QUEEN ANNE, the last of the Stuart dynasty, died on 1 August
1714. By the terms of the 1707 Act of Succession (with which
Parliament is currently meddling again), the crown passed to the
51st in line of succession, the Elector George Lewis of Hanover,
Duke of Brunswick and Lüneburg, thereby pass-ing over 50 Roman
He had only once before visited his future kingdom, calling on
his distant cousin Charles II when he was a 20-year-old German
nobleman. It has wrongly been assumed that this three-month visit
in the winter of 1680 might have been with a view to marrying
Princess (later Queen) Anne, but there is no evidence for this. She
went on to marry another Brunswick-Lüneburg cousin, Prince George
of Denmark, while he returned to Hanover and marriage (1682).
Princess Sophia Dorothea of Celle was another first cousin, but
proved unsuitable for marriage, and George divorced her for her
shameless public adultery. After the murder of her lover, she was
imprisoned for the rest of her life. So, in September 1714, the
Elector travelled to his new kingdom with his children and his
grandson, but no consort.
This might suggest that the first Georges were remote from the
country of which Parliament had made them successive kings; but,
even before the 1707 Act, the Elector had been nominated as Knight
Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter by William III.
A similar honour was conferred five years later upon his son
(later George II), by Queen Anne in 1706. A year after the Jacobite
rising had failed, George I nominated his grandson Frederick and
his own brother to the Order in July 1716 as a public statement
that the Hanoverians were here to stay.
Not that the succession went unquestioned. Among more than 300
pictures and objects assembled for this commemorative exhibition we
get to see a silver medal struck in 1732 by John Croker and John
Sigismund Tanner, to be circulated abroad as a reminder that George
II and his heirs were firmly seated upon the Stuart throne. The
previous year, the pope had issued engraved medals to celebrate the
birthday of the exiled Jacobite princes.
In 1745, the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie, reached as
far as Derby in his bid for his rightful throne, and the battles of
that rising before the final defeatin the bloodshed of "Butcher"
Cumberland at Culloden are generously illustrated from military
maps in the Royal Collection.
Entering the principal first gallery, the visitor might wonder
whether it is part of the exhibitionat all, so familiar appear the
paintings. Guido Reni's Cleopatra, a melancholic beauty
that must die, as Keats has it; Holbein's Duke of Norfolk
of 1539, and his equally magisterial portrait of Sir Henry
Guildford; the 1638 Van Dyck double portrait of Sir Thomas
Killigrew and a man now knownnot to be the poet Thomas Carew.
Each is familiar from the Royal Collection.
But the link is that these had been acquired by the first
Hanoverians. George II acquired the Guildford portrait in 1734 (its
companion portrait of Lady Guildford, holding her missal and
rosary, eluded him;it is currently in St Louis Art Museum), and
Frederick, Prince of Wales, acquired the others some time in the
1740s for his collection at Leicester House.
At the end of his life, George I acquired two celebrated
paintings by Rubens for his home at Kensington Palace. The
equestrian portrait is now known to be of Don Rodrigo Calderón, not
that of the bloodied religious bigot the Duke of Alva. It is dated
to the years after 1612 when Rubens returned from Rome to Antwerp,
which is depicted in the background. For the Kensington drawing
room George chose The Holy Family with St Francis.
Both canvases were greatly extended in order to fit into the
scheme intended for their original hang. The barbaric 18th-century
practice of cutting down or extending canvases was intendedto
ensure a classical uniformity. Regrettably, the extant hanging
plans for the private royal apartments at Kensington Palace, drawn
by George Vertue in 1743, have not been loaned for this
One of the paintings clearly marked by Vertue for Queen
Caroline's Closet at Kensington as "Salutation painted on copper"
proves to be Carlo Marratta's unhurried oil
paintingTheAnnunciation, painted about the time of King's George's
birth. Maratta, who died the year before the Hanoverian succession,
became highly prized in Georgian England, never more so than in the
collection of Sir Horace Walpole in the Maratta room at Houghton
Also in this first room are two wonderful Claudes,A Harbour
Scene at Sunset, dated to 1643, in a spectacular rococo giltwood
frame, andView of the Roman Campagna from Tivoli, of 1645. If
Prince Frederick could not go on the Grand Tour himself, he could
play at it vicariously by buying such pictures.
Indeed, the 1740s and 1750s saw a revival in the tradition of
painting and visiting such scenes; the Welsh artist Richard Wilson,
who was at Tivoli in 1754, could be found in the company of
Viscount Bolingbroke and the Earls of Pembroke, of Essex, and of
But the hazards of war-torn Europe (which sometimes raised
awkward questions for the new dynasty when British and Hanoverian
interests had to be reconciled) also brought the tradition of the
Grand Tour to an end. The famous pair of paintings by Canaletto of
the Thames, viewed from the terrace of Somerset House, are on the
wall of the second large gallery. Together they offer a 180° view
of the riverine city in 1750.
Hunt scenes by John Wootton (1682-1764), painted for Kew but now
at Windsor Castle, and his views of the Thames at Henley, painted
for a family who lived there at Park Place, are hung too high to be
read easily, as, too, is a satirical scene set in St James's Park
(unknown artist) with its throng of milkmaids, prostitutes,
soldiers, and foreigners.
In the picture, fashionable and not-so-fashionable society
turned out to promenade in Georgian London, including two Scotsmen
risking public opprobrium for wearing tartan. Highland dress was
banned in Scotland from 1 August 1746 by the Dress Act, which may
help to date this picture, as the background includes a glimpse of
the twin Gothic towers designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor for the west
end of Westminster Abbey, newly completed in 1745.
Exquisite enamels, any number of miniatures and snuff boxes, the
ewer and basin used at the private baptism of the future George III
(1738), a Roubiliac marble bust of Handel (1739), Chelsea
porcelain, and William Kent furniture all have their place in this
exhibition, which comes ten years after an immensely successful one
based on the collections of George III and Queen Caroline.
If I felt any disappointment, it was that I never really
encountered the Elector himself. It was his Personal Union that
brought together the Crowns of Britain and Hanover until 1837.
An educated French-speaking nobleman, who preferred hunting and
opera-going to government, he had left behind him grander houses
and palaces than he found in his new capital, prompting his
frequent return visits, despite widespread British criticism.
Might he have been privately an unhappy man?
Nevertheless, I think I shall still stroll down to my
neighbouring parish of St Alfege's, Greenwich, on 18 September to
see how they commemorate the landing of such an unpromising
"The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714-1760" is at The
Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London SW1, until 12
Phone 020 7766 7300.