George II - King of England

George II - King of England

George II was born into the House of Hanover in 1683 in the Schloss (Castle) Herrenhausen, which had been the seat of the dynasty since George, the duke of Brunswick-Luneberg, moved to Hanover during the Thirty Years’ War. When George II’s father became king of England, the court moved from Herrenhausen to London.

Unlike George I, who had a bevy of mistresses, George II was devoted to his wife, Caroline of Anspach, whom he wed in 1705. Caroline, the daughter of the margrave of Brandenburg-Anspach, accompanied her husband to England when his father, usually known as the elector of Hanover, became king of England in 1714.

Caroline of Anspach was one of the most illustrious women of her age and a patroness of science and philosophy. When the great philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646–1716) was at Schloss Herrenhausen, Caroline was his best student.

The rule of George I featured a stormy relationship between George I and his son. In a dispute over British policy in Germany, the future George II broke with his father when Robert Walpole, George I’s prime minister, felt that British interests were being subordinated to those of Hanover in Europe.

With Caroline’s help, the future George II set up what amounted to a government in exile at Leicester House, where Caroline established a learned salon similar to what she had at Schloss Herrenhausen. However, father and son were reconciled and in 1720, Walpole returned to the government.

When George I died in Germany in 1727, his son immediately became king, as much a testimony to the skill of Walpole as to the Act of Succession of 1701. When James Edward Stuart, the son of James II, invaded Scotland in 1715 and 1719, it showed the value of his legislation in the eyes of those who favored the Hanovers over the Stuarts.

For the duration of George I’s reign and much of George II’s, the threat of a Stuart restoration to the throne was real. In 1745, the son of James Edward, Bonnie Prince Charlie, did in fact land in Scotland and administer two stinging defeats to the Hanoverian army at Prestonpans and Falkirk and occupied Scotland.

This precipitated the greatest crisis of George II’s kingship. Bonnie Prince Charlie reached as far south as Derby in England, but concerned about a lack of support among the English, he began his retreat north again.

George II, who at Dettingen in 1743 in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48) had been the last British king to take part in a battle, sent his son, George Augustus, duke of Cumberland, in pursuit of Bonnie Prince Charlie. At Culloden Moor in April 1746, Cumberland defeated him in a decisive engagement.

Aside from the Stuart threat, the kingdom, which included Scotland and Ireland, enjoyed peace and stability, shown by the rise of the middle class and the birth of modern English literature. Henry Fielding gained prominence in the reign of George II.

Fielding’s satiric plays incurred the wrath of Walpole, who set about closing Fielding’s theater. Rebounding from this defeat, he would go on to write his greatest novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), which perhaps better than any other work presents life in the time of the second George. Daniel Defoe had an active career through the reigns of Queen Anne, George I, and George II.

In 1756, Britain became involved in the Seven Years’ War, which had actually begun in the conflict between the British and French colonies in North America in 1754. The war soon spread to encompass much of the world, although the decisive battles would be fought in Europe and America. Britain’s greatest ally was Frederick the Great of Prussia, an admirer of the French field marshal Maurice de Saxe.

The use of English money as a subsidy, an inheritance from Walpole’s passionate pursuit of mercantilism, enabled Frederick to field an army that, along with his undisputed military genius, would keep at bay the combined forces of France, the Austrian Empire, and Russia.

William Pitt was an accomplished and reliable wartime prime minister for England. He strategically strengthened the British navy, sent fleets where they would be most effective, and oversaw supply exchanges with allies. After several years of reverses, British arms in 1758 scored several victories against France, earning both the king and Pitt great popularity among the people.

In 1760, at the height of his power, George tragically succumbed to a stroke. Since his son Frederic Louis had died in 1751, his grandson succeeded him on the throne as George III. From his grandfather, George III inherited a monarchy—and an empire—at the height of its power and prestige.