7 May 2010
King George I of Hanover (1714–1727)
King of Great Britain and Ireland:
Reign 1 August 1714 – 11 June 1727
Coronation 20 October 1714 (aged 54)
Successor George II
Prime Ministers Robert Walpole
Elector of Hanover:
Reign 23 January 1698 – 11 June 1727
Predecessor Ernest Augustus
Successor George II
Consort Sophia Dorothea of Celle
m. 1682; div. 1694
Sophia, Queen in Prussia
German: Georg Ludwig
House House of Hanover
Father Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover
Mother Countess Palatine Sophia of Simmern
Born 28 May 1660(1660-05-28)
Osnabrück or Hanover
Died 11 June 1727 (aged 67)
Burial 4 August 1727
Leineschloss, Hanover; later Herrenhausen, Hanover
George I (George Louis; German: Georg Ludwig; 28 May 1660 – 11 June 1727) was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1 August 1714 until his death, and ruler of Hanover in the Holy Roman Empire from 1698.
George was born in Lower Saxony, in what is now Germany, and eventually inherited the title and lands of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. A succession of European wars expanded his German domains during his lifetime, and in 1708 he was ratified as prince-elector of Hanover. At the age of 54, after the death of Queen Anne of Great Britain, George ascended the British throne as the first monarch of the House of Hanover. Although over fifty Catholics bore closer blood relationships to Anne, the Act of Settlement 1701 prohibited Catholics from inheriting the British throne. George, however, was Anne’s closest living Protestant relative. In reaction, the Jacobites attempted to depose George and replace him with Anne’s Catholic half-brother, James Francis Edward Stuart, but their attempts failed.
During George’s reign the powers of the monarchy diminished and Britain began a transition to the modern system of cabinet government led by a prime minister. Towards the end of his reign, actual power was held by Sir Robert Walpole, Great Britain’s first de facto prime minister. George died on a trip to his native Hanover, where he was buried.
George was born on 28 May 1660 in Osnabrück, then part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was the eldest son of Ernest Augustus, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and his wife, Sophia of the Rhineland Palatinate. Sophia was the granddaughter of King James I of England through her mother, Elizabeth of Bohemia.
For the first year of his life, George was the only heir to his father’s and three childless uncles’ German territories. In 1661 George’s brother, Frederick Augustus, was born and the two boys (known as Görgen and Gustchen within the family) were brought up together. Their mother was absent for almost a year (1664–5) during a long convalescent holiday in Italy, but she corresponded regularly with her sons’ governess and took a great interest in her sons’ upbringing, even more so on her return.After Sophia’s tour she bore Ernest Augustus another four sons and a daughter. In her letters Sophia describes George as a responsible, conscientious child who set an example to his younger brothers and sisters.
By 1675 George’s eldest uncle had died without issue, but his remaining two uncles had married, putting George’s inheritance in jeopardy as his uncles’ estates might pass to their own sons, if they had any, instead of to George. George’s father had taken him hunting and riding, and introduced him to military matters; mindful of his uncertain future, Ernest Augustus took the fifteen year old George on campaign in the Franco-Dutch War with the deliberate purpose of testing and training his son in battle.
In 1679 another uncle died unexpectedly without sons and Ernest Augustus became reigning Duke of Calenberg-Göttingen, with his capital at Hanover. George’s surviving uncle, George William of Celle, had married his mistress in order to legitimize his only daughter, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, but looked unlikely to have any further children. Under Salic law, where inheritance of territory was restricted to the male line, the succession of George and his brothers to his father’s and uncle’s territories now seemed secure. In 1682, the family agreed to adopt the principle of primogeniture, meaning George would inherit all the territory and not have to share it with his brothers.
George in 1680, when he was Prince of Hanover. After a painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller.
The same year, George married his first cousin, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, thereby securing additional incomes that would have been outside Salic laws requiring male inheritance. The marriage of state was arranged primarily as it ensured a healthy annual income and assisted the eventual unification of Hanover and Celle. His mother was at first against the marriage because she looked down on Sophia Dorothea’s mother (who was not of royal birth), and because she was concerned by Sophia Dorothea’s legitimated status. However, she was eventually won over by the advantages inherent in the marriage.
In 1683, George and his brother, Frederick Augustus, served in the Great Turkish War at the Battle of Vienna, and Sophia Dorothea bore George a son, George Augustus. The following year Frederick Augustus was informed of the adoption of primogeniture, meaning he would no longer receive part of his father’s territory as he had expected. It led to a breach between father and son, and between the brothers, that lasted until Frederick Augustus’s death in battle in 1690. With the imminent formation of a single Hanoverian state, and the Hanoverians’ continuing contributions to the Empire’s wars, Ernest Augustus was made an Elector of the Holy Roman Empire in 1692. George’s prospects were now better than ever as the sole heir to his father’s electorate and his uncle’s duchy.
Sophia Dorothea had a second child, a daughter named after her, in 1687 but there were no other pregnancies. The couple became estranged—George preferred the company of his mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg, by whom he had two daughters in 1692 and 1693; and Sophia Dorothea, meanwhile, had her own romance with the Swedish Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck. Threatened with the scandal of an elopement, the Hanoverian court, including George’s brothers and Sophia, urged the lovers to desist, but to no avail. According to diplomatic sources from Hanover’s enemies, in July 1694 the count was killed, possibly with the connivance of George, and his body thrown into the river Leine weighted with stones. The murder was claimed to have been committed by four of Ernest Augustus’s courtiers, one of whom (Don Nicolò Montalbano) was paid the enormous sum of 150,000 thalers, which was about one hundred times the annual salary of the highest paid minister. Later rumours supposed that Königsmarck was hacked to pieces and buried beneath the Hanover palace floorboards. However, sources in Hanover itself, including Sophia, denied any knowledge of Königsmarck’s whereabouts.
George’s marriage to Sophia Dorothea was dissolved, not on the grounds that either of them had committed adultery, but on the grounds that Sophia Dorothea had abandoned her husband. With the concurrence of her father, George had Sophia Dorothea imprisoned in the Castle of Ahlden in her native Celle, where she stayed until she died more than thirty years later. She was denied access to her children and father, forbidden to remarry and only allowed to walk unaccompanied within the castle courtyard. She was, however, endowed with an income, establishment, and servants, and was allowed to ride in a carriage outside her castle, albeit under supervision.
Ernest Augustus died on 23 January 1698 leaving all of his territories to George with the exception of the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück, an office he had held since 1661. George thus became Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (also known as Hanover, after its capital) as well as Archbannerbearer and a Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. His court in Hanover was graced by many cultural icons such as the mathematician Gottfried Leibniz and the composer Georg Friederich Händel.
Shortly after George’s accession to his paternal dukedom Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, the second-in-line to the English and Scottish thrones, died. The Parliament of England passed the Act of Settlement 1701 whereunder George’s mother, Sophia, was designated heir to the English throne if the then reigning monarch (William III) and his sister-in-law, Princess Anne of Denmark (later Queen Anne) died without surviving issue. The succession was so designed because Sophia was the closest Protestant relative of the British Royal Family; fifty-six Catholics with superior hereditary claims were bypassed. The likelihood of any of them converting to Protestantism for the sake of the succession was remote; some had already refused.
In August 1701 George was invested with the Order of the Garter and, within six weeks, the nearest Catholic claimant to the throne of England, ex-King James II, died. William III died the following March and Sophia became heir presumptive to the new Queen of England, Anne. Sophia was in her seventy-first year, older than Anne by thirty-five years, but she was very fit and healthy and invested time and energy in securing the succession either for herself or her son. However, it was George who understood the complexities of English politics and constitutional law, which required further acts in 1705 to naturalize Sophia and her heirs as English citizens, and detail arrangements for the transfer of power through a Regency Council. The same year George’s surviving uncle died and he inherited further German dominions: Lüneberg-Grubenhagen centred at Celle.
Shortly after George’s accession in Hanover the War of the Spanish Succession broke out. At issue was the right of Philip, the grandson of the French King Louis XIV, to succeed to the Spanish throne under the terms of King Charles II of Spain’s will. The Holy Roman Empire, the United Provinces, England, Hanover and many other German states opposed Philip’s right to succeed because they feared that France would become too powerful if it also controlled Spain. As part of the war effort George invaded his neighbouring state, Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, which was pro-French, writing out some of the battle orders himself. The invasion succeeded with few lives lost, and as a reward the Hanoverian claim to Saxony-Lauenburg, which George’s uncle had invaded and annexed on the death of its ruler several years before, was recognised by the British and Dutch.
In 1706, the Elector of Bavaria was deprived of his offices and titles for siding with France against the Empire. The following year George was made Imperial Field Marshal in command of the Empire’s army stationed along the Rhine. His tenure was not altogether successful partly because he was deceived by his ally, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, into a diversionary attack, and partly because the Emperor Joseph appropriated the funds necessary for George’s campaign for his own use. Despite this the German princes knew, or at least thought, that he had acquitted himself well. In 1708 they formally confirmed George’s position as a Prince-Elector in recognition of, or because of, his service. George did not hold Marlborough’s actions against him which he understood were part of a plan to lure French forces from the main attack.
In 1709, George resigned as Field Marshal, never to go on active service again, and in 1710 was conferred the dignity of Archtreasurer of the Empire, formerly held by the Elector Palatine—the absence of the Elector of Bavaria allowed a reshuffling of offices. In 1711 the Emperor Joseph died which threatened to destroy the balance of power in the opposite direction, so the war ended in 1713 with the ratification of the Treaty of Utrecht. Philip was allowed to succeed to the Spanish throne but he was removed from the line of succession to the French throne, and the Elector of Bavaria was restored.