The German Rulers of Great Britain

William Kent (1685-1748), Temple Chiswick House. Photo: Wikipedia

During the late summer of 1714, on September 18th, Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover in Germany, landed at Greenwich as George I, England’s first constitutional monarch, chosen by the parliament. With this decision began an unbroken line of succession of 300 years. The year 1914 marks the beginning of the Great War, the years 1814/1815 refer to the Vienna Congress, the beginning of the era of German rulers on the British throne starts in 1714.

This personal union of German-English monarchs paved the way to inconceivable influence on the history of Europe and the world. It did not prevent the European civil wars of 1914-1945 and its far reaching consequences on the other hand however. Marking the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian succession in 1714, German and English exhibitions and publications commemorate this important event.

Electress Sophie of Hanover was named as successor to the throne by the British Parliament in 1701 (act of Settlement). After her death in 1714, the right of succession passed to her son George Ludwig. With the coronation of the Elector of Hanover as King of Great Britain on 20th October 1714 in Westminster Abbey, the personal union became legally effective. Yet as different as the two countries were, many political influences and interdependencies arose during this personal union. It also shows the fragile framework of a union as different as these two German and English countries with regard to their national constitution, (political) culture, economic interests and social institutions. It should be a warning from history with regard to the current ambitions for a European political, economic and monetary Union.

Five exhibitions will be organised in Germany in 2014 to mark this personal union. The Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, the Herrenhausen Palace, the Historisches Museum, the Wallmoden Palace in Hanover and the Residenz Museum pay attention to various themes. The central theme in the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum is the presentation of the intensive exchanges between London and Hanover. The Herrenhausen Palace recounts the story of the new Electorate of Hanover on the eve of the personal union and during its early years. The palace is the former residence of the Elector. Caricatures are an important aspect of English politics and society and are the central themes in the Wallmoden Palace. The exhibition in Celle recounts the history preceding the personal union and the question of inheritance.

Two exhibitions in London show the transformation of every aspect of political, intellectual and cultural life that reshaped Britain during the period1714-1760, the era of the first Georgians, George I (King from 1714-1727) and his sun George II (1727-1760). They primarily deal with the esthetical and cultural developments. The Queens Gallery exhibits 300 works of art, shedding light on the influence of the new dynasty. The Victoria and Albert Museum explores the artistic inventiveness at a time when Britain defined itself as a new nation and developed a design aesthetic for the period. The exhibition brings together over 200 examples of William Kent’s work including architectural drawings for Horse Guards at Whitehall, spectacular gilt furniture from Chiswick House and landscape designs for Holkham Hall. Kent’s lasting impact as a leading British tastemaker shows self-representation and quest for legitimacy by the new rulers: they opposed the continental European catholic Baroque and referred to English classicism and Palladio’s interpretation of classicism. The new dynasty was fiercely disputed by the (catholic) Stuart pretenders to the throne, as one of them proclaimed “The Barbarians from the other side of the Rhine”.

These exhibitions and commemorations have a story to tell to continental Europa. Cultures, identities, social, political and economic systems know a long history and personal unions are easier to establish than political, economic and monetary unions with 28 nation states. (further information: www.royals-aus-hannover.de, www.royalcollection.org.uk, www.vam.ac.uk).