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The First King George

In Dublin, a marker stands with King George's name

In Dublin, a marker stands with King George’s name

Although my name prediction for Baby Cambridge was Arthur, I cannot say I was overly shocked that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge named their new-born son George. Because of his birth, I have started to dig deeper into the royal history behind the name. I always knew that George was a historically significant name (there are six Kings with this name after all), but I didn’t realize just how significant. Today, I am beginning a series on the history behind Prince George of Cambridge’s name. What better place to start than King George I?

The first King George ascended to the throne after Queen Anne’s health deteriorated on 1 August 1714. She had suffered a severe stroke and was unable to speak. On 20 October 1714, King George’s coronation took place, officially making him King of Great Britain and Ireland. King George was also the Elector of Hanover, a title he inherited from his father, Ernest Augustus. He ruled as the first monarch of the House of Hanover until his death on 11 June 1727.

King George was born George Louis on 28 May 1660 in Hanover (present day Germany) to Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover, and Sophia of the Palatinate, a direct descendant of King James I, and therefore of Queen Anne. Upon Queen Anne’s stroke, King George was her closest non-Catholic relative. Because of the Settlement Act of 1701, the King or Queen of Great Britain and Ireland must now be Protestant. In protest, a group of people known as the Jacobites attempted, unsuccessfully, to install Queen Anne’s half-brother James Francis Edward Stuart, a Catholic, as King. The Pretenders, as James and his followers were known, made the majority of King George’s reign very unsettled; his coronation was met with rioting in many English villages.

For much of his young life, George’s future was uncertain. He had three uncles, who if they had children, would have knocked the young man out of the succession for the title of Elector of Hanover. The opposition of the Settlement Act of 1701 also left his father with an uneasy feeling. Ernest Augustus even taught his son “normal” activities (hunting, riding, etc.) to ensure George could have a normal life outside of the title and the monarchy. Two of the three uncles died childless and the third had  a daughter: Sophia Dorothea of Celle. Therefore, George Louis did inherit the title Elector of Hanover. This title was much like the present day Duchy of Cornwall; it came with a large amount of money, land, and power.

In 1679, George of Hanover married Sophia Dorothea of Celle, his first cousin. Although this marriage was rather unhappy, they were able to secure the House of Hanover with the birth of their son, George Augustus, and a daughter, Sophia. Extramarital affairs and the murder of Sophia’s lover rocked the marriage. The marriage was eventually dissolved on the grounds of abandonment by Sophia, not for adultery as many had suspected.

King George and his son, George, Prince of Wales, had a rocky relationship from the start. But the father/son relationship dissolved on the day of King George’s grandson’s christening. King George did not approve of his son’s verbal attack on one of the baptismal sponsors, leading to the Prince of Wales getting kicked out of St. James’s Palace. The Prince of Wales’ new home, Leicester House became the headquarters for The Pretenders. Sir Robert Walpole, the Prime Minister, encouraged the family to reconcile but the relationship would never be cordial again.

At the time of King George’s reign, the powers of the monarch began to diminish into today’s cabinet government led by a prime minister. King George I saw Britain’s first prime minister: Sir Robert Walpole, who, by His Majesty’s death, held all actual power. Although King George did many positive things for his country, his reign was rocked with scandal. Many people believed King George I to be an uneducated man who longed to be in his hometown of Hanover, a place he frequently visited. He spent more than one-fifth of his reign in Hanover. From the breakdown of his marriage, the Pretenders often vicious attacks, and his own son betraying him, his time as King was not a time of personal or monarchical success.

Upon his death, King George I was succeeded by his son, King George II.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the King George series.

photo credit: Ell Brown via photopin

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