George I is 356 years old today. How many cheers for the Hanoverian-Saxe-Coburg Gotha-Windsors? I
As a republican, I love the Royal Family more than any monarchist.
356 years ago, the future George I was born, in essence the founder of the present dynasty. There have been a few name changes since George’s day, but all monarchs subsequent monarchs have been in direct line of descent from this guy.
Hanoverians were imported under the terms of the 1701 Act of Settlement which secured the crown upon George’s mother (Sophia) and her heirs, subject to a long list of terms and conditions. Although George was himself descended from the far more absolutist Stuart James I, the essentially contractual nature of the arrangement established the idea that Parliament rather than Crown was the sovereign authority in England (and a few years later Britain).
More than fifty claimants were passed over in order to meet the Protestant terms of the 1701 Act. These fifty people would have, conservatively estimated, some thousands of descendants today. The more secular and contractual nature of Hanoverian governance was marked by the fact that no Hanoverian attempted to cure Scrofula with his or her magic fingers.
The enthronement of the Hanoverians did not lead to any clear unambiguous consensus regarding the prerogatives of a constitutional monarchy. Indeed we still have no such consensus. There is, perhaps, less of a consensus now than there was fifty years ago. Monarchs throughout the eighteenth-century sought to play a role in government and to influence parliament through patronage. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, monarchs still believed that they had a right to exercise diplomatic influence behind the scenes and in the twenty-first century, the heir to the throne believes that he is something more than a “symbol”. What has changed is that since the 1701 Act of Settlement, struggles have not so much been between monarchs and parliament as between monarchs hiding behind monarchy-friendly politicians and politicians keener to assert the primacy of the representative principle.
In the meantime, the Hanoverians and their successors have gone about illustrating the vicious absurdity of a purely symbolic “model family” as a mode of national representation. George I’s wife had an affair with a Swedish count. George had her imprisoned for life and may have had a hand in arranging the Count’s murder. George hated his own son, the future George II and the feeling was mutual. When George II became king, he hated his own son Frederick with an even greater intensity. Fred predeceased his father and the very young future George III had no chance to either hate or be hated by his Dad. He was, however, on deplorable terms with his own son, the future George IV. George IV had no sons and his one surviving legitimate daughter predeceased him. His brother William IV had loads of kids, including an ancestor of David Cameron – but none within wedlock. Queen Victoria was but a babe in arms when her father died but kept up the Hanoverian tradition by breaking with her own son the future Edward VII – cruelly accusing him of driving his father Albert into an early grave. Edward VII and George V both terrorised their offspring. The present queen ruined her sister’s life by refusing to let her marry the man she loved and her own children have a 75% divorce rate. The heir to the throne was so terrified of his own father that he embraced the disastrous mentorship of Louis Mountbatten – one of the most internationally reviled figures of the twentieth century. Subsequently he was bullied into marriage with a woman he did not love. With famous consequences.
Prince William, the next in line to the throne is so painfully shy and seemingly so incapable of exercising the responsibilities of public life that we have only the vaguest idea of what his voice sounds like.
Happy Birthday George of Hanover – founding father of a cruel parody of a Royal “Family”. Now I eschew any dangerous twaddle about genetic defects, and my sense of probability cannot accept the idea that all these generations of unhappiness are the product of a mere accumulation of individual character defects. The reason why the Royal Family is and long has been so unhappy is because the hereditary principle is inherently cruel. By forcing people to live their lives in public, it imposes emotional repression. By telling young people that they can’t fulfill their purpose without the death of at least one parent, the hereditary principle insults the most basic biological imperatives of filial affection.
If the purpose of the “Royal Family” is to offer a hilarious oxymoron for the amusement of the wider world, then they’re doing a great job. If their purpose is to “represent” the British people, then that purpose is both impossible and unfair.
I don’t admire the royal family, but unlike monarchists, I don’t believe in condemning a family to this endless humiliating misery. Monarchy is a dirty job, but nobody has to do it.