George 11 1727-1760

Born: Schloss Herrenhausen, Hanover, 30 Oct 1683.

Full name and titles: George Augustus, king of Great Britain and Ireland, duke and elector of Hanover, duke and marquess of Cambridge (from 1706), earl of Milford Haven (from 1706), duke of Cornwall and Rothesay (from 1714), prince of Wales and earl of Chester (from 1714).

Crowned: Westminster Abbey, 11 October 1727.

Ruled: 28 May 1727-25 October 1760.

Married: 22 August 1705, at Schloss Herrenhausen, Hanover, Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline (1683-1737) dau. of John Frederick, margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach: 9 children (I stillborn). George probably had one illegitimate child.

Died: Kensington Palace, 25 October 1760, aged 76.

Buried: Westminster Abbey.

George was the only son of George I. He had been born in Hanover before the Act of Settlement had nominated the Hanoverian line of succession, but after this was passed in 1701, when George was seventeen; the youth was tutored in both the English language and the English way of life. He became a naturalised British citizen in 1705 and received a flock of British titles. There was a considerable rift between George and his father after the imprisonment of his mother in 1694, and the elder George refused to grant his son any local responsibilities. Even though he proved his valour at the battle of Oudenarde in 1708 in the War of the Spanish Succession, his father failed to recognize his abilities. This drove George more towards his future British subjects, and in later years he would state that he regarded himself as more British than German, even if he said it in a strong German accent.

George had a passion for the strict rules of etiquette and probity which at times became obsessive and made him irritating at official functions, but at least it meant he strove to get things right, which made him a more acceptable monarch to the British than his father - at least at the outset.

In 1705, when twenty-one, George married Caroline of Ansbach, who was just seven months his elder. It was a good match. Caroline more than matched George in intelligence and canniness, and also softened his German preciseness. She had an earthy charm and was attractive in a beguiling way rather than in her looks. Both partners recognized the need to flirt: George simply because of his sexual desires; Caroline as a way of influencing men of power. It was Caroline who became the power behind the throne, firstly during the reign of her father-in-law when, in the absence of a Queen, she took on the role of first lady as princess of Wales; and certainly when George inherited the crown.

When George's father became king, George and Caroline accompanied him to England and took up residence in London. George aided his father in understanding English, often translating at meetings of the cabinet or the Privy Council, and serving as regent during his father's regular summer returns to Hanover. However at the close of 1717 an argument erupted between George and his father over a misunderstanding that happened during the christening of the prince's latest son. The young George did not like the choice of the duke of Newcastle as godfather, and the duke misunderstood George's comments at the font as a threat. When the prince refused to apologise, the king first threatened to have the son imprisoned and then banished him from St James's Palace. George and Caroline set up home at Leicester House near St Martin-in-the-Fields and here established what became almost a rival court, often giving audience to the king's political enemies, most especially Robert Walpole. It was at Leicester House that Caroline used her wiles and influence to win over the men of authority whom she preferred. The consequences of this rift were significant. It meant that the king no longer felt comfortable at the cabinet meetings without his son and therefore handed over the management of them to his preferred minister, which was how the formal role of the Prime Minister emerged. It also meant that George and Caroline were able to have a trial run at their own cabinet meetings which were a solid grounding for the real thing.

What does seem surprising is that George, given the poor relationship with his father, should have been so hostile towards his own son, Frederick Louis. By all accounts he regarded Frederick as an imbecile, almost from birth, although Frederick was no such thing. George and Caroline left Frederick in Hanover when they came to England, and he was not allowed into England until 1728, when they did their best to ignore him. It rather irritated them both when they discovered that the young man, who they reluctantly created Prince of Wales in 1729, became something of a favourite among London society. With little parental control Frederick became a dandy and a man-about-town, often going on the razzle and ending up drunk. He frequently gambled and built up huge debts that his father refused to acknowledge, let alone pay. Frederick had all the qualities of being a cultured man if his father had paid him any attention: he had a love of sport, art and the theatre. But his father liked none of those things and regarded his son as a wastrel. When Frederick died of a ruptured aneurysm in March 1751, aged 44, his father rather callously remarked that he was glad. It is quite likely that George had hoped Frederick might have died younger and that his heir would have been his younger and favourite son, William Augustus, duke of Cumberland, who shared his father's Germanic ruthlessness. However Frederick lived long enough to marry and father nine legitimate children, amongst them the future George III. Frederick also lived long enough to become a major thorn in George's side, always opposing his father's plans and siding with the opposition in government. Had he become king, he would have settled down and been moderate and compassionate, but his father brought out the worst in him. It was a real-life example of "like father, like son".

When George became king in 1727, England was under the strong political control of Robert Walpole. George had little need to interfere, but that did not stop him wanting to give the impression of being in charge. He sought to change his ministers much like his father, but his preferred minister, Sir Spencer Compton, admitted he was not up to forming an administration. George was thus forced to continue with Sir Robert Walpole, who accommodated George by voting him a larger share of the Civil List.

Like his father, George had a passion for war and it was all that Walpole could do to stop George involving himself in a number of hostilities throughout Europe, particularly the War of the Polish Succession. Matters began to change after the death of Caroline in 1737. George genuinely loved his wife and sorely missed her. He never remarried, but he now lived more openly with his mistress, Amalia von Walmoden. With Caroline's influence and support gone, Walpole's star began to wane. George's desire for war was granted when hostilities broke out with Spain in September 1739 and then with France in 1742 in the War of the Austrian Succession. Even though nearing sixty, George took the opportunity to lead an army into the field at Dettingen on 16 June 1743. This was the last occasion that a British sovereign would command an army in battle. He served valiantly, fighting beside his men, and it gave his popularity a boost.

Interestingly also serving in the battle of Dettingen, on the side of the French, was Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender. Charles's desire to win back the Scottish and English thrones caused him to invade Scotland in 1745 and on a wave of popularity brought an army as far south as Derby. It was as a consequence of the Jacobite rebellion that the first recorded singing of the National Anthem occurred at Drury Lane on 28 September 1745, in a patriotic reaction to the rebels. George sent his second son, William, against Charles. William, Duke of Cumberland, defeated the Scots at Culloden in April 1746 and followed this with a vicious culling of the jacobites, which earned him the name of "Butcher Cumberland". This did not endear the Duke or the king to the Scots. William was not, in fact, an especially good commander. At the battle of Fontenoy in France, the previous May, Cumberland had suffered a humiliating defeat and heavy losses. He was defeated again by the French at Laffeldt in 1747 and in 1757, when Britain became unnecessarily involved in the Seven Years' War; Cumberland was forced to surrender the Hanoverian army at Klosterseven. George was so humiliated by this that he stripped his son of his military commands.

Walpole had stepped down as prime minister in 1742 and George's attempts to appoint a capable one proved uneven over the next few years. Control passed mostly to Henry Pelham, who sanctioned the funds for George's wars but who was not an especially gifted administrator. In the end George was forced to consider William Pitt (the elder), who had been a supporter of his son Frederick and had formed a clique known as the "Patriot Boys", a kind of "brat pack" of the 1740s.

The war against the French had other consequences. In India, the daring adventures of Robert Clive at Madras (in 1746) and Arcot (in 1751) stirred the blood, and his subsequent achievements at Calcutta, Chandernagore and Plassey in 1756/7, saw the defeat of the French and the emergence of the British control of India. Soon afterwards, in Canada, General James Wolfe (who had served at Dettingen and Culloden) succeeded in capturing Quebec in September 1759 and fulfilling Pitt's plan to expel the French from Canada. There were further territorial gains in the West Indies and Africa. Thus as George's reign drew to a close, the British Empire was expanding on both sides of the globe. Had George lived another eight years he would have seen Australia added to the map. The 1750s thus saw an increase in national pride and a restoration, to some degree, of George II in the national affection although, as with his father, the British found it difficult to take any Hanoverian to their hearts.

George's reign must ultimately be seen as a success, though a clouded one at that, but certainly better than the results of either the Old Stewart Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie gaining the throne. George's successes outweighed his failures, thanks mostly to his choice of prime ministers, and Britain became prosperous and an increasing world power. George himself died in a rather undignified fashion - he had a heart attack while sitting on the lavatory.


By kind permission of "The Kings and Queens of England Website" (