George I - King of England

George I - King of England
George I - King of England

George I of England came to the throne of England through the Act of Settlement of 1701. This legislation, passed by the British parliament, ensured the succession of Protestant heirs to the throne of England.

James II of the House of Stuart had been a Roman Catholic and had been expelled in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Carried to England on a “Protestant wind,” his daughter Mary and her husband, William III of Orange, the stadtholder of the Netherlands, took his place on the throne.

Although William would act as king, it was always clear that he did so through his wife, Mary. The line of succession was established so that if William and Mary were to die without producing an heir, the Crown would pass to Mary’s Protestant sister, Anne.

Mary died in 1694, and William would follow her in death in 1702. Anne, who had been born in 1665, became queen on William’s death. Anne, too, would die without issue in 1714, and, under the explicit terms of the Act of Settlement, the throne passed to Sophia, the electress of Hanover in Germany.

The English parliament decided to amend the law of succession to the throne in favor of the Protestant House of Stuart. In default of heirs from William III of Orange—who had ruled alone in England after the death of Mary in 1694—or Anne, the act declared that the English Crown would devolve upon Princess Sophia and her Protestant heirs.

Ironically, Sophia died before Anne in August 1714. Therefore, the Crown of England passed to her son, who became George I, king of Great Britain and Ireland, as well as the elector of Hanover in the Holy Roman Empire. The lineage made George I’s succession direct and in accord with the Act of Succession.

Born in 1660, George I was the son of Elector Ernest and Sophia, who was the granddaughter of James I of England. James himself, first the king of Scotland, had established the Stuart dynasty on the English throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, the last of the House of Tudor to rule in England, in 1603.

New in his realm, George I at first relied on advisers from Hanover. Although he was not a man of particularly acute knowledge, as had been King Charles II, he was able to judge those who had talent. He used these able men to govern his new kingdom for him.

Under George I, John Churchill, the first duke of Marlborough, was allowed again to enjoy the fruits of his victories, as England’s most respected general. In politics, Robert Walpole was the brightest star. A leading member of the Whig Party, Walpole became so central to the administration of government that some historians consider him the first British prime minister.

However, Walpole’s period of favor with the king was relatively brief. His concern that George I was subordinating England’s interests to Hanover, especially since the British sacrifices in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–13), led to a complete rupture with the monarch. Walpole left office and George’s own son, the future George II, left the royal palace to set up an opposing government.

Three years after he broke with Walpole, George I invited Walpole back to his government in 1720. Moreover, Walpole effected a reconciliation between the king and his son. By 1724, Walpole and his brother-in-law, Charles, Viscount Townshend, virtually were the government.

In foreign and military affairs, George I had difficulty in his choice of advisers. In September 1715, John Erskine, the earl of Mar, raised the standard of Anne’s half brother James, whose goal was to attempt a restoration of a Catholic Stuart dynasty in Scotland.

Mar represented perhaps George’s worst political mistake; Mar turned against the king after he was driven out of government. Parliament passed the Riot Act and 100,000 British pounds was offered for the apprehension of James.

With the Jacobites, as the supporters of James were known (James is Jacobus in Latin), the British military authorities immediately turned toward Marlborough. On November 13, 1715, the government troops under the duke of Argyll defeated the Jacobites at Sheriffmuir.

Mar withdrew, and by the time James finally arrived, the most that he could do was to evacuate some of his followers back with him to France. George’s punishment against his enemies was swift and harsh; 30 Jacobites were executed. Still, the Jacobites rose again four years later in a rebellion against Scotland launched from Spain.

As with the majority of the British, the Lowland Scots had come to associate George I with stability that made everyday life feel safe. Thus, by 1724, England enjoyed a peaceful life, with a steady government led by Walpole. In 1727, George I suffered a stroke and died on his way to his beloved Hanover.