In June 1727, 13 years into his reign, George I cheerfully left England for Hanover, grateful as always for any excuse to leave the British behind for the order and privacy of his beloved Electorate. While abroad he was planning a trip to Berlin to see his daughter, the Queen of Prussia, where he was working to finalize a marriage between his grandson, the Crown Prince, and his eldest granddaughter, Princess Anne. He was also going to see his eldest grandson, Prince Frederick, the sole representative of the Royal Family still living in Hanover since George ascended the British throne.
En-route, he was handed a letter written by his former wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, to whom he had been divorced since 1694. She had died eight months before in Ahlden Castle, the home in which he and her father had kept her confined after their disastrous marriage was dissolved. In the letter, she reportedly wrote that she was confident he wouldn’t live a year after her death. The next day he suffered a stroke and died two days later at Osnabrück, the same palace in which he was born 67 years before.
And with that, a mini-revolution was primed to take over. The news of the King’s death reached London four days later and was shared with his eldest son and his daughter-in-law, Caroline of Ansbach, by defacto Prime Minster Sir Robert Walpole. For over a decade, the new George II and Caroline had been living in Leicester House, the figureheads of the political opposition to George I’s government. They were younger, more popular, better acclimated and while the younger George was no prize, Caroline was politically savvy and intelligent in ways that made it an absolute shame she was the consort and not the monarch.
George II’s first action as king was to dismiss his father’s PM, however Walpole had every reason to believe he would be quickly restored to power thanks to Caroline’s influence. Then there is the fact that George ordered to Walpole to answer to Sir Spencer Compton, the Speaker of the House, but it was Compton who asked Walpole to draft the new King’s first speech – a request Walpole formally declined and privately accepted.
Caroline and Walpole had worked together earlier in George I’s reign when king and heir were bitterly opposed and the younger couple were ousted from central London and royal favor. The split had also deprived Caroline of her three eldest daughters – Anne, Caroline and Amelia – and visitation had only been restored after the untimely death of an infant son. Caroline believed that Walpole should have worked more quickly to bring about peace, but nevertheless, she was aware of his political prowess and effectiveness.
In the remaining years of George I’s reign, Caroline had given birth to three more children – William, Mary and Louisa – all of whom were still in the nursery. In-between pregnancies she established herself as the cultural figurehead of the Royal Family – it was she who patronized artists, philosophers and scientists, bolstering England’s role in the broader Enlightenment – she even helped facilitate the Leibniz–Clarke correspondence. She and her husband had also established themselves as sympathetic ears to the politicians opposed to the King’s policies, including at various points Walpole himself.
This paid off well in that George and Caroline enjoyed political support and optimism from Westminster. When Parliament was held later in June and the finances of the new reign voted on, the royal couple enjoyed a larger allowance than had ever been granted before.
Court mourning was in place throughout the summer, but was put to rest with the old King’s body in August. By then, plans for the coronation were in full swing, particularly since George and Caroline were not only well-aware of how much stock their new subjects put in ceremony, but with what this particular coronation represented: a new era.
Decked out in silver, gold and purple, George, Caroline and their three eldest daughters participated in a magnificent – and slow – coronation procession to Westminster Abbey. It took nearly two hours to cross from Westminster Hall to the Abbey itself thanks to the crowds and the sheer volume of people participating. After the ceremony, the party moved back to the Hall for an elaborate banquet which saw tables laden with tiered dishes of meats, fruit and confection. When the sun set, 40 crowns of 36 candles were suspended from the air and lit and once George and Caroline departed, it descended into an actual party.
The crowning over, George and Caroline moved from Leicester House to St. James’s Palace, which became their primary residence, though they also renovated and used Hampton Court Palace. Caroline, too, was fond of Windsor Castle and often stayed there when George was out of the country.
Caroline lived another 10 years after her husband came to the throne, though he would go on to rule 22 more after her. George II’s reign is an interesting one, because it’s actually one of Britain’s longest, but most people have no idea. There are a variety of reason for that, but one of them is that Caroline was the true powerhouse in their marriage and the first decade of his reign was essentially hers. Her husband understood on some level that she was smarter than him and he bowed to it – not openly, but she had the ability to bring her husband around without him ever realizing the final result wasn’t his idea to begin with. In light of that influence, she and Walpole effectively controlled the King, an extraordinary situation that worked while it lasted and is particularly interesting given that it most certainly didn’t for her granddaughter, Caroline Matilda, in Denmark, two generations later.
It wouldn’t be for another year that the new heir to the throne, Prince Frederick, was summoned from Hanover, but while we’ve touched on the poor relationship between Frederick and his parents before, a more thorough analysis is worthwhile and will have to be saved for a later post.