And so we turn now to one of my faves, Sophia of the Palatinate, a woman who, had she lived only a few weeks longer, would have succeeded Queen Anne on the throne. It is because of her that the House of Hanover was founded and she’s the line’s true matriarch, making her a direct ancestor to the current queen and the rest of today’s Royal Family.
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.
The story of George I’s marriage to Sophia Dorothea of Celle sounds like the plot of fiction, or at the very least, as though it’s from another time. It’s a strange, barbaric tale, one which gave Great Britain its second ever divorced monarch. Unlike Henry VIII, George I never remarried, but he did found the House of Hanover. Sophia Dorothea would never be crowned queen, but her son would become George II and she is a direct ancestor of every British monarch since.
On Sunday, we examined the religious friction that defined the Stuarts, finally prompting the Glorious Revolution. The story ends with the death of Queen Anne in 1714 and the end of the Stuart line, but it’s worth zooming in on this time and examining how extraordinary the beginning the House of Hanover truly was. Echoes of it, further cemented by anti-German sentiment in the 20th century, can still be heard today in how we talk about the House of Windsor and its members, from Prince Philip joining the British Royal Family in 1947 to Earl Spencer’s eulogy of his sister in 1997. So, here’s what happened.
BBC’s History Extra published an article three years ago on George I and George II, the first monarchs of the House of Hanover, which stated:
In reality, George I and George II were just as excitingly dysfunctional as Henry VIII. Theirs was truly a dynasty, with plenty of children, giving us enough characters to fill out a whole soap opera. They were also reasonably good kings. They weren’t flashy or showy, but under them Britain could truly claim to have become ‘Great’.
The article correctly claims that the first two Georges are two of Britain’s forgotten kings. Indeed, their house would become famous for George III and Queen Victoria, and perhaps even more so for founding the line that would so closely link the Royal Family’s heritage with Germany.
But the real secret about the this time period and these reigns isn’t captured in the last sentence above, but the first. And it’s not that the Hannoverians were more dramatic than the Tudors, but rather that they were perhaps equally as brutal. Some of that is perhaps unfair, for the lives of men and women in the 18th century were better-recorded, at least for our purposes. The domestic dysfunction that has permeated the royal court for centuries is better gleaned through primary sources the closer we approach present day, and so, for better or for worse, the dirty laundry is more accessible.