The Hanoverians on Britain’s Throne 1714-1837
Lower Saxony State Museum and Herrenhausen Palace Museum
One Coach and Two Kingdome: Hanover and Great Britain 1814-1837
Historical Museum Hanover
Royal Theatre: British Caricatures from the Time of the Personal Union and the Present Day
Wilhelm Busch – German Museum for Caricature and Cartoons
Ready for the Island: The House of Brunswick-Lüneburg on the Path to London
Residenz Museum in the Palace at Celle
The anniversary that matters this summer in Britain is 1914 – though surely not as something to celebrate. The First World War never fades here, thanks to the British Legion and poppies and the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Every soldier now serving the country is said to be a hero. Veterans march past, or are wheeled past, in memory of D-Day. We may not have won the two world wars by ourselves, but we still take pride in having done the right thing when we were tested. Today’s children surely no longer read prisoner of war escape stories as we did back in the 1950s when the reality of destruction and horror in Europe was so fresh. But Hitler is the heart of twentieth-century history in every school, even though his criminal era as German chancellor was little longer than Mrs Thatcher’s time as PM.
Of course things are different in Germany where the period from 1914 to 1945 is seen as a second and even more terrible Thirty Years War than that which tore the Holy Roman Empire and northern Europe temporarily apart on noxious religious grounds at almost the same time as our seventeenth-century Civil War between parliament and king. German war guilt for 1939 has long been accepted in Germany also for 1914 – when the whole Prus- sian agenda of empire and trade culminated in what quite a few Germans near the court of Kaiser Bill saw as a deserved opportunity to gain more power and recognition, and make up for the German failure to gain territo- ries in Africa when much smaller countries like Belgium were growing fat on Congolese treasure. But now in Germany there is a more subtle under- standing that, as Christopher Walker’s book The Sleepwalkers (Allen Lane, 2013) proposed, it was not just the Germans – but a general lack of fear, realism and perception among the leading powers of Europe that led to the disaster of the first world war. History is always about now.
A major German controversy has also erupted in various German self-govern- ing regions or Länder (such as Bavaria) about the reduction by one year in the period pupils spend in the most academic schools or Gymnasiums, which has significantly cramped the teaching of history. A number of groups are pressing for the restoration of nine years’ grammar schooling rather than eight.
Ever since the kingdom of Hanover was absorbed after a short war by Prussia in 1866, Hanover’s own history has been suppressed in schools and a more national account taught focussed on the Prussian role in the creation of the unified German state. But this year in Hanover the anniversary that is getting really serious attention is 1714 when the Hanoverian ducal family of Guelphs became the British royal family. Herrenhausen, the royal palace on the edge of the city surrounded by magnificent gardens, was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War – indeed Hanover was flattened like so many major German cities. But Herrenhausen has been rebuilt in time for the anniversary of 1714. And though the government of lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) is always SPD or social democrat – and unsympathetic to the whole notion of royalty – it has spent a generous amount on four lavish well-planned exhibi- tions in Hanover, and one in the castle at Celle, under the heading ‘Als die Royals aus Hannover kamen’ – or, for British tourists, The Hanoverians on Britain’s Throne 1714-1837. Niedersachsen in the north of Germany also happens to be the area from which most of the Angles and Saxons came who colonised Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire.
It was Salic law, that big factor in Shakespeare’s Henry V, that also split the personal union of Hanover and Great Britain in 1837 when Queen Victoria came to the throne. In Hanover a woman could not succeed to the crown or dukedom – or be an Elector of the Holy Roman Emperor as Hanover’s au- tocratic rulers were between 1692 and Napoleon’s 1806 abolition of the old German empire. The exhibitions in Hanover are full of historical treasures, many lent by the Queen, but struggle rather to explain the continuing fierce British distrust of Papacy and Roman Catholicism. At one point, bizarrely, James VI and I is described as a catholic which he certainly was not. Germany of course resolved the religious conflicts stemming from the Reformation and Luther’s break with Rome with a policy of deference to the ruling Lord’s religion. But England had its Glorious Revolution in 1688 which brought to the throne the Stuart first cousins William III (whose mother Mary was the English ‘Princess Royal’ and eldest daughter of the martyred king Charles I) and Mary II, daughter of James II. The French ‘sun king’ Louis XIV aban- doned tolerance of protestantism in France in 1685, and thereby helped make it inconceivable in the foreseeable future that the in law well-established in- tolerance of catholicism in the British Isles would ever be watered down. The protestant Stuart monarchs in Britain from 1688 also led the alliance against the French that was sustained and led by John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough during the War of the Spanish Succession.
The arrival of George I from Hanover on the English throne was in fact far more important for Great Britain than it was for Hanover. The phrase the exhibitions use is ‘personal union’ of Hanover and Great Britain. The advent of a German royal family in 1714 was the intended result of the 1701 Act of Settlement by which the recently united Kingdom of Great Britain import- ed an old but not specially distinguished north German princely family, the Guelphs, to take over the throne: the Guelphs having married carefully over a long period of time. But Hanover’s exhibitions do not get as personal and in- formative about George I and his failed unhappy marriage as one might like, nor about the hideously bad relations between George II and his father whom he so hated. German royal families have had a lot of such horror stories – re- member how Frederick the Great’s father had his adolescent friend beheaded while Frederick was forced to watch the execution. But at least old Fritz did not treat his wife nearly as badly as George I had in 1694 when he found out about Sophia Dorothea’s affair with Swedish count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck – imprisoning her after divorcing her, and having him killed.
The Hanoverians were realists and took their difficult and comparatively powerless British role seriously and well, presiding over the further vast de- velopment not just of the British Empire but of the whole nature of constitu- tional monarchy. In Hanover by contrast they were autocrats until 1833 when William IV’s reform finally gave local people some rights, eighteen years after the post-Napoleonic restoration (Hanover having been subsumed in the kingdom of Westphalia ruled by Napoleon’s brother Jerome). George II, in- cidentally, was the last British monarch to be present on a battlefield. George III’s Tory prime minister Lord North lost the American colonies. Exciting times, and English (and Scottish) coffers were awash with profits that built many palaces for the upper classes in the British countryside.
Hanover has on show George I’s crown and the lavishly decorated coach which the Prince Regent had taken to Hanover from London, which he used on his three-week visit to his German dominions – the first visit by a Hanover- ian royal for well over sixty years. The exhibitions make it seem a fascinating story, which indeed it is. In the attics at Celle are uniforms worn by Hanoverian soldiers of the King’s German Legion who fought against Napoleon stead- ily during the whole period leading up to the French defeat. The Hanoverians mattered more than we tend to give them credit for. But best of all the current exhibitions in Hanover is the parade of caricatures and cartoons at the Wilhelm Busch museum in the Herrenhausen park – where a marvellous selection from the early eighteenth-century to the present day including examples of Cruik- shank, Gillray, Rowlandson, Heath, Newton alongside lashings of Steve Bell, Martin Rowson, Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman (but nothing from Punch in the later nineteenth century) remind one that the subject matter of British excoriation really has not changed. Monarchy and foreigners and European threats have remained and remain the inevitable irresistible target.
The Hanoverian exhibitions all run until October 5, 2014