Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Friday, June 23, 2006

Dead King Watch: George I

George was not born in England but came to rule it

King George I died on 11 June 1727, and so it is a little belatedly that I bring up the 279th anniversary of his death.

George Ludwig was born in 1660 in Hanover in Germany, and was born into the ruling class, becoming His Serene Highness, Duke Georg Ludwig of Brunswick-Lüneburg. In 1692, he became Prince Elect of Hanover and then from 1698 his full title was 'His Serene Highness Georg Ludwig, The Elector of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg.' His court in Hanover was graced by many cultural icons, such as the mathematician Gottfried Leibniz and the composer Händel. George himself was described by one observer to be 'low of stature, of features coarse, of aspect dull and placid.'

Fine, you are thinking, but how the hell did this dull German prince get to be King of England? Well, his mother Sophia, the daughter of Elizabeth Stuart, was herself the eldest daughter of James I. In 1701, the English passed the Act of Settlement whereby she was designated heir to the British Throne if the then-reigning monarch (William III) and his sister-in-law Princess Anne of Denmark (the later Queen Anne)) both died without issue. The succession was so designed because Sophia was the closest Protestant relative of the British Royal Family; numerous Catholics with superior hereditary claims were bypassed. In England, the Tories generally opposed allowing a foreigner to succeed to the Throne, whilst the Whigs favoured a Protestant successor regardless of nationality. George is said to have been reluctant to accept the English plan, but his Hanoverian advisors suggested that he should acquiesce so that his German possessions would become more secure.

The problem was this pissed off some members of the Scottish ruling class, who thought they had a better claim to the throne of England than some German prince. Yet as Neil Davidson notes, 'The English ruling class wanted Scotland to accept the Hanoverian succession to the three thrones of Britain—essentially to end any possibility of the Scots restoring the Stuart dynasty, which had been overthrown for the second time in 1688 and was now backed by France. The feudal ruling class in Scotland was divided, and the English regime concluded that it would have to incorporate Scotland into a new British state.'

In 1707, the Act of Union was passed; it united England and Scotland into a single political entity, the Kingdom of Great Britain. Davidson again: 'The formation of the British state was part of the conflict for global supremacy between capitalist-constitutional England and feudal-absolutist France...The Scottish bourgeoisie was almost totally opposed to the union of England and Scotland, and so were the popular classes—there was of course no working class at the time. For several months the Edinburgh crowd were in an almost permanent state of anti-union insurgency outside the Scottish parliament. They rightly feared that the union would bring higher taxes and the Anglicisation of the Church of Scotland, virtually their only democratic institution. The riots and demonstrations did not stop the treaty going ahead. But they did manage to get several of the most offensive clauses changed or deleted. In the end, the lords pushed the treaty through parliament because the English regime was prepared to guarantee the preservation of their feudal jurisdictions and legal system—their class position.'

By the time Anne died on 1 August 1714, George's mother was dead and so he was now King of England. The English were singularly unimpressed with their new sovereign. George I was a short, irascible German who did not even speak English and could hardly be bothered to learn the language. He was a man of limited intelligence and aims. Landing in England at Greenwich, on 18th September, 1714, in a thick fog, he was accompanied by his tall, thin and rapacious mistress Mademoiselle Schullenberg. George's other mistress. Madame Keilmansegge, was conversely very obese. The English irreverently dubbed the pair the "the Elephant and the Maypole." Even whilst he was in Great Britain, the King occupied himself with Hanoverian concerns.

Yet in 1715, when not even a year had passed after George's accession, he was faced with a Jacobite Rebellion, which became known as "The Fifteen". The Jacobites sought to put Anne's Catholic half-brother, James Francis Edward Stuart (whom they called "James III", and who was known to the English as the "Old Pretender") on the Throne. The Pretender instigated rebellion in Scotland, where support for Jacobitism was stronger than in England. John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar, an embittered Scottish nobleman who had previously supported the Glorious Revolution, led the rebels. The Fifteen, however, was a dismal failure; Lord Mar's battle plans were poor, and the Old Pretender had not arrived in Scotland in time. By the end of the year 1715, the rebellion had all but collapsed. Faced with impending defeat, Lord Mar and the Pretender fled to France in the next February. After the Fifteen was crushed, the British government dealt with the insurgents harshly. Several prisoners were executed; the remainder were enslaved in the colonies. Numerous Scottish noble families lost their estates.

Davidson describes Jacobitism thus: 'Jacobitism was a counter-revolutionary political movement whose formal goal was to restore the Stuarts. Behind this, however, lay a deeper motivation. Although the union was deeply conservative in Scottish terms, it did open up the country to greater capitalist development, through trade with the Americas (which had previously been illegal), the beginnings of agricultural improvement, and so on. The Jacobite social base was among the lairds (equivalent to the gentry in England) and some of the great magnates who were unwilling or unable to make the transition to capitalist production. Unlike every other feudal class west of Poland they still had the power to raise their tenants to fight, but they also relied on support from the Britain’s European rivals.'

Several members of the Tory Party sympathised with the Jacobites. George I began to distrust the Tories, and power thus passed to the Whigs. Whig dominance would be so great under George I that the Tories would not return to power for another half-century. In general power passed from the Crown somewhat in this period to instead his chief minister Sir Robert Walpole. During one of his frequent visits to his beloved Hanover, George I suffered a stroke and died at Osnabruck on 11th June, 1727, he was buried in the Chapel of the Leine Schloss



At 10:54 pm, Blogger Comandante Gringo said...

Sorry, komrad -- I have news for you: that's a likeness of George II there.

And FYI: the lairds are back from Beyond -- And they want a return to full-blown feudalism. With a hi-tek police apparatus, of course.


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