Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Monarch Profile: King George II of Great Britain & Ireland

The second British monarch of the House of Hanover, George II was the sort of king that probably would have been much more popular had he reigned at a different time. In time he would be hated by some, respected by others but rarely ever loved by his subjects to any great degree. He was born in Hanover, Germany in 1683 and was part of what would be a Hanoverian family tradition from the start; antagonism. His parents separated and Prince George probably never saw his mother again after around the age of ten. His father, later Elector of Hanover and King George I of Great Britain, did not get along with his son (again, something of a tradition for the Hanoverians) and never missed an opportunity to insult, belittle and exclude him. Still, in spite of this adversity, he grew up to be a strong and fit young man of sound intelligence if no great curiosity. Until he was four he spoke only French, thereafter learned German and would eventually speak passable English and Italian as well. He was diligent though not devout in his religion but was most interested in genealogy and anything related to the military, which was well enough as he was given a very military-centric education.

After Queen Anne came to the British throne, with no surviving children, the succession laws were altered to ensure that a Catholic could not succeed to the throne, which meant that the rest of the Stuarts were disinherited and Prince George of Hanover suddenly became a future heir to the British throne. In 1705 he was made a British subject and invested with the Order of the Garter the following year and made Duke of Cambridge along with a number of other noble titles. Also in 1705 he married Princess Caroline of Ansbach, a wife of his own choosing. Despite a number of infidelities during his married life, he probably always loved Caroline best and she had a very strong though subtle hold on him from that time forward. She was a big, flirtatious blonde who was very clever, very outgoing and very interested in advancing her own power and influence which she was able to do masterfully. George was so devoted to Caroline that he caught smallpox from her in 1707, after the birth of their first child, when he refused to leave her side. Thankfully, both recovered and, having secured the succession, Prince George had the joy of finally going to war, fighting in the Battle of Oudenarde with the great Marlborough in the War of the Spanish Succession. “Corporal John” gave the Prince high marks for his service in combat though George’s father did nothing but belittle it.

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.

Like his own father, he carried on the tradition of having a very poor relationship with his son, Frederick, Prince of Wales, who he had left behind in Germany when he came to England and did not see again for more than a decade. When the Prince came to England he was immediately scooped up by the King’s political opposition which did no good for peace in the family. After an intense quarrel broke out when George II refused to give his son more money, the Prince of Wales and his family were banished from court. Not long after, Queen Caroline died which depressed George II greatly. Famously, on her deathbed, the Queen urged her husband to marry again after she was gone to which the sobbing George II replied, “No, I shall only have mistresses!” These mistresses were invariably German and during his reign King George II became ever more focused on German affairs which did nothing to help his popularity in England. The political establishment generally supported him for staying out of their affairs and essentially allowing the masters of Parliament to govern the country but while he might not have been seen as a hated figure, he was increasingly seen as target for mockery and grumbling. What King George II most wished for was a good war and he was finally to have one, though at one point the war spread a little too close to home for his comfort.

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.

In an effort to bedevil the British on the cheap, the King of France backed another rebellion in Scotland by the Jacobites (loyalists of the House of Stuart) to force George II back to Hanover and restore the (Catholic and pro-French) Stuarts to the British throne. There had been an earlier Jacobite rising in 1715 but it had been crushed in its infancy with little difficulty. The 1745 uprising would be a different matter even after King Louis backed out from sending support. Under the dynamic leadership of “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, grandson of the late King James II, the Jacobites came fairly close to success despite having all of the odds heavily stacked against them. Often portrayed as a war between Scotland and England, it was actually much more complicated than that. The mostly Protestant lowland Scots were firmly Hanoverian in sympathy and while loyalty to the Stuarts was more widespread in the Catholic highlands, it was by no means universal. Likewise, there were Irish and English volunteers who fought for the Stuart cause just as there were Scots who fought for “German Georgie” (as the Jacobites tended to call him).

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.

With the end of the war, King George II was forced to return to his peacetime routine of family quarrels and political headaches until the outbreak of the French and Indian War in America over control of the Ohio Country. This later merged into what is known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War starting in 1756 between Prussia, Britain, some minor German states and Portugal on one side and France, Austria, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Saxony on the other (with various Native American tribes and the Mughal Empire of India also joining in the contest). This was to prove a critical time for the future of the British Empire and a decisive moment in the long-standing feud with France. However, King George II was not to play a major part in it. The Duke of Cumberland, his favorite son, proved an incompetent commander when faced with professional armies rather than half-starved Scots armed with swords, and while George II was mostly concerned with Hanover and wished to focus on Europe, his government moved to focus on the war in America. The result was a victory that would determine the fate of North America with French Canada falling to the British though at the same time setting the stage for the American War for Independence.

The war was a great victory and made Britain a major imperial power, however, King George II would not live to see the final defeat of his nemesis King Louis XV of France. Half blind and almost deaf, the 76-year old monarch died at Kensington Palace on October 25, 1760 and the throne passed to his grandson King George III. He had never been a very popular monarch. He was certainly more popular as Prince of Wales but even then was seen as something of a foreign oddity and after coming to the throne he seemed to become ever more like his father, ever more hateful toward his children and ever more obsessed with German affairs. His lack of concern for affairs in Britain allowed the grip of Parliament to be strengthened at the expense of the monarchy, a trend which started with the downfall of the Stuarts and coincided with the rise in status of the King’s prime minister and the way the monarch was increasingly seen as an unnecessary part of government. Still, any proud native of the British isles could not say that the reign of King George II had been all that bad with the numerous victories in war and expansion of the British Empire in North America, the Caribbean and India that these brought about. Perhaps it was simply that, at the end of the day, George II was still seen as a German prince who just happened to be King of Great Britain. It was not until the reign of his grandson that the House of Hanover gave Britain a thoroughly British monarch.

1 comment:

  1. hey mad monarchist can you do a post on jean bedel bokassa? he was a dictator turned king in the central african republic. and maybe one on Francis, Duke of Cádiz too


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