The royal dynasty that ruled Great Britain and Ireland from 1714 to 1901. Victorian Britain and Queen Victoria get separate entries, since Victoria spent so long on the throne. King Edward VII and his successors (The House of Windsor) have their own pages, and are not Hanoverians (instead being of Queen Victoria's Prince Consort Albert's house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) due to the whole male succession thing.
The dynasty originated from the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg (also known as Hanover, after the ruler's residence when it became an Electorate), in what is now essentially the German state of Lower Saxony.note The House of Hanover then was the younger branch of the House of Brunswick, which is descended from the medieval House of Welf (Romanized: Guelph), who in turn were the senior, German branch of the House of Este (whose origins lay in Lombardy—that is, the area around Milan). Their first dynastic contact with Britain happened in 1168, when Duke Henry the Lion married Matilda, daughter of King Henry II of England. Since the House of Hanover was officially called the House of Brunswick-Luneburg (Braunschweig-Lüneburg), it is no surprise to see a large number of New World places named "Brunswick" or "New Brunswick", including a Canadian province (New Brunswick, founded 1784), towns in New Jersey (New Brunswick, founded 1714) and Georgia (Brunswick, founded 1771), and a suburb of Melbourne (Brunswick, founded 1846) even though the city of Brunswick lay outside the German realms of the monarchs.
On a less-lofty note, the Hanover dynasty were notably large of frame, with all the Hanoverian monarchs being at least somewhat on the hefty side at some point in their reigns; in some circumstances it made them look regally portly, but in other circumstances...well...just look at what we have to say about George IV below. Also, we should note here that it was a grand Hanoverian tradition for the Hanoverians to get into personal disputes and pissing contests with their eldest sons; this had a few lasting effectsnote but more importantly the disputes are often hilarious in hindsight.
George I of Great Britain
George I (German: Georg) did not become King of Great Britain and Ireland until the age of 54, and had possibly less interest in ruling the country than any other actual monarch before or since. During his early life, he'd served in the wars against Louis XIV of France, for which he was made a prince-electornote and the hereditary (and purely ceremonial) arch-treasurernote of the Holy Roman Empire. George married his first cousin, Sophia Dorothea of Brunswick-Celle, for her huge tracts of land (to wit, the adjoining duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Celle) and an accompanying income of 1,000 thaler per year; this marriage was engineered by George's mother, who was famously shrewd at arranging strategic marriages for her children and other relatives, even if both bride and groom had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the marriage (as happened in the case of George and Sophia Dorothea). As you might expect in such circumstances, the marriage was a bad one, and Sophia Dorothea was suspected of cheating on George. Her supposed lover was murdered, possibly with George's knowledge, and after the ensuing divorce she was placed in a Luxury Prison Suite for the rest of her life. He never remarried, but had numerous mistresses, two of whom became known to the British people as "the ugly one" and "the fat one".
Ascended to the dukedom of Hanover in 1698 on the death of his father. The removal of Catholics from the line of succession to the British throne (56 of them were ahead of his family), and the death of the incumbent first-in-line, rather unexpectedly placed his mother Sophia—a granddaughter of James I—as heir presumptive to the reigning Queen Anne. Sophia was hardly young and died in 1714, just before Anne herself. George found himself heir and headed for the United Kingdom, but got stuck for a while at The Hague due to wind problems.
George, not having been anywhere near close to succeeding to the British throne until during his late forties, did not speak English, found communication with his British ministers difficult, and generally preferred Hanover to Britain anyway. Therefore, during his reign, Parliament became the dominant body in British government and the first "Prime Minister" (a title not yet in formal existence) emerged, Robert Walpole.
The South Sea Bubble
Proving that speculation is nothing new...
The South Sea Company held a monopoly on English trade with South America, particularly the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which was really getting going at this time (one of the effects of the War of the Spanish Succession was that Britain obtained the asiento, the exclusive right to sell slaves to Spanish colonies). The company was granted this monopoly by promising to finance England's ever rising national debt racked up after years of uninterrupted global warfare. The monopoly, unfortunately, was much less profitable than expected, so the company changed gears and ran what could be considered a proto-Ponzi scheme to make up for the cash difference.
Thus, the company bought a large portion of the British national debt and begun selling shares by the thousands. Engaging in practices that were distinctly dodgy to drive up the price, such as bribery, paying people to buy shares, and "selling" shares to politicians. The politicians didn't actually pay for them and then sold them back, thus increasing the share price. There were also increasingly ludicrous rumours profits being circulated by Company shills, including for a time, one Daniel Defoe.
Other companies joined in. (Some choice example are the company for inventing a wheel for perpetual motion, capital one million, and the notorious company "for carrying on an Undertaking of great Advantage; but nobody to know what it is." The proprietor of the latter company raised the then-huge sum of two thousand pounds in one day, and promptly skipped town.) In fact, mania for stock trading was at such a fever pitch that the South Sea Company, fearing that these new stocks would divert the needed funds required to hold up the scheme, had the government shut many of them down for attempted fraud.
By 1720, the price had reached its peak and people were selling en masse. Those who had bought shares on credit saw the price collapse and many ended up bankrupt. The banks had to write off a load of debt they could not get back. Parliament was recalled, investigated and found massive fraud going on. This was not the first "bubble"note and it certainly wasn't the last. The UK still have not completely paid off all of the South Sea debt to this day.
King George was not directly involved, but the government became rather unpopular as a result.
George was often ridiculed in England for his wooden mannerisms and supposed inability to speak English (he handled royal business in French, and may have picked up the language later in life), but by and large, contemporary accounts held him to be a better choice than the Stuarts. His treatment of his wife did however embitter his son against him, starting a tradition among the Hanovers and Wettins/Windsors of father-son animosity that lasted until the reign of Edward VII. He died on a visit to Hanover, and was buried there, making him the last British monarch not to be buried in England.note
George II of Great Britain
Perhaps best known for the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie marched a Scottish army as far as Derby before turning back and being defeated at Culloden.
George was also the last British monarch to lead an army in battle (at Dettingen, in 1743), at the age of 60 no less.
Also, Britain reformed its calendar in 1752, omitting eleven days to switch from the Julian to Gregorian calendars, and also changing the start of the new year from 25 March to 1 January. The second of September was followed by the fourteenth, and dates were referred to as Old Style or New Style according to which calendar was being used. Most of the Continent had switched some time ago.
The song that became the UK's national anthem, 'God Save The King', was written and first performed during George II's reign and remains used to this day, as 'God Save The Queen' .
As a point of trivia, Georg August was not only the last British Monarch born outside of Englandnote but the last hereditary ruler of Hanover to be born any closer than Berlin.
In Germany he is primarily remembered for founding the University of Göttingen (known to this day as the Georg-August-Universtiät or Georgia Augusta), one of the most modern and innovative of German universities in the 18th century.
His wife and consort, Caroline of Ansbach, is considered to have been one of the most powerful and beloved of modern royal consorts. Wise, compassionate, and devoted to her faith, Caroline turned down the Catholic King of Spain (and Holy Roman Emperor) to marry George, then merely a minor Protestant German princeling. It was a rare love match for a royal; they were quite devoted to each other. As Princess of Wales and Queen she was beloved by not just Hanoverians but Jacobites as well, who (despite their religious differences) saw her as a voice of moderation, compassion, and reason. As an ally of Robert Walpole she had a great deal of influence on her husband and on the government of the day, but this was seen mainly in a positive light even by Walpole's opponents.note Her early death in 1737 left both the country and George bereft. Paradoxically, George was both a devoted husband and notorious philanderer; all of his mistresses were cleared with his wife beforehand. He sincerely loved Caroline and her death was an enormous blow: when she begged him on her deathbed to remarry after she was gone (for reasons both personal and political), George insisted none could replace her as his wife and queen with the tearful cry, "Non, j'aurai des maîtresses!" ("No, I shall have mistresses!").
George and his eldest son Frederick, the Prince of Wales, carried on the Hanoverian tradition of mutual dislike between father and son; when George's ship was feared lost in a gale in the North Sea, Frederick held a dinner party in celebration. Caroline's early deathnote was attributed by George to the rage she felt at Frederick over the stunt. Luckily for George (and possibly the nation) Frederick predeceased his father.
George's death was itself one of the more interesting royal deaths in British history. Being, like most members of his dynasty, rather a large man, with the wholly unhealthy diet characteristic of the 18th-century European upper classes, we shouldn't be too surprised that he died of heart disease (specifically, his right ventricle had ruptured as a result of an aortic aneurysm). However, the chain of events leading to it is darkly amusing: after finishing his morning hot chocolate, the King went to the loo to conduct his morning labours (did we mention that on account of the aforementioned awful diet, he had chronic constipation?), and a few minutes later his valet heard a crash. Yes, George II died taking a shit.
Eventually living to the age of 77, George was to this point the longest-lived monarch the land had ever seen. As holder of this record he was succeeded, as on the throne, by:
George III of the United Kingdom
The grandson of George II (his father Frederick, Prince of Wales having died young, as mentioned above), George III came to the throne aged just 22, and went on to become both the longest-lived and longest-reigning sovereign in British history by this point. The first Hanoverian to have been born in England and raised speaking English, he in fact never visited Hanover in his long life. Unlike his two predecessors, who were mostly interested in their German territories, George's attentions were firmly fixed on Britain; at his coronation speech, he famously proclaimed, "I glory in the name of Briton".note He nevertheless also accepted the principle of constitutional monarchy; his occasional fights with Parliament were rarely all that contentious, and although he experimented with trying to control the government from outside the Cabinet he was never fully invested in that and gave it up as a fool's errand after the end of the American War of Independence. He took a personal interest in agriculture (fitting, given that Britain's Agricultural Revolution reached its height during his reign), and wrote pamphlets on agriculture under the pseudonym Ralph Robinson. These interests earned him the popular appellation "Farmer George".
Four major events happened during his reign: the American and French Revolutions, the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland (1800), and The Napoleonic Wars, after which the electorate of Hanover was upgraded to a kingdom. Since George was content to let Parliament run things most of the time (particularly when the Tories were in charge), it's best to just read those articles for further information.
A perhaps atypically-successful family man for a British monarch, George and his queen Charlotte had a happy marriage (despite first meeting only on their wedding day, when he was already King) and 15 children, of whom eleven lived to the age of at least 60. He was also a remarkably relaxed king, preferring to live in the countryside and much more informally than many of his more traditional courtiers would like; Queen Charlotte agreed with him, going on walks through country towns with him without any servants. A man of great personal piety (spending hours in prayer daily) and morality (never taking a mistress and never drinking to excess, and abhorring the womanizing, boozing, card-playing habits of his father, his brothers and, later, his sons), he is generally remembered as a good king in Britain.
The Americans have a more complex perspective, but even then most historians believe him to be Mis-blamed—he only had a significant role in the American crisis after the Boston Tea Party (which was beginning of the revolt's turn toward anti-monarchical sentiment), at which point his support for a military response was just one of several trump cards the hawks in Parliament had over the doves. It's worth noting that after the USA achieved independence, he commented that "I was the last person to consent to the separation [of America and Britain], but I will be the first to accept the friendship of the United States as an independent power." (We should also note that until very shortly before the beginning of the War of Independence, many Americans liked him too—and they liked his wife even more: both Charlotte, North Carolina and Mecklenburg County in which it sits are named for her. Ironically, the city became known as a "hornet's nest of rebellion" during the War of Independence.) He opposed Catholic Emancipation, but only because he believed it would violate the coronation oath he took to 'defend the [Protestant] faith'. Alas, he is also remembered for going quite insane (probably due to porphyria), leading to...
The Regency (1811-1820)
In 1811, it was thought best that His Majesty, having gone completely cuckoo (this was not the first time, mind), should be quietly removed from power. His son, the Prince of Wales (Prinny), took over and was the nominal monarch for the next nine years. (It should be noted that from the Civil War onwards, Parliament had been growing in power - over the last century or so it had blossomed. Prinny, thankfully, did not have all that much power.)
The setting of a million historical romance novels. It's something about the tight trousers.
George IV of the United Kingdom
Prinny officially got the job in 1820. Once known as the First Gentleman of Europe (mainly because he dressed well and bathed regularly: his devotion to the dress and hygiene habits of Beau Brummell are responsible for popularising Brummell's understated, clean-cut look and fixed the essential standards of taste for men's fashion—good fabric, a simple, elegant cut, dark colours—to this day), he had largely degenerated into an obese Dirty Old Man (one of his less uncomplimentary nicknames before he became King was the "Prince of Whales") whose main preoccupation was depriving his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, of her rights as queen. He barred her from his lavish coronation and she died just a few weeks later. She is the last British Queen to date to predecease her husband. His daughter and heir, Charlotte, had died in childbirth in 1817, so he spent the next couple of years watching his brothers scramble to marry and produce a viable heir of the next generation. He himself never remarried after he was widowed in 1821, though he was free to do so and (as King) could theoretically marry any (Protestant) woman he wishednote , because by that point the succession had been secured with the births of a number of nieces and nephews, including the future Queen Victoria.
He was widely seen as a lazy, amoral wretch who lived only to eat and drink; by the time he ascended to the throne, he had grown too fat and lethargic even to womanize. One courtier said of him, "A more contemptible, cowardly, selfish, unfeeling dog does not exist....There have been good and wise kings but not many of them...and this I believe to be one of the worst." This from a friend.
He lived about the same time as Napoleon Bonaparte, and hence was there to see his rise and fall. The Napoleonic Wars, understandably, raged through his years as Regent. Britain's defeat of Napoleon (most notably at Waterloo under The Duke of Wellington) is definitely something he tried to take credit for—even nothing of it can really be attributed to him.
The only remotely noteworthy aspect of George IV's reign was his about-face on the Catholic Question: after being very supportive of Catholic emancipation earlier in his life (and secretly marrying one), George publicly announced his opposition to the Catholic Relief Act of 1829 (which gave Catholics the vote). Fortunately, Parliament forced it through anyway - probably due to his opposition. Upon his death, The Times eulogized him with the line,"there never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures than this deceased king...If he ever had a friend a devoted friend in any rank of life we protest that the name of him or her never reached us."
A number of early Charles Dickens works are actually set during this time, including Little Dorrit and The Pickwick Papers. Also, he was a bit into studying birds and subscribed to Audubon's famous Birds of America series.
William IV of the United Kingdom
"Sailor Billy", as he was known, was actually the third son of George III (the second son Frederick, or the literal Grand Old Duke of York, had died some years previously). As such, he was sent into the Navy where he proved to everyone's surprise a thoroughly competent officer; none other than Horatio Nelson wrote of him, "In his professional line, he is superior to two-thirds, I am sure, of the [Naval] list; and in attention to orders, and respect to his superior officer, I hardly know his equal."
In the civilian world William was notorious for his casual manners, including his preference for walking as opposed to being driven in a royal carriage. He shocked society by openly living with his mistress (who was—shock horror!—an actress and—double shock horror!—(Protestant) Irish to boot) and acknowledging her children - one of whom was the maternal ancestor of future Prime Minister David Cameron. He also sparked controversy with his political activities, first forcing his father to raise him to a dukedom by threatening to run for the House of Commons,note then as the Duke of Clarence attacking government policies in the House of Lords. While no-one could have predicted he would become King years later, none of this seemed appropriate for a royal. Funnily enough, all of this—except for the political stuff—would be seen as preferable or at least not particularly objectionable in a monarch today (even the openly living with the mistress bit, although today we would simply expect the monarch to marry her and not some random foreign princess and have done with it), but at the time it was not universally agreed he was an improvement on his brother (many opted for "both awful").
After Princess Charlotte's death, he married Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen in a double ceremony with his brother Prince Edward, who married Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (the mother of Queen Victoria). It was happy marriage, though Adelaide couldn't produce the coveted heir, giving birth to two daughters, one who died shortly after birth and one who lived only four months, and two stillborn boys. Because of her tragic history of childbirth and personal piety and modesty (and for taming her husband), Adelaide was very popular with the British people; when the new colony of South Australia was established in 1836, they named its capital city Adelaide after her.
Having no legitimate children of his own he was quite fond of Victoria, and towards the end of his life infamously told Victoria's mother publicly and to her face that his main goal now was only to live long enough to see his niece's 18th birthday, as he thought her mother "surrounded by evil advisers and (...) incompetent to act with propriety" in the case of a regency government. He managed this by a few weeks.
It was in William's reign that the Reform Act of 1832 was passed (extending the franchise to poor men and fundamentally weakening the power of the House of Lords). His reign also saw the enactment of laws against child labour (although not banning it entirely), the abolition of slavery, and the first state provisions for the poor were made.
William IV is of interest for another reason - he remains the last British monarch to actually use his "reserve powers" without the permission of Parliament, in this case by appointing a Prime Minister against Parliament's will. This wasn't the flourish of remaining monarchical authority it seemed, though, since he actually didn't do this of his own accord but in response to a request from other powerful political figures. Even in the 19th century, though, the political fuss this act caused showed just how much the reality of the monarch as 'ruler' had been shattered.
William IV outlived both of his legitimate children, so when he died the Crown came to his niece, Victoria. (Hanover itself, meanwhile, passed out of personal union with Great Britain and into the hands of William's younger brother Ernest Augustus, as the throne of Hanover couldn't be inherited by a woman.) Her reign was long and eventful; she became both the longest-lived British sovereign (the third time this had occurred in the last five monarchs) and longest-reigning monarch in British history, only surpassed in either category by the present Queen Elizabeth II. See Queen Victoria, Victorian Britain, and Victorian London for more on this period. Her eldest son, Edward VII, marked the beginning of The House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (from the house name of Prince Albert), known today as The House of Windsor.
(And for the sake of completeness....)
Ernest Augustus I of Hanover
The fifth son of George III, he was sent to Hanover in his youth for education, military training, and to get him away from the influence of the heir. By 1793 had received a lifelong facial scar on the front lines of The War of the First Coalition, and was created Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale six years later. Of course his time on the continent helped develop his arch-conservative political views, which alongside scandals up to and including actual interference in the elections for a seat in the House of Commons made him increasingly unpopular in Britain. He moved to Berlin with his new wife (twice widowed, the second time conveniently after meeting Ernest) in 1818, but being happily married upon the death of his only legitimate niece gave him a real chance at the British throne.
His return to Britain in the late 1820s (The House of Commons would only increase his allowance if his young son was being reared locally) heralded his return to politics including fierce opposition to Catholic Emancipation, rumors of him siring a child on his sister Princess Sophia, and loose talk from the Orange Order Lodges he had backed for years shunting aside first-in-line heir Victoria of Kent in favor of the Duke of Cumberland.
It is note likely that The Duke of Wellington said this to the face of the late King William's brother after the Anglo-Hanoveran Union of the Crowns ended in 1837, but the Duke of Cumberland was not a popular man in Britain and the populace of Hanover would have preferred passing him over in favor of the current Viceroy had the Hanoveran heir's younger brother Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge not refused outright to lend himself to such a thing. Tellingly, one of the first things King Ernst August did was suspend a constitution that was passed under King Wilhelm and dissolving the Hanoveran Parliament convened under itnote on the basis that he was not consulted and it undercut the power of the monarch. This and his high-handed response to several protesting professors at his old alma mater of Göttingen University (the "Göttingen Seven", which included the Brothers Grimm) met with yet more hostility from his birthplace.
On a different note, he made no opposition to Catholic or Jewish emancipation in Hanover itself. He saw the pledges to protect the Anglican Faith his house took upon gaining the British throne did not apply to the continental domains. While he avoided bloodshed during the widespread 1848 revolutions, Ernst August did finally cave and pass a new constitution a few years before his death at age 80.
George V of Hanovernote
Born in Berlin and spending most of his formative years in Britain, he was 18 when he arrived in Hanover as the new Crown Prince... and completely blind due to childhood illnesses. His father had some hopes of getting him married off to his first cousin Victoria of Kent with an eye toward reuniting Great Britain and Hanover in the next generation, but that did not work out. Ernst August did override all attempts to set his only living child aside from the Hanoverian succession due to his blindness and instructed his son in the art of rulership.
It ultimately did not go well.
Georg V's 15 year reign was plagued with conflict between the crown and parliament, ending with a dispute over whether to stay out of the 1866 Austro-Prussian war. He won and sided with his Viennese ally... then was forced to flee with his family to Austria and found himself formally deposed when Prussia overran the outmatched and strategically vulnerable North German kingdom. He died in Parisian exile twelve years later.
The House of Hanover, in the shape of Georg's grandson Ernst August, eventually made up with the House of Hohenzollern, the ruling dynasty of Prussia, which had meantime unified Germany, in 1913. Ernst August married Emperor Wilhelm II's only daughter Viktoria Luise and at the same time was made reigning Duke of Brunswick (the duchy had been administered by regents following the death of the last male heir of the elder line of the House of Brunswick). But during World War I the Titles Deprivation Act of 1917 stripped the House of Hanover of their titles of nobility in UK. In 1918 Ernst August was forced to abdicate in the course of the November Revolution, and the new Weimar Republic then abolished all German titles of nobility, including those of the House of Hanover. Some of the family members would go on to support the Nazis in 1930s, only to to turn against them in 1940s, as many German nationalists did, and wound up in concentration camps by the end of World War II for their troubles.
Georg's descendants are still around. His current heir, Ernst August Prinz von Hannover, is married to Princess Caroline of Monaco. If he chose, he could apply to the UK Privy Council to have the dukedom of Cumberland returned to him.
Depictions in fiction
- The Madness of King George
- Blackadder The Third takes place during the Regency of George IV, played by Hugh Laurie as an Upper-Class Twit. His butler is Edmund Blackadder, who eventually arranges to Kill and Replace his master. George III also appears in the last episode of the series.
- Pride and Prejudice
- Any work taking place in The Napoleonic Wars, though those stories tend to focus on the fighting as opposed to the Hanover dynasty.
- George I appears quite predominantly in Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle along with a few of his full-time Hanoverian ancestors. George I got roundly mocked for being rather dim (thankfully, not quite as dim as his inbred quasi-moron ancestors) and being overly interested in agriculture. It's only the female Hanoverians who measure up to Stephenson's standards.
- In works surrounding The American Revolution, you can expect George III to be mentioned frequently, but remain unseen. Since such works almost invariably side with the Patriots, this basically amounts to playing him as a Greater-Scope Villain. The Patriot is a typical example. However, there are examples in which he does appear:
- Tom Hollander plays a rather good George III in a well-regarded scene in John Adams, where the title character presents his credentials as the first US Ministernote to Great Britain.
- George III is portrayed as a cartoonish villain in two of Schoolhouse Rock's America Rock segments. He appears most prominently in "No More Kings" and has a cameo in "Fireworks".
- He has three songs in Hamilton, which are all basically breakup songs with the colonies.
- In Liberty's Kids, he's voiced by Charles Shaughnessy of The Nanny fame.
- The Scarlet Pimpernel features George IV when he was Prince of Wales. He is a close friend of Sir Percy Blakeney.
- Jack Sparrow was brought before George II himself in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
- Along with the few years before and after the coronation of Queen Victoria, The Young Victoria depicts the last days and death of her uncle and predecessor, William IV(played by Jim Broadbent).