A Royal His­tory of Eng­land Ge­orge II

Ge­orge II (1683 - 1760)

This England - - Contents - Paul James

VAR­I­OUS as­sess­ments of King Ge­orge II across the cen­turies have de­scribed him as dull, arrogant, pompous, im­pa­tient and ob­sti­nate. He hated to be proved wrong and many of his con­tem­po­rarie s de­scribed him as a colos­sal bore.

“No mill horse ever went on a more con­stant track or a more un­chang­ing cir­cle,” said one who had ex­pe­ri­enced the King’s con­ver­sa­tion.

Ge­orge II’S be­hav­iour might sug­gest signs of what to­day we would call Asperger’s syn­drome. A stick­ler for rou­tine and punc­tu­al­ity, he found it dif­fi­cult to build a rap­port with peo­ple and had repet­i­tive pat­terns of be­hav­iour.

Be­ing very pre­cise in his habits, Ge­orge vis­ited his mis­tress Hen­ri­etta Howard at nine o’clock each evening. Never a minute be­fore or a minute af­ter, but as the clock chimed nine.

Ge­orge had few male friends and pre­ferred the com­pany of woman, al­though Lord Ch­ester­field ob­served that he “saun­tered away” his time with them rather than en­joyed their com­pany.

Some of Ge­orge’s re­served man­ner may have stemmed from a dif­fi­cult child­hood in Ger­many. The only son of Ge­orge of Hanover (later King Ge­orge I) and Sophia Dorothea, he was born at the royal palace of Her­ren­hausen on Novem­ber 10, 1683, and was chris­tened Ge­orge Au­gus­tus.

While he was still young, his mother was im­pris­oned due to an il­licit love af­fair with a Swedish sol­dier, Count Philip von Königs­marck. Ac­cused of adul­tery, she was im­pris­oned at Ahlden Cas­tle, aged just 28, and never saw her hus­band or chil­dren again. She was held cap­tive for 32 years and died at the cas­tle.

This sep­a­ra­tion from his mother blighted Ge­orge’s child­hood and af­fected him for life. It led to many dis­agree­ments with his fa­ther, who had or­dered the in­car­cer­a­tion, and they had a very poor re­la­tion­ship as a re­sult.

Ge­orge went to live with his grand­mother, Elec­tress Sophia of Hanover, who was a grand­daugh­ter of King James I of Eng­land. She made sure that Ge­orge was taught to speak English, al­though he was never able to lose his Ger­man ac­cent, and he also stud­ied French and Latin.

It has been said that Ge­orge had a sol­dier’s brain and he found that the mil­i­tary life suited him well. Be­ing very pre­cise, he knew ev­ery sin­gle de­tail of a uni­form.

As a young sol­dier in 1708 he fought un­der the com­mand of the Duke of Marl­bor­ough at the Bat­tle of Ou­denarde dur­ing the War of Span­ish Suc­ces­sion. Ge­orge led the Dra­goons and had his horse shot from be­neath him, but he sur­vived.

When Ge­orge was 17 his grand­mother

be­came di­rect heir to the English throne, as Queen Anne had no liv­ing chil­dren. Ge­orge be­came a nat­u­ralised English cit­i­zen in 1705, and Queen Anne gave him the ti­tles Duke of Cam­bridge, Earl of Mil­ford Haven, Vis­count Northaller­ton and Baron Tewkes­bury on his birth­day in 1706.

He was also made a Knight of the Garter in April that year. This was in prepa­ra­tion for his fam­ily mov­ing to Eng­land on the even­tual death of Queen Anne, which hap­pened on Au­gust 1, 1714. As Elec­tress Sophia had died less than two months be­fore Queen Anne, it was his fa­ther who suc­ceeded to the throne as King of Eng­land. Ge­orge then re­ceived fur­ther ti­tles to be­come Prince of Wales, Earl of Ch­ester, and Duke of Corn­wall and Rothe­say.

The new Prince of Wales be­came a pop­u­lar fig­ure in Eng­land at this time – some would say be­cause he could speak English. His pop­u­lar­ity in­creased fur­ther fol­low­ing a failed as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt at the Drury Lane Theatre in Lon­don.

De­spite their new life in Eng­land, the dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship be­tween Ge­orge and his fa­ther did not im­prove. When King Ge­orge I re­turned to Hanover quite soon af­ter the corona­tion, he left Ge­orge, as Prince of Wales, in con­trol as “Guardian of the King­dom”.

The Prince and his wife im­me­di­ately moved to Hamp­ton Court, where they lived in great splen­dour. This did not go down well with his fa­ther and the next time the King paid a visit to Hanover he left a Re­gency Coun­cil in charge of the coun­try in­stead of his son.

Ge­orge had mar­ried Wil­helmina Char­lotte Caro­line of Branden burgAns­bach at Her­ren­hausen on Septem­ber 2, 1705, when he was 23 and they went on to have three sons and five daugh­ters. She was known by her last Chris­tian name, Caro­line, and was now Princess of Wales. She was a strong, de­ter­mined woman and had an equally poor re­la­tion­ship with King Ge­orge I, who called her a “she-devil”.

Sir Robert Walpole in­ter­vened to bring about a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween fa­ther and son, but as Ge­orge was a staunch Tory sup­porter and Walpole was in power as a Whig, there was in­evitably fric­tion. The Prince and Princess of Wales had homes in Rich­mond Park and Le­ices­ter House, on the site of what is now Le­ices­ter Square.

Their cir­cle be­came known as “The Le­ices­ter House Set” and op­posed the King wher­ever pos­si­ble.

Ge­orge I died in Hanover fol­low­ing a stroke in 1727 and Ge­orge II’S Corona­tion took place at West­min­ster Abbey four months later. As soon as Ge­orge was on the throne he at­tempted to get rid of Sir Robert Walpole. He planned to re­place him with Sir Spencer Comp­ton, who was Speaker of the House of Com­mons and had been Ge­orge’s faith­ful trea­surer for many years. But the Queen came to Walpole’s res­cue and he kept his po­si­tion.

Dur­ing Ge­orge II’S reign Walpole presided over a pe­riod of great pros­per­ity. He in­creased trade and staved off war. The ab­sence of mil­i­tary con­flict was of

par­tic­u­lar ben­e­fit, as wars were costly in terms of money and lives.

The sub­tle change dur­ing this pe­riod was a trans­fer­ence of power from the monarch to the gov­ern­ment. It has been said that Ge­orge II reigned but Par­lia­ment ruled. In ad­di­tion to this, the Queen was very much the power be­hind the throne.

Sir Robert Walpole’s view of Ge­orge never soft­ened.

“The King is – for all his per­sonal brav­ery – as great a po­lit­i­cal coward as ever wore a crown.”

The two re­mained at odds and whilst Walpole strove for peace, the sol­dier King would have been happy to go to war.

He soon got his wish. In 1739, Eng­land be­came in­volved in a con­flict with Spain in what is now known as the War of Jenk­ins’ Ear. Al­though fight­ing was largely over by 1742, the war dragged on un­til the Treaty of Aix-la-chapelle in 1748 re­turned colo­nial land to pre­vi­ous own­ers.

In the mean­time, Eng­land had also be­come in­volved in the War of Aus­trian Suc­ces­sion, when Maria Theresa of Aus­tria was in con­flict with Prus­sia over who should rule the Haps­burg Em­pire.

The English and the Dutch joined the Aus­tri­ans and Hanovar­i­ans against the French and Prus­sians. At the Bat­tle of Det­tin­gen in 1743, King Ge­orge II be­came the last English monarch to lead troops into bat­tle.

His bat­tle cry was, “Now, boys, now, for the hon­our of Eng­land! Fire and be­have bravely and the French will soon run.” When his horse bolted, Ge­orge con­tin­ued on foot.

Al­though it was the War of Aus­trian Suc­ces­sion, Ge­orge’s keen­ness at Det­tin­gen was re­ally to pre­serve the in­de­pen­dence of his home­land of Hanover, where he was still Elec­tor.

When the War of Aus­trian Suc­ces­sion ended, Ge­orge com­mis­sioned Han­del to com­pose Mu­sic for the Royal Fire­works for a cel­e­bra­tory fire­work dis­play in Lon­don’s Green Park on April 27, 1749, to mark the end of the war and the sign­ing of the Treaty of Aix-la-chapelle in 1748.

As a pa­tron of Han­del, it was Ge­orge who be­gan the cus­tom of stand­ing dur­ing the “Hallelujah Cho­rus” of the “Mes­siah”.

Al­though the War of Aus­trian Suc­ces­sion had ended when the Treaty of Aix-la-chapelle was signed, ten­sions re­mained.

By the mid-1750s there were two ma­jor causes for con­cern. There were on­go­ing mar­itime and colo­nial dis­putes be­tween Eng­land, Spain and France. In Europe, Fred­er­ick the Great of Prus­sia in­vaded Aus­tria, which led to the Seven Years’ War.

Bri­tain emerged as the world’s dom­i­nant naval power, ex­panded its ter­ri­to­ries and would soon play a dom­i­nant role in the his­tory of Canada and In­dia. But Ge­orge did not live to see the end of the war or the in­crease in Bri­tain’s rule.

For the last years of his reign Ge­orge II seemed to take a back seat. Walpole lost power in 1742 and had been re­placed by Sir Spencer Comp­ton.

Al­though he had been King of Eng­land for over 30 years, courtiers felt that Ge­orge had be­come in­creas­ingly Ger­man in out­look. He even­tu­ally came to dis­like English tra­di­tions and cer­e­mony.

“I am sick to death of all this fool­ish stuff,” he once ranted, “and wish with all my heart that the devil may take all your Bish­ops, and the devil take your Min­is­ters, and the devil take your Par­lia­ment, and the devil take the whole is­land, pro­vided I can get out of it and go to Hanover.”

Such an out­burst did noth­ing to en­dear him to the English.

Dur­ing Ge­orge II’S reign, witch­craft was abol­ished as a crime in Eng­land, John and Charles Wes­ley started the Methodist move­ment and the first botan­i­cal gar­dens were laid out at Kew. The path was laid for the ad­vent of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion when Jethro Tull pub­lished his book “The New Horse Hoe­ing Hus­bandry”, de­tail­ing how mech­a­ni­sa­tion could im­prove farm­ing. Soon man­u­fac­tur­ing would be trans­formed by ma­chin­ery.

In his pri­vate life, Ge­orge II had many sim­i­lar­i­ties with his fa­ther: notably, he kept mis­tresses and dis­liked his el­dest son! Ge­orge had a num­ber of mis­tresses, in­clud­ing the Duchess of Ken­dal, Lady Delo­raine and Count­ess von Wallmoden.

To some he be­stowed ti­tles, mak­ing the Ger­man Amalie Wallmoden the Count­ess of Yar­mouth, and one of his wife’s ladies-in-wait­ing, Hen­ri­etta Howard, be­came the Count­ess of Suf­folk and had her own suite of rooms at St James’s Palace. De­spite the mis­tresses, Ge­orge II ap­peared to re­main de­voted to his wife, and she even seemed to con­done his adul­tery as part and par­cel of the 18th-cen­tury court.

Both Ge­orge and Caro­line hated their el­dest son, Fred­er­ick, Prince of Wales. The Queen told courtier Lord Her­vey, “You know as well as I that he is the low­est stink­ing coward in the world and that there is no way of gain­ing any­thing of him but by work­ing on his fear.”

Ge­orge was equally damn­ing, say­ing he was “the great­est beast, the great­est liar and the great­est fool in the world.”

Ge­orge and Caro­line took the “spare the rod and spoil the child” ap­proach with all of their off­spring. Per­haps be­cause of his strict up­bring­ing, their el­dest son Fred­er­ick turned into a rebel and op­posed

his par­ents at ev­ery turn.

In adult­hood, Fred­er­ick was known as a spend­thrift whose chief in­ter­ests were gam­bling, drink­ing and wom­an­is­ing. Ge­orge kept a very tight rein on the purse strings and con­tin­u­ally re­duced Fred­er­ick’s al­lowance to try to keep him in check, but it was a con­stant bat­tle.

The sit­u­a­tion was fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated by the fact that Ge­orge knew his ex­penses would rise when the Prince mar­ried, and as heir ap­par­ent it was es­sen­tial to find Fred­er­ick a suit­able bride to be­come the next Princess of Wales.

Sarah, Duchess of Marl­bor­ough, of­fered her grand­daugh­ter, Lady Diana Spencer (later Duchess of Bed­ford) to Fred­er­ick with an in­cred­i­ble dowry of some hun­dred thou­sand pounds.

This ar­range­ment suited them both, as Fred­er­ick needed the money and Lady Diana would give the Marl­bor­oughs the ul­ti­mate in so­cial sta­tus when she even­tu­ally be­came queen. A date was ar­ranged for a se­cret mar­riage, but as soon as Sir Robert Walpole heard the news, he scup­pered the plans.

Even­tu­ally Fred­er­ick mar­ried seven­teen-year-old Princess Au­gusta of Saxe-gotha. She was an im­ma­ture girl who ar­rived in Eng­land hold­ing her favourite doll for com­fort. The King and Queen took an in­stant dis­like to her.

When Au­gusta was due to give birth to their first child, Fred­er­ick told his par­ents that the baby was due in Oc­to­ber, when in fact it was due in July. This was to pre­vent the King and Queen be­ing present at the birth, as was tra­di­tional at that time.

As soon as Au­gusta went into labour, she was taken from Hamp­ton Court to St James’s Palace to give birth there in a fur­ther at­tempt to thwart his par­ents.

When Caro­line heard the news she rushed to St James’s Palace, but a baby girl had al­ready been born. This opened up a fur­ther rift be­tween mother and son that was never bridged.

Caro­line had felt un­well since the birth of her last child and was ac­tu­ally suf­fer­ing with an um­bil­i­cal her­nia, which she kept to her­self un­til her con­di­tion de­te­ri­o­rated per­ilously. De­spite his mis­tresses, Ge­orge seemed in­con­solable when the Queen died on Novem­ber 20, 1737, declar­ing that of all the women he had known there was not “one fit to buckle her shoe.”

Fred­er­ick, his trou­ble­some heir, died in 1751 from a lung ab­scess, said to be the re­sult of be­ing hit by a cricket ball. In re­cent years, his­to­ri­ans have come to the con­clu­sion that he more likely died from a pul­monary em­bolism – a blood clot on the lungs.

Ge­orge him­self died at Kens­ing­ton Palace on Oc­to­ber 25, 1760 while on the toi­let – a vic­tim of se­vere con­sti­pa­tion. He left in­struc­tions that he was to be buried next to Caro­line and that the sides of their coffins should be re­moved where they touched. They now lie side by side in Henry VII’S Chapel. He was the last King of Eng­land to be buried at West­min­ster Abbey. Af­ter his death, there were few glow­ing trib­utes to the late King. Ho­race Walpole wrote that Ge­orge II had “the haugh­ti­ness of Henry VIII with­out his spirit; the avarice of Henry VII with­out his ex­ac­tions; the in­dig­ni­ties of Charles I with­out his big­otry for his prerog­a­tive; the vex­a­tion of King Wil­liam, with as lit­tle skill in the man­age­ment of par­ties, and the gross gal­lantry of his fa­ther, with­out his good na­ture or his hon­esty.”

Vic­to­rian au­thor and politi­cian Justin Mccarthy was slightly more gra­cious, con­clud­ing, “The best, per­haps, that can be said of him is that on the whole, all things con­sid­ered, he might have been worse.”

Above: Ge­orge II.

Above: Caro­line of Ans­bach. Above right: Well-wish­ers gather for Caro­line. Be­low right: Ge­orge II at the Bat­tle of Det­tin­gen.

Above: Corona­tion of Ge­orge II.

Be­low right: Fred­er­ick, Prince of Wales. Be­low: Ge­orge II by Rys­brack, Old Royal Naval Col­lege, Green­wich.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.