Life of the Week: George II

Known among his subjects as ‘the king who wasn’t there’, George II was a largely absent monarch who spent a great deal of time away from his throne. It was George’s wife and son who maintained popular support for the monarchy among the public during his reign...

King George II, 1706. (Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty)

Here, we look back at the life of George II…

Born: 10 November 1683, Hanover, Germany

Died: 25 October 1760, Kensington Palace, London

Family: His father was George I, the first Hanoverian king of Great Britain, and his mother was Sophia Dorothea of Celle.

George II married Caroline of Ansbach in 1705, and together they had nine children, seven of whom survived into adulthood.

Remembered for: Being the last monarch in Britain to lead an army into battle at Dettingen in 1743. George II also defended the monarchy from being overthrown by the last Jacobite pretender in history, Charles Edward Stuart, in 1746.

His life: Growing up in Germany as the heir to the electorate of Hanover, George was, from a young age, taught many languages, including French, German, English and Italian, and was educated in history and military tactics.

In 1705 George was involved in marriage negotiations with Princess Hedvig Sophia of Sweden. Having witnessed the breakdown of his parents’ marriage some years earlier, George wanted to catch a glimpse of his future bride to assess whether he wanted to go ahead with the match.

Therefore, in June 1705 George visited the German court of Ansbach in disguise in order to inspect another possible suitor, Caroline of Ansbach. George was taken by Caroline’s good character and manners, and a marriage contract was written up by the end of July 1705. Just a month later, the couple married in Hanover, and Caroline gave birth to their first child – a son named Frederick – in early 1707.

Following the death of the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne, in 1714, George’s father was the next in line to the British throne, and was created George I. As a result, George travelled with his father to Britain to be presented to the public in a ceremonial procession, and was given the title George, Prince of Wales.

George II’s wife, Caroline of Ansbach. (Credit: Archive Photos/Getty Images)

The young George enjoyed a degree of popularity among the public while his father governed Hanover for six months in 1716. Factions had started to develop between father and son from the late 1710s, and grew following the birth of George and Caroline’s second son, Prince George William in 1717. At the baby’s christening, George publicly insulted the Duke of Newcastle. His father, George I, was so infuriated by this that he banished his son and daughter-in-law from St James’s Palace and kept their children under his guardianship, away from their parents. The couple petitioned the king to allow them to visit their children, and eventually the king allowed them to visit once a week.

After being banned from the king’s court, George’s household became the centre of opposition to the king’s policies, and Leicester House – George’s residence in London – became the meeting place for members of the Whig faction in government.

Despite reconciling with the king in 1720 after Robert Walpole encouraged the father and son to resolve their issues for the public cause, George’s daughters were not returned to his care, and George was refused the position of regent when his father travelled to Hanover for months at a time.

On 22 June 1727, George I died while in Germany, making the Prince of Wales George II of Great Britain. Four months later, George was crowned at Westminster Abbey.

The following year, George’s eldest son and heir, Frederick, who had been educated in Germany, was brought to England. Father and son had not seen one other in 14 years.

At 21 years old, Prince Frederick quickly became the face of opposition at George’s court, forging a dynamic that mimicked George and his own father’s previous relationship. When George II left Britain for Hanover in 1729, 1732 and 1735, he left his wife, Caroline, to govern as regent, instead of his son, which further frustrated relations.

George left Britain again in 1736 – a move resented by ministers and the British public alike, Newspapers accused him of being an absent king, and criticised him for leaving his wife alone to govern.

Despite the Anglo-Spanish war coming to an end early in George’s reign, in 1729, the king led Britain into further conflict with Spain in 1739 – despite government opposition. The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739–48) and the War of Austrian Succession (1740–48) prompted people to accuse George of supporting the interests of his German possessions rather than that of his throne in Britain. In 1743, George became the last British monarch to lead his troops into battle against the French at Dettingen.

Back at home, Whig politician Robert Walpole was hard at work convincing the Tories to support the king, as some were forming alliances with the exiled Stuart pretender, Charles Edward Stuart. Owing to Walpole’s persuasion, during the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745 George’s throne faced no opposition in government from the Tories, as no ministers deserted the king in favour of the Jacobite cause. In 1746, the ‘young pretender’, Charles Edward Stuart, was defeated by George’s forces at the battle of Culloden, which finally ended the Jacobite threat to the throne.

During the later years of his reign, George II faced further issues regarding warfare and the succession. His son and heir, Frederick, died in 1751, leaving Frederick’s son, Prince George, as the heir to the British throne. It was also in this year that George’s daughter, Louisa, died. Amid issues between Britain and France regarding the colonisation of North America, the Seven Years’ War broke out in 1754, and continued to wage among some of the biggest powers in Europe until 1763.

George II died on the morning of 25 October 1760, just before his 77th birthday. George’s grandson, George III, succeeded to the throne, and the body of the king was buried in Westminster Abbey on 11 November.

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