George II was the last British monarch to lead troops into battle, whilst many great social and political changes occurred during his reign.
He was born Georg August on 30 October 1683 (Old Style) at Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover, the eldest of two children born to Crown Prince Georg of Hanover and Sophia Dorothea of Celle. His sister Sophia Dorothea was born 16 March 1687.
He and his sister were raised with loving kindness by their grandmother, the old Electress Sophia, after their mother was imprisoned for adultery in 1694. Sophia hired English tutors for her grandchildren when she was declared heiress presumptive by the Act of Settlement. George learnt to speak English but he never lost his heavy accent.
George married Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach on 22 August 1705. Caroline was beautiful, vivacious and intelligent, and often discreetly guided her husband by allowing him to believe her ideas were often his! Caroline tolerated George’s numerous mistresses, including Henrietta Howard, her very own lady of the bedchamber!
They produced ten children, including Frederick Prince of Wales (1707-51); Anne (1709-59); Amelia (1711-1786); Caroline (1713-1757); William Duke of Cumberland (1721-65); Mary (1723-72); and Louisa (1724-51).
Prince of Wales
His father ascended the British throne as George I, but he could not speak English and he arrived with his German ministers and mistresses in tow. George often attended cabinet and Privy Council meetings and often acted as his father’s interpreter. George I preferred living in Hanover, which did not endear him to many subjects.
On the other hand, George was a far more attractive figure than his father. He enjoyed pomp and circumstance and he had fought bravely alongside the English under the Duke of Marlborough’s command at the Battle of Oudenarde in 1708. Best of all, George actually spoke English, despite his heavy accent, and he was extremely knowledgeable about English affairs. They won loyalty and popularity because they demonstrated they were pleased to be England.
George and Caroline moved into the state apartments at Hampton Court Palace where they maintained an open court not seen since Charles II’s reign.
George I was furious as he engaged in a public-relations war with his son. The Prince was asked to leave St James’s Palace so he and Caroline moved into Leicester House (now Leicester Square) where their alternative court attracted the aristocracy, politicians such as Alexander Pope and Sir Robert Walpole, writer Joseph Addison and scientists including Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley.
A British King
George succeeded to the throne on 11 June 1727 when his father died en-route to Hanover. He initially refused to believe the news, but he decided he would rule as a British king, not a reluctant German one. George II was crowned in a magnificent ceremony, with music by George Friderick Handel, at Westminster Abbey four months later. Handel’s great anthem, Zadoc the Priest and Nathan the Prophet crowned Solomon King, was included in every coronation held ever since.
George was devastated when Caroline became seriously ill so she urged him to remarry after her death, but he steadfastly refused saying he would only have mistresses. George was genuinely heartbroken when Caroline died after a lingering and painful death in 1737.
George II became involved in the War of Austrian Succession from1740 to 1748 against Spain, France and Prussia. George commanded the ‘Pragmatic Army’ – consisting of Britain and her allies, the Hanoverians, Hessians, Austrians and the Dutch – and led them to victory at Dettingen in 1743.
Queen Caroline, as Walpole’s friend and chief political ally, persuaded her husband to keep him as his chief minister, as she recognised his many merits. Walpole proved an efficient prime minister during the Jacobite Rising in 1745. George’s son, William Duke of Cumberland earned the unsavoury nickname ‘Butcher’, destroyed the Jacobite forces at Culloden and dealt out brutally harsh punishments to the survivors.
His other overseas victories during the Seven Years War (1756-63), also known as the French and Indian War in North America, began building British power in Canada, the Caribbean and India. He had complete command of the sea. He had always wanted—and finally won in 1759—military glory.
George II, like his father, was a patron of Handel. He was so moved whilst listening to the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ in The Messiah in 1743, he spontaneously rose to his feet, and started the tradition which was observed ever since whenever Handel’s great work is performed.
He had no interest in the arts, especially “boets and bainters”.
He died suddenly around 7.30am from a fatal heart attack whilst sitting on the loo, at Westminster Palace on 25 October 1760. He was buried in Henry VII’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey. He was succeeded by his grandson George III.
Crofton, Ian, The Kings and Queens of England, Quercus, London, 2006
Erickson, Carolly, Royal Panoply, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2003
Fraser, Antonia [Editor], The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, (reprinted 2005)
Starkey, David, Monarchy: From the Middle Ages To Modernity, HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2006
Weir, Alison, Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy, Vintage Books, London, 2008
Williamson, David, Debrett’s Kings and Queens of Britain, Webb & Bower (Publishers) Limited, London, 1986
© 2010 Carolyn M Cash
This article was originally published as George II of England (1727-1760) by Suite 101 on 30 October 2010.