I’m fascinated by times of flux in history, and one of the most fluxy (I might have made that word up) was when the Hanovers descended on England. Along with some serious German-English culture shock, they had a whole heap of family problems that kept showing up generation after generation. This recipe for trouble was called the Georgian Era.
The Georgian era covers the period of time from 1714 until 1830 when a bunch of Hanoverian kings named George ran England. (Victoria was also a member of the house of Hanover, but—like a boss—she got her own era. She also probably set women’s rights back a couple centuries, but we’ll get to her later.)
How did it happen? How did Germans end up in control of England? In 1701 parliament passed a law forbidding Catholics from holding the English throne. Along with generally disliking the catholic church and distrusting the power they’d amassed, there were a ton of Stuart Scots in line for the throne and they were all catholic. Parliament wasn’t having any of that, so rather than try to mass murder a bunch of Scottish heirs, they passed the Act of Settlement. Parliament had to skip fifty-six places down the line when Queen Anne died in 1714 to find George Ludwig of Hanover and make him King.
By all accounts, George I was a pretty decent choice. He’d already been running Hanover for sixteen years. He had legit experience as a military commander. His court was filled with some of the best mathematical and artistic minds of the time. He’d studied the crap out of English law and culture. And, when two Jacobite rebellions cropped up in his early years as King, George I counselled leniency to parliament and used the money from the forfeited estates of the Scottish nobles who fled to France to build schools in Scotland. Not a bad dude—at all.
But, proving the adage that the more times you copy something, the worse it gets—he had kind of a shitty son.
From the moment George I became king of England, George II did everything he could to fuck with him. While George I was trying to increase religious freedom in all the territories he reigned over and negotiating treaties with the world’s greatest nations to create a permanent peace, George II was funding and supporting his opposition. It got so bad after a shouting match at a christening that George II was officially exiled from the palace. Unfazed, George II turned his swanky new residence into the public base of operations for George I’s enemies.
Despite being an overall decent human being, the English didn’t like George I either (neither did the Scottish, but for wholly different reasons). George I wasn’t super charismatic and they judged him for just generally being too German. Europe regarded him as a progressive ruler and one of the premier supporters of the Enlightenment. But, even if he wanted to go kick it with people who actually liked him, England had laws in place to prevent the monarch from leaving the country without parliament’s approval. So, in England George I stayed.
Meanwhile, George II was beloved. Probably because he spent all of his time praising all things English and openly hating his father, which suited the British people just fine.
In 1727, (the year The Countess Scandals begin) George I died and George II took over the country. His wife, Caroline, took over the full time job of trying to curb his general jackassery. (She’d already been doing it, with mixed success, but the role kicked into high gear once George II was king.) Since George II’s son Frederick had followed in the Hanoverian tradition of hating the crap out of his dad, Caroline was the one who ruled in George II’s place when he took trips to Hanover. …Which he did a lot. Enough that his popularity tanked. Turns out his “yay England!” sentiments were just a front to stir up discontent towards his dad.
The souring feelings of the English people and the antics of his heir (which, in a hilariously ironic move, involved Frederick also being exiled from the palace after a christening debacle) didn’t do a ton for George II’s perpetually crappy mood. But in the end it was the death of Caroline in 1737 that ended any chance of him becoming an ok dude. It turns out they really loved each other. Her death devastated him. It was one of George II’s only truly emotional moments, and, on her deathbed, she encouraged him to remarry but he swore he never would.
In the years following Caroline’s death , George II picked fights with Spain and France. And when the Jacobites rose up again in 1745, instead of taking his dad’s school-building path, George II chose mass executions and a near-complete decimation of the highland people. To be fair, that’s probably what had to happen to stop the Scots from trying to put anymore Stuarts on the throne, but considering fifty-six of them had a higher claim to it…well. You can make up your own minds about who was right on that one.
If you’re paying attention, you’ve noticed that Frederick was George II’s heir but the next king was George III. Fred was pretty seriously devoted to being a thorn in his dad’s side even in exile, but when Caroline got sick George II refused to let his son see her before she died (a seriously dick move, but that was George II’s m.o.) Whether that caused some soul searching or was merely coincidental, shortly after that Frederick retired to the country to hunt, fish, and raise his kids. And play cricket. …Mostly, the cricket.
Fred loved the hell out of some cricket. In March of 1751, Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales took a cricket ball straight to chest. The ensuing complications resulted in his death and restored the uninterrupted line of George’s as his son George III became the new heir to the throne. Without Fred to fight with, George II started picking fights with his other sons, publically declaring them disgraceful.
England loved him again for his lack of political finesse and general straight-shooter demeanor.
When George II died, he was blind in one eye, mostly deaf, and generally just a surly old bastard. But, because nobody is all one thing or another, his instructions on his deathbed were to remove the sides of his and Caroline’s coffins so they could lay together for eternity. He was a crap dad, didn’t have any use for reading, and instigated the death of many young men through wars—but he loved his wife intensely.
George III assumed his grandfather’s throne at the age of twenty-two, along with the political shit-show and mess of wars that were George II’s legacy. If left to his own devices, the shy and religious George III would probably have kept devoting his personal fortune to charities, kept giving grants to the arts, and maybe founded more libraries (the one he did make is the basis for the current national library). Unfortunately, he also inherited a massive headache by the name of the American War of Independance.
The third George was not a military leader and, against the advice of his advisors, adamantly insisted that the American rebellion would eventually fizzle out if they just kept the people poor and miserable enough. …You probably noticed that he was wrong. He was extra wrong after France and Spain, still pissed at George II, jumped into the fray on the side of America.
Now, for while, George III avoided the Hanoverian tradition of publicly fighting with his kids because his kids (all fifteen of them) were too young. But around 1782 the fourth George was coming up in the world and—you guessed it—he and his father didn’t see eye to eye. George III was very religious and wanted his kids to lead pious, devout lives full of study and contemplation. George IV wanted to get hammered and bang every woman he could get his hands on.
Under normal circumstances, the extravagant George IV would not have been given control of the country before his father’s death. He had zero leadership qualities and zero interest in governing—beyond expanding his ability to do the aforementioned drinking and putting hands on ladies. But it turns out, George III was steadily losing his mind. Back then, they called it mania, and had to forcibly restrain the king until he got his shit together on a number of occasions. Way later, historians figured out he’d been steadily poisoned by arsenic. Probably by accident, but when you force your kids to spend all day—beginning at 7am—in rigorous religious study…who can really say where the arsenic came from.
Even with off-again, on-again bouts of mania and a ton of political headaches (prime ministers dying, prime ministers trying to resign, prime ministers refusing to take the job…), George III kept his grip on the throne for a long time. But in 1810 his favorite and youngest daughter Princess Amelia died, and the then-blind king said fuck it and agreed to the Regency Act in 1811, giving control of the crown to his reprobate bro of a son, George IV. By the end of 1811, George III was permanently insane and lived in seclusion until his death.
The regency act officially kicks off the popular historical romance period known as “The Regency”—super clever, we know—and with George IV calling the shots, it was one giant party. Unless you were trying to progress society. Or run England. If you were one of those people, it sucked.
George IV didn’t care much for government, choosing instead to drink and eat himself to death. None of his kids survived long enough to inherit the throne or take up the time honored tradition of dad-hating, so he was forced to fight with his wife.
Both George IV and his wife Caroline (different Caroline—this one chose to live in Europe on her own drinking and banging tour, rather than babysit her George) had public lovers. George IV banned her from his coronation, refused to acknowledge her the queen after he took the throne for real, and even tried to get Parliament to green light his divorce. It’s not surprising they only had one kid together.
His section is pretty short, because beyond menacing the people charged with running his country for him, he didn’t do a ton. Without a George of his own to keep the era going, the throne passed to his brother William, officially ending the Georgian Era on a low note. George IV was considered by his aides to be maybe the worst king England had ever had, which is kind of impressive in it’s own way.