The First Georgian King Arrives in His New Kingdom

George I was proclaimed King of Great Britain and Ireland on 1 August 1714, but he did not set foot in his new realm until 18 September.

King_George_I_by_Sir_Godfrey_Kneller 1714

He was a king with little title to the throne via blood, but the only one Parliament would tolerate. George was a student of the Enlightenment, a progressive ruler, and a wise monarch whose lack of charm often equated to a lack of credit for his good decisions.

After the Jacobites unsuccessfully rebelled in 1715 in an attempt to overthrow King George in favor of the rightful (dynastically) sovereign, James Francis Edward Stuart,  “George acted to moderate the Government’s response, showed leniency, and spent the income from the forfeited estates on schools for Scotland and paying off part of the national debt.” Otherwise, as king he tried to leave domestic policy in the hands of Parliament, exerting his power only to steer British foreign policy, which he was extremely knowledgeable about. He orchestrated Britain’s involvement in the Triple Alliance, as well as the Treaty of Hanover, “which was designed to counterbalance the Austro-Spanish Treaty of Vienna and protect British trade.” He was also fiscally prudent with the royal treasury, didn’t gamble or womanize to excess, preserved civil rights (such as they were) and offered a safe haven for Voltaire when things got too hot in France for the great author.

The bane of his otherwise unbelievably lucky existence was his marriage and his heir. His first cousin and wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, was cruely imprisoned in the Castle of Ahlden for more than 30 years for having an affair. She was not allowed to see her children, whom she loved and who loved her in return. Their son, George Augustus, understandably resented his father’s actions and it caused tension in their relationship.

Sophie_Dorothea_Prinzessin_von_Ahlden with George II and sister Sophia

George I wanted his son, whom he DID love, to be happier in marriage so he allowed George Augustus to meet his potential bride, Caroline of Ansbach, incognito. George Augustus fell in love with her, and they were happily married. However, his relationship with his father worsened.

Part of it was King George disliked how popular the Prince of Wales was becoming in Britain.  Most  of it, though, was that King George kept interfering in the life if his grandchildren. He made the Prince of Wales and Caroline leave their eldest son, the 7 year old Frederick, Prince of Wales, in Hanover under the care of his grand-uncle, Ernest Augustus, Prince-Bishop of Osnabrück, while George Augustus and Caroline were summoned to England. The royal couple, who had to stay in Britain when King George returned to Hanover, didn’t see their son again for 14 years.

Although George and Caroline were allowed to have their three daughters with them, they missed their son and resented his absence. Then, when their second son, Prince George William, was born the King’s choice of baptismal sponsor (against George Augustus’s wishes) caused a huge fight that left wounds that were never fully healed.

the king, supposedly following custom, appointed the Lord Chamberlain, the Duke of Newcastle, as one of the baptismal sponsors of the child. The king was angered when George, who disliked Newcastle, verbally insulted the duke at the christening …[ the king] subsequently banished his son from St James’s Palace, the king’s residence … but their children remained [legally] in the care of the king. George and Caroline missed their children, and were desperate to see them. On one occasion they secretly visited the palace without the approval of the king; Caroline fainted and George “cried like a child”. The king partially relented and permitted them to visit once a week, though he later allowed Caroline unconditional access.

It wasn’t until the new baby boy became gravely ill in February of 1718 that George Augustus was allowed to freely see his second son. Tragically, the infant died on 17 February. The cause of death was a polyp on the baby’s heart, but his parents were convinced it was due to the fact the baby had been forcibly separated from his mother and given over to nurses. In the medical ideology of their time, this was very plausible. They never, ever forgave the king for the loss of their baby boy. From their perspective, the king killed their second son and was certainly the reason they no longer saw their first son. 

Prince_George_William_by_John_Simon

Considering that they had good reason to believe the baby’s death was his grandfather’s fault, I don’t blame them for their implacable anger.

George Augustus would spend the rest of his father’s life suborning and abetting his father’s political foes, and generally thwarting his father as best he could. When George I died in June of 1727 during one of his visits to Hanover, his son, now King George II, refused to go to his father’s funeral.

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