Wednesday, September 20, 2006

George I

George Louis, Elector of Hanover, owed his accession not to divine hereditary right, but to the Act of Settlement of 1701. He was the son of the Electress Sophia, the most direct Protestant descendant of James I.

Though George was in Hanover when Anne died on 1 August 1714 he was immediately proclaimed. The Jacobites did not stir, ‘their muttering speaking loudly of their lack of numbers, organization, resources, and commitment’ (Hoppit (2000), 384). He was important for what he was not as much as for what he was: not a Catholic, not an ally of France, and he was bound by the terms of the Act of Settlement rather than the ideology of divine right. His accession dealt the death-blow to the divine right of kings.
He came to the throne aged 54. Since 1694 he had been divorced and his wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, was a prisoner at Ahlden. He was physically unprepossessing and his knowledge of English was rudimentary (though he knew French, German and Latin well, and had a little Dutch and Italian) He had a great deal of military experience. He had fought France in 1676, 1677 and 1678. He had campaigned against the Turks in 1683-5 and had fought briefly in the Nine Years War.

He finally arrived at Greenwich on 18 September, having been delayed by contrary winds and by his own lack of urgency. He brought with him some 90 ministers, courtiers and servants, including two Turkish grooms, Mehemet and Mustapha. His family included his mistress Melusine von der Schulenburg (the ‘Maypole’; made duchess of Kendal, 1719) and her three (unacknowledged) daughters and established them in St James’s Palace. He also brought his half-sister (wrongly thought to be his mistress, Sophia Charlotte von Kielmannsegge (the ‘Elephant’; made countess of Darlington, 1721). His son George Augustus, now Prince of Wales, was installed with his wife Caroline and their daughters Anne, Emily and Caroline. Their son Frederick (born 1707) was left behind in Hanover.

The limits of George’s power were defined by the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement. He had to be a Protestant, he was forbidden to give office, title or estate to a foreigner without Parliament’s consent, he could appoint but could not dismiss a judge, he could appoint and dismiss ministers and dictate foreign policy. He controlled a vast amount of patronage. But he needed Parliament (a) for money and (b) because no minister could survive long without its support.

The Tories Purged
On his accession, George sided with the Whigs, seeing the Tory administration’s Treaty of Utrecht as a betrayal of the Grand Alliance. Though he made some overtures to the Tories, the result of his accession was a massive transfer of power after which the Tories’ prospects were extremely grim.
a) There was a clean sweep of the cabinet, which for the first time in English history changed completely. All the prominent new men were Whigs: Townshend and Stanhope were Secretaries of State for the Northern and Southern Departments, respectively. Robert Walpole was Paymaster and Marlborough Captain General.
(b) The Privy Council changed drastically. George reduced their numbers from 82 to 30 and the only Tories left in it were those who had proved their Hanoverian credentials.
(c) There was a purge of departments of state. The Treasury was put into commission; commissioners of the land tax and customs and excise were purged.
(d) There was a purge of local administration. Even before George came over, the regents replaced those lords lieutenant suspected of being Jacobite. The duke of Beaufort was removed from the lord lieutenantship of Hampshire. The governor of Portsmouth was replaced. A Whig was appointed to the vacant post of lord lieutenant of Lancashire. The king eventually changed 22 of the 42 lords lieutenant. There was a similar purge of JPs.
George’s coronation on 20 October was marked by riots and disturbances in Birmingham, Bristol, Chippenham, Norwich, and Reading.

In January 1715 writs went out for the new Parliament. The Tories had done very well in the election of 1713. They had 114 ‘safe’ seats and a majority in the ‘large’ constituencies of over 500 voters. They held 79 of the 92 county seats. They hoped to appeal to popular prejudices against foreigners and Dissenters and they campaigned on the ‘Church in Danger’ slogan. But because of Whig control of most of the reins of central and local government, the new House of Commons comprised c. 341 Whigs to 217 Tories. The Tories had been badly hit but they were not decimated and in Bolingbroke they had an inspiring leader.

The Whigs were not magnanimous in victory, and raked over the ashes of Anne’s last ministry in order to avenge themselves on their Tory opponents. Papers were seized and impeachments launched. On 27 March Bolingbroke, fearing for his life, fled to France and became the Pretender’s secretary. In July the duke of Ormond fled. His and Bolingbroke’s estates were confiscated by acts of attainder. The earls of Oxford and Strafford were impeached on charges of deserting the allies and making a separate peace with France. On 27 July Oxford was placed in the Tower until 1717.

Such events produced a desperate reaction from the Tories, including attacks on Dissenting meeting-houses. Every suitable occasion, from the anniversary of Anne’s coronation (23 April), George I’s birthday (28 May), the anniversary of the Restoration (30 May) saw Jacobite activity in the capital. During June and July rioting reached epidemic proportions. In response the ministry rushed the Riot Act through Parliament. It was introduced on 1 July and obtained the royal assent on 20 July. On 21 July Habeas Corpus was suspended for six months.

The Fifteen
In August 1715, having been snubbed by George I, John Erskine, earl of Mar, took sail in a collier for Newcastle and then for Fife. On 6 September he raised the standard at Braemar for James VIII and III. Eighteen lords and c. 12,000 men rallied to his standard. There was a very real prospect that Scotland, embittered by the Union, would rally behind him and become a Jacobite stronghold.

But circumstances did not favour the Jacobites. Louis XIV had died (21 August/1September) and the Regent would not contemplate helping James; neither Spain nor Sweden was tempted to fill the breach.11 James’s refusal to convert to Anglicanism or even to express a commitment to the Church of England fatally hampered him.

Though it had been taken by surprise in Scotland, the government acted quickly in England. The arms and houses of Catholics and non-jurors were seized and their arms and horses impounded. The militia called up, troops garrisoned in the major towns, and the army expanded. In November there were further riots in London – gang fights between ‘Jacks’ and loyalists but these were offset by the loyalist addresses that poured into both Houses of Parliament.

On 13 November there was an indecisive battle between government forces (led by the duke of Argyll, and including 6,000 Dutch and Swiss reinforcements) and the Jacobites at Sheriffmuir.

English Jacobitism was not wholly ineffectual. There was a small rising in Northumberland where the Pretender was proclaimed on 9 October and some support in Lancashire, the risings led by earl of Derwentwater and Thomas Forster, MP for Northumberland (a man of no military experience). On 22 October the Scots army crossed the border and marched towards Lancashire, but the Anglo-Scottish Jacobite army was defeated at Preston on 13 November.

On 23 December the Pretender landed at Peterhead – he had no new ideas and no promises from foreign powers. James lacked the personality to rouse his followers. In February 1716 he re-embarked for France.

After the rebellion 19 Scottish peerages were forfeited by attainder. The seven peers capture at Preston were impeached, found guilty and sentenced to death, though only two – Derwentwater and Kenmure – were executed. 26 others were hanged while hundreds were transported. But the government’s revenge was far less severe than James II’s after the Monmouth rising. Jacobitism did not cease to be a danger but the Pretender had shown himself an uninspiring leader – like his father, he had deserted his people in time of need - and the lack of foreign support had proved a fatal blow. From 1717 James was an isolated figure living in Rome. The next serious Jacobite rising would have to wait a generation, with a new leader and with Britain and France at war.

The Septennial Act
On 10 April 1716 the Whigs passed the Septennial Act, on the grounds that the Triennial Act fomented feuds and party strife and occasioned ruinous expense. But Lord Islay gave the game away: frequent elections rendered ‘government dependent on the caprice of the multitude and very precarious’. The Whigs had moved a long way from the demagogy of Shaftesbury. Having begun as the ‘country’ party, they were now firmly oligarchical.

Politics had been transformed. The Tories were condemned to minority status (many of the remaining Tory JPs were deprived of their offices); the independence and unpredictability of elections faded away as the Whig magnates tightened their grip on the electorate; the number of ‘open’ or ‘popular’ constituencies shrank. The seven year gap was meaningful. All the parliaments of George I and George II ran their full term, except in 1747 when only six years had elapsed since the last election. (Had an election been held in 1718 the Whigs, at that time in crisis, might have lost.)

The basic paradigm to describe this period is one of increasing stability, which demonstrably existed between the late 1720s and the early 1760s. This does not preclude riots and disturbances, but it assumes:
(a) a sense of common identity among those who wielded power, not only in politics but over the social and economic fabric of the country
(b) an acceptance by society of its political institutions and of those classes of men who controlled them.
However it has also been argued that the evidence of the mid-1730s does not suggest that the Act necessarily made politics more tranquil.