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Response to Review no. 628

I would like to thank Dr. Riotte for his full and generous review of my book. It is particularly gratifying to find praise for my discussions of Reichspolitik from a scholar who knows so much about both the Reich and Hanover from his own work. There are just two areas raised by the review on which I would like to comment further. The first is in relation to the role of the Hanoverian monarchs themselves and the importance of their personal religious convictions. Part of my point in highlighting the view that George I’s and II’s personal morality has generally been compared unfavourably to that of George III was to suggest that this is not a fair, or indeed helpful, comparison. George III was singularly unusual among both British and European monarchs in not taking a mistress. Furthermore, he lived in a period in which the impact of the Evangelical Revival was coming to be felt more widely within Britain. Thus, to use George III as a benchmark of piety is to set a target against which mere mortals or even monarchs will almost certainly fall short. Examination of account books reveals both George I and II to have been generous supporters of displaced Protestants from their respective privy purses. Accounts of court life, which note frequent attendance at divine service in both London and Hanover, leave little to suggest the sort of religious scepticism evident in Frederick II. Crucially, though, the degree of the monarch’s piety or otherwise mattered less than the dual roles in which they found themselves. A combination of the Act of Settlement and Hanover’s situation within the Holy Roman Empire meant that there was serious structural pressure for the first two Georges to be seen to be Protestant, almost regardless of their religious convictions. Although I do not quite express it in this way in the book, one of the reasons why I think Frederick II’s accession mattered was that it served, over time, to alleviate the pressure on monarchs more generally to fulfil confessional roles.

The second area which I think deserves further comment is in relation to the thorny issue of motivation and explanation. I tend to agree with Dr. Riotte that it is difficult to pinpoint instances where the Protestant interest can be said to have mattered to the exclusion of all other factors. This is not, though, a problem unique to work on this period. Claiming that individuals act in pursuit of ideological aims rather than immediate interests is always going to be fraught with difficulties – the continuing appeal of ‘realist’ interpretations of international relations provides ample evidence of this point. What I sought to do was to highlight instances in the vast output of public and private correspondence produced by the British and Hanoverian governments during the early eighteenth century which could be used to deduce some sorts of general principles for action. I think that there is good evidence, although it is scattered, to suggest that the defence of the Protestant interest was important to both politicians and people. Whether this was why certain decisions were made is, to a very large extent, imponderable. What can be said is that monarchs and ministers were prepared to claim to themselves and to each other that this was why they were behaving in particular ways.

That said I was heartened to discover that Dr. Riotte had recognised strengths in the book that I had not quite appreciated before. He sees it as a contribution to a Europeanising of British history. I began research for this book with the hope that I could show how eighteenth-century Britons were not insular but looked both east and west for inspiration and ideas and I am glad that I seem to have been, at least partially, successful.