Like everyone else, I often wonder what would have happened if Princess (later Queen) Anne had married George of Hanover?
Let’s face it – it’s an intriguing prospect, and one which I’ve been pondering ever since reading James Winn’s magisterial account of Anne’s relationship with literary, musical and theatrical establishment.
If Anne had married George of Hanover instead of George of Denmark in 1680 as was seriously proposed at the time, then presumably the future George I would have become Prince Consort in 1702. As a consequence of the 1701 Act of Settlement he would have been not only Anne’s husband but her successor. According to the Act, if Anne dies without children, the throne passes to his mother Sophia and her heirs starting with George. A convenient union of the houses of Stuart and Hanover has taken place.
Now if we assume that George of Hanover’s genetic contribution proves a little more resilient than George of Denmarks, we can consider the implications of children born to George and Anne – Stuart-Hanoverians. Now for hardcore Jacobites, such children are still usurpers, still from a junior branch of the family and the throne still belongs by right to James III, son of James II and Mary of Modena. But the break in succession becomes far less dramatic, and the Stuart-Hanoverians less alien. They’re no longer a foreign imported dynasty. The risings of 1715 and 1745 might never have taken place.
(Of course, one person who would have been a lot better off if Anne had married George of Hanover was the woman George of Hanover actually married. When poor Sophia Dorothea was informed that she was to be married to George she screamed and shouted “No no no I will not marry the pig snout!” She subsequently took a lover, who was then murdered – possibly with George’s connivance. George personally beat her up and put her under house arrest for the remaining 30 years of her life. Hanoverian family values.)
Now, let’s imagine that George and Anne had no surviving offspring. Assuming that Anne died when she did in 1714 and George died when he did in 1727, George would have had to wait a year at least before remarrying and another nine months at least before securing an heir. This Hanover-Stuart heir could not have been more then eleven at accession, thereby ensuring a regency. Always interesting.
Furthermore, if childless Anne dies in 1714, succeeded by her husband, that husband has been part of the English (and after 1707 British) court since 1702. He speaks much better English and is far more assertive in government. The transition to fully realised parliamentary sovereignty therefore become choppier and rather more regularly contested.
If neither George+Anne nor George+2nd wife secured an heir the line succession would have been stranger still. Of George’s three surviving siblings, one was Catholic and childless and the other was gay and childless. This left his sister, who had married into the Prussian royal family. George’s sister was Frederick the Great’s grandmother.
British political life in the early eighteenth-century was already troubled by the question of the extent to which the Hanoverian succession ensured that Britain had to get involved in the bellicose rivalries of jealous emergent Germanic states. If the British throne was attached not to the relatively small Hanover but the increasingly dominant Prussia, if Prussia and Britain had shared a ruler – then these political tensions would have been far more extreme given the restless and expansive nature of the Prussian state. The prospect of a monarch who had to be in Berlin much of the time and who probably preferred being in Berlin where they could rule more arbitrarily might have led to further parliamentary attempts to redefine the monarchy and reshape the succession, or possibly abolish the monarchy altogether.
These counter-factual dynastic speculations are fascinating and enjoyable. All the more fascinating and enjoyable if, like me, you’re a committed republican.