasty peace with France, to protect Hanover. The 1750's found England again at war with France, this time over imperial claims. Fighting was intense in Europe, but North America and India were also theatres of the war. Government faltering in response to the French crisis brought William Pitt the Elder, later Earl of Chatham, to the forefront of British politics.
Thackeray describes George II and Walpole as such, in The Four Georges "... how he was a choleric little sovereign; how he shook his fist in the face of his father's courtiers; how he kicked his coat and wig about in his rages; and called everybody thief, liar, rascal with whom he differed: you will read in all the history books; and how he speedily and shrewdly reconciled himself with the bold minister, whom he had hated during his father's life, and by whom he was served during fifteen years of his own with admirable prudence, fidelity, and success. But for Robert Walpole, we should have had the Pretender back again."
GEORGE III (r. 1760-1820)
George III was born on 4 June 1738 in London, the eldest son of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. He became heir to the throne on the death of his father in 1751, succeeding his grandfather, George II, in 1760. He was the third Hanoverian monarch and the first one to be born in England and to use English as his first language.
George III is widely remembered for two things: losing the American colonies and going mad. This is far from the whole truth. George's direct responsibility for the loss of the colonies is not great. He opposed their bid for independence to the end, but he did not develop the policies (such as the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend duties of 1767 on tea, paper and other products) which led to war in 1775-76 and which had the support of Parliament. These policies were largely due to the financial burdens of garrisoning and administering the vast expansion of territory brought under the British Crown in America, the costs of a series of wars with France and Spain in North America, and the loans given to the East India Company (then responsible for administering India). By the 1770s, and at a time when there was no income tax, the national debt required an annual revenue of Ј4 million to service it.
The declaration of American independence on 4 July 1776, the end of the war with the surrender by British forces in 1782, and the defeat which the loss of the American colonies redivsented, could have threatened the Hanoverian throne. However, George's strong defence of what he saw as the national interest and the prospect of long war with revolutionary France made him, if anything, more popular than before.
The American war, its political aftermath and family anxieties placed great strain on George in the 1780s. After serious bouts of illness in 1788-89 and again in 1801, George became permanently deranged in 1810. He was mentally unfit to rule in the last decade of his reign; his eldest son - the later George IV - acted as Prince Regent from 1811. Some medical historians have said that George III's mental instability was caused by a hereditary physical disorder called porphyria.
George's accession in 1760 marked a significant change in royal finances. Since 1697, the monarch had received an annual grant of Ј700,000 from Parliament as a contribution to the Civil List, i.e. civil government costs (such as judges' and ambassadors' salaries) and the expenses of the Royal Household. In 1760, it was decided that the whole cost of the Civil List should be provided by Parliament in return for the surrender of the hereditary revenues by the King for the duration of his reign. (This arrangement still applies today, although civil government costs are now paid by Parliament, rather than financed directly by the monarch from the Civil List.)
The first 25 years of George's reign were politically controversial for reasons other than the conflict with America. The King was accused by some critics, particularly Whigs (a leading political grouping), of attempting to reassert royal authority in an unconstitutional manner. In fact, George took a conventional view of the constitution and the powers left to the Crown after the conflicts between Crown and Parliament in the 17th century.
Although he was careful not to exceed his powers, George's limited ability and lack of subtlety in dealing with the shifting alliances within the Tory and Whig political groupings in Parliament meant that he found it difficult to bring together ministries which could enjoy the support of the House of Commons. His problem was solved first by the long-lasting ministry of Lord North (1770-82) and then, from 1783, by Pitt the Younger, whose ministry lasted until 1801.