George I at the palaces
On 1 August 1714, Great Britain acquired a new king who had never seen his realm and spoke very little English. Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, was transformed into King George I. George missed his native Hanover and returned there frequently throughout his reign – this didn’t make him very popular with his new subjects. He never managed to learn to speak English very well and often conversed with his ministers in French or Latin.
George had a troubled personal life; he left his wife, Sophia Dorothea, imprisoned in Germany as she had been unfaithful. He prevented his young son Prince George (later George II) from ever seeing her again. The prince resented his father for this and as his reign continued, the relationship deteriorated into an open feud.
This image of George I and his son and daughter-in-law, Prince George and Princess Caroline, playing happy families is an illusion. In reality, the King and the Prince hated each other. George made sure that his son had very little power of his own, deepening the Prince’s existing resentment.
George arrived in Britain with his mistress, Engherard Meleusine von der Schulenberg, by his side. She was unfashionably thin and was given the nickname the ‘maypole’. He was also very close to his half-sister Sophia Charlotte, so much so that George’s gossipy subjects speculated that he was having an affair with the chubby beauty whom they called ‘The Elephant’!
George I employed the architect Vanburgh to make a series of improvements at Hampton Court Palace. He created a suite of rooms for the Prince and Princess of Wales and he had Henry VIII’s Great Hall temporarily converted into a theatre. George I frequently resided at Kensington Palace and had the core of the old palace rebuilt to create an impressive series of state rooms, decorated in ostentatious style by the rising star artist William Kent; his fabulous ceiling and wall paintings can still be seen today. George I’s son George II continued the remodelling of Kensington Palace.
George I State Portrait after Kneller, Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Portrait of George I and his eldest son, the future George II, and his wife, Caroline of Anspach © The Trustees of the British Museum