Thursday, August 14, 2014

The First Georgians

Entrance to the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace
Before serious work started at Wikimania 2014 I visited two special exhibitions in London. One at the Queen's Gallery was titled:

commemorating the 300th anniversary of the accession of George, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, to the English throne establishing the House of Hanover. What made the situation politically delicate was George's position as Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. When in 1692 Emperor Leopold I attributed a ninth elector's dignity to the dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg it comprised the honorary title of Archbannerbearer of the Holy Roman Empire. Imagine, the English King voted for the German Kaiser.

The exhibition had nice pictures but was somewhat short on historic facts. Here are some details:

Queen Ann
When Queen Ann died in 1714 her more direct heir to the throne was the Catholic James Stuart. Already on his father's death in 1701, James had declared himself King, as King James III of England and VIII of Scotland and had been recognized as such by France, Spain, the Papal States and Modena*.
*Texts in italic from Wikipedia

Sophia of Hanover, presumptive heiress to the English crown
In the same year the English Parliament fed up with the Catholics laid down rules of succession in the Act of Settlement: No Catholic should access the English throne. The crowns were to settle upon the nearest relation of Queen Ann "the most excellent princess Sophia, electress and duchess-dowager of Hanover" and "the heirs of her body, being Protestant".

George I
James deprived of his titles tried to invade the British Isles in 1708 but the admiral of the French fleet fearing a battle with the British refused to let James go ashore. The fight between the Stuarts and the Hanoverians continued when in 1710, Sophia's son George announced that he would succeed in Britain by hereditary right, as the right had only been removed from the Catholic Stuarts, and he retained it in 1714 when both Queen Ann and his mother Sophia died in the same year.

Two major Jacobite Risings launched in 1715 and 1745 failed to remove the House of Hanover from the British throne. Therefore the next room showed boring sketches and drawings of the battles the Georges fought against the Scots.

George II as Prince of Wales
Other Georges followed the first with the result that Parliament acquired more rights throughout the 18th century moving England to become the motherland of democracy.

Showing the Georgean Dynasty:
 This Plate is Dedicated to all true Britons, Lovers of Liberty, and the present Succession.
Another room was devoted to engravings by William Hogarth, the 18th century English moralist. My favorite physics colleague Georg Christoph Lichtenberg traveling frequently from Göttingen (Kingdom of Hanover) to London and being devoted to his one king, George III, admired the cosmopolitan English way of life. As an Anglophile he also admired Hogarth's genius and described his engravings to his German compatriots not only detailed and in his aphoristic spirit, but, as my former boss used to say, he rubbed the message in.

Here are two of Hogarth's engravings describing the virtue of beer and the devastating effects of gin (The engravings are found in Wikipedia):

Beer Street

Beer, happy Produce of our Isle
Can sinewy Strength impart,
And wearied with Fatigue and Toil
Can cheer each manly Heart.

Labour and Art upheld by Thee
Successfully advance,
We quaff Thy balmy Juice with Glee
And Water leave to France.

Genius of Health, thy grateful Taste
Rivals the Cup of Jove,
And warms each English generous Breast
With Liberty and Love!

Gin Lane

Gin, cursed Fiend, with Fury fraught,
Makes human Race a Prey.
It enters by a deadly Draught
And steals our Life away.

Virtue and Truth, driv'n to Despair
Its Rage compells to fly,
But cherishes with hellish Care
Theft, Murder, Perjury.

Damned Cup! that on the Vitals preys
That liquid Fire contains,
Which Madness to the heart conveys,
And rolls it thro' the Veins.

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