The First Hanoverian Kings
George I. was King of Great Britain for thirteen years, and his son, George II., was King for thirty-three. They were plain, commonplace persons, without much ability, and were more interested in Hanover than they were in England. But they had the good judgment to put in office ministers whom Parliament trusted, and then let them run the government. The ministers usually belonged to the Whig party, for it was to that party that the Hanoverians owed their throne. The reigns of these first two Hanoverian Kings were mainly a time of peaceful development; but the period closed with a great war, from which England profited even more than it did from the time of peace.
George I. could speak no English at all, so he did not attend the meetings of his ministers; and George II., though he could speak English brokenly, followed the same practice. In this way it became the established principle that the ministers, who made up the "Cabinet," and were responsible for carrying on the government, should meet and discuss their plans without the King being present. It was at this time also that the practice arose of one minister being above the others. He was called the Prime Minister, and was the one chiefly responsible for carrying on the government. In this way the Cabinet became more united, and more independent of the King, though it continued to be dependent on Parliament.
The first real Prime Minister was Sir Robert Walpole, who carried on the government for twenty-one years, under George I. and George II. Queen Caroline, the wife of George II., was a wise and tactful woman, and did much to smooth the rough places for Walpole. His policy was, as he said, to "let sleeping dogs lie"; so he did everything to keep England at peace, both at home and abroad. Once when there was a war on the Continent, Walpole said to the Queen:
"Madam, there were fifty thousand men slain in Europe this year, and not one of them was an Englishman."
But, towards the end of his long administration, Walpole was obliged, against his will, to begin a small war with Spain.
By the treaty of Utrecht, a limited right to trade with the Spanish colonies had been given to English merchants, and the Spaniards accused the English of abusing this right. The English, in turn, complained that their ships were stopped by the Spanish war vessels, and searched for goods intended to be used in smuggling; and they also complained that English sailors were thrown into Spanish dungeons, and tried by the Spanish Inquisition as heretics. Finally, a Captain Jenkins set all England afire by his story that his ship had been stopped and searched by Spaniards; and that, when they found no evidence of wrong-doing, they angrily cut off his ear. As proof of this story, he showed the ear, which he carried about with him wrapped up in cotton. When asked what his feelings were when he was in the hands of the Spaniards, Jenkins said:
"I commended my soul to God, and my cause to my country."
Walpole was forced either to go to war, or to resign as Prime Minister. He chose to go to war; but it was against his better judgment.
"They are ringing their bells now," he said, as London rejoiced at the news, "but they will soon be wringing their hands."
Like every war in which England was engaged, in that century, this speedily grew into a war between England and France. Queen Maria Theresa had just succeeded to the throne of Austria, and Frederick the Great of Prussia took advantage of the opportunity to seize a part of the Austrian lands. In the bitter war between Austria and Prussia which followed, France took the side of Prussia. George II., as ruler of Hanover, was jealous of Prussia, and he persuaded the English Parliament to take the side of Austria, against Prussia, Spain, and France.
This War of the Austrian Succession, like that of the Spanish Succession, was fought wherever the two parties confronted one another—in Germany, in Italy, in the Netherlands, on the seas, in America, and in far-off India.
The war in Europe usually went against the English and Austrians, for they had no general equal to Frederick the Great, and no Army like the one he commanded. The English fleets, however, gained some victories, and the English colonists in America captured some places from the French; but in India the English lost to the French most of their trading posts.
As a part of this War of the Austrian Succession, there was a daring attempt to place the Pretender on the English throne. The French collected an army, on their coast, to aid "Prince Charlie," the eldest son of the Pretender, in invading England; but contrary winds prevented the army from crossing the Channel, and it disbanded. The next year (1745) "Prince Charlie" made his way to Scotland with only seven followers, determined to arouse the Jacobites to rebellion. The "Young Pretender," as the English called him, was young, handsome, brave, and polite, so that he won to his support a large following. He took Edinburgh, and then put the English to flight in a battle which lasted only a very sort time. The Jacobites went wild with delight.
"We have a Prince," they said, "who can eat a dry crust, sleep on pease-straw, eat his dinner in four minutes, and win a battle in five."
The Young Pretender resolved to make a dash into England, hoping that the people there would rise and proclaim his father as King. By hard marching, his little army got as far as Derby, within a hundred and thirty miles of the capital; and all London was thrown into a panic. But still there was no sign of an army from France, and the English Jacobites refused to risk their lives uselessly, by rising in rebellion. So the Prince was obliged to retreat to Scotland.
Two more battles were fought, in the second of which the Pretender was defeated, and his forces completely scattered.
For five months, "Prince Charlie" then lay hid in different parts of western Scotland, while a large reward was offered for his capture. Many persons must have known his whereabouts, yet so loyal were the Scottish people to "bonnie Prince Charlie" that no one came forward to claim the reward. The Prince finally succeeded in reaching a French vessel, and escaped safely to France.
This was the last real attempt to restore the Stuarts to the British throne, though there are still persons in that kingdom who keep up the form of recognizing a member of the Stuart line as their sovereign.
In 1748, a peace was finally made which ended the War of the Austrian Succession. Frederick the Great kept the territory which he had taken from Austria; but all other conquests, including those made by either party in America and in India, were restored. The only gain which Great Britain made by the long war was the recognition of the Hanoverian Kings by France, and the agreement of France to drive the Pretender from that country.