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, prepared to take the throne.


1714 - 1837


Sophia Dorothea, dau. of Duke of Brunswick and Celle



II = Caroline, dau. of Margrave of

(1727–1760) Brandenburg-Anspach

Augusta of =

Frederick Lewis,

Saxe-Gotha-Altenberg Prince of


GEORGE III = Sophia Charlotte of

(1760–1820) Mecklenburg-Strelitz


Edward, = Victoria

(1820–1830) (1830–1837)

Duke of Kent of Saxe-




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 represented the executive branch of

government, while Parliament represented 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, preferring 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


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 represented, 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.

George III was the most attractive of the Hanoverian monarchs. He was a

good family man (there were 15 children) and devoted to his wife, Charlotte

of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, for whom he bought the Queen's House (later

enlarged to become Buckingham Palace). However, his sons disappointed him

and, after his brothers made unsuitable secret marriages, the Royal

Marriages Act of 1772 was passed at George's insistence. (Under this Act,

the Sovereign must give consent to the marriage of any lineal descendant of

George II, with certain exceptions.)

Being extremely conscientious, George read all government papers and

sometimes annoyed his ministers by taking such a prominent interest in

government and policy. His political influence could be decisive. In 1801,

he forced Pitt the Younger to resign when the two men disagreed about

whether Roman Catholics should have full civil rights. George III, because

of his coronation oath to maintain the rights and privileges of the Church

of England, was against the proposed measure.

One of the most cultured of monarchs, George started a new royal

collection of books (65,000 of his books were later given to the British

Museum, as the nucleus of a national library) and opened his library to

scholars. In 1768, George founded and paid the initial costs of the Royal

Academy of Arts (now famous for its exhibitions). He was the first king to

study science as part of his education (he had his own astronomical

observatory), and examples of his collection of scientific instruments can

now be seen in the Science Museum.

George III also took a keen interest in agriculture, particularly on the

crown estates at Richmond and Windsor, being known as 'Farmer George'. In

his last years, physical as well as mental powers deserted him and he

became blind. He died at Windsor Castle on 29 January 1820, after a reign

of almost 60 years - the second longest in British history.

GEORGE IV (1820-30)

George IV was 48 when he became Regent in 1811. He had secretly and

illegally married a Roman Catholic, Mrs Fitzherbert. In 1795 he officially

married Princess Caroline of Brunswick, but the marriage was a failure and

he tried unsuccessfully to divorce her after his accession in 1820

(Caroline died in 1821). Their only child Princess Charlotte died giving

birth to a stillborn child.

An outstanding, if extravagant, collector and builder, George IV acquired

many important works of art (now in the Royal Collection), built the Royal

Pavilion at Brighton, and transformed Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.

George's fondness for pageantry helped to develop the ceremonial side of

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