George Augustus was born on 30th October 1683 in Herrenhausen, Hanover. This is the old style date, and the date he would have stated his birthday to be on – you will also see his birth being recorded as on 10th November. This is because in 1752 Britain changed to the Gregorian calendar to come in line with the rest of Europe, and consequently we lost eleven days, going to bed on Wednesday 2nd September, and waking up on Thursday 14th.
He was the son of George Louis (later King George I) and Sophia Dorothea of Celle. Their marriage was not a happy one, and both of them committed adultery. It’s said that Sophia was preparing to elope with her lover, but he disappeared. The marriage between George and Sophia was dissolved in 1694 on the grounds of her desertion. She was then imprisoned by George in Ahlden house, where she remained until her death thirty-two years later, in spite of repeated pleas to be pardoned. She never saw her son again.
George Augustus grew up in Germany and was the heir to the electorate of Hanover. As a child he learned French (the language of the European court) German, English and Italian, along with history and military tactics.
Possibly as a result of his parents’ disastrous marriage, when marriage negotiations began for young George in 1705, he chose to travel in disguise to assess one of his possible suitors himself. This was Caroline, daughter of the Margrave of Brandenburg, with whom he was much taken. They married in July 1705 and their first child, Frederick was born in 1707. They went on to have nine children in total, seven of whom survived into adulthood.
In 1714 George’s father became King George I of Great Britain, and George and Caroline travelled with him to Britain, leaving Frederick in Germany. Young George was invested as Prince of Wales. However, there was already dissension between the king and his heir, which came to a head at the christening of George and Caroline’s second son, Prince George, born in 1717 (he died in infancy). The prince publicly insulted the Duke of Newcastle (readers of the Jacobite Chronicles may be pleased by this!) and as a result was banished from St James’s Palace by his father. The king however maintained custody of his grandchildren, Princesses Anne, Amelia and Caroline, finally allowing their parents to see them once a week.
Prince George then set up his own household in competition with his father, which became a centre for opposition to George I’s policies, headed by Robert Walpole and Viscount Charles Townshend. In 1720 Robert Walpole persuaded the king and his son to reconcile for the public good, but the king still refused to name the prince as regent on his frequent and lengthy trips abroad. King George I then included Robert Walpole in his administration, at which the prince fell out with him.
George became King George II of Great Britain on the death of his father on June 22nd 1727, and was crowned in October of the same year. The new king wanted to sack Walpole, but Queen Caroline interceded for him, and he kept his position.
In 1728 Prince Frederick travelled to England to join his parents. They had not met for fourteen years, and the queen is said to have hated her son and at one time wished him dead. Certainly parents and son did not get on, and history repeated itself, with the young Prince Frederick setting up his own household in opposition to his father.
George II travelled back to Hanover so frequently that he was nicknamed ‘the king who wasn’t there’. During his absences he named his wife Caroline as regent, further alienating himself from his heir. These frequent absences made him very unpopular with his British subjects, who accused him of favouring Hanover over them, and of using British troops and money to support his interests in Germany.
Queen Caroline died in 1737, leaving the king bereft. When on her deathbed she suggested that he remarry, he is said to have told her, “No, I shall have mistresses.” He never did remarry, but did have several long-term mistresses. When he died he was buried next to his wife and the sides of their coffins were removed so that their remains could mingle.
By 1742 the dissidents, encouraged by Prince Frederick, had grown strong enough to force Walpole to hand in his resignation. The king appointed John Carteret, a favourite of his, but he proved very unpopular in political circles, and he resigned in 1744. By resigning en masse, parliament forced George to accept William Pitt the Elder into office.
In 1743 France, who supported the cause of the Stuarts in their attempts to reclaim the throne, declared war on Britain. George II was the last British king to personally lead his troops into battle, against the French at Dettingen, a battle which the British won.
Following the Jacobite uprising in 1745 and the defeat of Prince Charles’ forces at Culloden in April 1746 by George’s adored third son Prince William Augustus, the Hanoverian dynasty was secure on the throne of Britain. However George’s heir Prince Frederick died in 1751, as did his daughter Louisa.
In later years King George did not take an active role in warfare, and Britain’s role in the Seven Years’ War, which embroiled most of Europe in battle from 1754 until 1763 was managed by William Pitt the Elder.
He was fond of music, particularly that of his favourite composer Handel, who wrote numerous pieces for him, including the Dettingen Te Deum composed to celebrate the British victory, and his coronation music Zadoc the Priest which has been played at every coronation since.
King George II died of an aneurism whilst on the toilet at Kensington Palace, at the grand age of 77. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.