Historical Context

The beginning of the eighteenth century found England (later Great Britain in 1707) in a state of religious turmoil, along with confusion over the line of succession for the throne. Due to the lack of offspring from William III and Mary II, Anne (Mary II's sister) took the throne. Anne, like her sister before her, was childless, leaving the line for the British throne up in the air. Parliament sought to keep the Catholics off of the throne, opting to place George of Hanover, a Protestant German prince, on the throne. During the reign of George I, the power of the monarchy continued to decline, placing the power in the hands of the Prime Minister and Parliament. Conflict with America and Europe took Great Britain into another era of commerce and warfare. George II saw the beginnings of the French and Indian War (1754-63), along with its European counterpart, the Seven Years War (1756-63). Through the victories of the wars, Britain gained territory previously held by the French in North America, including parts of modern-day Canada. However, due to the monetary stress on the British Treasury, George III instituted several taxes and trade limitations on the American Colonies. This increase in taxation and the economic strangulation by the British government prompted a rebellion by the American Colonies, culminating in the Declaration of Independence and the War of Independence (or, the Revolutionary War). The American Colonies declared themselves independent of the British Monarchy, sending George III spiraling into madness and unpopularity, eventually resulting in the Regency.

 The House of Stuart:

Queen Anne (1702-1714) 

 Charles Jervas, ca. 1702-1714, Royal Collection

 Queen Anne ascended the English throne after the death of her brother-in-law, William III, in 1702. Succession for the throne grew more sketchy, particularly when it came to the Scottish throne. Therefore, Parliament declared that Scotland would be incorporated into the English throne, creating Great Britain in 1707. During Anne's reign, a two-party political system emerged in Parliament, creating the Tories and the Whigs. The tumultuous relationship between the monarchy and Parliament did not cease with this new development; in fact, the relationship became more strained as now there were three factions competed for power. Prompted by the death Anne's son, William, died in 1700, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement in 1701 in order to "ensure a Protestant successor." In 1701, the Wars of Spanish Succession began, due to the death of the last Hapsburg king of Spain, Carlos II, in late 1700, sparking the race for control of Spain and its holdings. The British were involved in a few battles before withdrawing from the race.  The Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the Wars, recognized Anne as the rightful ruler of Great Britain over her Catholic rival, James Stuart. Anne died in 1714, leaving the German Protestant Prince, George, Elector of Hanover, as the heir to the throne of England.

Anne's portrait to the left depicts a different color scheme than that of her predecessors, through the use of yellow and green. How does this color difference (from blue and red, that is) change the message of the piece. Or does it? The blue and red could be seen as more patriotic and nationalist than yellow and green. Thinking about this, does the message change? Anne is also depicted wearing a rich, ermine trimmed robe, along with a crown featured in the background. In which ways is this portrait similar to the portraits of Anne's predecessors? And the differences? Take note of the background. How does the background differ from that of England's previous monarchs. Is the background a testament of Anne's reign, or of her gender?

The House of Brunswick, Hanover Line: 

 With the death of Anne in 1714, George, prince-elector of Hanover, became the new king of Great Britain. Succession was not as easy as George I and Parliament would have wanted, as there were many potential successors who were Catholic. In the second year of his reign, George I put down a Jacobite rebellion, a group who supported the Catholic rival for the throne, James Stuart, the same man who had challenged Anne for the crown, effectively ending James's claim to the British throne. The two-party system that Anne had created in Parliament worked with and against George I in the form of support during the times of rebellion. George I had sided with the Whigs, as the Tories had supported the Jacobites, giving the Whigs control of the government for the next generation. In the meanwhile, George I was active in foreign policy, allying with France against Spain. The South Sea Company, a business heavily invested in  by the royalty and the nobility, collapsed in 1720, leaving the government very unpopular as this event ushered in an economic crisis within Great Britain. Coupled with the fact that George I could not speak English and had a taste for extramarital affairs, the fall of the South Sea Company did nothing for his popularity. However, Robert Walpole, who was the first lord of the Treasury, effectively became the first Prime Minister, closely resembling the modern sense of the office. This ushered in the deterioration of the power and involvement in government previously held by the monarchy and the rise of the Prime Minister.

In the portrait to the right, George I exhibits the ceremonial symbols of royal authority, namely the crown, scepter, and orb. An example of the richness of the symbol of the king is the lavish fabric (most likely velvet) for his robe and trimmings. 

King George I (1714-1727) 

Sir Godfrey Kneller, ca. 1716, National Portrait Gallery, London 

King George II (1727-1760) 

 Portrait of King George II, Charles Jervas, ca. 1727, National Portrait Gallery, London

With the death of George I in 1727, his son, George II, the Prince of Wales ascended the throne. Initially, the new king gained popularity for his dealings with Parliament, mainly through not disbanding the body. Like his father, George II was distinctly more German than English, preferring his Hanoverian roots over his British home. Richard Walpole, the previous king's financial minister, gained more power in Parliament, soon becoming a close friend of the queen, Caroline. Through Caroline's considerable influence over the king (even with George II's infidelity, he remained devoted to Caroline), Walpole found an outlet for his proposals that had previously been rejected by Parliament and George II. In 1742, Richard Walpole ultimately resigned from his post as a result of the pressure placed upon him for opposing English involvement in the Continental 'Wars of Succession.' A major contribution to the unpopularity of George II was his (and Caroline's) relationship with their first son. Prince Frederick was socially rejected by his father, which led Frederick to gain support from George II's opponents. Other factors that contributed to the overall unpopularity of George II included his infidelity and his preference for Hanoverian culture over British. George II often visited Hanover, with his absence in England sowing seeds of resentment within the people. In 1743, England became involved in the 'War of Austrian Succession' on the continent, which dealt with the succession of the Holy Roman Empire. England defeated France, but the victory did not produce any visible results. The Battle of Dettingen in the Austrian Wars of Succession was the last recorded instance of a British king leading troops in war. In 1754, the French and Indian War began in North America, sparking the Seven Years War in Europe. George II was a huge supporter of the military efforts in North America, resulting in the British gain of territory previously owned by France. Due to the success in North America, George II regained some of the popularity he had lost in the early years of his reign. However, the king had become less involved in government, as Parliament gained more and more power through its legislative powers. George II died in 1760, leaving a secure Britain, both militarily and economically, and his grandson, George William Frederick (son of much-despised Prince Frederick), heir to the throne.

In the portrait to the left, George II retains the royal paraphernalia of his ancestors, e.g. the ermine-trimmed robes; the crown, scepter, and orb; the rich fabrics; and the wig. This portrait depicts George II in an upright position with his legs exposed, much like the French. How does this position suggest authority? How does the overall look contribute to regal quality of the subject? Viewing this portrait as a person in the 18th century, would this painting solidify the king's authority?

 Due to the death of his son in 1751, George II left his throne to his grandson, George III in 1760. With the British involvement in the French and Indian War and the Seven Years War, the money reserves in the treasury had begun to dwindle.  In response, George III increased taxes on the American Colonies , drawing the ire of those across the Atlantic. In 1767, the Townshend Act placed heavy taxes  on tea, lead, glass, paint, and paper. The Americans responded with a boycott against British goods and riots. The violent response from the Townshend Act culminated in the "Boston Massacre," in which British soldiers fired on the people of Boston, killing five people. Tension escalated as the Tea Act passed; the Americans retaliating through throwing tea into the Atlantic, known as the "Boston Tea Party." The Coercive Acts were passed in 1774 and this time, the Americans responded with open and organized rebellion, with Massachusetts taking the lead. The resulting War of Independence, or Revolutionary War, pitted the American Colonies against its founding nation. The Americans emerged victorious, creating the independent United States of America, verified by the Treaty of Versailles of 1783. George III faced immense ridicule and criticism, particularly from Parliament. While George III had lost the American Colonies, he had gained and retained territory that became the foundation for the British Empire in the decades to come. However, at this point, George III had suffered attacks from an unknown "madness," resulting in his inability to rule. Parliament declared that George III's son rule as Regent in 1811, due to George III's mental degradation. George III died in 1820, blind, deaf, and mentally absent.

In the painting to the right, George III, like his forebears, exhibits the ermine-trimmed robes and lush factors, but the ornaments of royal rule are missing. Does the lack of the crown, scepter, and orb make the portrait less kingly? A noticeable difference between George III and his forefathers, is the rich detailing and overt sumptuousness of the clothing under the robes. How does George III's posture contribute to the image of the monarchy? Compare this image to the description of George III in the last years of his life. In addition to placing a competent ruler on the throne, could Parliament have been trying to preserve the image of the monarchy by removing the mentally unstable George III?

King George III (1760-1820) 

 Allan Ramsay, ca. 1762

~All dates are dates of reign                                                                                                                                        Format: Title (if available), Artist(s), Date, Current Location

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