King George II

In this episode, we give some context about the England to which John Wesley returns after his stint in Georgia, with a look at the life and reign of King George II.

Episode 46

There are no musicals which have George II as a character. He is not famous for going mad like his grandson George IIi. In fact, he has not famous for anything at all. George the first must be mentioned, because he began the Hanoverian line of English monarchs. George the third lost America and went mad. He is also a character in a Tony award-winning play, but what about George the second?

John Wesley, in his concise history of England, begins his account of the reign of George II, with a description of the needs of the country at that time. He writes.

At the accession of George the second, the nation had great reason to wish for an alteration of measures… dangerous encroachments have been made upon the constitution by the repeal of the act for triennial parliaments; by frequent suspensions of the habeas corpus act upon frivolous occasions; by repealing clauses in the act of settlement; by votes of credit; and above all, by establishing a system of corruption, which at all times, would secure a majority in parliament.1

The detail of Wesley’s account of George II is excruciating. John Wesley lived through the entire reign George II, so his account is not one of the past, but of the present. Modern historians have struggled with where to put George II. He was the last king of England, not born in England. He was a Whig , and not a Tory, but he rarely fits in Whig histories of England.

George was born on November 10, 1683. his father, George Ludwig (I will use the middle name to differentiate between the two Georges), was a minor prince with little prospect for royalty. Little George grew up with a father who was often on military campaigns throughout the 1680s and 1690s. There was marital strife between George’s parents, he last saw his mother Sophia Dorothea when he was 11. She was exiled to a castle in Ahlden for an affair with another man. George’s father had plenty of affairs throughout his life, but there was a double standard between men and women and little George never saw his mother again.

The Act of Settlement of 1701 changed all of their lives. It declared that little George’s grandmother Sophia was the heir to the English throne, as were all the heirs of her body being protestant. This eliminated all of the Catholic Stuart’s from the succession, and made little George fourth in line for the throne. It also greatly increased the marriage prospects for George.

George Ludwig originally tried to match his son to a member of the Swedish royal family, but that arrangement fell apart. This allowed for George to be engaged to Wilhelmine Caroline of Ansbach-Bayreuth, the orphan daughter of the Margrave of Ansbach. Caroline was a beauty that one of the Hapsburgs tried to marry, but Caroline refused to give up her Lutheran faith, even if it meant become queen of Spain. George met Caroline incognito and decided she was the one for him. They were married in August of 1705.

Soon after his marriage, George entered the military and served in the War of Spanish Succession. He fought with distinction at the Battle of Oudenarde, one of Marlborough’s great victories. George’s experience on the battlefield will come back later in his life during the War of Austrian Succession, in 1743, when, at the Battle of Dettingen, George II would be the last English Monarch to lead his troops into battle.

George’s heroics at Oudenarde helped endear him to the English people. He had been given titles soon after his marriage Baron Tewksbury, earl of Milford Haven, Viscount Northallerton and duke and marquess of Cambridge.2

The Hanoverians who were trying to guarantee Sophia’s position in the succession (Sophia was George’s grandmother) pushed for the war hero to come to England. A poem was written in his honor, contrasting George’s heroics with that of the Stuart claimant who watched the battle from the afar.

Sophia died six weeks before Anne. With the death of Queen Anne, George Ludwig was offered the crown. At his coronation, he became King George I. Our George became the first Prince of Wales present at a coronation for a long, long time.

George was frustrated in his position as the prince of wales. He had little power on his own and zero influence over his father, from whom he was growing apart.

While George Ludwig continued to visibly perform his dual rule as both British Monarch and Elector of Hanover, our George went out often with Caroline performing the life of British gentility. He spent his summers at Hampton Court and attended country dances. He visited the army and navy and got to know officers around the country.

George also impressed many in the country when an armed man invaded his box at the Drury Lane theatre. George was calm amidst the turmoil and was praised heavily for it.

In 1717, King George I attempted to bring Britain into the Great Northern War which had been going on since 1700 between Russia, Sweden, Poland, and Saxony. Imperial Sweden had holdings on the European subcontinent in which George Ludwig was interested; they were Bremen and Verdun. Our George did not feel that it was good policy for Britain to be taking part in the war that had nothing to do with that country, and many others agreed with him, including members of George Ludwig’s cabinet. The vote over Bremen and Verdun split the Whig leadership in the House of Commons, and set a great division between the King and Prince of Wales.

And yet, the final straw which broke between father and son was not an issue of politics but one of baptism. King George I was named godfather of our George’s newly born son, George William, but the question of the other godparent was a point of debate. George and Caroline wanted King George’s younger brother, Ernst August, the Bishop of Osnabrück, to serve in that capacity, while English advisors of King George, thought that the Chamberlain, the Duke of Newcastle, should be the other godparent. This led to an absurd dispute wherein our George told Newcastle off, and Newcastle thought he was being challenged to a dual by the prince of Wales. King George I had had enough with his son. The King declared that anyone who attended the court of the Prince of Wales, was not welcome at the Court of the King.

Over the next ten years, our George moved in different circles from his father. He hunted, he supported the arts, and he waited for his opportunity. In the summer of 1727, King George I went to Hanover during the summer. The King fell ill during the journey and died on June 22, 1727.

Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister and most important politician of King George I’s reign, brought the news to our George three days later.

John Wesley writes, in his History of England, that “at the succession of George the second, the nation had great reason to look for an alteration of measures…The kingdom was bewildered in a labyrinth of treaties and conventions, by which it stood engaged in pecuniary subsidies to many powers upon the continent, with whom its real interests could never be connected. The wealth of the nation had been lavished upon these foreign connections; upon unnecessary wars and fruitless expeditions.”3

Wesley later discusses how the politics of the House of Commons, previously divided between Hanoverians, and Jacobites, were now divided between Court and country.

The first controversy of King George II’s reign had to do with his own personal income and came up before he was crowned. He disputed that his expenses were greater than the 700,000 pounds that had been allotted to his father this in a country that was in debt more than 50,000,000 pounds at his coronation.

This did not mean that George II would skimp on his coronation. It was a lavish affair with new music, composed by George Frederick Handel, who was in the head of the royal Academy of music. One of the anthems he composed, Zadoc the priest, has been played at every English coronation, since George II including the coronation of King Charles the third. For fans of European soccer or football, the theme to Zadock the priest was also used in the champions league anthem.

George II’s early reign was focused on addressing the problems that had been brought forward by his father. He signed a peace treaty with Spain in 1729, and Austria, in 1731, which allowed for peace on the continent, and in the New World.

George was also interested in his position as governor of the church of England. His wife Caroline, though, was much more invested in the church. George took care with the way that he filled bishoprics throughout his reign. George II was supportive of a Oglethorpe’s plan for prison reform, as well as the plan for the Georgia colony.

As well, as John Wesley mentioned in his account, one of the greatest problems was a lack of funds. Sir Robert Walpole, who is serving in the cabinet at this time, had an idea for a way to raise funds through an excise tax. instead of charging customs duties, all imported goods would be stored in a warehouse until the excise was paid. George II liked the plan and supported Walpole, but there were many members of parliament who disagreed and voted against the plan. George responded by supporting Walpole even more and by dismissing from the court many of the leaders of the opposition. The excise crisis put Walpole firmly in power and caused tension within George II’s family.

Many of the politicians, who were out of favor after the excise crisis, began to seek out Frederick, the Prince of Wales. In 1733, Frederick purchased Carlton house, which was close to St. James Palace, but not within it. Frederick was married in April of 1736, and the Bride and Groom were blessed by both the king and queen. However, the wedding did not bring father and son closer together. in fact, in many ways, Frederick was emboldened after his wedding.

The fissure did not end when Queen Caroline died in 1737. Frederick began to organize more outright opposition to his father, and demand a greater allowance for his family. Whereas the division between George II and his father, George I had been within wig. Politics, Frederick, Prince of Wales, was an advocate for the Tories, the political party of John Wesley’s family. Political controversy and economic expansion would continue throughout the reign of George the second.

When John Wesley returned to England in 1738, he was arriving in a country that was in the last year of peace they would have for a decade. Soon the War of Jenkins’ Ear would begin between England and Spain, then there would be the war of Austrian succession were in George would lead the English army into battle. Soon after, would be the seven years war between England and France.

By that time, his son, Frederick, would have already died. George’s reign would also be over. George II’s successor, instead, would be his grandson, George who, in 1767 would become King George third. This George would be the star of musicals and would be the last monarch that John Wesley would ever know.

John is quite gushing in his final description of the reign of George II. He quotes another author to end his history of England with the following description of George II

On whatever side we look up upon his character, we shall find ample matter for Juste and unsuspected praise. None of his predecessors on the throne of England, lived to so great an age, or enjoyed longer Felicity. His subjects were still improving under him, in commerce and arts; and his own economy, set a prudent example to the nation, which, however, they did not follow. He was, in his temper, sudden and violent; but this, though it influenced his conduct, made no change in his behavior, which was generally guided by reason. he was plain and direct in his intentions; true to his word, steady in his favor and protection to his servants, not parting even with his ministers, till compelled to it by the violence of faction. In short, through the whole of his life, he appeared rather to live for the cultivation of the useful virtues than splinted ones, and satisfied with being good, left others their unenvied greatness. 4

John Wesley returned to an England that was changing, and he was changing, too. Within a few months, he would have his great Aldersgate experience, and his life would change even more. But how did John Wesley go from Georgia to Aldersgate? How did the failed missionary become the leader of a religious movement, next time on the History of Methodism.

  1. Wesley, 4:160-61. ↩︎
  2. Thompson, 35. ↩︎
  3. Concise history 7:160. ↩︎
  4. History England 7:292. ↩︎


John Wesley, History of England