We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
 George II (1683–1760), by Thomas Hudson, 1744 George II (1683–1760), by Thomas Hudson, 1744
George II (1683–1760), king of Great Britain and Ireland, and elector of Hanover, son of Georg Ludwig, prince of Hanover (electoral prince 1692, elector 1698, king of Great Britain and Ireland from 1714) [see ], and , daughter of Georg Wilhelm, duke of Lüneburg-Celle, was born at Herrenhausen on 10 November 1683 NS, a year after his parents' marriage, and baptized Georg August. His only sister, Sophia Dorothea, later queen of Prussia, was born in 1687. The disaster of his boyhood was the disgrace and divorce of his mother over her liaison with Count Königsmarck in 1694 and her subsequent banishment to Celle. George never saw her again and is reported to have been deeply attached to her memory. His upbringing was then entrusted to his grandparents Ernst August (1629–1698) and , the granddaughter of James I of England. When he was seventeen the Act of Settlement changed his prospects dramatically by establishing the probability that he would succeed to the throne of England, since William III was in poor health and Princess Anne, though only thirty-six, was unlikely to have more children.

On 2 September 1705 NS George married , daughter of Johann Friedrich, margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, an intelligent and handsome woman eight months his elder. Though far from faithful, George was devoted to her: their eldest son, , was born in January 1707. Their eighth child was . Queen Anne was extremely reluctant to invite her Hanoverian heirs to visit England, but George's position was recognized by the Garter in June 1706 and a peerage as duke of Cambridge in November. His reputation soared when he fought on the allied side under Marlborough's direction as a cavalry commander at Oudenarde in 1708, had a horse killed under him, and acquitted himself with outstanding bravery. Immediately afterwards, some of the whigs proposed to invite a member of the Hanoverian family to England, partly as a guarantee against Jacobite intrigues. Anne reacted angrily, telling Marlborough that it would be a ‘mortification’ to her and begging him to ‘contrive some way to put any such thoughts out of their heads’ (Brown, 253–4). The Hanoverian family was therefore reduced to watching, while in England the tories gained a great majority at the general election of 1710 and began negotiating with France for a separate peace. In April 1714, when the Electress Sophia instructed her envoy Schütz to request a writ of summons for the prince to take his seat in the Lords, the queen exploded with a volley of sharp letters. To the elector she warned that she was ‘determined to oppose a project so contrary to my royal authority’, and to the prince that ‘nothing can be more disagreeable to me’ (ibid., 413–15).

Prince of Wales

Within two months both electress and queen were dead. The arrangement for the Hanoverian succession went into effect with remarkable smoothness. George accompanied his father to England, landing at Greenwich on 18 September 1714, and four days later was created prince of Wales. First impressions of him were very favourable. At the age of thirty-one he was short but comely, less reserved than his stolid father, and spoke English volubly, though with a thick German accent. A page at court reported that ‘I find all backward in speaking to the king, but ready enough to speak to the Prince’, and at a ball to celebrate his birthday Lady Cowper thought that the princess danced well, but the prince ‘better than anybody’. George expressed himself enchanted with his new country—an opinion he later revised—and showed marked interest in the ladies-in-waiting, promising them ‘a very gay court’ (Trench, 41; Cowper, 11, 99–100; Westmorland MSS, 13.417). He is reported to have said, rather implausibly, before leaving Hanover, that he had no drop of blood that was not English.

The next few years were difficult. Though the prince took his seat in the Lords and could attend the council, he had no formal share in government. He established his court at first at St James's and, after the quarrel with his father in 1717, at Leicester House. His chief political adviser in the early months was his groom of the stole, the duke of Argyll, a brave warrior, but hardly a stable confidant. The prince was appointed guardian of the realm during the king's visit to Hanover from July 1716 to January 1717, but his powers were carefully circumscribed.

The regency, which might have helped to cement relations between the prince and his father, inflamed them. George Augustus spent the summer at Hampton Court, where he entertained lavishly. In December 1716 he gained applause, first by helping to suppress a fire in London, then by coolness when facing an assassination attempt at Drury Lane. Alarmed at his son's popularity the king, on his return, increased his own hospitality, though visitors noted that the two men remained on cold terms. The threatened explosion occurred in December 1717 and had an element of farce. At the christening of his young son, George William, the prince quarrelled violently with the duke of Newcastle, appointed as godfather by the king, hissing at him ‘You are a rascal, but I will find you’. The duke, easily terrified, took the words to be ‘fight you’, and complained that he had been challenged to a duel. Though the prince was induced to offer two letters of decent apology, the king's reaction was disproportionate and betrayed pent-up resentment. The prince was ordered out of St James's, deprived of his guards, and courtiers were warned that they must choose between father and son. The open breach was made worse by a split between the whig ministers, with Robert Walpole and Viscount Townshend going into opposition to James, Viscount Stanhope, and the third earl of Sunderland. The king saw in the quarrel the outlines of a plot to depose him, while the prince believed that he might be disinherited. The public scandal was a great encouragement to the Jacobites, and Walpole's drift into opposition brought into play once more the tories, who had suffered so bad a defeat at the general election of 1715. The animosity was very great. Though the story that Sunderland or Stanhope advised the king to have the prince kidnapped and taken off to some distant land where he would never be heard of again may be dismissed as a Gothic fantasy, it is certain that in January 1718 the king consulted the judges to what extent he could control the education of his grandchildren, and was assured by ten votes to two that he had absolute authority. Stanhope's Peerage Bill, which Walpole, in particular, helped to prevent, was acceptable to the king primarily because the limitations on the royal prerogative of creating peers were to apply not to him, but to the reign of his son. Not until April 1720, when Walpole and Townshend resumed office, was the breach healed, and even then a cold and taciturn audience was the best that could be managed. George I made four more visits to Hanover during his lifetime, but his son was never again appointed regent.

In one respect the estrangement was of some service to George Augustus. In 1715 the South Sea Company had hastened to elect the prince as governor in place of Lord Oxford, with Argyll as a director. Immediately after the quarrel, the prince was replaced by the king, and Argyll removed. Consequently, when the ‘bubble’ burst in the autumn of 1720, though the prince had invested heavily he was not in the exposed position of the king. He would have been even safer had he listened to his advisers and declined the governorship of one of the bubble companies. After the public reconciliation, the prince's political behaviour was discreet. His advisers were Sir Spencer Compton, speaker of the House of Commons and his treasurer, and Lord Scarbrough, master of the horse. Compton stood for compromise, worked closely with Walpole, and in 1722 was rewarded with the lucrative office of the paymastership. The prince also kept in friendly touch with the tories through Sir Thomas Hanmer, thus keeping his options open and reducing the temptation for them to move into Jacobitism. But, unlike his son twenty years later, he made little attempt to develop an electoral interest and, with the king aged sixty in 1720, he could afford to wait.

The succession

Death caught up with George I near Osnabrück in June 1727. George II's first instructions were to place Compton at the head of his government. The story that Compton made a hash of the draft speech to parliament may be doubted: the speech was a routine matter which any experienced politician could have drawn up, and Compton was notoriously fond of forms and ceremonies. It is more probable that, not a ready speaker and deprived of practice by twelve years in the chair, he did not relish the possibility of an opposition led by Walpole, a consummate parliamentarian. John Scrope, secretary to the Treasury, wrote at the time that Compton was ‘frighted with the greatness of the undertaking’ (HoP, Commons, 1715–54, 1.568; Buckinghamshire MSS, 516). He was compensated with elevation to a barony in 1728 and an earldom in 1730, and continued employment in high office for the rest of his life. It is probable that at this crisis the attention Walpole had always shown to the princess paid off and that she used her influence on his behalf, and Walpole's cause cannot have been harmed by the generous financial settlement he persuaded parliament to make. There were few casualties. Even the duke of Newcastle, the prince's old enemy, remained in post. Lord Carteret, who had remained on good terms with the prince, was reappointed to the viceroyalty, and Lord Chesterfield, one of the prince's gentlemen of the bedchamber, was brought in as ambassador to The Hague. Disappointment was shared by the tories, who had to be content with increased representation as justices of the peace, and by the Jacobites, who failed to take advantage of the opportunity, save for a mournful protest from the Old Pretender.

An early embarrassment for the new king was that the archbishop of Canterbury produced at council George I's will. George II pocketed it, never to be seen again, and took steps to recover the other two copies which his father had lodged with the emperor and with the duke of Wolfenbüttel. Horace Walpole, presuming that the will contained legacies which George II refused to honour, called it ‘an indelible blot on his memory’ (Walpole, Memoirs, 1.116; Walpole, Reminiscences, 54–6). Modern research has established that the will contained George I's instructions that the succession to Hanover and Britain be separated after the death of Prince Frederick, with Britain going to the elder son. At law George I had dubious right to dispose of his territories: the British succession was governed by the Act of Settlement and could be modified only by another act of parliament. Though the proposal for a separation had much to commend it for both countries, George II may well have favoured a different solution, with Hanover going to Frederick and Britain to his younger son, . George II's action, at first sight indefensible, may have arisen from a desire to avoid public discussion of what was certain to be a contentious and divisive issue.

Installed once more in St James's Palace, George's life soon fell into a regular routine, described at length by Lord Hervey in malicious and entertaining detail. Though the king retained mistresses, , and , there was little excitement, and decorum was observed. At one point the queen intervened to prevent Lady Suffolk being banished by the king as old and deaf, while the king's opinion of Lady Deloraine (‘a pretty idiot’ according to Walpole) was that she stank of Spanish wine. Though he enjoyed music, he had little interest in art or literature and complained of Caroline, who read books and conversed with men of learning, that she was more like a schoolmistress than a queen. His uncertain temper made court life tense:
His Majesty stayed about five minutes in the gallery, snubbed the Queen, who was drinking chocolate, for being always stuffing, the princess Emily for not hearing him, the princess Caroline for being grown fat, the Duke for standing awkwardly, Lord Hervey for not knowing what relation the Prince of Sultzbach was to the Elector Palatine, and then carried the Queen to walk, and be re-snubbed in the garden. (Hervey, 490)
Cards were the main resource and the standard of wit was not high, judging from Walpole's report that Lady Deloraine was in disgrace for pulling the king's chair from under him. George was punctual to the point of meticulousness:
his time of going down to Lady Suffolk was seven in the evening: he would frequently walk up and down the Gallery looking at his watch for a quarter of an hour before seven, but would not go till the clock struck. (Walpole, Corr., 31.421)
The king's conversation was liberally bespattered with oaths—‘rogue’, ‘puppy’, and ‘scoundrel’—but occasionally achieved a savage humour, as when he called Bishop Hoadly ‘a canting hypocritical knave to be crying “The kingdom of Christ is not of this world” at the same time that he receives £6,000 or £7,000 a year’. To , who in 1734 declared her resolution to marry Prince William of Orange even if he were a baboon, the king retorted ‘Well, then, there is baboon enough for you!’ (Hervey, 499; Walpole, Memoirs, 1.139).

The vividness of Hervey's portrait of George's domestic life, coupled with the disappearance of most of the king's papers, has encouraged the belief that he was a weak and ineffective ruler, ‘a king in toils’. This view was strengthened by George's tendency to bluster. But there is much evidence on the other side, and Lord Waldegrave's view was that George's lack of intellectual resource and his restlessness meant that business was ‘almost his only amusement’ (Clark, Waldegrave, 147). Fortunately a number of letters from Townshend to the king, with George's comments, have survived and suggest, at least, a competent supervising mind: ‘this letter can be of no use at all’; ‘in the letter to Chavigny, I believe it will be better to leave out the whole paragraph … there are several points about which I must speak to you before it goes’; ‘with the alteration I have made, this article may pass’. Of course it was inevitable that the king should be particularly concerned with foreign affairs, but it should be remembered that they formed, at this time, the greater part of governmental activity and of parliamentary debate. George's opinions in other areas were clear and to the point: of the place bill of 1730 he wrote: ‘the sooner it is thrown out the better’ (Coxe, Robert Walpole, 2.526, 531, 535, 537). George regarded the army as his special responsibility, though as Sir Robert Walpole was told by his brother in 1740, ‘he does not understand anything of military matters’ (Beaufort MSS, 40, 53). Likewise the duke of Newcastle was warned not to interfere in questions of the bedchamber, ‘which is a personal service about myself, and I won't suffer anybody to meddle in’ (Yorke, 2.224–5). The king did not share Caroline's taste for theology, but he had strong views on church patronage. He developed a dislike for John Potter, created archbishop of Canterbury in 1737, denounced him as ‘a man of a little dirty heart’, and twice refused him audiences (Sykes, Gibson, 379). In 1750 he insisted that Joseph Butler be translated from the bishopric of Bristol to Durham. When Butler died in 1752 the king lost to Newcastle, who carried the promotion of Richard Trevor—‘a high-church fellow, a stiff, formal, fellow and nothing else’, in the king's opinion—but in 1757 the king carried the elevation of Matthew Hutton to the archbishopric of Canterbury. A royal chaplaincy was a sure road to promotion. John Thomas, son of a drayman, became chaplain at Hamburg, talked German to the king, and was made dean of Peterborough in 1740 (against Newcastle) and bishop of Lincoln in 1744. His namesake, John Thomas, was a royal chaplain in 1742, bishop of Peterborough in 1747, of Norwich in 1752, and Salisbury 1757.

The Walpole years

The early years of George's reign were comparatively peaceful. The war with Spain, which had broken out in February 1727, was brought to a conclusion in 1729 and the siege of Gibraltar lifted. The Anglo-French understanding, one of the main planks of Walpole's diplomacy, survived for a time, though Sir Robert had an awkward debate in the Commons in February 1730, when the opposition sprang their surprise that the French were refortifying Dunkirk in violation of the treaty of Utrecht. The king's first political crisis arose in part from foreign policy issues, when Townshend in 1730 quarrelled with his brother-in-law Walpole and tendered his resignation. Walpole moved in Lord Harrington and took the opportunity to dismiss Carteret from his viceroyalty, much against the king's will. Family matters were forming an ominous and predictable pattern. In December 1728 Prince Frederick, aged twenty-one, was brought over from Hanover and created prince of Wales the following year. The welcome from the public was warmer than from the king, who was already on bad terms with his son for wishing to marry Wilhelmina, daughter of Frederick William of Brandenburg-Prussia, whom George detested. As soon as the prince was established in England the king left for Hanover, appointing not the prince but Queen Caroline as regent.

The resignation of Townshend demonstrated the strength of Walpole's position, re-established in the confidence of the crown. George II had resented the terms of the reconciliation negotiated in 1720, believing that Walpole had gained more from it than he had, but like many monarchs he grew comfortable with ministers he knew. But there was also a possible weakness that, by his monopoly of power, Walpole was building a potential coalition of the excluded. Townshend did not go into opposition but retired from public life to concentrate on turnips. Carteret advertised his intentions by moving an opposition amendment at the earliest opportunity in January 1731, and with William Pulteney, another erstwhile Walpole ally, in the Commons, and Viscount Bolingbroke co-ordinating the attacks of The Craftsman, the foundations of a formidable opposition were laid. George, not fond of opposition unless he was himself leading it, struck Pulteney's name off the privy council in 1731. The king's strong support was essential to Walpole during the protracted excise crisis of 1733, and particularly in disciplining and dismissing the rebels afterwards.

Townshend's resignation had been on foreign policy questions, and it was there that Walpole's relations with the king needed particular care. Carteret's intervention in January 1731 had deplored the aggressive attitude of the ministers towards the emperor and was intended, perhaps, as a signal to the king that there were alternatives to Walpole's approach. As elector, George was anxious to remain on good terms with the emperor and suspicious of French designs on Germany. Disentanglement formed a major plank of Walpole's strategy, partly because war involved heavy taxation and alienated support, but also to avoid a situation in which foreign powers would pick up the Jacobite stick. The issue became important in 1733 when the War of the Polish Succession broke out, with France and the emperor supporting rival candidates. The king wished to support the emperor, and Walpole's position was rendered more delicate by the fact that his staunch ally, the queen, was also belligerent. Fortunately for him the war was of short duration and by 1734 he was able to make his famous boast of 50,000 men slain in Europe and not one Englishman (Hervey, 361).

Relations between Frederick, prince of Wales, and his parents did not improve on closer acquaintance. In April 1736 the prince married and, dissatisfied with his financial allowance, forced his friends to raise the matter in parliament. Carteret in the Lords was well beaten, but in the Commons Pulteney lost by only 234 to 204. This was the prelude to a public quarrel. Princess Augusta was reported to be pregnant, which the queen doubted, suspecting some plot to bring in a baby and deprive her younger son, , of his hopes of the succession. That the allegation was absurd merely underlines the astonishing hatred expressed by Caroline, George, and the princesses towards Frederick. But when Augusta fell into labour at Hampton Court, the prince bundled her into a coach and drove pell-mell for St James's, where she was delivered of a girl. The king shouted at the queen that it was all her fault: ‘there is a false child will be put upon you’. The prince was turned out of St James's, deprived of his guards as his father had once been, and the breach was not healed, even formally, until after Walpole's downfall.

In November 1737 Caroline died after a painful and protracted illness. The king hovered round her deathbed, offering advice and protesting undying devotion. This was the occasion for his famous reply to her kindly suggestion that he should marry again, when he sobbed, ‘Non, non, j'aurai des maîtresses’. In the context of the day and in the relations of this strange pair it was a moving reply, and observers expressed surprise at the depth of the king's feelings. Though he bullied and snubbed her, his admiration for and reliance upon her was great. His unpleasant relations with his father and the scandal about his mother had left him emotionally isolated and even his intimates found him lacking in warmth. Chesterfield, after his death, commented that the king had no friends, lacking ‘expansion of heart’. Though he could, on occasion, be courteous and agreeable, he was too self-occupied to feel much sympathy or to understand the problems of others. was brought over from Germany within the year to meet the king's physical needs and granted a title as countess of Yarmouth, but she had little political influence and offered George companionship rather than affection. His instructions were that at his burial the side of his coffin should be removed so that his remains would mingle with those of Caroline.

Carteret and Dettingen

It was felt by many that Caroline's death would weaken Walpole's hold on power, but the king's support for his minister remained strong. His fall was brought about by the outbreak of war with Spain, which he could neither avoid nor control. Sir Robert achieved one last great triumph when an ill-considered opposition motion calling on the king to dismiss him was overwhelmingly defeated in the Commons by 290 votes to 106, the tories refusing to support it as an infringement of the royal prerogative. After the general election of 1741 his majorities crumbled, and he tendered his resignation in February 1742. For the king the most mortifying aspect of the episode was that the prince of Wales had played a critical role. He had built up a parliamentary following, based largely upon his influence in the duchy of Cornwall, and commanded some twenty-one votes. It is a sign of George's anxiety to retain Walpole that, before the final vote, he authorized an approach to the prince, offering to pay his debts and raise his allowance by £50,000 p.a. in exchange for support. The prince's reply had been a flat refusal, at which, according to Sir John Shelley, the king fell into ‘great passions, flinging off his wig’ (Egmont Diary, 3.238–41). In other respects the king came out of the crisis well. His favourite, Lord Wilmington, in whom he perceived political wisdom undetected by most others, took the Treasury and became titular head of the ministry. Pulteney, whom the king disliked, obligingly ruled himself out of taking office, though he accepted an earldom (Bath) and a place at the cabinet table. Chesterfield and Pitt, both of whom George detested, were passed over, and a solid core of old ministers—Henry Pelham, and lords Newcastle, Harrington, and Hardwicke—remained to prevent any witch-hunt against Walpole. One secretaryship went to Carteret, for whom the king had great respect. Above all Walpole, as the earl of Orford, took an important part in constructing the new ministry and continued to advise the king privately. The prince soon received his improved allowance and made his appearance at the royal levee at St James's, where the king managed to ask if the princess was well (Walpole, Corr., 17.337).

The composition of the ministry made it improbable that any of the reform measures proposed by the opposition to Walpole would be implemented. Repeal of the Septennial Act, a pensions bill, and a place bill were all voted down within a week, the first in the Commons, the last two in the Lords. A greater shift of policy was in foreign affairs, where Carteret was undoubtedly more interventionist than Walpole had been. In 1740 Frederick of Prussia had attacked Maria Theresa, with the assistance of the French and the Bavarians. The king's desire to fulfil the terms of the ‘pragmatic sanction’ and come to Maria Theresa's aid was neutralized by fear that France and Prussia would invade Hanover. The complex solution, while remaining neutral towards France, was to subsidize the Austrians and to urge them to split their assailants by coming to terms with Frederick. In addition, a ‘pragmatic army’, consisting of British, Hessian, Hanoverian, and Dutch troops, was put into the field as an auxiliary to the Austrians. In the summer of 1743 George decided to rekindle past glories by taking personal charge of the army, and on 16 June he gained a notable defensive victory over the French at Dettingen. The king, in his sixtieth year, was exposed to great danger and won vast credit. But though his courage was hardly disputed, there was criticism of his strategy as unimaginative; his senior commander, Lord Stair, resigned two months later complaining that his advice was neglected, and accusations that the king had shown undue favour to his Hanoverian troops provided William Pitt, Lord Chesterfield, and the opposition with the opportunity for vituperative xenophobic speeches.

In the midst of the Dettingen campaign, a ministerial reshuffle became inevitable with the death of Lord Wilmington. This occasioned a power struggle between the component parts of the ministry. The earl of Bath, regretting his decision of 1742 not to take office, begged Carteret, who was with the king in Germany, to urge his claims, while the ‘old corps’ whigs insisted that Henry Pelham, Walpole's trusted lieutenant, had been promised the reversion. The delay in reporting any decision broke Pelham's nerve and he presumed treachery from Carteret. To Henry Fox, Pelham wrote: ‘that man is a madman that has any confidence in him, and I own freely to you that nothing shall ever persuade me to trust him out of my sight again’ (Ilchester, Letters of Henry Fox, 1). The king had little admiration for Pulteney and resolved in favour of Pelham. Carteret wrote a frank and handsome letter to Pelham, explaining the obligation he was under to Bath, but promising to ‘cement an union with you’. Nevertheless the affair rankled, and Orford, in his comment, referred to Carteret as ‘that great man abroad’ (Yorke, 1.337; Coxe, Pelham, 1.91–3).

In the course of 1744 the ministry fell to pieces. Carteret was well established in the king's confidence, but his policy, which for a time had appeared so successful, ran into increasing difficulties. The treaty of Worms, bringing Sardinia to the assistance of the Austrians, was regarded as a master stroke (September 1743), but was cancelled the following month by an understanding between France and Spain. France declared war in March 1744, and the union of the French and Spanish fleets offered the chance of an invasion of Britain and a renewal of Jacobite activity. For good measure Frederick of Prussia, alarmed at the revival of Austria's fortunes, re-entered the conflict in August 1744. In parliament Carteret came under strong and incessant attack as a minister who had sold out to Hanover, while Pelham and Newcastle were increasingly irritated by his nonchalant attitude towards the problem of raising funds to support his subsidy schemes.

Throughout 1744 the ministers were at loggerheads. With the war taking a bad turn, policy differences developed over the role of the Dutch. The king and Carteret wished to approach them gently lest the Dutch should demand to know why, if they took the brunt of French attacks, Hanover should remain neutral. When the Pelhams begged the king not to go abroad with the army again, he acquiesced with obvious resentment. When the ‘pragmatic army’ in the summer of 1744 did nothing, the king claimed that he could have animated it, and poured out his wrath on Newcastle. ‘No man can bear long’, wrote the duke, ‘what I go through every day in our joint audience in the Closet’ (Yorke, 1.357). Pelham told Devonshire that ‘our master is barely civil’ (Owen, Rise of the Pelhams, 232). On 1 November Newcastle delivered what was in effect an ultimatum to the king to dismiss Carteret. George sounded out lords Chesterfield and Gower, who would not serve with Carteret, and when he appealed for advice to Orford he was told to agree to the Pelhams' demands. By the end of the month Carteret had resigned. The way was now clear for the ‘broad-bottom administration’ as a kind of government of national unity. To the king's disgust Chesterfield was brought in as viceroy, but Pitt's attacks on Hanover and even on the king's courage made it impossible for the Pelhams to recommend him. To reinvigorate the ‘pragmatic army’ the king's younger son, Cumberland, was given the command, with a senior general to guide him.

The Pelham ministry

The king gave way with bad grace and fierce explosions in the closet continued. To Harrington in February he declared that Carteret was ‘a man of the greatest abilities this country ever bred: you have forced him from me; and I am weary of you all’ (Owen, Rise of the Pelhams, 274). ‘Worse than ever’, wrote Newcastle to Hardwicke in April 1745 (Lonsdale MSS, 125). Nor did the war prosper. In May Cumberland was beaten by the French at Fontenoy and the following month the Young Pretender set out on his daring voyage to Scotland. Even this imminent danger did not bring the king and his ministers together. In September, with the Jacobite rising gathering strength, the king tried, without success, to tempt Harrington to form a ministry. Only the continuation of the rebellion prevented the ministers from demanding a showdown, as Chesterfield from Dublin constantly urged. George was confident that the Jacobite invasion would not succeed and that Cumberland, brought over from the continent, could deal with it. By 6 December Prince Charles Edward had begun his retreat from Derby, and the way was open early in 1746 for the ministers to resume political warfare.

On 14 February 1746 the ministers began tendering their resignations, and the king asked Bath and Carteret to form a government. It did not get very far, since neither man had much of a parliamentary following. A lord privy seal was found and a first lord of the Admiralty, but there recruitment stopped, and the City of London made its support for the Pelhams clear by withdrawing a £3 million loan it had offered. Critical was the inability to find anyone to lead the Commons in the face of Pitt, Pelham, and Henry Fox, once Winnington had refused. After two days the fledgeling ministry was at an end, Carteret confessing cheerfully that it had been mad. The recalled ministers insisted that Bath be removed from the cabinet, Carteret's private influence ended, and some office found for William Pitt.

From February 1746 onwards the king moved into calmer waters. The Jacobites were crushed at Culloden in April 1746. The Pelham administration took root, and at length the king came to feel confidence in it. In 1747 at the general election the ministry did well, with, according to Newcastle, some 341 supporters against 216. Even better, from the king's point of view, was that the prince's electoral following did badly. In 1748 the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle brought the long war to a close and removed many of the issues in relation to Germany and Hanover that had dogged previous administrations. In 1748, at the age of sixty-five, the king was tiring. Soon after the collapse of the Bath–Carteret ministry he is reported as saying that:
he was resolved to be quiet, and let them do what they thought fit … that it signified nothing, as his son, for whom he did not care a louse, was to succeed him, and would live long enough to ruin us all. (Rose, 1.181, 187)
But in March 1751, at the age of forty-four, the prince of Wales died, it was said as the result of a blow from a cricket ball. His son, and heir to the kingdom, was Prince George, twelve years old, and for a few years the king's position was strengthened by the absence of a reversionary interest.

Once Pelham had settled in, the king was able to win some political tricks. Part of the surrender terms in February 1746 had been a post for Pitt, but George kept him at arm's length as joint vice-treasurer to Ireland. In May 1746 on the death of Winnington he became paymaster, a lucrative but minor post, with the king still refusing to grant him audiences. Harrington, whom the Pelhams had pushed over the top to lead their co-ordinated resignations, had incurred the king's displeasure, and it was only eight months before policy differences and the king's treatment forced him to resign. Lord Chesterfield, whom the king had never trusted, took his place as secretary, but found Newcastle impossible to work with and resigned in February 1748, to be replaced by the duke of Bedford. He also found the Pelhams difficult colleagues and resigned in June 1751. His successor, the earl of Holdernesse, had been a lord of the bedchamber for ten years (1741–51) and was something of a royal favourite: ‘he was originally thought of and named by the king’, wrote Newcastle (Walpole, Memoirs, 1.132 n. 6). But the most surprising development was that Newcastle, old enmities obliterated by newer resentments, began to reflect kindly upon his former colleague Carteret and press Pelham to approach him. Bedford's retirement was the opportunity for a ministerial reshuffle, in which Carteret became lord president of the council, a post he held for the rest of George's reign. ‘Here is the common enemy returned’, he announced jauntily (ibid., 1.131). Though George's miscalculation in February 1746 had put him at a disadvantage, it did not last long, nor was it possible, in eighteenth-century conditions, for a determined monarch to be kept from intervening and asserting himself.

The death of the prince of Wales, when the king was approaching seventy, made arrangements for a regency inevitable. The difficulty was that Cumberland, young Prince George's uncle, now captain-general, was extremely unpopular and believed to be capable of a coup: a fly-by-night broadsheet entitled Constitutional Queries warned the public to ponder the case of Richard Crookback. The outcry made it impossible to appoint Cumberland as regent, so the Princess Augusta was nominated, with a council of elder statesmen to advise her and restrictions upon her powers. Cumberland was to serve as chairman of the council. The arrangements for a regency were never tested, but the education of the princes caused anxiety. In 1753 Earl Harcourt, the princes' governor, complained that other members of the prince's court were filling the boys' heads with Jacobite or tory notions. The king took a relaxed view of the accusations that some of the prince's tutors may have been Jacobites in their youth: ‘it is of very little importance to me what the parties accused may have said, or done, or thought while they were little more than boys’ (Trench, 250). An inquiry established that the accusations were groundless, and Harcourt was replaced by Waldegrave as governor.

The Seven Years' War

On 6 March 1754, just before the general election, Henry Pelham died: ‘now I shall have no more peace’, observed the king (Coxe, Pelham, 2.302). George played the matter very correctly, writing to Lord Chancellor Hardwicke that he had ‘no favourite for this succession’, and asking him to sound out the cabinet. He added that he ‘hoped they would not think of recommending to him any person who has flown in his face’, by which he meant William Pitt (Yorke, 2.206). Sensible consultation was accompanied by reserving the final decision to the monarch. Once the duke of Devonshire had declined to serve as first minister, Newcastle became the obvious choice, but the crucial question was who was to have the lead in the Commons. The duke's failure to deal with it adequately produced a protracted crisis. When William Murray ruled himself out to concentrate on his legal career, the outstanding candidates were Henry Fox and William Pitt. The latter, incapacitated at Bath, presumed that Fox would be the man and waived his own pretensions: ‘I am so tired I cannot hold my head down to write any longer. A fine Secretary of State I should make’ (Smith, 1.116). Whether his protestations deceived even himself may be doubted. Fox, on the other hand, was out early in the morning knocking on doors. The king liked Fox as a friend of Cumberland, but Hardwicke and others feared a military government. Fox's behaviour scarcely confirmed his reputation as a strong man. After accepting the secretaryship, he gave up within the week on discovering that Newcastle was to retain election matters and patronage in his own hands, and resumed his old post. There was much recrimination and several versions about what had been promised, and opinion hardened against Fox. But the difficulties of working with Newcastle as a colleague were well known, and Hardwicke had written ‘If the power of the Treasury, the secret service and the House of Commons is once settled in safe hands, the office of Secretary of State of the Southern Province will carry very little efficient power along with it’ (Yorke, 2.208). At the king's suggestion the secretaryship was then given to Sir Thomas Robinson, a sound diplomat but a poor debater, and Henry Legge put in as chancellor of the exchequer. The new government did not have to face parliament until after the general election in April 1754, but it was asking for trouble to go into the new session with the two leading House of Commons men deeply discontented.

The general election produced a handsome majority for the new administration. The summer of 1754 was devoted to inconclusive jockeying for position by the more prominent politicians, and in September the king asked Newcastle ‘who is to take the lead in the House of Commons? I know it is Sir Thomas Robinson's place, and rank, but he does not care for it’ (Clark, Dynamics of Change, 90). Before parliament met, news came that Colonel Washington had been obliged to surrender in America: reinforcements were dispatched and Britain moved one step nearer to a major war. When parliament assembled on 14 November, signals were soon flashing. In a discussion of bribery at Berwick, William Pitt took the opportunity to deplore the decline in authority of the House of Commons, which was in danger of ‘serving no other purpose than to register the arbitrary edicts of one, too powerful, subject’—taken by most members to be an arrow for Newcastle. On an election dispute at Reading, Pitt and Fox joined forces to disparage their ministerial colleague Robinson, kindly begging the house to overlook his inexperience. These were no more than skirmishes, but they were enough to agitate Newcastle. The king sent for Fox on 2 December and urged him to resume negotiations. The outcome was that Fox was given a cabinet place. In these complex manoeuvres, George II took an active and informed part.

In April 1755 the king left for his last visit to Hanover, accompanied by Lady Yarmouth and Lord Holdernesse. In view of the possible need for speedy military decisions, Cumberland was put at the head of the lords justices. On 8 June two French men-of-war were seized off the coast of Canada, but the following month General Braddock, leading the reinforcements, was defeated and killed outside Fort Duquesne. The king was, as usual, greatly concerned for the security of Hanover and responded by negotiating a number of subsidy treaties for its protection should the colonial skirmishing spread to Europe. These revived many of the issues of the previous war. The first of Newcastle's shaky team to wobble was Henry Legge, his chancellor of the exchequer, who pointedly refused to authorize payment of the Hesse subsidy. This persuaded Newcastle to reopen discussions with Pitt. They did not get far, since not only was Pitt hostile to the treaties but he had staked out a new line by coming to an understanding with Leicester House, where young Prince George and his tutor the earl of Bute had decided to set up as a political interest. George consequently returned from Hanover in September 1755 to find yet another political crisis, with the government looking in bad shape for the new parliamentary session and an unpredictable reversionary interest emerging. One response to the second was to attempt to divert Prince George from politics into matrimony by dwelling on the charms of Princess Sophia Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel: indeed, added the king characteristically, were he twenty years younger he would marry her himself (Clark, Waldegrave, 165). Prince George's mother, with some justice, objected that it was premature and that her son was ‘shy and backward’, adding that Sophia Caroline's mother was ‘the most intriguing, meddling and also, the most satirical, sarcastic person in the world’ (Political Journal of … Dodington, 317–18). The proposal foundered.

With Legge and Pitt certain to oppose when parliament met, Fox came into play once more. According to Walpole, Newcastle confronted the king with the problem the moment he returned (Walpole, Memoirs, 2.60). Fox settled for the secretaryship of state; Robinson was shunted back to the mastership of the great wardrobe, better suited to his talents, and given an annual pension of £2000. Legge and Pitt launched their attacks as expected, with the latter prophesying that the subsidies would ruin the nation: ‘within two years His Majesty would not be able to sleep in St James's for the cries of a bankrupt people’ (ibid., 2.72). Newcastle's majority held firm with 311 votes to 105, and within the month Pitt and Legge were dismissed. The reinforcements brought in to face the gathering storm were not formidable—George Bubb Dodington, a superannuated placeman stolen from Leicester House, and George Lyttelton, a prosy poet extracted from the Pitt–Grenville connection to take over from Legge as chancellor of the exchequer.

The year 1756 opened disastrously. Britain's understanding with Prussia in the convention of Westminster, part of Newcastle's subsidy strategy, prompted the French to come to terms with the Austrians in the reversal of alliances. European war was inevitable. On 3 June Minorca was surrendered to the French after John Byng had failed to relieve it, and in August 1756 Fort Oswego in America was overrun and its garrison massacred. The outcry against Byng was shattering, and ministers swayed in the gale. It was inevitable that the king should be in the midst of the controversy, since the court martial which sentenced Byng to death added a recommendation for mercy. George was unlikely to respond. A brave man himself, he would not tolerate flinching, and it was reported that on reading one of Byng's early reports, outlining the difficulties he faced, the king dashed it to the ground exclaiming ‘This man will not fight’ (Walpole, Memoirs, 2.157–8). He complained, with some justice, that the court martial had shuffled its responsibility on to him. That the case for Byng was put by Pitt and Earl Temple may not have done him much good, and the admiral was shot on his own quarter-deck in March 1757, dying with conspicuous courage.

Meanwhile the disasters had brought about yet another ministerial upheaval. Pitt enjoyed an agreeable summer, watching his rivals in disarray. If one saw a child driving a go-cart towards a precipice, he asked the house, was one not under an obligation to take the reins from his hands? (Yorke, 2.289–92) First to falter as the storm clouds gathered was Fox. The removal of Murray from the Commons to take the lord chief justiceship left him even more bereft of support in debate. With the usual catalogue of complaints that he had not been consulted, Fox resigned in October 1756. George II complained bitterly to Carteret of Fox's ingratitude and ambition, and asked if he should take Pitt, adding ‘Pitt will not do my business’—by which he meant Germany. At an audience on the 18th the king did not try to talk Fox out of going. In discussions Pitt refused to serve with either Newcastle or Fox, and Newcastle resolved to resign. The meeting of parliament was postponed while a government was being formed, and Horace Walpole, with his usual taste for melodrama, talked of civil war. But in the end a strange administration was formed, with Devonshire at the head, Pitt and Holdernesse as secretaries, Bedford as viceroy, the great seal in commission, and Temple as first lord of the Admiralty.

Horace Walpole gave the new ministry six months, which was not a bad guess. It had very little support in the Commons and even less in the closet. The first Pitt tried to combat by wooing the tories, especially with his Militia Bill, and by continuing his understanding with Lord Bute at Leicester House. This made it even harder to capture the confidence of the king, who retained his mistrust of tories and was still sore at being obliged to appoint Bute as groom of the stole to the young prince. He was uncommunicative with his new ministers and he retained as lord president his old favourite Carteret, and through him links with Fox and Cumberland. To Bute, Pitt reported that his first audience on 1 December had been ‘favourable, considering the long impressions against me, and longer than I expected, for it lasted some minutes’ (Pares and Taylor, 116–17). A difficult tactical problem for ministers was how to please their patriot support by appearing to repudiate Hanover without making their relations with the king even worse. Just before parliament met, it was discovered that the Lords' reply to the royal address thanked the king for bringing over Hanoverian troops when an invasion had threatened: Pitt and Temple were horrified, but Devonshire brushed aside their objections, expressing concern lest the new venture be ‘demolished on a point of this sort’. Temple had to be content with a one-man protest in the Lords.

The storms in the closet did not subside as Pitt had hoped they might. Instead the king poured out to Lord Waldegrave his dissatisfaction. Temple he found peculiarly offensive, pert, insolent, and incompetent, while Pitt lost him in elaborate and convoluted expositions: ‘before they could ever finish their exordium’, wrote Waldegrave, ‘His Majesty had both forgot the subject, and lost his patience’. Waldegrave was dispatched to tell Newcastle that ‘I do not look upon myself as king while I am in the hands of these scoundrels’ (Clark, Waldegrave, 188–90). Cumberland fed the king's anger, urging him to dismiss Pitt before he left for Hanover to take up command of the army of observation. Newcastle, true to form, remained irresolute, anxious to return but worried by the responsibility. In March the king sounded out Fox again. This collapsed, with only the ever willing Dodington stepping forward. Before he could put together a new ministry the king dismissed Temple, and when Pitt refused to resign in protest he was pushed out. The moment had come to reshuffle the old pack of cards.

From early April until late June 1757 the search for a viable administration continued, while the duke of Devonshire presided over a shrunken caretaker ministry. In addition to reconciling the claims of Fox, Pitt, and Newcastle in a way acceptable to the king, Bute and Leicester House, now actively engaged in politics, had to be kept in mind. On 11 June a Fox-led ministry with Waldegrave as nominal head got as far as the ante-chamber before it was cancelled. Chesterfield and then Hardwicke were sent out to see if a Pitt–Newcastle coalition could be formed. In the end Newcastle resumed as first lord of the Treasury, with Pitt and Holdernesse as secretaries, Temple as lord privy seal, and Fox, whose ambitions were shrinking, as paymaster. In this inauspicious fashion was constructed what became the most successful ministry in British history. Though it gave little pleasure to the king to see Pitt and Temple back so soon, he salvaged several things from the episode, including Carteret (Granville), who continued as lord president, Lord Anson back at the Admiralty, and a Garter by way of reward to Waldegrave for all his efforts.

Since the country was engaged in global warfare, forming a government was only the first problem solved. Many of the strategic decisions turned on Europe and Hanover, and kept the king in the centre of events: though his ailments increased with age, his grip on events remained strong. He had emphatic views on the appointment of commanders and did not hesitate to express them. The prospects were not good. On 18 June Frederick of Prussia was badly beaten by the Austrians at Kolin, and a month later Cumberland's army was defeated by the French at Hastenbeck, only 30 miles from Hanover. Cumberland withdrew north to the Elbe to keep open his lines of communication but left Hanover open to invasion, and in September signed the convention of Kloster-Zeven, whereby his Hanoverians were immobilized and the remaining German mercenaries sent home. George II reacted in fury, repudiating the convention and recalling his son: in a curious reversal of roles Pitt tried to defend Cumberland, pointing out that he had been given ‘full powers, Sir, very full powers’. A month later, when Cumberland arrived at Kensington, he found the king playing cards: ‘there is my son’, declared George, ‘who has ruined me and disgraced himself’. Cumberland resigned all his military appointments and never served again (Walpole, Memoirs, 2.282; Yorke, 3.170–82).

There was not at first very much to offset these disasters. The expedition sent to Canada in 1756 had been unable to assault either Louisbourg or Quebec. The attack upon Rochefort in September 1757 had been totally mishandled: ‘I shall never get Rochefort off my heart’, Pitt confided to Bute, his present ally (Pares and Taylor, 134). The most encouraging news came from Germany, where Frederick of Prussia, revealing astonishing resilience, defeated his opponents in quick succession at Rossbach and at Leuthen. One difficulty that George had foreseen—that Pitt would not do his German business—did not materialize. With the effortless effrontery that was his hallmark, Pitt performed a complete volte-face, forgetting that he had once described Germany as a millstone and an ocean of gore and discovering that it was there that his great colonial ambitions would be underpinned.

Under these circumstances Pitt's over-cordial rapprochement with Bute came to an end and the florid exchange of compliments ceased. Prince George's letters marked the change, with Pitt becoming first ‘the Great Orator’ and then ‘a true snake in the grass’. Though relations between the prince and the king remained decent, Leicester House waited impatiently for his death. Late in 1758 the prince noted that despite a serious illness the king might last until the summer; by July 1759 he was ‘ashamed of being his grandson’; and at length his references to his monarch and grandfather were ‘this old man’. A request in July 1759 for some military employment—assuring the king rather optimistically that the prince's name alone would be a terror to the enemy—received a diplomatically bland reply (Letters … to Lord Bute, nos. 23, 60, 22, 34, 49, 33).

It was not to be expected that the new coalition would be free from strain. Newcastle took office determined that Pitt ‘shall not be my superior’ and was soon contemplating resignation. Hardwicke, who had given up office but continued without portfolio, remained the recipient of the duke's piteous letters, but was provoked to warn that he had no wish to become ‘perpetually the middle man’. Newcastle also considered himself a middleman, complaining in turn that he was ‘cut to pieces’ between the king and Pitt. By January 1758 George was complaining that Holdernesse was incompetent and toyed with the idea of dismissing Pitt and trying yet again a Fox-led ministry. Fox, he remarked, was ‘a brave fellow’, but when Newcastle passed on the opinion to Hardwicke, his friend observed laconically that there had not been much evidence of that recently (Yorke, 3.39, 40, 42, 46, 48). A long-running sore was that Temple, Pitt's brother-in-law, demanded the Garter, which the king maintained was in his personal gift. Under pressure George retreated into sulkiness and would not talk to Pitt, telling him, ‘Do as you please’. In September 1759 he told Newcastle he wished he had stayed in Hanover in 1755. When ministers tried to approach him indirectly through Lady Yarmouth, it made matters worse: ‘why do you plague her? What has she to do with these things? The only comfortable two hours I have in the whole day are those I pass there, and you are always teasing her with these things’. The issue rumbled on, with George protesting, ‘I am to be wheedled sometimes, forced sometimes … I am nothing and wish to be gone’. In November 1759 Temple resigned, but a compromise was patched up: he wrote a letter of submission, resumed office, and obtained his promise of the Garter (ibid., 3.57, 60, 61, 63; Smith, 1.331–2). Discontent then moved back to Holdernesse, who had ‘sneered’ at Newcastle and irritated the king. Chesterfield, one of the godfathers of the coalition, summed it up: ‘the duke of Newcastle and Mr Pitt jog on like man and wife; that is, seldom agreeing, often quarrelling, but by mutual interest, upon the whole, not parting’ (Letters, ed. Dobré, 5.2302). By the autumn of 1760 relations between Newcastle and Pitt were better, though the king continued testy. Hardwicke counselled patience: ‘some allowance must be made for the infirmities of great old age. A prince, naturally vivacious and passionate, brusque and emporté, when young, will of course increase in these qualities as he grows older’ (Yorke, 3.110).

The fortunes of war slowly improved. In July 1757 Chesterfield was declaring ‘we are no longer a nation. I never yet saw so dreadful a prospect’ (Letters, ed. Dobré, 5.2232). The balance began to tip in Germany where Ferdinand of Brunswick, who had replaced Cumberland, won an important victory over the French in June 1758 at Crefeld: George, now deaf and blind in one eye, was in high spirits. Pitt's raids on the coasts of France did little real damage, though he claimed that they caused a great dispersal of French resources. The colonial endeavours were more successful. A small expedition to Africa took Fort Louis in Senegal and a second one added Goree in December 1758. A force against Martinique in the West Indies found it too strong, but occupied Guadeloupe in May 1759 as an alternative. In the spring of 1759 Ferdinand won a second encounter at Minden, a victory marred only by the conduct of Lord George Sackville, who was court-martialled for disobedience, thereby making him a persecuted hero in the eyes of Leicester House. In autumn 1759 news of General James Wolfe's capture of Quebec was followed by Admiral Sir Edward Hawke's great naval victory at Quiberon Bay, which put an end to any threat of invasion. In January 1760, in the almost self-contained struggle for India, Sir Eyre Coote's victory at Wandiwash, which led to the capture of Pondicherry, completed the work started by Robert Clive at Plassey in 1757. In all of this the king was involved—questioning strategies, accepting or rejecting admirals and generals. He was persuaded not to take command himself after the disgrace of Cumberland and was talked into appointing Ligonier. News of Hanover's deliverance at Minden prompted him to quote scripture—a rather rare occurrence—‘that God Almighty sent out a destroying Angel’. When Newcastle objected to Pitt's proposal to give the command in Canada to Wolfe on the grounds that he was mad, the king is said to have retorted, ‘Mad? I wish he would bite some of my other generals’.

Death and reputation

George died at Kensington Palace at seven in the morning on 25 October 1760, after drinking his chocolate and retiring to his close-stool. Horace Walpole, long his critic, gave him an elegiac farewell: ‘what an enviable death! In the greatest period of the glory of this country, and of his reign, in perfect tranquillity at home, at seventy-seven, growing blind and deaf, to die without a pang’ (Walpole, Corr., 21.442–4). He was buried at Westminster Abbey on 11 November.

Contemporary verdicts on George II were, for the most part, cautiously respectful. The most sympathetic came from Lord Waldegrave, who saw him at close range. He credited the king with ‘a good understanding, though not of the first class’, and defended him from the charge of rudeness and irritability: ‘I never knew a Person of high rank bear contradiction better, provided the intention was apparently good, and the manner decent’. He quoted George's own defence:
we were angry because he was partial to his Electorate, though he desired nothing more to be done for Hanover, than what we were bound in honour and justice to do for any country whatsoever, when it was exposed to danger entirely on our own account. That we were indeed a very extraordinary people, continually talking of our constitution, our laws and own liberties. That as to our constitution, he owned it to be a good one, and defied any man to produce a single instance wherein he had exceeded his proper limits; that he never would attempt to screen or protect any servant that had done amiss, but still he had a right to choose those who were to serve him. (Clark, Waldegrave, 146–7, 207)
Chesterfield's assessment was much less friendly but still perceptive. George had ‘all the weaknesses of a little mind … He was generally reckoned ill-natured, which indeed he was not. He had rather an unfeeling than a bad heart’. A blunder by a valet at the levee would upset him so much that onlookers were sure news of some national disaster must have been received. Though he was well bred, ‘it was in a stiff and formal manner, and produced in others the restraint which they saw he was under himself’ (Franklin, 98–100). Horace Walpole's assessment was even less charitable and marred by tedious antithesis. Like most people he accused George of avarice and vanity, sneered at his reputation for courage, and offered a characteristically back-handed compliment—‘his understanding was not near so deficient as it was imagined’ (Walpole, Memoirs, 1.116–20; 3.117–20). Lord Charlemont called him ‘a man of strict honour … His temper was warm and impetuous, but he was good-natured and sincere. Unskilled in the royal talent of dissimulation, he always was what he appeared to be. He might offend, but he never deceived’ (Charlemont MSS, 1.13–14).

Horace Walpole suggested that there had been a ‘diminution of majesty’ during George II's reign, and for many years this view prevailed. But few historians still believe that he was the captive of his ministers, even though George himself sometimes said so. No minister ever took him for granted and many found him intimidating. To a very late stage he maintained his active role in government, approving, modifying, rejecting: in January 1756 Ligonier reported that the king ‘struck off with his own hand’ three of the army officers on a list of possible commanders, and within a few days of his death Pitt reported him ‘violently for’ the expedition against Belle Île (Stopford-Sackville MSS, 1.53; Walpole, Corr., 21.438 n. 3). Though his initial reaction was often fierce, his considered opinion was usually restrained. His favourites—Wilmington, Carteret, and Fox—were, after all, no mere courtiers or private companions but very experienced politicians. The three ‘crises’ of his reign—1727, 1746, and 1757—do not bear out any deep decline in the influence of the crown, and were each followed by ministries of remarkable stability and achievement—those of Walpole, Pelham, and the Pitt–Newcastle coalition, which between them accounted for the greater part of his reign. The bizarre episode of 1746 did not, in itself, do much to weaken the crown. In view of the mass resignations, while civil war still raged, the king could do little save send for Carteret and Bath; they were men of some standing and the error of judgement was more theirs, in believing they could form a ministry, than the king's. The episode lasted two days and produced few ill effects. It is true that George was obliged to give way to Pitt in 1757, but he had kept him at bay for fifteen years and was by no means the only man to think him a charlatan, while Pitt's personal attacks on him had been idiotically offensive. In naming the choice of ministers, George rightly identified the key constitutional issue and one which could scarcely be solved by any general formula. He was handicapped by the extent to which the tories were out of consideration, partly because George himself distrusted them as Jacobites and partly because of their own lack of ability. Nevertheless, he defended stoutly the prerogatives he had inherited and was, for example, resolute not to damage the standing of the nobility by too liberal creation of honours. His reign saw the Jacobite threat reduced to nothing, the Hanoverian succession securely established, and his country transformed into a great world power.

John Cannon


DNB · John, Lord Hervey, Some materials towards memoirs of the reign of King George II, ed. R. Sedgwick, 3 vols. (1931) · C. C. Trench, George II (1973) · R. Hatton, George I, elector and king (1978) · Diary of Mary, Countess Cowper, ed. [S. Cowper] (1864) · C. Franklin, Lord Chesterfield: his character and ‘Characters’ (1993) · W. Coxe, Memoirs of the life and administration of Sir Robert Walpole, earl of Orford, 3 vols. (1798) · Memoirs of Horatio, Lord Walpole, ed. W. Coxe, 2 vols. (1802) · W. Coxe, Memoirs of the administration of the Right Hon. Henry Pelham, 2 vols. (1829) · P. C. Yorke, The life and correspondence of Philip Yorke, earl of Hardwicke, 3 vols. (1913) · Correspondence of John, fourth duke of Bedford, ed. J. Russell, 3 vols. (1842–6) · The Grenville papers: being the correspondence of Richard Grenville … and … George Grenville, ed. W. J. Smith, 4 vols. (1852–3) · The letters of Philip Dormer Stanhope, fourth earl of Chesterfield, ed. B. Dobrée, 6 vols. (1932) · Correspondence of William Pitt, earl of Chatham, ed. W. S. Taylor and J. H. Pringle, 4 vols. (1838–40) · H. Walpole, Memoirs of King George II, ed. J. Brooke, 3 vols. (1985) · Walpole, Corr. · J. C. D. Clark, ed., Memoirs and speeches of Lord Waldegrave (1985) · J. D. G. Davies, A king in toils (1938) · J. B. Owen, ‘George II reconsidered’, Statesman, scholars and merchants: essays in eighteenth century history presented to Dame Lucy Sutherland, ed. A. Whiteman (1973), 113–34 · J. B. Owen, The rise of the Pelhams (1956) · J. M. Beattie, The English court in the reign of George I (1967) · J. Carswell, The South Sea Bubble (1960) · Lord Hervey and his friends, 1726–38, ed. earl of Ilchester [G. S. Holland Fox-Strangways] (1950) · Earl of Ilchester [G. S. Holland Fox-Strangways], Henry Fox, first Lord Holland, his family and relations, 2 vols. (1920) · Letters of Henry Fox, ed. earl of Ilchester [S. Fox-Strangeways], Roxburghe Club (1915) · B. Williams, Stanhope: a study in eighteenth-century war and diplomacy (1932) · N. Landau, Justices of the peace, 1679–1760 (1984) · J. Campbell, Lives of the lord chancellors, 4th edn, 10 vols. (1856–7) · R. Pares and A. J. P. Taylor, eds., Essays presented to Sir Lewis Namier (1956) · The papers of George Wyatt, esquire, of Boxley Abbey in the county of Kent, ed. D. M. Loades, CS, 4th ser., 5 (1968) · J. H. Plumb, Walpole, 2 vols. (1956–60) · A. W. Ward, The Electress Sophia and the Hanoverian succession, 2nd edn (1909) · Letters of Henrietta Howard, countess of Suffolk, ed. J. W. Croker, 2 vols. (1824) · The Wentworth papers, 1705–1739, ed. J. J. Cartwright (1883) · W. H. Wilkins, Love of an uncrowned queen, rev. edn (1903) · Reminiscences written by Mr Horace Walpole in 1788, ed. P. Toynbee (1924) · J. H. Plumb, Chatham (1953) · G. H. Rose, A selection of the papers of the earls of Marchmont, 3 vols. (1831) · The political journal of George Bubb Dodington, ed. J. Carswell and L. A. Dralle (1965) · J. C. D. Clark, The dynamics of change: the crisis of the 1750s and the English party systems (1982) · Letters from George III to Lord Bute, 1756–1766, ed. R. Sedgwick (1939) · R. Wright, Life of Major-General James Wolfe (1864) · The letters and diplomatic instructions of Queen Anne, ed. B. C. Brown (1935) · Cobbett, Parl. hist., vols. 7–15, 36 · N. Sykes, Edmund Gibson, bishop of London, 1669–1748: a study in politics and religion in the eighteenth century (1926) · N. Sykes, Church and state in England in the XVIII century (1934) · The manuscripts of his grace the duke of Portland, 10 vols., HMC, 29 (1891–1931), vols. 5–10 · The manuscripts of the earl of Carlisle, HMC, 42 (1897) · Report on the manuscripts of Mrs Stopford-Sackville, 2 vols., HMC, 49 (1904–10) · Manuscripts of the earl of Egmont: diary of Viscount Percival, afterwards first earl of Egmont, 3 vols., HMC, 63 (1920–23) · The manuscripts of the earl of Lonsdale, HMC, 33 (1893) · Report on the manuscripts of Lord Polwarth, 5 vols., HMC, 67 (1911–61) · The manuscripts and correspondence of James, first earl of Charlemont, 2 vols., HMC, 28 (1891–4) · The manuscripts of the earl of Westmorland, HMC, 13 (1885); repr. (1906) · The manuscripts of the earl of Buckinghamshire, the earl of Lindsey … and James Round, HMC, 38 (1895) · The manuscripts of the duke of Beaufort … the earl of Donoughmore, HMC, 27 (1891)


BL, establishment book, Dep. 9904 · BL, letters to Lord Holland, Add. MS 51375 · Herrenhausen, MSS · Hunt. L., letters to earl of Loudon · Royal Arch., MSS · U. Nott. L., corresp. · Yale U., Farmington, Lewis Walpole Library, letters to C. H. Williams |  BL, Newcastle and Hardwicke papers


J. Vaillant, group portrait, oils, c.1690, Bomann-Museum, Celle; see illus. in Sophia Dorothea (1666–1726) · J. Smith, mezzotint, 1706 (after J. Hirschmann), BM, NPG · attrib. G. Kneller, oils, before 1714, Niedersächsiche Landesgalerie, Hanover, Germany · J. Thornhill, oils, c.1714–1715, Royal Collection; version, NPG · J. Thornhill, double portrait, c.1715 (with his son), Royal Naval College, Greenwich · portrait, c.1716 (after G. Kneller), NPG · studio of C. Jervas, oils, c.1727, NPG · E. Seeman, oils, c.1730, Royal Collection · J. Highmore, oils, 1730–39, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool · J. M. Rysbrack, marble bust, 1738, Royal Collection · D. Morier, oils, c.1743, Royal Collection · T. Hudson, oils, 1744, NPG [see illus.] · B. du Pan, chalk drawing, c.1746, Marble Hill House, London · attrib. J. V. Haidt, group portrait, oils, c.1752–1754 (group associated with Moravian Church), NPG · W. Hogarth, group portrait, oils, c.1753 (The family of George II), Royal Collection · by or after T. Worlidge, oils, c.1753, NPG · J. Wootton, double portrait, oils, c.1754 (with the duke of Cumberland), NAM · J. Wootton, oils, c.1754, priv. coll. · J. Highmore, portrait, 1755, Mayor's Parlour, York · J. Shackleton, oils, c.1755, Scot. NPG · J. Reynolds, oils, c.1756, Bishopthorpe, York · R. E. Pine, oils, 1759, Audley End House, Essex · L. von Lücke, ivory bust, 1760, V&A · J. M. Rysbrack, bust, 1760, V&A · W. Dickinson, mezzotint, pubd 1766 (after oil painting by R. E. Pine, 1759), NG Ire. · J. Heath, steel engraving, pubd 1830 (after W. H. Bartlett), NG Ire. · C. W. White, stipple, pubd 1971 (after T. Worlidge), NG Ire. · J. Faber junior, mezzotint (after G. Kneller, 1716), NG Ire. · W. Faithorne, mezzotint (after L. Fontaine, c.1701), BM, NPG · I. Gosset, wax medallion, Royal Collection · E. Hannibal, medal, BM · J. Highmore, oils, Goodwood House, West Sussex · R. Honston, mezzotint (after T. Worlidge, c.1753), NG Ire. · C. Jervas, oils, Blickling Hall, Norfolk · J. Kirk, copper medals, Scot. NPG · attrib. C. Philips, oils, Marble Hill House, London · L. F. Roubiliac, marble bust, Royal Collection · J. Shackleton, portrait, Pruitt Collection · J. Wootton, oils, Blickling Hall, Norfolk · T. Worlidge, double portrait, line engraving (with George I; after G. Kneller, 1716), NG Ire. · plaster replica (after medallion by J. Tassie), Scot. NPG