George I (1660-1727) was king of Great Britain and Ireland from 1714 until his death. He was the first Hanoverian king of Great Britain and Ireland (1714–27), in addition to being (as "Georg Ludwig"), elector or ruler of the country of Hanover (now part of Germany). He was an unpopular king, but created a more stable political system in Britain and helped bring peace to northern Europe.
George I was succeeded by his son George II.
He was born Georg Ludwig (George Louis) on Mar. 28, 1660, in Hanover, the first son of Ernest Augustus of Hanover and the Electoress Sophia, who was herself the daughter of Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia and granddaughter of King James I of England. Georg Ludwig was educated as a soldier, he took part in his first battle at the age of 15. He afterward fought against the Turks with John III Sobieski, king of Poland; and he distinguished himself in the wars against Louis XIV of France but resigned his commands in 1707, feeling himself snubbed by the allied commanders.
In 1682 he married his cousin Sophia Dorothea of Celle (1666–1726), by whom he had two children, George Augustus, his successor as King George II, and Sophia, afterward queen of Prussia. In 1694 Sophia Dorothea's lover disappeared, presumably murdered by courtiers alarmed that the couple was preparing to elope. She was divorced on the grounds of her refusal to cohabit and put away for life as a virtual prisoner in a remote castle. Although Georg Ludwig was not directly implicated in the murder, his reputation acquired a sinister twist and his harsh treatment of his wife distressed Britons.
George took control of Hanover in 1694 and after his father's death in 1698 acquired the highly prestigious status of "elector"; by the Act of Settlement of 1701, he was named next in line as heir to the English throne, after his mother, who died in 1714. He was the safest choice for British leaders, all Protestants, who otherwise had to face the claims of the Catholic Stuarts. He therefore succeeded Queen Anne on Aug. 1, 1714, and became king of Great Britain and Ireland without difficulty. He remained ruler of Hanover until his death and spent much time there.
George's reign was marked by invasions and plots (1715, 1719, 1723) fomented by the Jacobites, who wanted to restore the former ruling house of Stuart. They were always defeated and finally faded away. In 1711 an outburst of wild speculation—the South Sea Bubble—financially ruined many aristocrats. There were political tensions between the two main parties, the Whigs and Tories. The Whigs supported George, but the Tories were divided among themselves over supporting a Jacobite (Stuart) restoration.
George I's reign was marked by the rise of Sir Robert Walpole to full power as prime minister (though the title was not yet in use). By political cunning and sound policy, Walpole did much to keep the unpopular Hanoverians on the throne of England.
The first two Hanoverian kings, George I (1714–27) and George II (who reigned 1727-1760), are often considered together. They played a major role in the development of the monarchy, which now became solidly established by constitutional and political conventions and practices known as the "Revolution Settlement," which ended the turmoil after the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 in which James II was replaced by William and Mary. The political settlement was solidified by George I after 1714. Most important, the defeat of the Jacobite uprising of 1715-16 marked the decisive defeat of forces opposed to the new order. This triumph was repeated in 1746 when the British army that crushed Charles Edward Stuart at Culloden was led by George II's second and favourite son, William, Duke of Cumberland. Britons often grumbled that the two Georges paid too much attention to Hanover, and both use British resources to help Hanover. George I, for example, sought to win territories from the partition of the Swedish empire and to place a westward limit on the expansion of Russian power under Peter the Great. George II sought Hanoverian territorial gains in neighbouring Mecklenburg, East Friesland and Osnabrück. Both rulers also sought to counter Hanoverian vulnerability to attack from France or Prussia. In the long run, they did little to help Hanover or Britain.
George never learned the English language and continued to spend much of his time in Hanover, leaving the government of his kingdom to his ministers. This inattention accelerated the transition toward the system of parliamentary/cabinet government in Britain, with the monarch playing a largely symbolic role. George I's most powerful minister, Sir Robert Walpole, is regarded as the first prime minister, although that title was not used until later.
Image and memory
The king himself, a man without charm who could barely speak English, was unpopular. He was a Lutheran who headed the Church of England, causing problems for theologians. Official celebrations of his accession and other significant Hanoverian dates were seen as provocative in some anti-German or Jacobite (pro-Stuart) and triggered riots in Chester, Manchester, Oldham, Liverpool, Leeds, Warrington, Newcastle, Sheffield, Pontefract, Halifax, and York in 1714-19. The deployment of troops to suppress the riots soured public opinion against the king.
Court publicists sponsored sermons and pamphlets that said George exemplified the ideal Protestant soldier-king and embodied the British virtues of Protestantism and liberty.
George allowed the royal court to lose ground as an institution, with the royal household declining in political importance, and Parliament took control of the government. However the court remained a useful venue for minor ministers and patronage seekers. It was also a stage for signaling political opinion through attendance, ceremony, gesture, and costume.
George's two German mistresses—the Duchess of Kendall (1667–1743) and the Countess of Darlington—were ugly and venal, and were objects of contempt after both became implicated in corrupt dealings with the South Sea Company. His German political advisers, Bothmar and Andreas von Bernstorff, were suspected of betraying British interests for the sake of Hanover. Indeed, the same allegation was constantly leveled at the king himself, and his obvious relief in leaving England for extended visits to Hanover further hurt the king's reputation in Britain. The king and his son and heir George Augustus hated one another, adding more bile to the situation.
George was a patron of operas, concerts, and musicians, and frequently attended performances in London. He especially enjoyed George Frederick Handel's "Water Music" (1717). The 117 theater performances commanded by George I, compared to six by his predecessor, brought new life to the London theater and set the pattern for continued royal support.
On the other hand, George was well informed on European affairs and showed cool judgment regarding military and diplomatic affairs. He and Andreas von Bernstorff took Hanover into the Great Northern War in 1715 on the side of the anti-Swedish coalition (England remained neutral but George used its fleet in the Baltic). The principal achievement of was the Quadruple Alliance of 1718, which provided an international guarantee of the Hanoverian succession and the status quo of the Peace of Utrecht (1713); George is credited with restoring peace in northern Europe. He oversaw the maturation of British parliamentary monarchy; during his reign the alliance between the Hanoverian dynasty and the Whig party was forged; the Tories (or "Country party") lost power and the Stuarts were totally ruined.
- Jeremy Black, "Georges I and II: Limited Monarchs." History Today 2003 53(2): 11-17. Issn: 0018-2753 Fulltext: Ebsco
- Jonathan D. Oates, "Jacobitism and Popular Disturbances in Northern England, 1714-1719." Northern History 2004 41(1): 111-128. Issn: 0078-172x Fulltext: Ebsco
- Hannah Smith, "The Idea of a Protestant Monarchy in Britain 1714-1760." Past & Present 2004 (185): 91-118. Issn: 0031-2746 Fulltext: OUP
- Hannah Smith, "The Court in England, 1714-1760: a Declining Political Institution?" History 2005 90(1): 23-41. Issn: 0018-2648 Fulltext: Ebsco,
- Donald Burrows and Robert D. Hume, "George I, the Haymarket Opera Company and Handel's 'Water Music'", Early Music, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Aug., 1991), pp. 323-343 in JSTOR
- Derek Mckay, "The Struggle for Control of George I's Northern Policy, 1718-19." Journal of Modern History 1973 45(3): 367-386. in Jstor
- Beattie, J. M. The English court in the reign of George I (1967)
- Beattie, J. M. "The Court of George I and English Politics, 1717-1720." English Historical Review 1966 81(318): 26-37. Issn: 0013-8266 in Jstor
- Black, Jeremy. "Georges I and II: Limited Monarchs." History Today 2003 53(2): 11-17. Issn: 0018-2753 Fulltext: Ebsco
- Gibbs, G. C. "George I (1660–1727)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004); online edn, Oct 2007
- Hatton, Ragnhild M. George I: elector and king (1978), a standard scholarly biography
- Hatton, Ragnhild M. George I (The English Monarchs Series) (2001), 432pp; standard scholarly biography
- Kilburn, Matthew. "Schulenburg, (Ehrengard) Melusine von der, suo jure duchess of Kendal and suo jure duchess of Munster (1667–1743)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004); online edn, Jan 2008; the king's main mistress
- Plumb, J. H. The First Four Georges (1956)
- Redman, A. The House of Hanover (1960)
- Williams, Basil. The Whig Supremacy, 1714–60 (2d ed. 1962), standard survey online edition