In Search of Scandal in Hanover
‘If you stopped anyone on the street in Hanover, I guarantee they would have no idea that the Georgian kings of England originated from here’. I’ll admit I was a little shocked when our expert contributor delivered this line during our interview at the Herrenhausen Palace in Hanover last week. The idea that the people of Hanover would have little idea of their ancestral links to Britain’s royal family caught me off guard.
The Journey Begins
It's one of the great quirks of history that after the death of the childless Queen Anne in 1714, next in line to the British throne would be Georg Ludwig of the House of Hanover. To say Georg Ludwig (later George I) was an outside bet would be a massive understatement. Of the potential successors to the crown, George was no less than 50 names down the list as well as being from a place most Brits would have considered nothing short of provincial. Crucially, however, George was Protestant and therefore leap-frogged all other potential competitors for the throne. In a transition story evocative of the hit TV show: ‘Succession’, the House of Hanover (later to become the Georgian Kings of England) would go on to rule Britain for more than a hundred years, a meeting of two great kingdoms governed by a single ruler.
The documentary we’re making: ‘Mayhem - Scandalous Lives of the Georgian Kings of England’ (4x60mins) aims to reveal all the family conflict, power struggles, personalities and psychology that lie at the heart of the House of Hanover, notably, through the eyes of the kings themselves (Georges I - IV).
Our mission in Hanover was to shoot the stunning Herrenhausen Palace, seat of the Georgian dynasty, as well as its gardens. We also wanted to get a German perspective on the dynasty through an interview with a palace historian.
Visiting Hanover was an appetising prospect, not least in the hope of uncovering some of the dynasty's closely kept secrets. Having researched all things Hanoverian for the past five months, it’s a family story I’ve not only become extremely familiar with but also really rather fond of. What are the tales about this dynasty that may until now have been left out of the history books? What could we find when looking beyond the powdered wigs and pomp of 18th-century Britain? Hanover must have had considerable allure or else why on earth did the Georgian kings keep going back there?
The Wonders of Hanover
Well, in the immaculately manicured Baroque gardens of Herrenhausen Palace, we learned of a family full of ambition, not to mention cultural and intellectual curiosity. There’s the statue of Electress Sophia of Hanover, the family’s central matriarch, described as ‘the most intelligent woman on earth’. She’s right at the centre of this succession story yet has largely been overlooked. It was her bloodline that secured the seat of Hanover on the British throne, and if she had lived just two months longer, she would have been crowned Queen of England in 1714, rather than her son George.
The 72-metre fountain takes centre stage in the gardens. Built in 1719 it was the vision of George I and the biggest in Europe at the time. This highly ambitious feat of engineering tells a story of the scale of Hanoverian aspiration. The gardens even boast an outdoor theatre, another first of its kind, built to combine the conviviality of the stage with the aesthetic of the natural world. Innovation and courage are not epithets we traditionally attach to ‘The Turnip King’ George I. The history books have been unflattering to poor old George to say the least.
However, more than anything, my growing affection for the dynasty came courtesy of a number of anecdotes told by palace historian Florian Meyer. Who knew that George I was a redhead? Not only this, but the British king most synonymous with wearing a giant powdered wig, actually hated wearing them! I liked the story of Electress Sophia taking a severe dislike to Tsar Peter the Great of Russia after he publicly blew his nose on her tablecloth at lunch, or of a young George I playing with his tin soldiers, pitting Hanover against the Austrians and the French. Little wonder he took such a disliking to his half-French cousin when they were matched, a union so hostile she ended up being banished to a castle in Celle for the final 30 years of her life!
But what is it that connects us today to this dysfunctional family? Why should we care about them, wigs, fountains or otherwise? Well, theirs is a story of assimilation, newcomers to a foreign land who, when push came to shove, really just wanted to fit in. It’s a story of family feuding, jealousy and succession, one where the pressure to conform often ended in tears, a dynamic particularly evident in the relationships between father and sons.
These very human traits are relatable to us all in one way or another, the main difference being that for most of us, our familial rivalries don’t end up being played out on an international stage.
‘Mayhem - Scandalous Lives of the Georgian Kings of England’ aims to lift the lid on the House of Hanover in all its glory. I can’t wait to reveal more of their scandalous story.