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George II of Great Britain

Related subjects: Monarchs of Great Britain

Background Information

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George II
King of Great Britain and Ireland; Elector of Hanover; Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Reign 11 June 1727 – 25 October 1760
Coronation 11 October 1727
Predecessor George I
Successor George III
Spouse Caroline of Ansbach
Frederick, Prince of Wales
Anne, Princess Royal
Princess Amelia
Princess Caroline
Prince George William
Prince William, Duke of Cumberland
Princess Mary, Landgravine of Hesse
Louise, Queen of Denmark and Norway
Full name
George Augustus
German: Georg August
Father George I
Mother Sophia Dorothea of Celle
Burial 11 November 1760
Westminster Abbey, London

George II (George Augustus; 10 November 1683 – 25 October 1760) was King of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg ( Hanover) and Archtreasurer and Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire from 11 June 1727 until his death.

He was the last British monarch to have been born outside Great Britain, and was famous for his numerous conflicts with his father and, subsequently, with his son. As king, he exercised little control over policy in his early reign, the government instead being controlled by Great Britain's first de facto Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole.

Early life

HSH Duke Georg August of Hanover was born at Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover (Germany). He was the son of Georg Ludwig, then the Hereditary Prince of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and his wife, Sophia of Celle; both George I and Sophia committed adultery but Sophia's alleged abandonment of George led to their being divorced in 1694.

He married Margravine Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach in 1705. One of the other Princesses considered was the Swedish Princess Hedvig Sophia of Sweden, who became a widow in 1702.

Quarrel with the King

The Prince of Wales had an extremely poor relationship with his father. When the Princess of Wales gave birth to Prince George William in 1717, a family quarrel ensued; at the baptism, the Prince of Wales insisted on having the Duke of Newcastle (whom the king detested) as a godfather, whilst the King chose his brother, the Duke of York and Albany. When he publicly vituperated his father, the Prince of Wales was temporarily put under arrest. Afterwards, the King banished his son from St. James's Palace, the King's residence, and excluded him from all public ceremonies. Even when George ascended the throne, he bawled "Dat is vun big lie!" when he heard of his fathers death. He was finally free of parental oppression.

Political opposition

The Prince of Wales did all in his power to encourage opposition to George I's policies. His London residence, Leicester House, became a meeting place for his father's opponents, including Sir Robert Walpole and Viscount Townshend. In 1720, Walpole encouraged the King and his son to reconcile. In the same year, Walpole made a return to political office, from which he had been excluded since 1717.

In 1721, the economic disaster of the South Sea Bubble allowed Sir Robert to rise to the pinnacle of government. Walpole and his Whig Party were dominant in politics, for George I feared that the Tories did not support the succession laid down in the Act of Settlement. The power of the Whigs was so great that the Tories would not come to hold power for another half-century. Sir Robert essentially controlled British government, but, by joining the King's side, lost the favour of the Prince of Wales.

Early reign

Royal styles of
George II of Great Britain
Arms of the United Kingdom.svg
Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sire

George II succeeded to the throne on his father's death on 11 June 1727, but a battle of wills continued with his son and heir-apparent, Prince Frederick. The King may have planned to exile his son to the British colonies, but, in any event, did not actually do so. George was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 4 October. The Hanoverian composer Handel was commissioned to write four new anthems for the coronation; one of which, Zadok the Priest, has been sung at every coronation since.

It was widely believed both that George would dismiss Walpole, who had distressed him by joining his father's government, and that he would be replaced by Sir Spencer Compton; George requested Compton, rather than Walpole, to write his first speech for him. Sir Spencer, however, requested Walpole for aid in the task, leading Queen Caroline, an ardent supporter of Sir Robert, to claim that Compton was incompetent. George did not behave obstinately; instead, he agreed with his wife and retained Walpole as Prime Minister, who continued to slowly gain royal favour, securing a generous civil list of £800,000 for the King.

He also persuaded many Tory politicians to accept the succession laid down in the Act of Settlement as valid. In turn, the King helped Sir Robert to gain a strong parliamentary majority by creating peers sympathetic to the Whigs.

British Royalty
House of Hanover
Quarterly, I Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or impaling Or a lion rampant within a double-tressure flory-counter-flory Gules; II Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or; III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent; IV tierced per pale and per chevron, I Gules two lions passant guardant Or, II Or a semy of hearts Gules a lion rampant Azure, III Gules a horse courant Argent, overall an escutcheon Gules charged with the crown of Charlemagne Or
George II
Frederick, Prince of Wales
Anne, Princess of Orange
Princess Amelia
Princess Caroline
Prince William, Duke of Cumberland
Mary, Landgravine of Hesse-Cassel
Louise, Queen of Denmark
Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick
George III
Edward, Duke of York
Princess Elizabeth
William Henry, Duke of Gloucester
Henry, Duke of Cumberland
Princess Louisa
Prince Frederick
Caroline Matilda, Queen of Denmark
Princess Sophia of Gloucester
William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester

Whilst the Queen was still alive, Walpole's position was secure. He was the master of domestic policy, and he still exerted some control over George's foreign policy. Whilst the King was eager for war in Europe, the Prime Minister was more cautious. Thus, in 1729, he encouraged George to sign a peace treaty with Spain.

In 1732, by granting a charter to James Oglethorpe, the King created the Province of Georgia in British North America, which was named after him. In 1737 he founded the University of Göttingen in Germany, also named after him.

Frederick, Prince of Wales

Family problems

George's relationship with the Prince of Wales worsened during the 1730s. When the Prince of Wales married, an open quarrel broke out; the King banished him and his family from the royal court in 1737.

After banishing his son, George also lost his wife, who died on 20 November 1737. Reputedly, when she asked her husband to remarry, he replied, "Non, j'aurai des maîtresses!" (French for "No, I will have mistresses!"). George had already had an illegitimate son, Johann Ludwig, Graf von Wallmoden-Gimborn ( 22 April 1736 - 10 October 1811) by his mistress Amalie von Wallmoden, Countess of Yarmouth ( 1704-1765). The most famous of his mistresses was Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, who was one of Caroline's ladies of the bedchamber.

War and rebellion

Against Walpole's advice, George once again entered into war, the War of Jenkins' Ear, with Spain in 1739. The entire continent of Europe was plunged into war upon the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1740. At dispute was the right of his daughter, Maria Theresa, to succeed to his Austrian dominions. George II's war with Spain quickly became part of the War of the Austrian Succession.

Sir Robert Walpole was powerless to prevent a major European conflict. He also faced the opposition of several politicians, led by John, Baron Carteret, later Earl Granville. Accused of rigging an election, Walpole retired, in 1742, after over twenty years in office. He was replaced by Spencer Compton, 1st Earl of Wilmington, George's original choice for the premiership, who had previously failed to gain office due to the manœuvres of Queen Caroline. Lord Wilmington, however, was a figurehead; actual power was held by Lord Carteret. When Lord Wilmington died in 1743, Henry Pelham took his place.

The pro-war faction was led by Lord Carteret, who claimed that if Maria Theresa failed to succeed to the Austrian Throne, then French power in Europe would increase. George II agreed to send more troops to Europe, ostensibly to support Maria Theresa, but in reality to prevent enemy troops from marching into Hanover. The British army had not fought in a major European war in over twenty years, during which time the government had badly neglected its upkeep. Nevertheless, the King enthusiastically sent his troops to Europe. He personally accompanied them, leading them into the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, thus becoming the last British monarch to lead troops into battle. His armies were controlled by his military-minded son, HRH The Duke of Cumberland. The war was not welcomed by the British public, who felt that the King and Lord Carteret were subordinating British interests to Hanoverian ones.

Half-Crown of George II, 1746. The inscription reads GEORGIUS II DEI GRATIA (George II by the Grace of God). Under the King's head is the word LIMA, signifying that the coin was struck from silver seized from the Spanish treasure fleet off Lima, Peru.

Shrewdly, George II's French opponents encouraged rebellion by the Jacobites during the War of the Austrian Succession. The Jacobites were the supporters of the Roman Catholic James II, who had been deposed in 1689 and replaced not by his Catholic son, but by his Protestant daughter. James II's son, James Francis Edward Stuart, known as the Old Pretender, had attempted two prior rebellions; that of 1715, "the Fifteen", which was after he fled to France; and the rebellion of 1719, "the Nineteen", which was so weak that it was almost farcical. The Old Pretender's son, Charles Edward Stuart, popularly known, both then and since, as Bonnie Prince Charlie, however, led a much stronger rebellion on his father's behalf in 1745.

Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland in July 1745. Many Scots were loyal to his cause; he defeated British forces in September. He then attempted to enter England, where even Roman Catholics seemed hostile to the invasion. The French monarch, Louis XV, had promised to send twelve thousand soldiers to aid the rebellion, but did not do so. A British army under the Duke of Cumberland, meanwhile, drove the Jacobites back into Scotland. On 16 April 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie faced the Duke of Cumberland in the Battle of Culloden, the last battle ever fought on British soil. The ravaged Jacobite troops were routed by the British Government Army. Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped to France, but many of his Scottish supporters were caught and executed. Jacobitism was all but crushed; no further serious attempt was made at restoring the House of Stuart.

After the Forty-Five, the War of the Austrian Succession continued. Peace was made in 1748, with Maria Theresa being recognised as Archduchess of Austria. She subsequently dropped Great Britain as a key ally, deeming it too unreliable.

Later life

For the remainder of his life, George did not take any active interest in politics or war. During his last years, the foundation of the Industrial Revolution was laid as the population rose rapidly. British dominance in India increased with the victories of Robert Clive at the Battle of Arcot and the Battle of Plassey.

When the Prince of Wales died suddenly in 1751, his son, Prince George immediately succeeded him as Duke of Edinburgh. The new Duke was soon created Prince of Wales in recognition of his status as heir-apparent. However, the Dowager Princess of Wales mistrusted the King, and kept the two apart.

In 1752, Great Britain reformed its calendar. It had previously operated under the Julian Calendar, but during 1752 adopted the Gregorian Calendar. The calendar change required omitting eleven days; 2 September was followed by 14 September. Furthermore, 1 January became the official beginning of the New Year, instead of 25 March. The former date had been commonly regarded as the beginning of the New Year for a long time, but the latter was retained in formal usage. To ensure consistency of financial record keeping, and to prevent annual payments falling due before they would have under the Julian Calendar, the fiscal year was not shortened, with the result that in the United Kingdom each tax year has since begun on 6 April.

In 1754, King George issued the charter for King's College in New York City, which would later become Columbia University after the American Revolution. George's Prime Minister, Henry Pelham died in 1754, to be succeeded by his brother, the Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and, thereafter, by the Duke of Devonshire in 1756. Another notable minister was William Pitt, the Elder. Pitt was appointed a Secretary of State in the Duke of Devonshire's administration, but was disliked by the King, for he had previously opposed involvement in the War of the Austrian Succession. The hostility was marked by George's criticism of Pitt's speeches in early 1757. In April of the same year, George dismissed Pitt, but later recalled him. At the same time, the Duke of Newcastle returned as Prime Minister.

As Secretary of State for the Southern Department, Pitt the Elder guided policy relating to the Seven Years' War, which may be viewed as a continuation of the War of the Austrian Succession. Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria, made an alliance with her nation's former enemies, Russia and France, and became the enemy of Great Britain and Hanover. George II feared that this new alliance would invade Hanover; thus, he aligned himself with Prussia. Great Britain, Hanover and Prussia were thus pitted against many major European powers, including Austria, Russia, France, Sweden and Saxony. The war spread from Europe to North America (where the conflict is also known as the French and Indian War) and to India, where it was termed the Second Carnatic War.

Statue of George II in Golden Square, Soho, London. By John Nost the elder, this was erected in 1753, but had actually been made 33 years previously for the Duke of Chandos. It is badly corroded (it has been suggested that this is due to over-zealous cleaning) and the right hand is damaged. The only other public statue of this king in London is at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich. (January 2006)

On the morning of 25 October 1760, the King entered his water closet, and after a few minutes, his valet heard a loud crash. He entered the water closet to find the King on the floor. The King was lifted into his bed, and asked for Princess Amelia, but before she reached him, he was dead. A post mortem revealed that the King died of a ruptured aneurism of the aorta. He was subsequently buried in Westminster Abbey and was succeeded by his grandson, who became George III.

Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles

  • 10 November 1683– October 1692: His Serene Highness Duke Georg August of Brunswick-Lüneburg
  • October 1692– 23 January 1698: His Serene Highness Prince Georg August of Hanover
  • 23 January 1698– 1 August 1714: His Serene Highness The Hereditary Prince of Hanover
  • 1 August 1714– 11 June 1727: His Royal Highness The Hereditary Prince of Hanover
  • 27 September 1714–11 June 1727: His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales
  • 11 June 1727– 25 October 1760: His Majesty The King

In Great Britain, George II used the official style "George the Second, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." In some cases (especially in treaties), the formula "Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Archtreasurer and Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire" was added before "etc."

His full style immediately prior to his succession was His Royal Highness The Prince George Augustus, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Duke of Cambridge, Marquess of Cambridge, Earl of Carrick, Earl of Milford Haven, Viscount Northallerton, Baron Renfrew, Baron of Tewkesbury, Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, Hereditary Prince of Hanover, Knight of the Garter


George II's arms were: Quarterly, I Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England) impaling Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); II Azure three fleurs-de-lys Or (for France); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland); IV tierced per pale and per chevron (for Hanover), I Gules two lions passant guardant Or (for Brunswick), II Or a semy of hearts Gules a lion rampant Azure (for Lüneburg), III Gules a horse courant Argent (for Westfalen), overall an escutcheon Gules charged with the crown of Charlemagne Or (for the dignity of Archtreasurer of the Holy Roman Empire).

In popular culture

On screen, George has been portrayed by:

  • Alexander Ekert in the German silent film Exzellenz Unterrock (1921), based on a novel by Paul Adolf
  • Olaf Hytten in The Last of the Mohicans (1936)
  • Martin Miller in Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948)
  • Ivan Triesault in The Lady and the Bandit (1951), about Dick Turpin
  • Arthur Young in John Wesley (1954)
  • Richard Harris in King of the Wind (1989)
  • Clive Swift in the BBC TV drama series Aristocrats (1999)



Caroline's nine pregnancies, between 1707 and 1724, resulted in eight live births:

Name Birth Death Notes
Frederick, Prince of Wales 1 February 1707 31 March 1751 married, 1736, Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha; had issue
Anne, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange 2 November 1709 12 January 1759 married, 1734, William IV, Prince of Orange; had issue
Princess Amelia 10 July 1711 31 October 1786  
Princess Caroline 21 June 1713 28 December 1757  
Prince George William 13 November 1717 17 February 1718 died in infancy
Prince William, Duke of Cumberland 26 April 1721 31 October 1765  
Princess Mary, Landgravine of Hesse 5 March 1723 14 January 1772 married, 1740, Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse; had issue
Louise, Queen of Denmark and Norway 18 December 1724 19 December 1751 married, 1743, Frederick V of Denmark; had issue


  • The Seven Years' War continued after George II's death. It concluded during the early reign of George III, and led to important territorial gains for the British in North America and Asia. Nevertheless, the expensive conflict crippled the royal finances. British attempts to tax the Americans would lead to the American Revolution. Great Britain, however, fared much better in India. Company rule (that is, rule by the British East India Company) was secured within years of George II's death.
  • He served as the ninth Chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin between 1715 and 1718.
  • In 1734 George II founded the Georg August University of Göttingen.
  • George II's disinterest in British government had contributed to the decline of the royal power. His successor, George III, sought to reverse the trend, but failed; thus, the power of ministers became well-established.
  • The patriotic song " God Save the King" was developed during George II's reign. It is thought that the first public performance of the song—sometimes cited as an adaptation of a piece by the French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully—occurred during the Forty-Five. In reference to the Jacobite Rebellion, a fourth verse (which includes the words "Rebellious Scots to crush") was added, though it is now rarely sung. "God Save the King" (or "God Save the Queen") is now the unofficial national anthem of the United Kingdom, one of the two national anthems of New Zealand (along with " God Defend New Zealand"), and the royal anthem of Australia and Canada.
  • The first performance of Messiah from G.F. Handel took place on March 23, 1743, in the presence of King George II. The King rose to his feet and remained standing for the duration of the piece. It may have been in recognition of that his earthly kingdom was subservient to the Kingdom of Heaven. However, no one could remain sitting while the King stood, so the entire audience stood throughout the duration of the piece. The tradition remains to this day of the audience standing for the Hallelujah chorus. This is often observed even if there are no royalty present.
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