On Thursday Evan Davis on the Today Programme marked the visit of Chancellor Angela Merkel by running through some Anglo-German anniversaries. 2014 is 75 years since the start of the Second World War, and a 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War. Perhaps, he suggested, the least controversial subject for ministerial small-talk during her visit might be the 300th anniversary of the Accession of King George I to the British throne in 1714. August 1st is a date worth celebrating, however much it might be overshadowed by the centenary of the First World War three days later.
As a huge fan of the House of Hanover I’m looking forward to the Royal Collection exhibition ‘The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714 – 1760’ at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace from April 11th to October 12th this year. Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures and curator of the exhibition, puts the reasons for my fandom very succinctly. The House of Hanover, he says, is responsible for ‘setting the monarchy on an unbroken line of succession to the present day. During the reign of the first two Georges, Britain became the worlds ‘s most liberal, commercially successful, vibrant and cosmopolitan society. This is a superb achievement.’
The early Georgian royal family were enthusiastic and discriminating patrons. King George II and his son Frederick Prince of Wales even mobilised musical patronage as a weapon in their family war against each other, sponsoring rival opera houses. The King’s favourite, Handel, is still one of the nation’s best-loved composers. The exhibition showcases contemporary portraits, such as this magnificent Kneller of King George II as Prince of Wales, as well as other treasures. There are Old Master paintings, including a couple of Holbein’s finest portraits. Many of these were acquired by Queen Caroline, and Frederick Prince of Wales.
Caroline and Frederick were also patrons of William Kent, the versatile genius who could turn his hand to anything from architecture to furniture design and gardening. The gilded barge that he designed for Frederick will probably not be in the exhibition – it is a highlight at the NMM in Greenwich – but I hope there will be some other Kentian gems. It has been said that if Frederick had lived to be King he would have built a picture collection worthy of King Charles I. With Kent he already had his Inigo Jones.
I had not heard of this letter before (above) from Frederick to his son Prince George, later King George III. It is Frederick’s advice on being a good King. He tells his son not to trust flatterers or ministers, to avoid war where possible, to reduce the national debt and ease the nation’s tax burden. As if predicting his own death two years later he adds, ‘I shall have no regret never to have wore the Crown, if you do but fill it worthily.’ Frederick’s advice ‘to behave as an Englishman born and bred’ clearly struck a chord. Lord Hardwicke wrote King George III’s speech for his Accession in 1760, but the King himself inserted the line: ‘Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Britain.’
This sentiment was echoed by George III’s great-great Grandson during the First World War. In 1917 when there were rumbles about the Royal Family’s German connections, HG Wells described the Court as ‘alien and uninspiring.’
‘I may be uninspiring,’ said the King, ‘but I’ll be damned if I’m alien!’