What the German Georges did for Britain – Telegraph Blogs

King George II

King George II, who was born in Hanover. (Pic: National Portrait Gallery)

When I visited Hanover earlier this year, my immediate thoughts were not of Georgian kings, but of the Second World War. Because the city in Lower Saxony was a German railway and manufacturing hub, it got a severe pounding from the Allies. For all the careful rebuilding of the two town halls and the Martkirche, its most famous Gothic church, there are still ugly scars left by the bombs, unhealed by dreary, post-war boulevards of steel and glass.

Once you’ve got over the destruction, though, the more striking thing is that this small corner of Germany provided us with our monarchs for more than 120 years.

This Friday marks the 300th anniversary of the accession of George I. He and his Hanover descendants ruled Britain until 1837 – Queen Victoria, as a woman, was prevented by Salic law from claiming the Hanover kingdom, which went to her uncle.

The most obvious Hanover influence on our Royal family was its sheer German-ness. George I was born in Hanover and is buried there; George II was also born in Hanover. George III was the first Hanover king to be born in Britain, in Norfolk House in St James’s Square, and he was desperate to make a big deal of this breakthrough. In his accession speech to Parliament in 1760, he inserted the line, “Born and bred in this country, I glory in the name of Briton.”

On top of that, every monarch, from George I until Queen Victoria, married a German. Still, today, that German influence lingers on – the Royal family continue to open their Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, a thoroughly Teutonic, very un-English thing. Not that being German was as problematic in the 18th century as it was after two world wars. In 1803, George III even set up the King’s German Legion, made up of German troops. It was commanded by Wellington at Waterloo and in the Peninsular War.

In the same way that our picture of recent history is still dominated by the Second World War, the image of our Hanoverian kings is dominated by their wild excesses. George I is remembered for little more than his mistresses, the Countess of Darlington and the Duchess of Kendal, nicknamed the Elephant and the Maypole for their varying physiques; incidentally, they were both German-born. George III is the mad one; George IV the fat one. But beneath the excess, our German kings steadied the country at a time when the Civil War was still in living memory. They provided the firm foundation on which the modern British monarchy still rests, while most Continental monarchies and all the German kingdoms, including Hanover’s, were toppled.

The Hanovers faced down the two Jacobite rebellions in 1715 and 1745. They even took on the enemy personally in other conflicts. George II wasn’t just the last British monarch to take part in a battle – at Dettingen, near Frankfurt, in 1743. He got right in the thick of it, too. In 1708, at the Battle of Oudenarde against the French, his horse was shot while he was in the saddle.

Our monarchy survived, while our neighbours’ kingdoms mostly collapsed, because the Hanoverians accepted the supremacy of Parliament and ultimately deferred to their Whig administrations.

For all the madness of George III, and the girth of George IV, the Hanovers were a measured lot, compared with the political and financial excesses that wrecked monarchies across the Channel.

You’d be hard-pressed to say the Hanovers were an austere lot. But not only were their political whims reined in by Parliament; so were their finances. George III surrendered his income from the Crown Estate to Parliament in return for a regular Civil List payment. This deal lasted until 2011, when it was replaced by the Sovereign Grant, which gives the Queen a 15 per cent slice of Crown Estate revenue.

You can see the more measured Hanoverian approach in our buildings, too. While France, Austria, Italy and Germany embraced the wild, twirly-whirly curlicues and über-bling of late baroque and rococo, the Whig court largely opted for the plain, Roman designs of Palladianism: neat, unfussy, residential temples that spread across a thousand country estates in the new political union, enriched by Hanoverian patronage. The strength of a monarchy restrained by Parliament could withstand huge hammer blows – like the loss of the American colonies, or even a mad king. In France, an indulged monarchy was also a fragile one, easily destroyed in 1789.

In the big crisis points of history – 1848, the year of revolution, and the closing years of the two world wars – kingdoms and empires fell like ninepins. The Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the German Empire – gone, gone, gone…

Our monarchy, and our aristocracy, too, had been restrained by an increasingly democratic Parliament, the Glorious Revolution and the Civil War. They no longer had the Continental degree of untrammelled power; power not only over the people, but also over interior decoration. In those countries where baroque and rococo ran riot, their blue-blooded patrons ended up paying for their excesses with their heads, or at least with their political power.

You could argue that the Hanoverian kings only survived because they came here. Once the Hanovers went back to Germany, in 1837, they didn’t last long. The last Hanoverian king, George V, Queen Victoria’s cousin, was deposed in 1866. In a telling decision, when he died in 1878, he was buried, not in Hanover, but in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Where our first Hanoverian kings were happier in Germany, the last one wanted to be buried in Britain.

Whichever way you argue it – German kings were anglicised, or the British monarchy was Germanified – the combination worked for 123 years. And it’s still working.

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27 July 2014 | 9:41 am – Source: telegraph.co.uk

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