It was 1700 and the English were in a bind: Queen Anne was old and her last child sickly. Parliament had scoffed previously at talk of a link between the Crown and the House of Hannover. But the legitimate claim of exiled Catholic James Edward Stuart, “the Old Pretender”, had concentrated Protestant minds. In 1701 the Act of Settlement declared the crown to “the most excellent princess Sophia, electress and duchess-dowager of Hannover” on the grounds that Electress Sophia von der Pfalz was a granddaughter of King James I, adding a caveat that “the heirs of her body being Protestant”. No matter that her son spoke no English, nor that his slow pedantic manner was spectacularly unsuited to the rough-and-tumble of the contemporary English court. Georg Ludwig, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, elector of Hannover, became George I in 1714 to begin 120 years of joint rule by the House of Hannover.
Of the four Georgian kings of Great Britain, George III was the first to take any interest in his new territory. George I and II were content to appoint a “prime minister” to rule as their representative, accidentally taking the first step towards the modern British political system. Indeed it was only with English-speaking George III that the Hanoverian dynasty got hands-on, but by then it was too late. A now-powerful parliament and fate – social unrest, the loss of the American colonies, not to mention the king’s mental illness – got in the way. Those woes conspired to make him the most abused monarch in British history. Shelley wrote about “an old, mad, blind, despised and dying king”, and liberal historians of the next century competed in their condemnation of him. Yet it was not bad press that did for joint rule. Salic law forbade the accession of women to head the kingdom of Hannover, newly declared at the Congress of Vienna in 1814. So when William IV died in 1837, Ernst August took up the crown in Hannover while his niece, Victoria, settled on to the throne in London.