King George I.

George I (1660–1727)

George I was king of Great Britain and Ireland from 1714 until his death in 1727, and of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (also known as Hanover, after its capital), in present-day northern Germany, from 1698 until his death. The first of three Hanoverian monarchs in Britain, George I gained the throne after several royal deaths and a newly established accession order intended to secure a Protestant monarchy. He never fully learned to speak English and instead conducted government affairs mostly in French and his native German. His frequent trips to Hanover, as well as his controversial treatment of his ex-wife, caused many to scorn the foreign king. In the colonies, however, his reign was more applauded. Although the development of the British constitution by 1714 ensured that George I had little direct involvement in Virginia affairs, his almost thirteen years on the throne came during several defining developments in the colony's history: the transformation from indentured servitude to slavery as the primary source of plantation labor, the shift from sweet-scented to Oronoco tobacco as the dominant tobacco crop, and the beginning of what historians have called the "golden age" of Virginia politics. All of these developments can be attributed to the broader policies and people George I had at least a modest role in promoting. Historians often cite the peaceful royal succession following his sudden death in 1727 as his most significant legacy. MORE...

 

Early Years

Georg Ludwig was born in Hanover, the capital of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, part of the Holy Roman Empire, on May 28, 1660. His parents were Ernst August, duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and Sophia of the Palatinate, the granddaughter of James I of England through her mother, Elizabeth Stuart. They raised Georg with the hope that he would one day rule. With extensive military training, he proved himself a decisive yet balanced battle commander. His marriage to Sophia Dorothea in 1682 resulted in two children, including his future heir, George II. Their marriage was dissolved in 1694 after mutual infidelities, but Sophia's public affairs seemingly threatened succession and so she suffered state confinement until her death in 1726. Ernst August died in 1698, resulting in Georg's elevation to elector, or ruler, of Hanover. And when Protestant heirs to William III's throne became scarce through death and lack of progeny, the Act of Settlement, passed by Parliament in 1701, brought the crown to Sophia of the Palatinate's family as the closest non-Catholic relative. Her death on June 8, 1714, made Georg next in line for the throne.

Queen Anne died less than two months later, and on that same day, August 1, 1714, Georg was swiftly proclaimed George, king of Great Britain and Ireland. The new Hanoverian succession unseated numerous Catholic potential-heirs and ignited immediate plots in Great Britain to overthrow the non-English king. George I was received more positively across the ocean, however, with what the Reverend James Blair called "all decent joy."

King

George I's importance to colonial Virginia fell into three areas: geopolitics, British politics, and, as peculiar as it might seem, the politics of his death. His modest contributions to these matters combined to produce his greatest achievement for Virginia and the rest of the British world—the security of the Hanoverian settlement and the Whig supremacy.

In geopolitics, George I's focus on peace, stability, and prosperity for his two states—Great Britain and Hanover—enabled him to help establish a new European balance of power that ended decades of war. Except for a few brief respites, these ongoing conflicts had made transatlantic trade a worrisome business for Virginians because, although the English market remained open for Tidewater tobacco, getting it there was a hazardous venture. In some cases, even when naval convoys protected a fleet of tobacco merchant ships, enemy warships and privateers stopped them from reaching the Chesapeake Bay. Unsafe waters virtually cut off continental consumers from Northern Neck and Piedmont tobacco growers. Moreover, the demand for military and naval manpower contributed to a diminishing supply of servant labor available to Virginia planters, leading them to turn to the less expensive and somewhat more reliable, but dehumanizing, system of involuntary chattel slavery of African men and women.

The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which ended the War of Spanish Succession (1701–1714), and the separate peace between George I (acting as elector of Hanover) and Louis XIV, of France, in 1714, temporarily halted the fighting. But George I established a more lasting peace with a system of collective security for both western Europe and the British Hanoverian succession through the Triple Alliance of 1717 (a treaty between the Dutch Republic, France, and Great Britain) and the Quadruple Alliance of 1718 (a treaty that included these same states and the Holy Roman Empire). The diplomatic accomplishments largely made possible by George I's trans-European perspective reopened continental markets to Virginia tobacco, boosted the prosperity of the mostly Scottish merchants who brokered it, allowed greater investment in Chesapeake expansion, and enabled waves of European immigration to Virginia.

George I also helped lower the windspeed of politics at home with his moderate political sense. Having been cognizant of developments in British politics from his first visit to England in 1680, George I retained a long-standing distrust of Tories as opponents to his succession in 1714. (The Tories first emerged as a political party by opposing the effort to disinherit the eventual king, James II, a Catholic.) It was unsurprising, therefore, that George I filled his ministries almost entirely with Whigs who had proved their loyalty both to him and to parliamentary supremacy.

James II had been deposed by the Glorious Revolution (1688–1689) in favor of the Protestant monarchs William and Mary, and the Jacobite rising of 1715—a year after George I took the throne and led by a group of Tories—unsuccessfully attempted to crown James's Catholic son, James Stuart. The discovery of the pro-Stuart Atterbury Plot (1722) allowed George I's ministers, Sir Robert Walpole chief among them, to make Tories virtually synonymous with Jacobitism and treason, thereby removing them as a viable opposition force in British politics.

Prominent Virginians saluted these developments, including the wealthy landowner Robert "King" Carter, who exclaimed to a friend in 1717, "Pray God bless King George & send him to crush all his enemies at home & abroad." Carter prayed that Tories everywhere would be rooted out and "lett but us & our legal King alone." George I's appointment of Walpole as prime minister following his capable management of the South Sea Bubble's burst—which negatively impacted the finances of several Virginians directly but also had implications for the entire empire—made the Whig triumph more or less complete. Walpole shared George I's desire to avoid the chronic instability plaguing British and colonial politics under William III and Queen Anne, and he therefore focused on peace, low taxes, limited restraints on trade, and toleration for dissenters. Walpole remained in office until 1742, pursuing the political sense established under George I.

Later Years

Because of George I's success in securing stability at home and abroad, the last four years of his reign were relatively uneventful on both sides of the Atlantic. In Virginia, the stable European markets and safe transatlantic trade routes meant a boost to the economy and greater investment in slave labor. George I also replaced the troublesome lieutenant governor Alexander Spotswood with the Oxford-educated Hugh Drysdale, whom Carter saluted as "mild, Temperate & courteous." Drysdale's leadership helped foster the stable, moderate Chesapeake political culture based on accommodation that historians later referred to as Virginia's golden age.

George I's death on June 11, 1727 (June 22, according to New Style calendars), while traveling to Hanover, therefore, has been described by one historian as "a non-event" and another as "a curious anticlimax," which amounts to quite an achievement given the uncertainty that surrounded his ascension as the first Hanoverian monarch. The historian Paul Langford has compared the political calm of George II's succession with the treasonous plots during George I's rise, stating that there "would be no Twenty-Eight to follow 1727 as there had been a Fifteen to follow 1714." The king's abrupt death, of a stroke, did not allow potential Jacobite opponents time to organize, and Walpole's extraordinary political power enabled him to navigate the transition from George I to George II with relative ease. Walpole thereby secured the Whig gains achieved over the previous thirteen years. Much like Walpole's reputation in Britain, George I's moderate legacy was ensured, even promoted, in Virginia by leaders like Drysdale and his successor, Sir William Gooch, who likewise served as a moderate and esteemed lieutenant governor until 1749.

Time Line

  • May 28, 1660 - Georg Ludwig is born in Hanover, the capital of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, part of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • December 1680–March 1681 - Georg Ludwig visits the court of Charles II of England and receives an honorary degree from the University of Oxford.
  • November 22, 1682 - Georg Ludwig marries Princess Sophia Dorothea of Celle.
  • November 10, 1683 - Georg Augustus, the future George II of Great Britain, is born. He is the son of Georg Ludwig, the future George I, and Princes Sophia Dorothea.
  • January 23, 1698 - Georg Ludwig's father, Ernst August, dies. Georg Ludwig succeeds him as elector, or ruler, of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, part of the Holy Roman Empire.
  • July 30, 1700 - Queen Anne's only son and heir, Prince William, duke of Gloucester, dies, reopening question of British succession.
  • June 1701 - Parliament passes the Act of Settlement, which settles succession of England, Wales, and Ireland on Sophia of the Palatinate, the granddaughter of James I of England, and her heirs.
  • March 6, 1707 - Queen Anne signs the Act of Union. It joins England and Scotland into Great Britain, establishes Hanoverian succession, and opens trade through the empire.
  • 1713 - The treaties of Utrecht, which end the War of Spanish Succession, are established among a number of European states, including Great Britain, Spain, and France.
  • 1714 - Peace is made between Georg Ludwig, elector of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and Louis XIV, of France, in the wake of the end of the Spanish War of Succession.
  • June 8, 1714 - Sophia of the Palatinate dies, leaving her son, Georg Ludwig, as successor to the British throne.
  • August 1, 1714, ca. 7:30 a.m. - Queen Anne dies.
  • August 1, 1714, 1 p.m. - Georg Ludwig, elector of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, is proclaimed George, king of Great Britain and Ireland, at Saint James's Palace.
  • September 18, 1714 - George I, newly declared the king of Great Britain, arrives in England with his son.
  • October 1714 - George I forms his first ministry, which is dominated by Whigs.
  • 1715 - Jacobite rebels in Scotland unsuccessfully attempt to depose George I, a Protestant, and replace him with the Catholic son of the previously deposed James II.
  • 1717 - The Triple Alliance of Britain, France, and the Dutch Republic agrees to abide by British and French successions. France pledges to withdraw its support for James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of James II.
  • 1718 - The Quadruple Alliance provides a pan-European system of interlocking guarantees of the successions in Britain, France, and the Habsburg monarchy.
  • April 4, 1721 - Robert Walpole is named First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He remains in both posts, effectively prime minister, until 1742.
  • 1722 - The Crown uncovers the Atterbury Plot, an attempt at fostering a Jacobite rebellion to depose George I.
  • April 3, 1722 - Hugh Drysdale is appointed lieutenant governor of Virginia after the king's ministers decide to replace Alexander Spotswood.
  • July 22, 1726 - Lieutenant Governor Hugh Drysdale dies in Williamsburg. He is buried in the yard of Bruton Parish Church there.
  • June 11, 1727 - George I dies at Osnabrück, at the palace of his brother Ernest Augustus.

References

Further Reading
Gibbs, G. C. "George I (1660–1727)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Hatton, Ragnild M. George I, Elector and King. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1978.
Hoppit, Julian. A Land of Liberty? England 1689–1727. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Stoermer, R. S. George I (1660–1727). (2016, February 4). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/George_I_1660-1727.

  • MLA Citation:

    Stoermer, R. S. Taylor. "George I (1660–1727)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 4 Feb. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: January 11, 2016 | Last modified: February 4, 2016


Contributed by R. S. Taylor Stoermer, a Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Fellow and Instructor in Public History, at Harvard University.