Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Monarch Profile: King George II of Great Britain & Ireland
In 1714 the Stuart Queen Anne passed away and the Hanoverians came to England to take up the British throne with the coronation of King George I. As in Hanover, the new Prince of Wales was excluded from the halls of power by his father and not given anything to do of any significant importance. When he proved more popular than his father the situation did not improve and George I actually separated his son from his children, later allowing him to visit his children only once a week. Naturally, Prince George began to associate with the King’s political enemies and the rift between him and his father only widened. They remained bitter and unreconciled until George I died in 1727, in Hanover, and his son became King George II of Great Britain & Ireland. He didn’t even attend his father’s funeral but no one in England seemed to hold it against him. Prior to his accession, George II had become very disgusted with politics and to the extent that he did involve himself in government it was mostly in the directions that Queen Caroline advised. He was more interested in battles, buttons and regimental uniforms than he was in politics.
The King actually got out in front of his government in supporting the Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary, Maria Theresa, in the War of the Austrian Succession in his capacity as Elector of Hanover. He was convinced that a Hapsburg defeat would allow France to threaten Hanover and possibly dominate Europe though it was a struggle to get the British government to go along. The King had also been thwarted in his efforts to reform and strengthen the British army which Parliament always wanted to downsize. When war came, King George II was in his element and famously led British troops (as part of a wider coalition) to victory over the French at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743. This would be the last time that a reigning British monarch led his troops personally on the battlefield though it did not result in the boost to his popularity that most might have expected. Most viewed it as essentially a war between Prussia and Austria, a German affair that no Englishman should have to risk his life or his pocketbook for. In the end, peace was finally settled but not before an off-shoot of the conflict nearly cost King George II his British throne.
The Bonnie Prince and his Jacobites, in their plaids and kilts with white roses in their bonnets, occupied Edinburgh, won a surprising victory at Prestonpans over General John Cope and then invaded England, very nearly reaching London where George II had ships prepared to take him to Hanover if the need should arise. However, aside from a few hundred volunteers, England did not rally to the Prince as he had promised his chieftains they would. Most Englishmen neither loved nor hated George II with any great passion and were content to ‘wait and see’ how events would unfold. If the Prince was victorious, they would cheer his arrival and say “good riddance” to George of Hanover but if he should lose, they were content to go on with business as usual and no one wanted to risk backing a loser and being condemned as traitors. With the odds so heavily stacked against the Jacobites, most Englishmen wouldn’t risk backing him until he won another great victory and that chance would never come as the Scottish chieftains overruled their Prince and marched back to Scotland. They won another victory over General Hawley at Falkirk but continued to retreat until their ragged remnant was crushed at the Battle of Culloden by the King’s son the Duke of Cumberland in 1746. King George II and the House of Hanover was secure on the British throne and would never be so troubled again.