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Georgian England

King George the First of England was crowned in October 1714. He was 54. Almost immediately, a rebellion arose in Scotland in support of James Edward Stuart, the son of James the second and Catholic claimant to the throne. The rebellion was easily crushed, although James Stuart's son, Charles Edward Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, would try again thirty years later.

By now, Parliament was ascendant and controlled the government of the country and its foreign policies. George the First was unpopular in England, being unable to speak English and perceived as too German. However, during his reign science, culture and art came to the fore, and the industrial revolution took root. The economy grew, and the American colonies expanded, both fuelled by Britain's active participation in the transatlantic slave trade.

George the First died of a stroke in 1727, having reigned for 13 years. He was succeeded by his son, also called George.

King George the second was crowned in October 1727 at the age of 43. George's relationship with his eldest son Frederick, Prince of Wales, was very strained throughout the 1730s and was reflected in the rivalry in Parliament between those supportive of George and those seeking to promote Frederick's interests.

King George actively encouraged Britain's war with Spain in 1739. This expanded to a European wide war, eventually drawing in Russia. A peace treaty was agreed in 1748. The war became unpopular in Britain, and the country gained little from it except an increase in tensions with France, which would result in another war a few years later.

Meanwhile, in 1745, James the Second's grandson, Charles Edward Stuart – called Bonnie Prince Charlie, landed in the West Coast of Scotland and raised an army. The Jacobites marched as far south as Derby – 100 miles from London – but failed to attract support in England and retreated. Bonnie Prince Charlie's army was destroyed at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and the prince escaped to France.

George's son Frederick died suddenly in 1751. He had no surviving male children, and Frederick's son, also called George, became heir apparent.

In 1754 the tensions with France erupted into the Seven Years War fought in North America and Europe. The British Army captured Quebec from the French in 1759 and gained Florida from the Spanish as part of the peace treaties of 1763. Britain's position in India was also greatly strengthened, and her navy became the most powerful in the world.

King George the Second collapsed and died in October 1760. His grandson was crowned King George the Third of Great Britain in September 1761. He was 22 and would reign for 59 years. The new king married in the same year and went on to have 15 children.

His reign was characterised by a souring of relations between the British government and the colonists in North America. In 1765 Parliament imposed a Stamp duty on documents issued in the colonies, including newspapers. The colonists had no representatives in Parliament, and the phrase "No taxation without representation" was first used in 1768. The Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, easing tensions for a while, but other duties remained and, in 1773, colonists in Boston threw tea into the harbour in protest at the duty imposed on tea. The Boston Tea Party resulted in direct rule from England being imposed on the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The colonists responded by creating self-governing provinces, and fighting broke out between British Army units and American militia in April 1775 in Massachusetts.

The British government declared the colonists' traitors, and fighting began with the colonies declaring their independence in 1776.

King George the third was fiercely resistant to the independence of the American colonies and supported the continuation of the War. Public opinion in Britain was at first supportive of the War but later turned against it as its cost, and therefore, the burden of taxation, increased. In 1778 France agreed an alliance with the fledgling United States and provided troops and weapons. This proved decisive, and the British finally surrendered at Yorktown in 1782.

Great Britain recognised the United States and made peace with France in 1783.

King George opposed the abolition of slavery, and it is estimated that 1.6 million slaves were transported to British territories during his reign.

The French Revolution of 1798 worried many in Britain, and France declared war in 1793. Napoleon Bonaparte rose to become France's most successful general, but his invasion of Egypt was stopped in its tracks when Admiral Horatio Nelson destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798. A peace treaty was signed with France in 1802 but quickly disintegrated as Napoleon prepared to invade England in 1803. Admiral Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 removed the threat of Invasion but was only the start of the wars against France.

King George the Third became seriously ill in 1810 and took no further role in government. He developed dementia and died in January 1820. He was 81 years old.

His son, also called George, ruled as Prince Regent from 1810 and was crowned King George the fourth in July 1821. After his 10 years as regent, he reigned for only another 10 years.

During his time as Prince Regent, Napoleon was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and the economy of Britain grew.

As King, George played little part in politics or foreign affairs, preferring a life of luxury. However, he did oppose the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which removed barriers to Catholics standing for parliament and other restrictions.

King George the fourth was a heavy drinker and very overweight. He developed a number of illnesses related to his excess, including gout, and it seems likely that he was addicted to Laudanum – a form of opium – by the late 1820s. King George the fourth died in June 1830. He had no surviving legitimate children, and the throne passed to his younger brother William.

King William the Fourth was crowned in September 1831 at the age of 64. In contrast to George the Fourth, he lived a relatively frugal life and discouraged pomp. He took an active interest in the work of his government during his 7-year reign and, during this time, there was significant electoral reform, and slavery was abolished in the British Empire. His reign was peaceful, and he helped develop good relations with the United States of America. The economy of the British Empire expanded considerably.

King William had 10 illegitimate children with his mistress, an Irish actress, but he had no legitimate children and, in fact, did not marry until 1818. He became fond of his niece, the Princess Victoria of Kent, who would succeed him.

King William became ill in 1836, dying in June 1837. He was the last British monarch of the house of Hanover. The Georgian period ended, and the Victorian age began.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In our next lesson, we discuss Queen Victoria's long reign.

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Written by

Ross Maynard