Skip to content

Response to Review of George II, King and Elector

I am grateful for the opportunity that Reviews in History to respond; this has always seemed to me to be one of the major benefits of the enterprise.  I was also pleased to discover that Miss Campbell Orr has found so much to like in the book, particularly given her own interests and achievements in the area of court studies. On the specific point about underplaying Kent and his involvement in various royal building projects, she is, of course, absolutely right. George II was not a great builder but I could have made more of his limited activity. I hope on another occasion to flesh out some of the material on George II’s British court a with a more detailed discussion of music and dance – themes already covered in some secondary literature but which constraints of space and time prevented me from including in the book.

One reason for writing the biography was to fill a gap that many historians of 18th-century Britain had noted. Yet gap-filling, important as it is, is probably not a sufficient justification for taking the work seriously. I also wanted to open up discussion about the nature of decision-making in mid 18th-century British politics and look at the way in which administrative structures changed and developed in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution and the Hanoverian succession. One of the persistent features of life in 18th-century Britain was the increasing demands that the state was making on its subjects to fund an expansion of geopolitical activity. Understanding why and how Britain came to be involved in these wars is an important question and explains much of my emphasis on the foreign-political activity of George II as monarch. Using the life of a particular figure as a way to illuminate more general issues, particularly when these issues relate to wider questions about governance and political process, seems to me to an important and valuable approach.

There is a further area about which, in retrospect, I think that I could have been clearer in the book. Clarissa’s review rightly points to the interest that the historical community more generally have taken in the rival Stuart claimants to the British thrones in recent years. One of the important consequences of this work has been to show that the establishment of a Whig oligarchy after 1714 was not as speedy or as secure as previous generations of Whiggishly-inclined historians had assumed. This probably also means that we need to reassess the ways in which the Hanoverian monarchy, particularly in its early years, met this challenge and actively sought to win over elites. Hannah Smith’s work on popular loyalism shows one way in which this goal might have been achieved but George and Caroline’s importance as Prince and Princess of Wales probably merits more attention than it has hitherto received.