Dr Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, English historian, author and TV presenter. Dr Worsley recently agreed to an interview for her upcoming series: Hanoverians: The First Georges which will air on BBC Four this month.
First of all let me thank you for taking the time and say what an honour it is to interview you.
No way! That’s just so unbelievably courteous of you. It’s entirely my pleasure!
As Curator for the Historic Royal Palaces, one can imagine that there must be so many things that provide you with inspiration. Do you feel that every day is brand new and holds many a surprise or discovery?
Well, nobody likes going off to catch the train to work on a rainy Monday morning, but when the destination is Hampton Court Palace it really helps. You’re right that in the curators’ team we never know exactly what’s going to turn up next. Each time we think of a new exhibition idea or research project, there is a smorgasbord of new stories to learn about.
In your book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court you gave readers a wide range of ‘characters,’ – of those discussed who was your favourite to write about? If you were able to travel back in time, who would you choose to be for a day?
I’m particularly attracted to the character of Queen Caroline of Anspach, wife of George II. I think she’s very underrated among queens (people easily confuse her with the later Queen Caroline of Brunswick who got divorced from George IV in fine scandalous style). The earlier Queen Caroline, though, was the funniest, cleverest (and the fattest) queen consort we’ve ever had, and she brought a glittering circle of intellectuals and wits to court.
Can you give our readers some insight into your new programme? Are there any unearthed bits of historical information that viewers may be surprised with?
I hope that the Turnip Song will go down well! At the coronation of George I, a spectator from the crowd was arrested for waving a turnip on a stick. His message was the German George came from rural Hanover, and place good only for the growing of vegetables. To talk about turnips was a way of insulting the Hanoverians, and expressing your support for their exiled rivals the Stuarts, and hence this song of popular protest about turnips. (Chorus: ‘And a hoe-ing he may go, may go, may go, and a hoe-ing he may go!’)
It seemed the Hanoverians had a bit of a PR problem upon acceding to the throne. With George I there was the language issue, the King’s not taking an active role in his reign, the locking up of his wife and eventually abducting his grandchildren from his son, The Prince of Wales, among other things. Can you offer some insight as to how they were able to keep hold of their throne, despite what history may tell us?
You’re right: what initially attracted Britain to the Hanoverians was rather the negative fact they were not the Catholic Stuarts! This meant that Brtiain’s new kings and queens had to overcome xenophobia and prejudice as well as the culture shock of moving to a new country. During the period 1714 – 1760, though, they gradually put down roots in Britain. They were not flashy or charismatic (although George II’s warm and welcoming wife, Queen Caroline, did a lot to win over the establishment) but they brought stability and showed that, when necessary, they could put down rebellions with considerable brutality. By 1760, George III, who’d be born in Britain, could claim to be truly British. I think of them as like successful stepfathers, grafted onto a family, but eventually becoming part of it.
What was your favourite memory or moment as you were recording the Hanoverian series?
When we were filming in Germany, we had such a warm welcome! There have been so many BBC film crews over there making programmes about the ‘other’ anniversary of 2014, that of 1914 and the start of World War One, that people seemed delighted that for once we didn’t want to talk about the war.
What would be your ‘dream’ project? Is there another Royal household you would perhaps want to create a series or write a book about?
At Historic Royal Palaces, we belong a rather curious club called ‘The Association of the Royal Residences of Europe’. We palace curators all meet up regularly in the various capitals of Europe to discuss matters of common concern, so I’m quite familiar with the continent’s royal buildings. I long to make a programme about the more exciting of those abroad.
One must ask if there is a possible new book on the horizon and if so any clue as to the topic?
At the moment I’m taking what I think is a well-earned rest from book writing! But I’m still busy: I shall soon be launching my book ‘A Very British Murder’ book in the US (as ‘The Art of the English Murder’.)
“Hanoverians: The First Georges will present the revealing and surprising story of Britain in the reigns of George I and George II (1714-60) – the age of the ‘German Georges’. In 1714, Britain imported a new German royal family from Hanover, headed by Georg Ludwig (aka George I) – an uncharismatic, middle-aged man with a limited grasp of English. Lucy Worsley explores how this unlikely new dynasty secured the throne – and how they kept it,” per the BBC.
Photos are courtesy of Dr Lucy Worsley and BBC Bristol