Here at Royal Central, we were delighted to have the chance to interview Historic Royal Palaces’ Chief Curator Dr Lucy Worsley last month about her upcoming television series on the first Georgian Kings of Great Britain. Last night, BBC Four aired the first episode of the series The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain, which has been produced in light of the 300th anniversary of George I’s accession to the British throne this year.
In this episode, Dr Lucy Worsley takes viewers on a whirlwind tour through the politics, factions and scandals that made up George I’s reign. As Worsley highlights, we tend to relate the Georgian period with the madness of George III and the heroines of Jane Austen. However, this was also a time where the modern Britain that we know today was established, where the idea of ‘liberty’ championed above all, and when satire and ‘the novel’ were created.
Worsley clearly illustrates the complications that occurred after Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch, was unable to produce an heir after enduring seventeen grueling pregnancies. In 1700, her only child to survive through infancy, Prince William, tragically died. This left a succession crisis that many worried would lead to another revolution by the Jacobite exiles; memories of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 came back to haunt many who feared catholic powers would take revenge and overthrow their Protestant regime.
With these anxieties at the forefront, the Act of Settlement was drawn up by parliament in 1701 to ensure anyone of the ‘popish religion’ or who was married to a ‘papist’ could not inherit the throne. The search for the next in line to the throne had begun. Worsley draws up a neat family tree in order to illustrate where the line of the Hanoverians came from; by going back through all of the Stuart kings, and moving over to James I’s daughter, Elizabeth, do we get a line to the electors of Hanover in Germany.
Worsley, who fashions a new bouncing bob in this series, begins defining who exactly George I was; he was uncharismatic, frugal, already had established enemies and could not speak a word of English. And yet, through this episode, you begin to learn more about George and how he adapted to this new role as king of Great Britain. He saw off the xenophobic taunts and songs calling him a ‘turnip head’ at the start of his reign and became interested in the ways of British life.
As you can suppose with any programme presented by Lucy Worsley, this episode would not be complete without a collection of brilliant shots and insights into a number of palaces and homes across Britain, including the likes of Kensington Palace and Chiswick house. She conveys how George and his courtiers used paintings, architecture and symbolism to demonstrate their feelings towards the new dynasty; Chiswick house in particular portrays a number of treasonous images to do with Charles I and the exiled Stuart dynasty, exemplifying peoples’ fears surrounding the Hanoverians. Worsley also illustrates how neo-Palladianism soared through cities, such as Bath and Edinburgh, in this period to become symbols of the Georgian era.
This episode also highlights the changes to Great Britain in terms of politics and finance. This was a time when Tory and Whig party politics progressed into a modern state system of government, headed by Britain’s first de facto Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, and the stock market and buying of shares became popular ways of making a living.
This series was created in collaboration with the Royal Collection Trust, to coincide with the exhibition The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714 – 1760 at Buckingham Palace from 11th April to 12th October 2014.
Episode one is available online until the evening of Thursday 22nd May. Episode two will air on Thursday 8th May at 9pm on BBC Four.
Photo credit: BBC/Royal Collection Trust/Jack Barnes