George is a popular royal name and we have a potential future King George, baby Prince George, making a big impact on the world. Britain has had 6 King Georges so far and one day he will most likely be number 7! This year London is celebrating all things George as it’s 450 years since George 1st ascended to the British throne in 1714 and started off the Georgian era. Many of the major museums in London are holding exhibitions which are marking this event and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about how the first King George came to the throne and how he and his descendants lived.
Firstly a quick word about how George from Hanover who was 50th in line managed to become King of Great Britain and Ireland! The previous monarch, Queen Anne, didn’t have any children to follow her (despite 17, yes 17 pregnancies!) and the nearest heirs to the British throne were all Catholic and had been banned from inheriting by the Act of Settlement. So the great and the good looked around and came up with George’s mother, Sophia, who was a grand-daughter of James 1. She died before Queen Anne so didn’t take the throne herself so it passed to George, the last British monarch to be born outside of Great Britain.
One exhibition worth a visit is at the Queen’s Gallery where they are holding ‘The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714-1760, focusing on George 1 and 11. The Queen owns a vast amount of art and treasures which form the Queen’s Collection and over 300 objects from her palaces across the United Kingdom have been brought together to give us insights into life and tastes of the early Georgians. We were extremely fortunate to be invited to visit and to be shown around by the curator, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, whose enthusiasm and deep knowledge was a delight.
We can see the faces of the key players through the portraits in the first room of the exhibition:
We can see how impressive Georgian rooms would have looked through the period layout used with large paintings on all the walls, tables and chests along the walls and highly decorated items around the room. This room is packed with old masters as the Georgians were keen collectors and we can enjoy several works by Rubens.
This was a time of great social change and Britain was developing into a world power through war and trade, with increasing prosperity at home. Britain at this time can be described as the world’s most liberal, commercial and modern society which was free, enlightened and diverse with considerable wealth on show. Two paintings by Canaletto show London’s development but the collection also has Hogarth’s famous ‘Marriage a la mode’, a satire on contemporary life exposing its hypocrisy and poverty.
Success in war was important to these Georges and in a section dedicated to this you can see some fascinating items from Culloden, an infamous victory of George 11 against the James, the Catholic heir to the throne. There are battle plans and orders to spies and lists of dead and wounded on both sides, telling part of the story of this dreadful day.
A further room has more wonderful furniture and paintings. We see their love of excess through the extravagant dining table and extraordinary tableware.
As we left we bumped into huge crowds gathering for Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, no doubt enjoying this spectacle against the blue skies
There is a great deal more to see in this exhibition than I can bring you here, so do go along and find out more about our first King Georges.