WHEN THE MESSENGER ARRIVED at Herrenhausen with news of Queen Anne’s death, the Elector was asleep in bed. It being a dispatch of such importance, permission was granted to wake him. On hearing that he was now King of England, George merely grunted, turned over and went back to sleep. His snores were soon heard reverberating along the corridors of the palace.
The reaction in England was equally muted. The expectation of a Jacobite uprising came to nothing, and the succession of the Hanoverian king was remarkably peaceful: ‘not a mouse stirred against him in England, in Ireland or in Scotland’. Two days after Queen Anne’s death, heralds proclaimed George I king before the gates of St James’s Palace, Charing Cross, Temple Bar, Cheapside and the Royal Exchange.1
George I was in no hurry to take up his new crown. His interests did not extend far beyond the borders of his beloved Hanover, and he had always disliked the English with their liberal and upstart ways. ‘His views and affections were singly confined to the narrow compass of his Electorate,’ sneered Lord Chesterfield. ‘England was too big for him.’2 Certainly in terms of size alone, George I’s new kingdom dwarfed his native lands. In 1714, Britain’s population stood at around 5.5 million, while Hanover’s was less than one tenth of that.
But there were more fundamental differences. In Hanover, the Elector reigned supreme over a population grown accustomed to obedience and discipline. All expenditure over £13 had to receive his personal sanction, and the army was regarded as his private property. England, meanwhile, was the most fractious, constitution-ridden country in Europe, and the power of the monarch was significantly limited. He was unable to levy new taxes, abolish privileges or make new laws without Parliament’s consent. Neither could he order the imprisonment or execution of any subject, or confiscate their lands or property. The last monarch to undermine these liberties had been executed.
It was therefore with good reason that the Duchess of Orléans feared that George I’s succession to the British throne would lead to catastrophe. ‘I wish our Elector could have another kingdom, and our King of England his own, for I confess that I don’t trust the English one iota, and fear that our Elector, who is now King, will meet with disaster. If his rule in England were as absolute as our King’s here [in France], I have no doubt that right and justice would reign, but there are altogether too many examples of the unfair way in which the English treat their kings.’3
George I lingered in Hanover for a full six weeks before reluctantly assembling his entourage and beginning the journey to England. Even then, progress was slow. The stately retinue, which included the Prince, Mesdames Schulenburg and Kielmansegg, the King’s two Turkish Grooms of the Chamber, and seventy-five other German courtiers and servants, was stopped time and again to receive the congratulations of mayors and burghers in the cities through which it passed. When it reached Holland, the final stopping-place before the voyage across the Channel, a series of receptions and addresses occasioned yet more delay. When the royal yacht at last embarked, it was tossed about on rough seas and then detained off Gravesend by thick fog for several hours. The very elements surrounding his new kingdom seemed as inhospitable as the people within to George, who heartily wished himself back in Hanover.
Finally, on the evening of 18 September 1714, the royal yacht emerged through the fog that had now drifted inland along the Thames, and landed at Greenwich. It was greeted by the firing of cannons, the ringing of bells and the flying of flags. The citizens of London, who had been instructed to ‘put themselves out of Mourning’ for Queen Anne in preparation for his arrival, thronged along the riverside to catch a first glimpse of their new King.4 Among them was a great number of privy councillors, lords spiritual and temporal, and place-hunters of every variety, all elbowing and jostling their way into the royal presence. The object of their veneration was, however, in an ill humour, his patience tested by the tiresome journey. He dismissed them all with scant ceremony and hastened to bed.
Not to be deterred, vast crowds again gathered at Greenwich the following day, a Sunday. They stood and cheered for hours to attract the royal attention and were eventually rewarded with an appearance by the King and his son at the windows of the palace. The Weekly Journal reported: ‘His Majesty and the Prince were graciously pleased to expose themselves some time at the windows of their palace to satisfy the impatient curiosity of the King’s loving subjects.’5 They would get a more fulsome reward the next day, which had been appointed for the King’s public entry into London and was declared a general holiday. This time, George was unable to dispense with the ceremonials for which he had had so little patience at Greenwich, and he was forced to endure the full pomp and pageantry of a royal procession through the capital.
The day had dawned clear and fine, and as the royal party set out from Greenwich Park at two o’clock that afternoon, the sun was shining brightly. The procession, in which a strict order of precedence was followed, presented an impressive sight to the assembled crowds. First came the untitled aristocracy, the lowliest of the ranks, but as only those who could afford a coach drawn by six horses were permitted to take part, many were absent. They were followed by knights bachelors, baronets, the Lord Chief Justice and other senior officers of the law, the privy councillors, bishops, and, finally, the highest-ranking officials in the land: the Lord Chamberlain, the Lord President of the Council, the Lord High Treasurer and the Lord Chancellor.
The climax of this magnificent procession was the carriage bearing the King, which was more splendid than all the rest. Fashioned out of glass, fringed with gold and emblazoned with the royal arms, it was drawn by eight horses with postilions. Amidst all this unparalleled splendour, George I presented something of an anticlimax. Although he occasionally leaned forward and, with his hand on his heart, bowed to the cheering crowds, his face was fixed in a grim expression that betrayed his utter distaste for the elaborate ceremonials. His already sour temper was irritated further by the Prince, who, sitting beside him, was all smiles and conviviality.
Behind the royal carriage came a series of coaches bearing the various Hanoverian courtiers, officials and servants that George had brought with him to England. The assembled crowds were astonished by the sight of the King’s two Turkish grooms, Mahomet and Mustapha, whom he had acquired on one of his military campaigns. But they were as nothing compared to the two extraordinary creatures that had the privilege of being the King’s mistresses. Since the very earliest times, kings of England had chosen some of the most beautiful women in the kingdom as their intimate companions. In recent memory, Charles II’s court had been graced by a host of glamorous ladies of pleasure whose beauty was immortalised by poets and portrait-painters. The citizens of London who lined the route of the royal procession were therefore ill prepared for the vision of their new King’s rather unusual taste in women. As the carriage passed by bearing the corpulent mass of Madame Kielmansegg, who was squeezed up against the emaciated frame of Madame Schulenburg, a gasp of dismay reverberated among the crowds, shortly followed by peals of laughter and a chorus of raucous jibes.
The firing of cannon signalled the arrival of the procession into the City of London, and the King and his entourage looked across the river to the imposing fortress of the Tower. The Lord Mayor greeted them in Southwark, where the coaches came to a rather prolonged halt as the royal party was treated to a series of formal addresses. Transcribed in full in the following day’s newspapers, these ran into several pages and would have tested the patience of even the most accommodating of princes. But the Hanoverian King was not noted for this virtue and, worse still, could barely understand a word of English. The many fine words extolling his ‘most illustrious merit’ therefore served merely to aggravate his already frayed nerves, and were greeted with nothing more than an occasional grunt, signalling impatience rather than approval.
When at last the speeches were over, the cumbersome entourage crossed the Thames at London Bridge and made its way to Wren’s great masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, where four thousand children chanted ‘God save the King!’ Throughout the sprawling city, the processional route was lined with troops and crowds, and flowers were thrown from the windows and flag-draped balconies above. The pealing of church bells competed with the shouts and cheers from the assembled masses, which grew ever louder as they consumed the wine and ale that flowed from specially constructed fountains.
It was eight o’clock in the evening – some six hours after it had left Greenwich – before the procession arrived at its final destination of St James’s Palace. The festivities outside continued long into the night, however, with bonfires lighting up the streets and squares, while people feasted on roasted meats washed down by numerous barrels of beer. As the gates of St James’s closed on the royal retinue, the new King heaved a sigh of relief, glad to be free at last from all the tedious pomp and ceremony. But the palace in which he now found refuge did little to soothe his ill temper.
St James’s Palace had been built by Henry VIII in the 1530s on the site of a former leper hospital, and although subsequent monarchs had made some improvements, it was plain and old-fashioned, with its red-brick Tudor façade and maze of small rooms within. It was neither impressive to visitors nor comfortable for the royal family. In his ‘Critical Review of the Public Buildings . . . in and about London and Westminster’, James Ralph wrote: ‘so far from having one single beauty to recommend it, that ’tis at once the contempt of foreign nations and the disgrace of our own’. Corroborating this, Charles de Saussure, a contemporary Swiss traveller, declared that it ‘does not give you the impression from outside of being the residence of a great king’. Even Englishmen thought it somewhat lacking in stature. In his Tour Thro’ . . . Great Britain, Daniel Defoe observed: ‘The King’s Palace, tho’ the Receptacle of all the Pomp and Glory of Great Britain, is really mean, in Comparison with the rich Furniture within, I mean the living Furniture.’6
St James’s had become the principal royal residence after 1698, when fire had destroyed Whitehall Palace, but it had only ever been intended as a temporary base until the latter was rebuilt. As this had still not happened by the time George I arrived in England, he had no choice but to set up court here. St James’s plain and decaying Tudor exterior suffered by comparison with the stately magnificence of Herrenhausen, and George took an instant dislike to it. He thought little better of the adjoining park, even though it was one of the most attractive in London. Lined with imposing avenues along which notables could drive in their splendid carriages, St James’s Park had been opened up to pedestrians by Charles II. Even on the most inclement of days, it was filled with people of all kinds, from ‘welldressed Gentlewomen’ to ‘staymakers, sempstresses and butchers’ daughters’, who presented a colourful scene as they promenaded up and down its tree-lined paths and lakes.7 Its beauty was lost on the new King, however, who thought it would make a better turnip field and proposed closing it to the public so that it could be ploughed up for that purpose. When he asked his Secretary of State, Lord Townshend, how much it would cost, the latter wryly replied, ‘Only three crowns, Sir.’8
Barely had George I set foot in St James’s Palace than he was yearning to be back at Herrenhausen. The buildings, the parks, the customs, and above all the people of his new dominions were all distasteful to him, and he found little to please him. Aware that the affairs of court and government could not be put off, he resolved to make them as palatable as possible by surrounding himself with German advisers and staff. Chief among them were three ministers who became known as the ‘Hanoverian Junta’: Bothmer, Bernstorff and Robethon. The first of these had been George’s agent in London during the reign of Queen Anne, and his knowledge of English affairs was unrivalled among the German contingent. Bernstorff had enjoyed a long and distinguished political career in Hanover, rising to the position of Prime Minister. As the officer responsible for Sophia Dorothea’s strict imprisonment, he had the full trust and admiration of the King, which gave him a great deal of influence. Robethon, meanwhile, was a former private secretary to William of Orange and was employed by George before he became King to carry confidential correspondence from informants in England.
All three men were greedy, grasping and corrupt, making full use of their influence with the King to amass large fortunes in bribes from place-hunters at court. The Hanoverian ladies were little better. Mademoiselle Schutz, a niece of Baron Bernstorff, alienated the English peeresses at court by making a habit of borrowing their jewels and forgetting to return them. Before long she had accumulated a considerable collection of treasures, which she took with her when she returned to Hanover. The King’s two mistresses lost no time in exploiting their positions to bring them financial reward, and both were brazen in their greed for gold. When the Duke of Somerset resigned as Master of the Horse, Madame Schulenburg cheekily proposed that the post be left vacant so that the revenues could be given to her. Much to the disgust of the English courtiers, George assented to her request, and the profits – amounting to some £7,500 a year – fell into his mistress’s eager hands.
Tensions soon arose between the Hanoverians and the English at court, and criticism of the King’s entourage began to appear in pamphlets and newspapers. One decried them all as ‘pimps, whelps and reptiles’, and the unpopularity of these ‘hungry Hanoverians’ began to spread among the people. The simmering resentment at court soon spilled out into open sniping between the opposing factions. A lady-in-waiting recorded how, one evening, the Countess of Buckenburg launched a verbal attack on English ladies, saying that they always presented themselves ‘pitifully and sneakingly’ and that they ‘had their heads down, and look always in a fright’. German ladies, on the other hand, she said, ‘hold up their heads and hold out their breasts, and make themselves look as great and as stately as they can’. Lady Deloraine promptly retorted: ‘We show our quality by our birth and titles, Madam, and not by sticking out our bosoms.’9
Within weeks of arriving in England, George I and his entourage had succeeded in antagonising large swathes of the court and the population at large. They had little choice but to accept him as their King, however, and preparations were made for his coronation. His daughter-in-law, Caroline (now Princess of Wales), was sent for from Hanover. She arrived with two of her children, Princesses Anne and Amelia, in mid-October. The youngest child, Caroline, was left behind on account of illness, and the eldest, Prince Frederick, also remained in Hanover by command of the King. The Princess of Wales was welcomed by her husband when she landed at Margate, and together they made the journey back to London in state. Their arrival was greeted by demonstrations of joy, with cannons fired from the Tower and St James’s Park, and bonfires lit across the city. The people hoped that, in the absence of a queen, the Princess would bring some much-needed sparkle to a court that had already become staid and dull.
The first impressions were promising. Caroline seemed to strike a chord with the citizens of London. One newspaper enthused: ‘The whole conversation of the town turns upon the charms, sweetness and good manner of this excellent princess, whose generous treatment of everybody, who has had the honour to approach her, is such that none have come from her without being obliged by some particular expression of her favour.’10 Caroline was as forthcoming and affable as the King was withdrawn and sullen, and she threw herself into the ceremonies and diversions of court life with vigour. The evening after her arrival in England, she attended a drawing room at St James’s and delighted the guests by playing cards and chatting amiably to them for several hours. During the days that followed she went on promenades in the parks, attended receptions and assemblies, and welcomed company into her apartments at the palace. So bewildering was her array of social engagements that she complained of having scarcely enough time to prepare for the coronation.
This event took place on 20 October 1714, a week after Caroline’s arrival. As it was the inauguration of a new line of kings, the English people were determined to put aside their growing resentment of George I and celebrate the occasion with unprecedented splendour. Just as on the day of the King’s entry into London, huge crowds lined the streets along which the coronation procession would pass, and Westminster Abbey was crowded with nobles, peers, ministers, officials and ambitious men and women seeking places at court, each anxious to find favour with George I. Even the Jacobites turned out to greet him, although their smiles were somewhat forced. One member of the congregation described them as ‘looking as cheerful as they could, but very peevish with Everybody that spoke to them’.11 They had prayed for rain, but the day was clear and bright, and the warm October sunshine gave an extra brilliance to the magnificent costumes and decorations.
The King was dressed in robes of crimson velvet, lined with ermine and bordered with gold lace. He wore the collar of St George, and on his head the cap of estate adorned with a circle of gold encrusted with diamonds. Despite the magnificence of his attire, however, he did not present a very majestic figure, and the sourness of his countenance suggested that he was no more eager to take up his crown than he had been when he had first arrived in his new kingdom.
Once inside Westminster Abbey, the traditional coronation ceremonies were observed. Owing to the King’s ignorance of English, these had to be explained to him by the high officials standing nearby. As they could speak neither German nor French, however, they had to resort to Latin as the only common language between them. George’s foreignness was even more obvious when it came to the part of the service at which he was required to repeat the anti-Catholic declaration. He did so with such a strong German accent as to render it completely unintelligible, and he could have been renouncing something entirely different for all the loyal Protestants standing by knew.
Such mishaps aside, the ceremony proceeded along the accustomed lines, and at two o’clock in the afternoon, having received the coronation ring, orb and sceptre, the crown of Great Britain was lowered on to the head of the first Hanoverian king. The beating of drums and the sounding of trumpets inside the Abbey gave the signal for cannons to be fired across the city, which in turn prompted celebrations among the citizens of London and the population at large, lasting long into the night.
Amidst the festivities, however, were signs of discord. Jacobite riots broke out in Bristol, Norwich and Birmingham, and in London shouts of ‘Damn King George!’ were heard amidst the more traditional salutes to the new sovereign. The discord went to the very heart of the ceremonials. During the coronation banquet in Westminster Hall, the King’s champion rode into the hall and, as tradition dictated, laid down a challenge to any person who did not acknowledge George as King of England. To the astonishment of the assembled guests, a woman promptly threw down her glove and cried out that His Majesty King James III was the only lawful owner of the crown and that the Elector of Hanover was a mere usurper. She was hastily ushered from the hall and the festivities resumed, apparently unabated. But the incident had betrayed a growing resentment of the foreign king.
With the coronation over, the King and Prince and Princess of Wales set about the business of appointing the members of their households. Noblemen and women jostled with low-born adventurers in the state rooms of St James’s Palace, all hoping that the efforts they had already made to secure a place would pay off. Among them were Mr and Mrs Howard, who had arrived from Hanover shortly before the coronation. Henrietta knew that this was her only chance to avoid falling back into the misery and deprivation of their former life in London. Although her scheme to win favour at Herrenhausen had proved a resounding success, the promises made to her there already seemed a distant memory, and there was no guarantee that they would be honoured now that the Hanoverians had come into their inheritance. What was more, with no queen consort, places in the household of the Princess of Wales were highly sought after, and competition was fierce.
Mrs Howard hastened to pay her respects to the Princess at the earliest opportunity, and was relieved when she was welcomed into her apartments at St James’s. She was joined by many other ladies of high-born status, each hoping to outdo the other in the hunt for the most prestigious places. Lady Mary Cowper, who was to be appointed a Lady of the Bedchamber, noted in her diary that she had made her way to court early one morning soon after the coronation in order to wait upon the Princess, but had found the Duchess of St Albans ‘upon the same errand’, along with the Duchess of Bolton, Charlotte Clayton and Mrs Howard.12
Caroline had already made two appointments to her household before arriving in England. Elizabeth, Countess of Dorset, and Louisa, Countess of Berkeley, were both awarded positions as Lady of the Bedchamber. Five more were subsequently appointed to this role: the Duchesses of St Albans, Bolton, Montagu and Shrewsbury, and Lady Cowper. The post that Henrietta had been promised was that of Woman of the Bedchamber. Five days after appearing at St James’s, and several agonising months after first being promised the post, she finally got her reward. Along with Mary Selwyn, Mrs Pollexfen and Charlotte Clayton, she was appointed a Woman of the Bedchamber to the Princess of Wales on 26 October 1714.13
Henrietta’s achievement should not be underestimated. In the fiercely competitive world of the court, social ‘quality’ was not enough to secure an appointment, and there were many more people fulfilling this criterion than there were places available. Lady Irby, for example, who, like the Howards, had fallen on hard times, appealed for a place in the Princess’s household on the grounds that this was the only way that she could be made ‘easy in her fortune’. Like so many others, she failed in her quest.14 Having a relation or patron at court was a key advantage, and most of those who sought positions without it (of whom Henrietta and her husband were numbered) were disappointed. Money was another useful tactic, and many place-seekers offered bribes to those close to the royal family in return for their putting in a good word. Again, this had not been an option for the Howards, who were still heavily in debt and could secure no further credit.
But the overriding criterion for success was the ability to spend a great deal of time and effort at court. ‘Tenacity of purpose and determination to succeed were as important as the much-derided courtierly attributes – the ability to fawn and flatter,’ observed one contemporary.15 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, whose husband was among those seeking a place at George I’s court, urged him not to be modest and self-effacing, but to push others out of the way and continue asking until he got what he wanted: ‘I don’t say it is impossible for an impudent man not to rise in the world; but a moderate merit, with a large share of impudence is more probable to be advanced, than the greatest qualifications without it.’16
Henrietta was of a naturally modest and reserved manner, and it must have taken a substantial effort for her to push herself forward sufficiently. The years of misery inflicted on her by her husband were no doubt a powerfully motivating factor, and the resilience that they had given her enabled her to practise that other necessary quality of tenacity. Her position secured, she turned her attentions to her errant husband, hoping that he would manage to stay out of trouble long enough for the promise made to him in Hanover to be honoured. It seems that he did so, for shortly afterwards he became Groom of the Bedchamber to the new King.
Although they were now in separate households, the Howards were given apartments together at St James’s Palace. They were among only a small number of household servants who enjoyed this honour. The palace was too small to accommodate all those who had a right to lodgings, and the majority went instead to Somerset House on the Strand, the great mews houses at Charing Cross, or were scattered about in Whitehall. Having apartments at St James’s was not necessarily indicative of great favour, however: these tended to be reserved for the Bedchamber staff, whose duties required them to have quick and easy access to their master or mistress.
Most staff lodgings at the palace consisted of several rooms, and some were even large enough to house the officer’s own family and servants. That said, accommodation for the household staff at St James’s was considerably less luxurious than that enjoyed by the royal family in the state rooms above, and it left much to be desired in the way of comfort and hygiene. Damp was rife throughout the apartments, and the only ventilation came from the persistent draughts caused by broken windows still awaiting repair. Washing facilities were almost non-existent, while chamber pots were frequently used by both sexes ‘amongst a cloud of witnesses’.17
Nevertheless, the Howards’ new apartments were undoubtedly preferable to the squalid lodgings in which they had been living before their sojourn in Hanover. They also had the significant advantage of being rent-free. In addition, the couple now received a regular wage: £500 per year for Charles and £300 for Henrietta.18 This was supplemented by an allowance for food when the court was in the ‘country’ – usually Hampton court or Windsor – for the summer. Above all, their court appointments gave them that most valuable asset, for which Henrietta had been striving ever since her wedding day: security.