Following on from last week’s episode, which focused on the issues that the new Georgian dynasty faced with the ascendance of George I, in the second episode Dr Lucy Worsley continued with her investigation into the lives of the Hanovarian Kings and focused on George II and Queen Caroline, whom she calls her “favourite Queen”.
In 1727, George II ascended to the throne after the death of his father. George was now faced with ruling two kingdoms, Great Britain and Hanover. Ruling two kingdoms which were great distances away from each other proved to be problematic for George throughout his reign, as the public, and his ministers, became increasingly frustrated with his ongoing trips back and forth to Hanover, leaving Britain without a King.
However, as Worsley highlights in this episode, George was lucky in some instances. Although he was distant and irritable, his wife, Caroline, was the star of the court. She was sociable, intelligent, witty and enjoyed talking to new people; characteristics a Queen needed at this time to secure her dynasty’s position. In many ways, she became the ambassador for Britain, allying with ministers such as Sir Robert Walpole and she cooled tensions between the King and his politicians.
One aspect of episode two that was particularly interesting was how Queen Caroline helped with the fight against the deadly disease of smallpox. In the eighteenth century, it was estimated that one in twelve people died because of smallpox and Caroline led the way in patronising experiments into how to prevent such fatalities. Worsley enthusiastically illustrates to viewers the steps of smallpox through the representations of how the pox spread on waxwork arms. She goes on to describe how people slowly began to witness how by giving children smallpox at a young age they were more likely to survive than if they contracted it in later life. So what was Caroline to do but to inoculate her own children from smallpox, illustrating to others her trust in this new scientific discovery. Worsley particularly reflects on how Caroline’s involvement in science conveyed to people how the Georgian dynasty were different from their Stuart predecessors, who had previously believed in the power of the royal touch and divine authority in the process of curing scrofula.
Worsley then moves away from the court and into the taverns and coffee houses which lined the streets of bustling cities across Britain at this time. She illustrates to viewers the importance of these coffee houses, not only because they were places where new expensive products, such as coffee and chocolate, could be consumed by not only the rich, but the emerging middling sort too, but also because these houses became the hub of news and gossip. Coffee houses, which were also known as ‘penny universities’, were where people of all ranks of society could mix with one another, share their thoughts on the news of the day, make business connections and debate. Of course, if the news was being discussed, then these places also became centres for scrutinising and discussing the King and his ministers, much to dismay of the Royal court.
This episode continues to focus on the increasingly difficult relationship between George II and Caroline and their son and heir, Prince Frederick. Frederick came to be a great strain on the King and Queen, as he mocked his own parents in theatres, taverns and in literature. He mixed with the people rather than displaying himself as above them in the social order. Worsley reflects on how these family relations became so strained that when Frederick’s wife was in the midst of labour, he bundled her into a carriage and travelled fifteen miles to St James’s Palace in order for the baby to be born away from the eyes of his parents. Frederick’s act, as Worsley highlights, was seen as irresponsible to the people, indicating that he was unfit to rule later on in life, whilst it left George II being seen as a King who could not control his family.
This series was created in collaboration with the Royal Collection Trust, to coincide with the exhibition The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714 – 1760 at Buckingham Palace from 11th April to 12th October 2014.
The second episode was broadcasted on Thursday 8th May and will be available online on catch-up until Thursday 22nd May. The last episode in the series will be aired on BBC Four at 9pm on Thursday 15th May.
Photo credit: BBC/Royal Collection Trust/Jack Barnes