The House Of Hanover
Ancestry and Early Years
George Lewis, or George I as he was later known, was born in the German duchy of Brunswick-Luneberg in 1660, the year of the Restoration. He was the son of Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover and Sophia, the daughter of Elizabeth Stuart the 'Winter Queen' of Bavaria, herself the daughter of the first Stuart King James I and VI.
George's mother, Sophia of Hanover, was a cultured and intelligent woman who spoke five languages, an English visitor to Hanover described her as "a woman of incomparable knowledge in divinity, philosophy, history and the subjects of all sorts of books", she was also a lady of shrewd common sense and an even temperament. His father, Ernest Augustus, although possessing courage, was a man of limited mental capacity, who was cold and reserved and his main interests in life seemed to be the pursuit of horses and women. An uninspiring figure, George himself was described by one observer to be "low of stature, of features coarse, of aspect dull and placid."
In 1680 he was invited over to England as a prospective suitor to James II's daughter, later to become Queen Anne. It seems that George Lewis, who history was to prove no gentleman, was unimpressed by the Princess and not keen to marry her, he returned to Hanover having failed to propose.
He was married in 1682 to his highly attractive first cousin, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, the daughter of George William, Duke of Brunswick-Luneberg and the French Huguenot Eleanor d' Olbreuze. The marriage led to the eventual unification of Hanover and Celle and produced two children, a son, named George Augustus, born on 10 November 1683 and a daughter, Sophia Dorothea, born on 16 March 1687, who was later to become Queen of Prussia.
George's wife Sophia Dorothea was a pretty and vivacious young woman, but her boorish husband ignored her, prefering to spend his time with his mistresses. She consequently embarked on an affair with the handsome and dashing Swedish Count Phillip von Konigsmark. Despite warnings to keep the liaison discreet, she foolishly flaunted her relationship with her lover, which quickly developed into a much discussed court scandal.
In 1694, Konigsmark disappeared at Herrenhausen, (suspected to have been murdered ) George proceeded to divorce Sophia Dorothea. The unfortunate woman was imprisoned at the Castle of Ahlden by her vindictive husband, she was twenty-eight years old at the time but was to spend the rest of her life there and tragically was never to see her two young children again.
When George's father, Ernest Augustus died on 23 January, 1698, he suceeded to the Duchy of Brunswick-Luneberg, which he reigned over as an absolute monarch and became an electoral prince of the Holy Roman Empire. Shortly after, Queen Anne's only surviving child, William, Duke of Gloucester died, leaving George's mother, Sophia as the heiress to the throne of England through the 1701 Act of Settlement. There were many with a far superior hereditary right to England's throne, but they were passed over to maintain a Protestant succession. George was invested with the Order of the Garter by Queen Anne in recognition of his place in the English Succesion.
Sophia of Hanover, who claimed her dearest wish was to have Sophia, Queen of Great Britain engraved on her tombstone, narrowly missed her life's ambition, she died aged eighty-four, only two months before Queen Anne. In 1714, on the death of the last Stuart monarch, George, at the age of 54, came to England to accept "the throne of our ancestors" as he referred to it in his first speech to Parliament .
The English were singularly unimpressed with their new sovereign. George I was a short, irascible German who failed to even speak English and could not be bothered to learn the language. Landing in England at Greenwich, on the evening of 18th September, 1714, in a thick fog, he was accompanied two mistresses Mademoiselle Schullenberg and Madame Keilmansegge, The pair were irreverently dubbed the "the Elephant and the Maypole." His coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on 20 October.
Although the majority of the British people were Protestant and therefore approved of the Act of Settlement and the rule of the German George, as an alternative to the return of the Pretender and the Pope, a minority still preferred the cause of the Jacobites in the person of James II's staunchly Catholic son James Francis Edward Stuart, at the time exiled on the continent and eagerly waiting his chance to claim his inheritance.
The following year, 1715, the Jacobites raised the standard of 'James III' in Scotland. The Battle of Sherrifmuir was fought but turned out to be inconclusive. A small Jacobite force ventured into England but was defeated at Preston. The revolt was all but over when James Francis Edward at last arrived, a reserved young man, the Scots were uninspired by his leadership, and in 1716, having achieved nothing, he returned to France.
George's relationship with his only son, the Prince of Wales, which was never good, continued to deteriorate. George Augustus encouraged political opposition to his father's policies. On the birth of the Prince of Wales son, William, in 1717 a major rift developed between them. The King appointed the Duke of Newcastle, the Lord Chamberlain, as one of the child's sponsors. The Prince, who had not been consulted and heartily disliked Newcastle proceeded to insult him at the christening, thereby angering his father. The Prince of Wales was promptly ordered to leave St. James's Palace and set up home at home at Leicester House, with the Princess of Wales. They were not allowed to take their children, who remained in the care of the king, an action that was naturally deeply resented by the Prince and his wife. Leicester House which then became a meeting place for the King's political opponents.Sir Robert Walpole managed to bring about a temporary reconcilliation between father and son in 1720, but they remained largely estranged.
Robert Walpole, England's first Prime Minister
In the early part of his reign, George I attended meetings of the cabinet regularly. Though he was somewhat hampered by his inability to speak English, his son George, the new Prince of Wales, translated for him. Establishing a much repeated Hanoverian tradition, the King had a poor relationship with his eldest son, they frequently quarrelled and became estranged. George ceased to attend meetings of the cabinet and Robert Walpole took advantage of his absence to establish his own power. George seemed content to leave the business of ruling England to Walpole while he himself ruled as a despot in Hanover.
Robert Walpole, Britain's first Prime Minister
Walpole was born in 1676, the son of a West Norfolk landowner and entered Parliament as a member of the Whig party in 1701. He rose to prominence rapidly becoming First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1715. He died in 1745.
A company was set up to trade with the South Seas in 1711, into which thousands invested their savings. In 1720 most of those who had invested heavily in the scheme lost their money and were ruined. The government was engulfed in the scandal.
George I famously said " I hate all boets and bainters " Apart from his patronage of Handel, the King did not appreciate the arts. Nevertheless his reign saw some literary achievements. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe was published in 1719 and Jonathon Swift's Gulliver's Travels in 1726, in the same year the first circulating library in Britain was opened in Edinburgh.
George's unfortunate ex-wife, Sophia Dorothea, having spent thirty-two years, more than half of her life, as the Prisoner of Ahlden died at the German castle on 23 November, 1726.
The King's relationship with his eldest son and heir George, Prince of Wales, remained hostile, an icy coldness existed between the pair. Walpole formed a friendship with Caroline of Anspach, the Princess of Wales. Unlike her spouse, she was possessed of some intelligence and through her influence, the Prime Minister gained the Prince of Wales' trust. He managed to bring about the impossible and engineered a reconciliation between George and his son, it proved however to be a superficial one.
During one of his frequent visits to his beloved Hanover, George I suffered a stroke and died at Osnabruck on 11th June, 1727, in his sixty-seventh year, he was buried in the Chapel of the Leine Schloss. He was succeeded by his son George II. After the Second World War the body of George I was transferred to the Chapel vaults at Schloss Herrenhausen.
The Ancestry of George I
Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
George, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Dorothea of Denmark
Anne Eleonore of Hesse-Darmstadt
Louis V, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt
Magdalena von Brandenburg
Sophia of the Rhineland
Frederick V, Elector Palatine
Frederick IV , Elector Palatine
Louise Juliana of Nassau
Anne of Denmark