King George I of Britain has a reputation as the most hated British monarch in history. And no wonder. George was sneaky, smug, and had a vicious mean streak even his own wife and son couldn't escape. On top of all that, he was never even supposed to be a British monarch. From bloody rebellions to bedroom drama, here is the bonkers reign of George I.
1. He Wasn't British
George I was born into power...but not in England. As the first son of a pair of German nobles, he was supposed to inherit lands around the Holy Roman Empire from his father, Ernest Augustus. For a good long while, George’s future monopoly over a large part of Germany looked certain. Yet as we'll see, the best laid plans never work out.
2. He Rejected His Birth Name
Initially born Georg Ludwig in 1660, the German nobleman eventually changed his name when the entire population of England condemned his foreign birth at his coronation over 50 years later. Recognizing the need to win the support of his new subjects, he chose to anglicize his name and signed it thereafter as the more acceptable "George Rex".
3. He Had A Partner In Crime
When George’s brother Frederick Augustus was born just a year after George, the two were inseparable. As children, the boys scurried through the corridors of their family estate together so often that their family endearingly called the pair "Görgen and Gustchen". Sadly, the brotherly bond between the two royal toddlers only made the future rift between them more tragic.
4. He Had Mommy Issues
When George was still young, an illness struck his mother Sophia of Hanover, forcing her to spend a year in warmer climes to recover. While Sophia was away, she wrote letters to her governess to remain connected to her darling boys. Yet this lack of proper parenting left a permanent mark. George began to develop a sullen personality, becoming introspective and "sensitive"; traits that would plague his public persona later in life.
5. He Showed Early Promise
Despite his quiet nature, George seemingly had everything it took to be a great leader. With his parents constantly caught up in the whirlwind of courtly life, responsibility fell on George as the eldest child to make sure his younger siblings stayed in line. He rose to the challenge with gusto, earning the praise of his mother as a dutiful and reliable son. This wasn't always a good thing, though.
6. He Was The Favorite
As the eldest son, George didn't just take on most of the responsibilities, he also soaked up the most attention. From an early age, his father Ernest Augustus started preparing little George for courtly life, taking the boy hunting, riding, and teaching him the ins and outs of an aristocratic living. As for his other siblings? Not so much. But this favoritism soon had dire consequences.
7. He Was A Teenage Warrior
Outside of his leisurely country rambles with his father, young George’s training also involved travels of a more dangerous nature. Since Europe was a powder-keg of conflict in the late 1600s, Ernest Augustus knew that his boys might one day have to fight for their lands. So, at the peak of the Franco-Dutch War, Ernest dragged the introverted 15-year-old George right into battle. Honestly, it's a wonder George didn't end up more dysfunctional.
8. His Brothers Resented Him
George was the apple of his father’s eye, and in 1683 he made it official by declaring that George alone could inherit the lands of his relatives. Enter: a family feud for the ages. George's brothers were obviously incensed at this news, Frederick Augustus most of all. It was the beginning of rift between the siblings that would only get more pronounced with time. Even so, the young ruler-in-training had much bigger problems to deal with.
9. He Loved His Cousin
In 1682, courtiers around Hanover spotted George getting feisty with a young noblewoman named Sophia Dorothea of Celle, and the pair eventually got engaged. Still, this was far from a match made in heaven. Sure, they were grossly first cousins, but George's mother was more concerned about what she saw as Sophia's low birth.
Still, George managed to convince his mommie dearest to sanction the match...for a pretty disturbing reason.
10. He Was A Gold-Digger
See, George was certainly lusting after his cousin, but he had a much more devious reason to court her: Sophia’s dowry contained the promise of even more lands for George once they married. All he had to do was explain this to his ambitious mother, and she let the match proceed. But, surprise! Before long, everyone regretted it in a big way.
11. He Betrayed His Wife
After the nuptials, the "happy" couple promptly fell apart. Although they had two children, by 1687 they were wholly estranged from each other, with George spending more time with his mistress Melusine von der Schulenburg than his own wife. Still, this was a marriage of equals, and Sophia gave as good as she got in the infidelity department...maybe even better.
12. His Wife Had An Affair
With George paying zero attention to her, Sophia got nice and cozy with the Swedish Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck. The reaction was explosive. Apparently, while George could do whatever he darn well pleased with his extramarital endeavors, Sophia had no such luck, and the royal family's disapproval came down on her like a hammer. Then things got really interesting.
13. He Had Double Standards
Above all, George's wife seemed so into the Count that the royals worried the pair would elope, leaving George mortified and cuckolded. And you know, they couldn't have that. In no time flat, the family started pressuring Sophia to leave her paramour in the dust. So when Sophia said "heck no," the scandal took a much darker twist.
14. His Rival Disappeared Mysteriously
In July 1694, George's frustrations with the Swedish Count dissipated in an extremely convenient—and violent—way. See, one day, the Count just up and disappeared, and according to inside sources, George had everything to do with it. Reportedly, his family paid off a group of courtiers to slay the errant lover, then they either dumped his body in a river or buried him under the floorboards of the palace at Hanover.
In short, George's terrifying true colors were coming out—but he wasn’t done with his treacherous wife yet.
15. He Imprisoned His Ex-Wife
As if the murder of Sophia’s Swedish lover wasn’t enough, George threw a one-two punch and dissolved his marriage with her, on the grounds that she had abandoned him. Yes, that's rich, but he had more up his sleeve. With the permission of her own father, George actually locked Sophia up in the manor of Ahlden House, far away from Hanover. Then he made sure she knew his might.
16. He Was A Tyrant
When George put Sophia in her royal prison, he never let her out. She stayed at Ahlden House for 30 long years, until she passed. During that time, George forbade her from ever remarrying or even walking into town without a chaperone. Worst of all, he denied her access to her own children. From shy and cringing, George had fully turned into a despot, and he had no plans to stop.
17. He Was An Extremely Unlikely Heir
Proving that bad men really do finish first, George got an incredible windfall shortly after locking up his ex-wife: The throne of England. In 1700, the current British heir, Prince William, swooned while dancing and kicked the bucket shortly after. Suddenly, Britain was in a crisis, as the staunchly Protestant English court overlooked scores of potential successors merely because they were Catholic.
As it happened, the next male Protestant in line was (you guessed it): George. Yet this honor came at a very high price.
18. His Mother Had A Tragic End
In reality, George's mother, Sophia of Hanover, was next in line for the crown. Though in her 80s, Sophia was much healthier than the current Queen Anne of England, and everybody expected to have another elderly queen on the throne before long. Instead, George got an utter tragedy. See, Anne was none too happy that Sophia and her kin were going to rip the throne from her cold, lifeless hands, and she sent a fiery letter to Sophia declaring as much.
The electress was so distraught by this letter that she suddenly fell sick and eventually succumbed to her condition. Thus, George was up one place in the game of thrones, but down one beloved mother. Was it worth it? Spoiler: NO.
19. He Was Old When He Became King
When Queen Anne finally passed in 1714, George’s time came at last...but it may have come too late. He ascended to the throne at 54 years old, earning himself a new nickname in the process. The British people called him "Lucky George" because they found the aging German man the least likely king imaginable. Yet as George would soon discover, the people had worse in store for him.
20. He Didn’t Want To Leave Europe
When he heard that he was now King of Great Britain, George knew that his leisurely life in Hanover was about to end. His response was shocking. Instead of taking up a kingly persona, George partied hard all across mainland Europe. Even worse, his rakish ways (plus some bad weather) made him months late for his debut in his new kingdom. Needless to say, the British were not amused.
21. His Coronation Caused Riots
When the new King of Britain (finally) stepped off the boat and made his way to Westminster Abbey for his coronation, there was pandemonium. In towns across England, unhappy rioters disrupted parties, destroyed property, and caused bloody confrontations, mostly because they couldn’t believe that a foreigner was king. Then, when he arrived at the Abbey, George was met with his most embarrassing welcome yet.
22. He Was "The Turnip King"
Simply put, the people of England saw George as a country bumpkin. So when the new monarch approached the Abbey for the first time to receive his crown, the angry mob blasted him with the nickname "Turnip King". The royal guard even detained one particularly literal protestor for waving around a turnip on a stick. Yet there’s a good chance that George had no idea what the protestors were shouting at him, for one major reason...
23. He Couldn’t Speak English
During George’s coronation, things got very awkward very fast. The new king, who didn't speak English, struggled to comprehend the rituals of the ceremony, though fortunately he scraped together enough Latin and French to bumble through the day with his aides. Still, when the masses got word that the German man couldn’t understand the language of his new kingdom, his reputation was finished. Not that he did much to recuperate it...
24. He Liked Big Butts
Besides this bad first impression, the British also got other ideas about their new ruler from German stereotypes at the time. One common piece of wisdom claimed that King George I "rejects no woman so long as she is very willing, very fat, and has great [bosoms]". Then again, this wasn't total hearsay; the public thought they got some scandalous proof of this at his coronation.
25. His Carnal Appetites Were Infamous
Two women commanded a great deal of George’s attention on his coronation day. One was rail thin and the other on the more voluptuous end of the spectrum—a contrast that the gossip-hungry crowd quickly noticed. The mob dubbed these two ladies "the Elephant and the Maypole," and began to circulate a theory that the king’s insatiable lust required not one, but two bedmates. Then again, the true identity of one of these women was much different.
26. He Loved A Mystery Woman
The truth about "the Elephant" is that she was George's illegitimate half-sister, and, as scandalous as George was, there was no romance between the siblings. But although they were way off the mark with their judgement of "the Elephant," the British people got it right with "the Maypole". Contrary to what everyone thought George's bedroom tastes were, the thin woman was his long-time mistress Duchess Melusine von der Schulenburg. And she caused some drama.
27. He Had A Hidden Queen
Although Melusine and George never married, anyone who knew George knew that the Duchess was his one true love. They had three illegitimate children together, and were side by side for the rest of their lives. Future English prime minister Robert Walpole later proclaimed that "she was as much the queen as there ever was". And, well, George would need all the allies he could get.
28. His Closest Aides Were Former Captives
Sensing the tension, George did his best to surround himself with friendly and familiar faces in his new court. His two closest aides where Mehemet and Mustapha, a pair of Turks who had become his servants since he captured them in battle. These men maintained a bubble of privacy around the king, staving off English courtiers from filling coveted royal positions. Except this backfired horribly.
29. The English Aristocracy Hated Him
As the new king became known in the inner circles of British high society, the whispers and snickers behind his back only got worse. Of course, his increasingly secretive behavior didn’t help the matter. The lords and ladies of the English court mistook his reclusive tendencies for stupidity, and gave him a whole slew of demeaning nicknames such as: "honest blockhead," "corpulent oaf" and "King Log". Tell us how you really feel, guys.
30. He Was A Puppet King
George's reign of Britain was also a supremely humbling experience in other ways. While ruling Hanover, he had absolute control over all areas of the realm, from finance to military to his ministers. Not so in England. Here, parliament needed to approve most of his major changes, and this lack of control made George ever more unhinged...and ever likely to make really bad decisions.
31. He Ran Away From His Kingdom
Before long, George longed to return to his beloved Hanover. Unfortunately, being a king of an entire country often prevented him from going back, though he did make trips to his native land as often as possible. By the end of his reign, he had spent one fifth of his rule on pleasure visits to his homeland. Only, he probably should have been keeping a closer eye on his throne...
32. The People Tried To Overthrow Him
During the first year of King George’s reign, a full-blown revolution threatened his power. A Scottish faction known as the Jacobites tried to boot George out and put the son of King James II of England on the throne. The rebels raised a small army, but were luckily (for George anyway) defeated. You'd think this would help George's reputation, but...nah.
33. He Made An Error
This was right about when George really started to lose the plot. Once he quelled the Jacobite uprising, everyone wanted to see what he did next. He made a grave mistake. Thinking too much about public opinion, he changed his plan from executing the rebels to showing them mercy. That's nice and all, but it only made his subjects think he was weak, and the rude digs continued. George didn’t handle this well.
34. He Hated The Public
Tiring of the endless verbal jabs, George began to adopt very un-kingly habits. In particular, the reclusive monarch began avoiding any public limelight as much as possible. He would sneak around London in disguise to visit friends for late-night card games, and hide in the shadowy back seats during visits to the opera. Then, his popularity prospects took another plummet.
35. His Son Was His Enemy
While George struggled to navigate social life in England, one of his family members had a much better go of it. As it happened, his son and heir George Augustus had come over with him and taken to British society like a duck to water. In fact, the younger man was so enamored with his new country that he even once claimed he had "no drop of blood that was not English". A shameless lie? You betcha. But also a big problem for King George.
36. He Was Desperate To Be Popular
The king became so bitter about his son's popularity, he was driven to change his introverted habits. In a surprisingly out-of-character publicity campaign, the King tried to capture hearts by once again dining in public in the summer of 1717, sometimes with 50 guests. Over the next few years, he attempted to impress the British people by flashing his money around in even more opulent ways...
37. His Palace Wasn’t Good Enough For Him
In England, George I spent most of his time at Hampton Court Palace, an estate with a colorful history dating back to the notorious Henry VIII. The lavish palace already had many features including an ornate chapel, luscious gardens, and even a maze, but George commissioned increasingly outrageous renovations in an attempt to outshine his son’s popularity.
The most notable changes were the transformation of the great hall into a theatre, and the tennis court into a grand assembly room. But when this failed to amply impress, George turned to other, more desperate means.
38. He Had A Lavish Boat Cruise
One calm summer evening, King George I drifted on a leisure barge down the Thames River with a few of his courtiers. While on this pleasure cruise, German composer Handel serenaded the king with the flowing Water Music suites. It was the height of luxury in the Georgian age, but as always with King George, there was more going on than met the eye...
39. He Had Famous Friends
The whole Water Music performance was actually a publicity stunt. To this day, historians still contest the identity of the event’s mastermind. One version claims that George asked Handel to write the piece to aid his ongoing quest for popularity. Another story alleges that Handel wrote the music to get back in George’s good books, since the two had a falling out years earlier. But not all of George’s feuds healed on their own...
40. He Had A Falling Out With His Son
When the King’s son George and his daughter-in-law Caroline had a son in 1717, the ruler seemed overjoyed. Then, his happiness turned sour. In a bid to "help" his son, the King announced the current Lord Chamberlain, Thomas Pelham-Holles, as a baptismal sponsor. There was just one problem: The Prince of Wales despised the Lord Chamberlain and was not pleased with his father's lack of tact. It all led to disaster.
41. He Had A Nightmare Event
At the christening of the baby royal, all chaos broke loose. The young father verbally insulted the Lord Chamberlain on his son's big day, and to make matters worse, the Lord Chamberlain took this as a challenge to a duel. All of a sudden, King George's careful attentions toward his son blew up in his face...so you can bet the king wasted no time throwing a tantrum.
42. His Son Became His Biggest Rival
After the blowout during the christening, King George cast his progeny out of the palace. But then he did one worse. He didn't let his son or his daughter-in-law see their own children for several months, insisting the little ones be kept with him. Just like with his ex-wife, George I's vengeful side had come out in full force again, and there was no going back.
43. He Was Cruel
Before long, King George's cruel punishment drove his son to despair and betrayal. One day, George Jr. and his wife Caroline actually snuck into the palace so they could see a glimpse of their beloved children. Indeed, the couple was so overcome when they saw them that Caroline passed out, while the heir "cried like a child". Although King George eventually smoothed things over, the damage was done.
44. He Became A Tabloid Sensation
Over the next few years, George Augustus’s ire for his father worsened, and his manor in downtown London became the headquarters for the king’s political rivals. At this, the newspapers had a field day, filling pages upon pages with royal family feud gossip and looking with delight toward the day when King George would be on his deathbed. But right before that happened, a dangerous scandal erupted.
45. His Government Caused A Stock Market Crash
While George was on one of his many trips back to Hanover, his kingdom's stock market crashed in the South Sea Bubble, thanks to some shady investments his courtiers—including his mistress Melusine—made. It snowballed into a catastrophe. As the severity of the economic disaster ballooned, people began to blame George for everything. Then it turned deadly.
46. His Kingdom Collapsed
Even as George rushed back to England to patch things up, finger-pointing reached an intense pitch. At one debate in parliament, the shouting became so heated that one of the king’s allies, Lord Stanhope, collapsed and perished of a heart attack once he left the room. Eventually, the South Sea Bubble calmed itself, but with very little thanks to George himself. After all, by then the King was on to one last bizarre amusement.
47. He Found A Wild Boy In The Woods
When the fallout from the market crisis began to subside, George set sail for Hanover (again) to forget his recent troubles. Hunting and carousing around Germany, the king stumbled upon a feral child deep in the woods. Somehow surviving in the wild without human contact, the boy’s animalistic behavior shocked the hunting party, but the child’s inability to communicate struck a note of sympathy in the rather bumbling king.
48. He Kept A Child As A Pet
Always full of good ideas, George decided to return to Britain with the boy in tow. After naming him "Peter the Wild Boy," the king and his entourage installed him in court and initially hoped to improve his quality of life by raising him with British royal finery. What really happened was disgraceful. The boy ended up becoming little more than a spectacle at court.
49. He Supported Free Speech
Even after bearing the brunt of public slander, George was willing to entertain different opinions. Perhaps it was because he couldn’t understand English very well, but whatever the reason, the king upheld free speech in his kingdom. When France threatened to imprison the inflammatory writer Voltaire in 1726, King George gladly provided him refuge in England. Not all writers were allies of the king, however…
50. A Famous Novel Satirized Him
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels provides one of the most hilarious and scathing representations of George’s court. In his novel, Swift represents King George I as the emperor of the fantastically tiny Lilliputian people, and satirically likens the serious political discussions of the day to arguments over shoe height. Well, you can't win 'em all.
51. He Died Eating Strawberries
In 1760, King George was once again missing his beloved Hanover, and set out for his homelands. This time though, he would never arrive. On the road, George was snug in the back of his royal coach, gorging on strawberries. Then, a sudden fit struck him, and he never recovered. There, on the very border of Germany, King George I passed at age 67 of a stroke.
52. He Was The Last Of His Kind
Throughout his reign, everyone knew that George longed to be back in his native land; in fact, he couldn't stay away from the place. After passing, he was finally able to spend all the time he wanted in the country of his youth, as the king was buried in the chapel of Leine Palace in Hanover. He would be the last British monarch laid to rest overseas.
53. His Son Got The Last Laugh
When King George I perished, the people expected his son, now King George II, to travel back to Germany to pay his last respects to his father. Instead, he got long-awaited revenge on his father. The new King of Britain stayed put in London, proving to his people that England was more important than his not-so-dear old dad. The public loved him for it, and George Jr. became the winner of the popularity contest at last.