Like two Stuart princesses before her, George II’s eldest daughter, Anne, married into the Dutch Royal Family, taking her place as the Princess of Orange. The marriage wasn’t her first choice, but it was her best shot at not ending up a spinster at her detested brother’s court. Unfortunately, though blessed with her mother’s intellect, she inherited her father’s social charm.
I was originally going to cover the English Reformation in the mid-1530s today, but I we’ve done a lot on the Tudors recently and I thought it might be a bit of a palate cleanser to turn instead to the 18th century and cover a lesser-known princess, a daughter of George II who married into the Danish Royal Family.
The last time we touched on Caroline of Ansbach we were covering her and her husband’s horrific relationship with their eldest son, Prince Frederick of Wales. It’s a period of time in which Caroline is hardly shown in a positive light, but what makes this particular queen so difficult is that when you set that relationship aside, she was an incredibly compelling woman with any number of admirable qualities. Today, we’re going to cover her life leading up 1714, when her father-in-law, George I, ascended the British throne.
Few dynamics within the Royal Family are as strange as that between the monarch and heir. Never was this more abundantly clear than when George I came over from Germany in 1714 and established the House of Hanover. From that day on, a reliable tension has nearly always existed and arguably strains of it have been felt as late as the 20th century. To-date, the most chilling example of it has to be the relationship between George II and Caroline of Ansbach with their eldest son, Frederick, the Prince of Wales.
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.
In the autumn of 1714 Princess Caroline of Great Britain traveled from Herrenhausen in Hanover to her new home at St. James’s Palace in London. A few months before, her grandfather had been installed as King George I and her parents, now the Prince and Princess of Wales, were eager to begin their new British life. She joined her two older sisters, Anne and Amelia, in the nursery there, making appearances around London as people came out to cheer the three little girls. The only person missing was their older brother, Frederick, who was left behind as the family’s representative in Hanover.
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.