George I

(1660—1727) king of Great Britain and Ireland and elector of Hanover

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Elector of Hanover and king of Great Britain and Ireland, b. 28 May 1660, s. of Ernst August (later elector of Hanover), and Sophia, da. of Frederick, Elector Palatine; acc. 1 Aug. 1714; m. Sophia Dorothea, da. of Georg Wilhelm, duke of Lüneburg-Celle, 21 Nov. 1682; issue: Georg August, Sophia Dorothea; d. 11 June 1727; bur. Leineschloss church, Hanover, rebur. Herrenhausen.

Georg Ludwig had been elector of Hanover for sixteen years when he succeeded Anne on the throne of Britain in 1714. His family were the nearest protestant descendants of James I, through his grandmother, Elizabeth, queen of Bohemia. He had paid one visit to England in 1680/1 when a marriage to princess Anne was under consideration, but nothing came of it. His subsequent marriage to his cousin proved unfortunate. Sophia Dorothea had a passionate affair with Count Königsmarck. In 1694 the count was ambushed at Hanover and never seen again; rumour said that his body was buried under the palace floors. Sophia Dorothea was divorced and Jacobites took the opportunity to hint that George's children were not his own.

From 1701 the English succession beckoned. George's main interest was in the consolidation and extension of Hanover, and he hoped that English naval power would help him gain Bremen and Verden at the expense of Sweden. He joined England in the Grand Alliance against Louis XIV and was disgusted when the Tories, after their election victory in 1710, made a separate peace with France. There were also rumours that the Tory leaders, Harley and St John, were conspiring to bring back the Stuarts. George urged Anne to allow a member of the Hanoverian family to reside in England, but met with a sharp rebuff. Nevertheless, his succession in 1714 was effected without immediate opposition.

George was fifty-four when he arrived at Greenwich in September 1714. He was an experienced soldier, a knowledgeable diplomat, and a tried ruler. In character he was stolid and uncommunicative, handicapped by a modest command of English, and set in his ways. He travelled little and seemed to have limited interest in his new realm. His original policy, like that of his predecessors Anne and William, was to employ advisers irrespective of party, but the flirtation of some Tories with the Jacobite court ruled out some, and others were reluctant to serve. He finished up with a Whig ministry and was increasingly identified with that party. This prompted the Tories to complain that he surrounded himself with Germans, and to make fun of his middle-aged mistress, created duchess of Kendal in 1719.

George succeeded in his first objective, and the British navy helped to extract Bremen and Verden from Sweden in 1719. In Britain, his task was to consolidate the new dynasty, giving it time to take root. He faced a serious Jacobite rebellion in 1715, but it was ill-coordinated and the French, at peace after more than twenty years of gruelling warfare, were unwilling to send assistance. In 1720, the monarchy was scorched by the South Sea bubble, in which the king, his mistress, and his half-sister (later countess of Darlington) had invested heavily, but public anger was diverted to the directors of the Company. More damaging was a furious and embarrassing quarrel with his son, the future George II, which coincided with a rift between the Whig ministers, Stanhope and Sunderland, and Walpole and Townshend. In 1717 the king commanded the prince to leave St James's palace, took control of the education of his children, and not until April 1720 was a strained reconciliation achieved.


Subjects: British History.

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