Elector Ernst-August died on January 23, 1698, leaving all of his territories to George with the exception of the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück, an office he had held since 1661. George thus became Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg as well as Archbannerbearer and a Prince-Elector of Hanover within the Holy Roman Empire. His court in Hanover was graced by many cultural icons such as the mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz and the composers George Frideric Händel and Agostino Steffani.
Shortly after George’s accession to his paternal duchy, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, son of Queen Anne, who was second-in-line to the English and Scottish thrones, died. By the terms of the English Act of Settlement 1701, George’s mother, Sophia, was designated as the heir to the English throne if the then reigning monarch, William III, and his sister-in-law, Anne, died without surviving issue.
The succession was so designed because Sophia was the closest Protestant relative of the British royal family. Fifty-six Catholics with superior hereditary claims were bypassed. The likelihood of any of them converting to Protestantism for the sake of the succession was remote; some had already refused.
In August 1701 George was invested with the Order of the Garter and, within six weeks, the nearest Catholic claimant to the thrones, the former King James II-VII died. William III died the following March and was succeeded by Anne. Sophia became heiress presumptive to the new Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. Sophia was in her seventy-first year, thirty-five years older than Anne, but she was very fit and healthy and invested time and energy in securing the succession either for herself or for her son.
However, it was George who understood the complexities of English politics and constitutional law, which required further acts in 1705 to naturalise Sophia and her heirs as English subjects, and to detail arrangements for the transfer of power through a Regency Council. In the same year, George’s surviving uncle died and he inherited further German dominions: the Principality of Lüneburg-Grubenhagen, centred at Celle.
Accession to the British Throne.
Though both England and Scotland recognised Anne as their queen, only the English Parliament had settled on Sophia, Electress of Hanover, as the heir presumptive. The Parliament of Scotland (the Estates) had not formally settled the succession question for the Scottish throne. In 1703, the Estates passed a bill declaring that their selection for Queen Anne’s successor would not be the same individual as the successor to the English throne, unless England granted full freedom of trade to Scottish merchants in England and its colonies.
Royal Assent was withheld to the Estates bill at first, but the following year Anne capitulated to the wishes of the Estates and assent was granted to the bill, which became the Act of Security 1704. In response, the English Parliament passed measures that threatened to restrict Anglo-Scottish trade and cripple the Scottish economy if the Estates did not agree to the Hanoverian succession.
Eventually, in 1707, both Parliaments agreed on an Act of Union, which united England and Scotland into a single political entity, the Kingdom of Great Britain, and established the rules of succession as laid down by the Act of Settlement 1701. The union created the largest free trade area in 18th-century Europe.
Whig politicians believed Parliament had the right to determine the succession, and to bestow it on the nearest Protestant relative of the Queen, while many Tories were more inclined to believe in the hereditary right of the Catholic Stuarts, who were nearer relations. In 1710, George announced that he would succeed in Britain by hereditary right, as the right had been removed from the Stuarts, and he retained it. “This declaration was meant to scotch any Whig interpretation that parliament had given him the kingdom [and] … convince the Tories that he was no usurper.”
George’s mother, the Electress Sophia, died on May 28, 1714 at the age of 83. She had collapsed in the gardens at Herrenhausen after rushing to shelter from a shower of rain. George was now Queen Anne’s heir presumptive. He swiftly revised the membership of the Regency Council that would take power after Anne’s death, as it was known that Anne’s health was failing and politicians in Britain were jostling for power.
Queen Anne suffered a stroke, which left her unable to speak, and she died on August 1, 1714. The list of regents was opened, the members sworn in, and George was proclaimed King of Great Britain and Ireland. Partly due to contrary winds, which kept him in The Hague awaiting passage, he did not arrive in Britain until September 18.
George was crowned at Westminster Abbey on October 20. The accession of George of Hanover was not widely popular. His coronation was accompanied by rioting in over twenty towns in England.