|Dates:||1660 - 1727|
George I ruled England from 1714 to 1727 AD.
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."
|Contributors: Willem Hemmen,|
|Dates:||1660 - 1727|