A Royal History Of England
W E ueen Anne died at ensington Palace in 1714, the reign of the Stuarts came to a close in England after more than a century. It was her German cousin, George, who arrived at Greenwich in a thick London fog to become our first monarch from the House of Hanover, and the Royal Family’s surname changed to Guelph.
He was the first of four Georges in succession to sit on the English throne reigns that saw the power of the monarchy diminish, along with public affection.
One of only nine monarchs since William the Con ueror to have been born outside the British Isles, George was a great-grandson of ames I of England. Christened Georg Ludwig (George Louis), he was born on May 2 , 1660, at Leineschloss, Osnabr ck, in Lower Saxony.
His mother was Sophia, a daughter of the “Winter ueen”, Eli abeth of Bohemia, and his father was Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover. George succeeded his father as Elector and was made a night of the Garter in 1701 and became a naturalised British subject in 1705.
A diligent child, he was brought up with his brother Frederick and the pair were known by the family nicknames of G rgen and Gustchen. Their parents had four more sons and a daughter, but George was always closest to Frederick.
George was trained as a soldier and was present at a campaign during the FrenchDutch War, and fought at the Battle of Vienna in September 16 3, one of a series of conflicts known as the Great Turkish War between the Ottoman Empire and various European allies.
George made a visit to England when he was twenty as a potential husband for the fifteen-year-old Princess Anne (later ueen Anne), but she found him dull and he did not consider her to be attractive, so he sailed back home to Germany.
Two years later he married his first cousin, Sophia Dorothea of Celle.
Although she was considered very attractive, it was an unhappy match, arranged mainly for the financial advantages it brought by uniting the territories of Celle and Hanover.
There was also the matter of a large dowry that George was allowed to keep for himself.
“He did not like it,” his mother wrote, “but the money tempted him.”
The couple had two children a son, George, who later became ing George II of Britain, and a daughter, Sophia, who
little town of Hanover, that if the ambition of those about him had not been greater than his own, we should never have seen him in England.”
In Hanover, George was autocratic and had great power, but in England he was happy to leave affairs of state in the hands of others. This was partly due to communication problems.
Although he did eventually learn some of the language, his command of the English vocabulary remained poor and he tended to speak in French.
George took little interest in politics, which led to a change in how the country was governed. Whereas public affairs had once been controlled by the monarch, with advice from the Privy Council, George was content to let Parliament have greater power.
Sir Robert Walpole became Britain’s first Prime Minister, or First Lord of the Treasury as he would have been known. Walpole stood in for the ing at meetings, as not only did George have little interest, he could not understand what was being said, and his own speeches were read out by the Lord Chancellor.
Ministerial meetings without the monarch eventually led to the formation of the Cabinet. A new law was passed during George’s reign that allowed General Elections to take place every seven years. The balance of power shifted.
“Though a despot in Hanover, he was a moderate ruler in England,” William Makepeace Thackeray wrote. “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 . . . We laughed at his uncouth German ways, and sneered at him.”
George personally designed a new uniform for his guards, but they refused to wear it because the cloth was too coarse, and he was mocked when he came up with a scheme to plant turnips in St ames’s Park. This plan that never came to fruition led to him being dubbed the “Turnip ing”.
Although he was crowned ing of England and Scotland, he was not universally accepted in either country. He had been on the throne barely a year when he encountered problems with the Jacobite supporters of ames II’S son, the “Old Pretender”.
ames Francis Edward Stuart was a Roman Catholic and had therefore been barred from the English line of succession, but Jacobites considered him to be the rightful ing ames III.
In 1715, some of ames’s followers took up arms to try to gain him the crown at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in Scotland, but the Jacobites had very little support and were uickly defeated.
It was to be the last rebellion in the Old Pretender’s lifetime and three decades were to pass before his son, Bonnie Prince Charlie, attempted to uphold the Jacobite claims and tried to restore the throne to the Stuarts. He was equally unsuccessful and the Battle of Culloden was the final Jacobite insurrection.
In the comfort of his palace, George banished finger bowls from the royal table, because it was known that Jacobites had used them to toast “The ing Over The Water”, ever since ames II’S exile to France during the Glorious Revolution of 16 .
It was Edward VII who revived the use of finger bowls in the early 20th century, believing that the throne was secure from Jacobite threats by that time.
Five years into the reign came a notorious debacle known as the South Sea Bubble. When George succeeded to the throne, the national debt stood at up to more than 50 million, with an astronomical amount of interest added to it annually. The South Sea Company, a British company trading in the American South Seas, convinced the government that a number of financial ventures could help reduce this vast debt.
Although Robert Walpole was dubious about the scheme and advised against any involvement, many investors, including the ing, put money into enterprises which brought a little return in the first year, and thereafter none at all.
Inevitably the bubble burst and thousands of pounds were lost. Some prominent people went bankrupt as a result. Most had bought shares in the South Sea Company at prices between 100 and 1,000, but when they came to sell them, there were no takers.
In 1721, an investigation exposed a web of deceit and corruption, with the perpetrators being prosecuted, but some investors never recovered from the debts they had incurred.
It was typical of ing George’s reserved personality that he lived in just two rooms at St ames’s Palace, looked after by two Turkish servants, Mustapha and Mohammed. He did not like being seen in public and seldom used the royal box if he went to the opera, preferring to remain incognito.
In his youth he had enjoyed stag hunting, but as he grew older he was more likely to be found cutting out paper patterns in his room.
Up until the time of George I’s reign, there had been a practice in England of touching for the ing’s Evil, in the belief that the skin condition scrofula could be cured by the touch of a royal hand.
Queen Anne had continued the tradition, but it was discontinued by George, possibly because it brought him in too close a contact with the public. Soon after his accession a man applied to have his son touched by the ing, but George refused. The man took his son to France where he was touched by the “Old Pretender” and was cured.
George was not a great patron of the arts, famously saying in his poor English, “I hate all boets and bainters.” But he loved music and employed George Frideric Handel as Kapellmeister while he was still Elector of Hanover.
Handel moved to London during the reign of Queen Anne in 1712 and concerts at St ames’s Palace led to his popularity.
It was during George I’s reign that Handel wrote the opera “Scipio” from which the slow march became the regimental march of the Grenadier Guards.
George also enjoyed architecture and gardening, and developed a garden at Herrenhausen to try to rival that at Versailles.
Although it was his Protestant faith that brought George I to the throne, he lacked the religious fanaticism and fervour of many of his royal predecessors.
He went uietly to services at St Martin-in-the-fields Church in London, and was even a churchwarden there.
He also gave money to the church to purchase an organ, although this has long since been replaced. The royal pew is to the left of the main altar and the royal coat of arms can be seen on the ceiling.
There was one extraordinary occurence towards the end of the ing’s life. A naked wild boy was discovered in Hertswold Forest, near Hamelin, who had the agility of a squirrel, walked on his hands and feet, and survived by eating berries, nuts and plants. He was uncivilised and had no language.
Perhaps realising that their child was disabled, his parents had abandoned him in the forest and miraculously he had survived. George decided to adopt the boy and he was brought back to England with the royal party. He was known as Peter the Wild Boy.
The ing’s daughter-in-law, Caroline, Princess of Wales, took a particular interest in Peter and attempts were made to teach him to speak, read and write, but these failed. He was only ever capable of saying “Peter” and “ ing George”, and could hum a few tunes.
The fascination and affection that the Royal Family had for the boy is shown in the fact that the painter William ent included Peter in a painting of ing George I’s courtiers on the staircase at ensington Palace, where Peter can still be seen dressed in green, holding a bunch of acorns in his hand.
Peter long outlived the ing, spent his last years on a farm in Berkhamsted and died at around seventy years of age. He is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Northchurch in Hertfordshire, where his gravestone can still be seen and flowers are regularly placed there in his memory.
Horace Walpole, the son of Sir Robert, described ing George I as “an elderly man, rather pale, and exactly like his pictures and coins not tall of an aspect rather good than august with a dark tie-wig, a plain coat, waistcoat and breeches of snuff-coloured cloth, and stockings of the same colour, and a blue riband over all.”
By this time, George was not a well man and suffering badly from gout. He was also troubled by a prophecy that he would die shortly after his wife. So when Sophia Dorothea died in 1726, the ing became concerned and refused to bury her body for a long time.
Six months later he was in Holland, on his way to his palace at Osnabruck, Hanover, when he was taken ill after eating an enormous dinner and a “surfeit of melons”.
Desperate to get home, it is said that he travelled in a carriage, shouting, “Osnabruck Osnabruck ” out of the window.
He was taken to his palace, but died in there on une 11, 1727, in the same room that he had been born. He was sixty-seven years old and had reigned for less than 13 years.
Instead of being buried in England, as so many of our monarchs have been, it is not surprising that George I was laid to rest in his beloved Hanover.
The palace was destroyed by bombs during World War II and the ing’s remains, along with those of his parents, were moved to the Guelph mausoleum of his former summer palace at Herrenhausen, where George had spent a lot of time developing the gardens and was at his happiest.
“George the First knew nothing and desired to know nothing did nothing and desired to do nothing,” Samuel ohnson wrote, “and the only good thing that is told of him is that he wished to restore the crown to its hereditary successor.”
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King George I.