| George II King of Great Britain and Ireland
George II (George Augustus) (10 November 1683–25 October 1760) was King of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) and Archtreasurer and Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire from 11 June 1727 until his death. He was the second British monarch of the House of Hanover, and the last British monarch to personally lead his troops into battle.
George II was famous for his numerous conflicts with his father and afterwards with his son (a seemingly common problem for members of the Hanoverian dynasty). His relationship with his wife was much better, despite his numerous mistresses. George II exercised little control over policy during his early reign, the government instead being controlled by Great Britain's first (unofficial) "Prime Minister", Sir Robert Walpole.
The Prince George Augustus was born at Schloss Herrenhausen, Hanover. He was the son of the then-George Louis, Hereditary Prince of Brunswick-Lüneburg and his wife, the Sophia of Celle; his mother's adultery led to a divorce in 1694. When his father succeeded to the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1698, the Prince George became Hereditary Prince of Brunswick-Lüneburg. He married the Princess Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach in 1705.
The Act of Settlement 1701 devised the British Crown to the Hereditary Prince's grandmother Sophia of Hanover if the then-ruling monarch, William III, and his sister-in-law, the Princess Anne of Denmark, both died without issue. Under the Act of Settlement, the Hereditary Prince became a naturalised English subject in 1705. Anne, who had succeeded to the English Throne in 1702, admitted the Hereditary Prince to the Order of the Garter in 1706. She created him Duke of Cambridge, Marquess of Cambridge, Earl of Milford Haven, Viscount Northallerton and Baron Tewkesbury later in the same year.
On August 1, 1714, Anne died, shortly after the Electress Sophia (d. June 8, 1714). Consequently, Sophia's son George inherited the Throne. George I's son, the Prince George, automatically became Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay and Earl of Carrick. His father created him Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester on 27 September 1714.
The Prince of Wales had an extremely poor relationship with his father. When the Princess of Wales gave birth to Prince George William in 1717, a family quarrel ensued; at the baptism, the Prince of Wales insisted on one godfather, whilst the King chose another. When he publicly vituperated his father, the Prince of Wales was temporarily put under arrest. Afterwards, the King banished his son from the St James's Palace, the King's residence, and excluded him from all public ceremonies.
The Prince of Wales did all in his power to encourage opposition to George I's policies. His London residence, Leicester House, became a meeting place for George I's opponents, including Sir Robert Walpole and Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend. In 1720, Walpole encouraged George I and his son to reconcile. In the same year, Walpole made a return to political office, from which he had been excluded since 1717.
In 1721, the economic disaster of the South Sea Bubble allowed Sir Robert Walpole to rise to the pinnacle of government. Walpole and his Whig Party were dominant in politics, for George I feared that the Tories did not support the succession laid down in the Act of Settlement. The power of the Whigs was so great that the Tories would not come to hold power for another half-century. Sir Robert Walpole essentially controlled British government, but, by joining the King's side, lost the favour of the Prince of Wales.
George II suffered from a poor relationship with his son, The Prince Frederick, Prince of Wales (depicted above).
George II succeeded to the throne at the time of his father's death on June 11, 1727, but a battle of wills continued with his son and heir, The Prince Frederick, Prince of Wales. George II may have planned to exile his son to the British colonies, but, in any event, did not actually do so. George was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 4 October. The Hanoverian composer George Frideric Handel was commissioned to write four new anthems for the coronation; one of them, Zadok the Priest, has been sung at every coronation since.
It was widely believed that George would dismiss Sir Robert Walpole, who had distressed him by joining his father's government. It was widely believed that Walpole would be replaced by Sir Spencer Compton; George requested Compton—not Walpole—to write his first speech for him. Compton, however, requested Walpole for aid in the task, leading George's wife, Queen Caroline, an ardent supporter of Sir Robert Walpole, to claim that he was incompetent. George did not behave obstinately; instead, he agreed with his wife and retained Sir Robert Walpole as Prime Minister. Walpole slowly gained the royal favour, securing a generous civil list of £800,000 for the King. He also persuaded many Tory politicians to accept the succession laid down in the Act of Settlement as valid. In turn, George II helped Sir Robert Walpole gain a strong parliamentary majority by creating peers (who sat in the House of Lords) sympathetic to the Whigs.
Whilst Queen Caroline was still alive, Sir Robert Walpole's position was secure. He was the master of domestic policy, and he still exerted some control over George II's foreign policy. Whilst George was eager for war in Europe, Walpole was more cautious. Thus, in 1729, he encouraged George II to sign a peace treaty with Spain.
George's relationship with the Prince of Wales worsened during the 1730s. When the Prince of Wales married Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, an open quarrel broke out; George II banished him and his family from the royal court in 1737. After losing his son, George also lost his wife, who died on November 20, 1737. When she reputedly asked George II to remarry, he said "Non, j'aurai des maitresses!" (French for "No, I will have mistresses!"). George had already had (1736) an illegitimate son, Johann Ludwig, Graf von Wallmoden-Gimborn.
War and rebellion
Against Walpole's advice, George II once again entered into war with Spain in 1739. The entire continent of Europe was plunged into war upon the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1740. At dispute was the right of his daughter, Maria Theresa, to succeed to his Austrian dominions. George II's war with Spain quickly became part of the War of the Austrian Succession.
Sir Robert Walpole was powerless to prevent a major European conflict. He also faced the opposition of several politicians, led by John Carteret, 2nd Baron Carteret (afterwards 2nd Earl Granville). Accused of rigging an election, Walpole retired in 1742 after over twenty years in office. He was replaced by Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington, George II's original choice for the premiership, who had previously failed to gain office due to the manœuvres of Queen Caroline. Lord Wilmington, however, was a figurehead; actual power was held by Lord Carteret. When Lord Wilmington died in 1743, Henry Pelham took his place.
The pro-war faction was led by Lord Carteret, who claimed that if Maria Theresa failed to succeed to the Austrian Throne, then French power in Europe would increase. George II agreed to send more troops to Europe, ostensibly to support Maria Theresa, but in reality to prevent enemy troops from marching into Hanover. The British army had not fought in a major European war in over twenty years, during which time the government had badly neglected their upkeep. Nevertheless, George II enthusiastically sent his troops to Europe. He personally accompanied them, leading them into the Battle of Dettingen in 1743. (He thus became the last British monarch ever to lead troops into battle.) His armies were controlled by his military-minded son, the Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. The war was not welcomed by the British public, who felt that George II and Lord Carteret were subordinating British interests to Hanoverian ones.
Shrewdly, George II's French opponents encouraged rebellion by the Jacobites during the War of the Austrian Succession. The Jacobites were the supporters of the Roman Catholic James II, who had been deposed in 1689 and replaced not by his Catholic son, but by his Protestant daughter. James II's son, James Francis Edward Stuart (the "Old Pretender") had attempted two prior rebellions; the rebellion of 1715 ("the Fifteen") was after he fled to France, and the rebellion of 1719 ("the Nineteen") was so weak that it was almost farcial. The Old Pretender's son, Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie"), however, led a much stronger rebellion on his father's behalf in 1745. The "Forty-Five," as it became known, almost dethroned George II.
Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland in July 1745. Many Scotsmen were loyal to his cause; he defeated British forces in September. He then attempted to enter England, where even Roman Catholics seemed hostile to the invasion. The French monarch, Louis XV, had promised to send twelve thousand soldiers to aid the rebellion, but did not deliver. A British army under the Duke of Cumberland, meanwhile, drove the Jacobites back into Scotland. On 17 January 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie faced the Duke of Cumberland in the Battle of Culloden, the last battle ever fought on British soil. The ravaged Jacobite troops were routed by the British. Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped to France, but many of his Scottish supporters were caught and executed. Jacobitism was all but crushed; no further serious attempt was made at restoring the House of Stuart.
After the Forty-Five, the War of the Austrian Succession continued. Peace was made in 1748, with Maria Theresa being recognised as Archduchess of Austria. She subsequently dropped Great Britain as a key ally, deeming it too unreliable.
For the remainder of his life, George did not take any active interest in politics or war. During his last years, the foundation of the Industrial Revolution was laid as the population rose rapidly. British dominance in India increased with the victories of Robert Clive at the Battle of Arcot and the Battle of Plassey.
In 1752, Great Britain reformed its calendar. It had previously operated under the Julian Calendar, but, after 1752, used the Gregorian Calendar. Furthermore, 1 January became the official beginning of the New Year, instead of 25 March. (The former date had been commonly regarded as the beginning of the New Year for a long time, but the latter was retained in formal usage.) The calendar change required omitting several days; thus, 2 September was followed by 14 September.
George's Prime Minister, Henry Pelham died in 1754, to be succeeded by his brother, Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle, and thereafter by William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire in 1756. Another notable minister was William Pitt the Elder. Pitt was appointed a Secretary of State in the administration of the Duke of Devonshire, but was disliked by the King, for he had previously opposed involvement in the War of the Austrian Succession. The hostility was marked by George's criticism of Pitt's speeches in early 1757. In April of the same year, George II dismissed Pitt, but later recalled him. At the same time, the Duke of Newcastle returned as Prime Minister.
As Secretary of State for the Southern Department, William Pitt the Elder guided policy relating to the Seven Years' War (which may be viewed as a continuation of the War of the Austrian Succession). Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria, made an alliance with her nation's former enemies, Russia and France, and became the enemy of Great Britain and Hanover. George II feared that this new alliance would invade Hanover; thus, he aligned himself with Prussia. Great Britain, Hanover and Prussia were thus pitted against many major European powers, including Austria, Russia, France, Sweden and Saxony. The war spread from Europe to North America (where the conflict was known as the French and Indian War) and to India (where it was termed the Second Carnatic War).
George II died on 25 October 1760 from a stroke whilst using his toilet. He was subsequently buried in Westminster Abbey. He was succeeded by his grandson, who became George III.
The Seven Years' War continued after George II's death. It concluded during the early reign of George III, and led to important territorial gains for the British in North America and Asia. Nevertheless, the expensive conflict crippled the royal finances. British attempts to tax the Americans would lead to the American Revolution. Great Britain, however, fared much better in India. Company rule (that is, rule by the British East India Company) was secured within years of George II's death.
George II's disinterest in British government had contributed to the decline of the royal power. His successor, George III, sought to reverse the trend, but failed; thus, the power of ministers became well-established.
The patriotic song "God Save the King" was developed during George II's reign. It is thought that the first public performance of the song—whose author is unknown—occurred during the Forty-Five. In reference to the Jacobite Rebellion, a fourth verse (which included the words "Rebellious Scots to crush") was added, though it is now rarely sung. "God Save the King" (or "God Save the Queen") is now the unofficial national anthem of the United Kingdom, one of the two national anthems of New Zealand (along with "God Defend New Zealand"), and the royal anthem of Australia and Canada.
In Great Britain, George II used the official style "George the Second, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." In some cases (especially in treaties), the formula "Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Archtreasurer and Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire" was added before the phrase "etc."
George II's arms were: Quarterly, I Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England) impaling Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); II Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or (for France); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland); IV tierced per pale and per chevron (for Hanover), I Gules two lions passant guardant Or (for Brunswick), II Or a semy of hearts Gules a lion rampant Azure (for Lüneburg), III Gules a horse courant Argent (for Westfalen), overall an escutcheon Gules charged with the crown of Charlemagne Or (for the dignity of Archtreasurer of the Holy Roman Empire).
- British Broadcasting Corporation. (2004). "George II." (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/george_ii_king.shtml)
- "George II." (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.