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Monarchy Rules: A look at George II

Most kings are born into regal families and grow up with the knowledge that someday they will rule over a country. However, when he was born in 1683, the future King George II was nothing more than the heir to the heir to a small German Duchy – a far cry from the throne of England that he would someday sit upon.

 

A portrait of King George II, when Prince of Wales, by Sir Godfrey Kneller

George Augustus was born on 10th November, 1683, in Hanover, Germany, making him the last King of England to be born outside the country. Young George’s parents were George Ludwig, Hereditary Prince of Brunswick (the future King George I), and Sophia Dorothea of Celle. The pair were in a loveless marriage, and George would prove to be their only son. In 1694, George Ludwig’s marriage to his wife was dissolved on the grounds of adultery, and Sophia Dorothea was imprisoned in the Castle of Ahlden and forbidden from seeing her children ever again. This was the beginning of tumultuous relationship between George Ludwig and his young son, who resented being kept away from his mother.

His parents’ relationship had been unfriendly and stormy, and their marriage had ended bitterly, so when the time came for George Augustus to get married, his father, not wanting his son to enter into a loveless marriage like he had, gave George the freedom to choose a bride of his liking. He settled upon Caroline of Ansbach – a pretty and intelligent young woman – after having heard good reports about her from his aunt. When George met Caroline for the first time, he was instantly attracted to her good character, and the pair were married in Hanover in 1705. Less than two years later, George and Caroline welcomed their first son, Frederick Ludwig. The couple went on to have seven more children together, all but one of whom survived until adulthood.

In 1714, when he was 30 years old, George’s life changed forever. In June, his grandmother Electress Sophia of Hanover passed away, leaving George’s father as heir to Queen Anne. Just a few short months later, Anne died too, and George Ludwig of Hanover ascended the throne as King George I. George Augustus, now Prince of Wales, traveled to England with his father. With him were his wife and their three young daughters. However his son, Frederick, was left behind to represent his grandfather in Hanover.

The rift between the Prince of Wales and his father only increased after George I’s accession. The prince, who had made an effort to learn the language and the customs of the English, was extremely popular among the masses, a fact which was resented by the King, who favoured the German customs. Things came to a head in 1717, at the baptism of George Augustus’ son, Prince George William. The King and the Prince of Wales got into an argument over who were to be the baby’s godparents, which ended in the King placing his son and daughter-in-law under house arrest at St James’s Palace. In a situation reminiscent of Sophia Dorothea’s imprisonment many years ago, the Prince and Princess of Wales were not allowed to meet their children.

The situation might have improved had it not been for an unfortunate incident. While kept apart from his parents, young George William fell grievously ill, and died shortly afterwards. The Prince of Wales blamed King George for his son’s death, believing that the boy would have lived had he been under his mother’s care. The relationship between father and son was never mended, and when George I died while on his way to Hanover in 1727, the new King George II decided against traveling to Germany for his father’s funeral.

Upon taking the throne, the new King George immediately suppressed his father’s will, thereby keeping Hanover and Great Britain under the same ruler. It was also believed that the King would dismiss Sir Robert Walpole, a trusted minister from George I’s reign who is often regarded as the first British Prime Minister. However, upon Queen Caroline’s insistence, George retained Walpole, who went on to direct domestic policy and advise the King on important decisions related to foreign relations.

One of the major events during King George II’s reign were the Jacobite rebellions, a series of uprisings which aimed to restore the Roman Catholic descendants of King James II to the throne. There had been a couple of rebellions during the reign of George I, but King James’s cause ended once and for all when the Jacobites were defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Britain also engaged in warfare with Spain during this period, and King George was personally involved in the War of the Austrian Succession, earning him the distinction of being the last British king to lead his troops into battle.

Like his father before him, King George II was extremely fond of music, and patronised Handel, who he commissioned to write four new anthems for his coronation. George was also fond of historical and military memorabilia, and was the Patron of The Society of Antiquaries, which is the first recorded royal patronage. However, he was a man of limited intelligence, and could not hold a candle to his wife, Queen Caroline, whose brilliance and intellect were recognised by the entire court. Still, George was very fond of his wife, and relied immensely on her advice, even trusting her to serve as Regent while he was in Hanover.

King George, however, was not very fond of his son. Upon his father’s ascension in 1727, Prince Frederick arrived in England to take his place as Prince of Wales. But Frederick, who resented his parents for leaving him behind in Hanover as a child, wanted more political power than King George was willing to let him have. Frederick further snubbed the King when he forced his wife, Princess Augusta, to give birth in solitude at St James’s Palace. The custom was for royal births to be attended by the King and Queen, and Frederick’s breach of protocol was the last straw for King George.

George's wife, Queen Caroline

George’s wife, Queen Caroline

In 1737, Queen Caroline suffered a ruptured womb, necessitating doctors to operate on her. Sadly, the operation was unsuccessful, and Caroline died weeks later. Although Queen Caroline encouraged the King to remarry after her death, King George refused. He did take mistresses but he didn’t forget his wife saying that he had never met a woman who was fit to buckle Caroline’s shoes.

While on her deathbed, Caroline wrote a letter forgiving her son, and urged her husband to do the same. However Frederick died in 1751, before relations between him and his father could improve.

King George II died on October 25, 1760. He was 77 years old at the time, and had lived for far longer than most of his predecessors. He was succeeded by his grandson, the new King George III, who would go on to reign for nearly 60 years. After his death, George II was buried alongside his wife, Caroline, and the sides of their coffins were removed so that they could be together for all eternity.

Photo credit: “George II when Prince of Wales” by Sir Godfrey KnellerRoyal Collection Object 406073. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons and Queen Caroline portrait via the lost gallery via photopin cc

 

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