Hereditas Historiae

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Court Historian, December 2015 - Exhibition Review

To commemorate the tercentenary of the Hanoverian Succession of  1714, The Court Historian asked for reviews of several exhibitions, catalogues and books from 2014. The exhibition reviews and the book review bring together various viewpoints on this important step in the transformation of British constitutional monarchy[1]

Hanover: A German Dynasty and its Symbols [2]

George I Ludwig, King of Great Britain. Painting after Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), after 1714. Museum Herrenhausen Palace.

In 2014, no less than six exhibitions were held in or around Hanover, to celebrate three-hundred years of British-Hanoverian relations. The superbly illustrated and tactfully written catalogues are an important contribution to our knowledge of the origins of the Hanoverian or Guelph dynasty and the relationship between Britain and Hanover in the eighteenth century. However, underneath the politically correct surface there lurked some hidden grievances. The exhibition ‘Ready for the Island: The House of Brunswick-Lüneburg [as the House of Hanover was often called] on the Path to London’ was forthright in its attitudes regarding the origins and symbolic status of the dynasty. The curators set out to illustrate how this ambitious family diplomatically manoeuvred in relation to the British succession, notably through negotiations held at the Celle Schloss with King William III. But, more generally, all of the exhibitions suggested that once the British crown had been obtained,  the  Hanoverian subjects 'felt' second rate afterwards.[3] Together the exhibitions and catalogues demonstrate that a substantial amount of research remains to be done in order to situate this ambitious dynasty in an international framework.

Schloss Celle. Photograph: Hajotthu. Source: Wikipedia. 

The ambitions of the dynasty were the central theme of the exhibition in Schloss Celle (40 kilometres northeast of Hanover). The first room re-created the state rooms as they were when used to receive King William III when he visited in October 1698. 

William III , Stadholder in the Netherlands  and King of England (1650-1702). Portrait by Sir Godfried Kneller (1646-1723), ca. 1680s. Source: Wikipedia.

The king was invited to Celle by Duke Georg Wilhelm. His younger brother, Ernst August, was an ambitious man. For dynastic reasons Ernst August had married Sophia, Princess Palatine, the daughter of the Elector Palatine Friedrich V, who had briefly reigned as king of Bohemia, and Elizabeth Stuart, through whom Sophia would ultimately claim the British throne.[4] Ernst August also used his military and political talents to raise himself to the rank of an elector: one of the group of seven leading princes who elected the Holy Roman Emperor. He refashioned Schloss Herrenhausen (located just outside the city of Hanover) to show the world that he was ready to become one of the most important men in the Empire. On display at Celle was a print of Herrenhausen and its large French style gardens. The house is described in French as a ‘maison de plaisir’, but in Dutch, it was termed more expressively as a ‘voortreffelijke lustplaats’, ‘an outstanding pleasure garden’.[5] 

The garden of Herrenhausen, Hanover, ca. 1708. Die Königlichen Gärten in Hannover, Göttingen 2006, S. 21. Source: Wikipedia.

Visitors today can still see the aspirations of Ernst August and Sophia, demonstrated by the size of the gardens at Herrenhausen: they are completely out of proportion with the main building. And it paid off: Ernst August was awarded his electorship on 24 October 1692. The official investiture document was temporarily on display at the Celle exhibition, as was a copy of the Kurhut, the electoral bonnet, a purple coloured cap lined with fur. Brought by an imperial envoy from Vienna, during the official ceremony, the new Elector placed the bonnet on his own head.[6]

Ernst August, Elector of Hanover (1629-1698). Source: Wikipedia.

The new Electress, Sophia, was also present in Celle during the visit of William III. Officially, William’s visit was a private visit. However, the presence of court counsellor Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz — the famous philosopher who was also a politician and genealogist/historian employed by the House of Hanover to uncover evidence of the dynasty’s past royal (not merely noble) status — signalled that a political issue was to be discussed. A few years later, in January 1701, the English ambassador was also received at Celle. During this ‘Celler Conseil’, he met with Duke Georg Wilhelm, Electress Sophia and Leibniz. Six months later, on 22 June 1701, the Act of Succession was approved by the English Parliament: the right of succession of the Electress Sophia and her descendants was officially proclaimed.  

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716), ca. 1700. Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum. Source: Wikipedia.

Ernst August, his ambitious wife, and their German advisors have thus been given faces thanks to these exhibitions in and around Hanover. Ultimately, it was Georg Ludwig, Sophia’s son, who would benefit from the results of his parents’ dynastic politics: in 1714 he became king of Great Britain as a result of the Act of Settlement. His wife, Sophia Dorothea, did not accompany him. Indeed, among the issues which had been resolved during the Celle meetings, was the family tragedy which was also the result of dynastic politics. Sophia Dorothea was a daughter of Georg Wilhelm, and therefore, a first cousin of George I. She had not lived up to dynastic expectations and became estranged from her family after an extramarital affair.

Sophia Dorothea, wife of the future George I, together with her children (the future George II of Great Britain and Sophia Dorothea, the future Queen-consort of Prussia), ca. 1691. Attributed to Jacques Vaillant. Source: Wikipedia.

The exhibition in the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum in the city of Hanover  - with a comprehensive catalogue available in English and German and compiled by both British and German historians - explored the relationship between Britain and Hanover during the personal union. Many artefacts illustrated the exchange of science, arts and trade between the two countries at that time.

Map of the Electorate Brunswick-Lüneberg, 1789. Source: Putzger - Historischer Weltatlas, 89. Auflage, 1965.

The dynasty only became a royal dynasty within the enlarged kingdom of Hanover after the Napoleonic wars, as a result of British intervention within what became the German Confederation.[7] The consequences for ceremonial life were visible in three smaller exhibitions. The first of these smaller exhibitions, in the Museum Schloss Herrenhausen (a new building erected behind the façade of the bombed former residence) clearly illustrated this lack of ceremonial court life during the personal union. The catalogue (shared with the exhibition at the Landesmuseum) states that, while George I and George II visited their native country regularly, George III never did.[8] Nevertheless, his German subjects did develop an alternative way of seeing him, highlighted in the special exhibition at the German Museum of Caricature and Drawing (also in Hanover): ‘royal theatre’ through caricature. The caricatures and cartoons were amusing but all the caricatures were by British artists. The British made a mockery of their king, while the Hanoverians citizens and lower class subjects seemed to be more loyal.[9]

The complicated social relations between Britons and Hanoverians also became obvious in the fourth exhibition. George IV’s life, regency and reign were the subjects of a small exhibition in the Hanoverian Historical Museum, with ‘State Coach 1’ as the centrepiece. In 1821, a year after his formal accession, George IV visited the newly created kingdom of Hanover. He arrived in grand style, in the Staatswagen Nr.1, designed in 1782 by John Wright II in London. The gilded, highly decorated carriage was built in 1783 in Essex, to serve in the State Opening of Parliament. It was later transported to Hanover to be used during the elaborate Royal Entry. The catalogue describes all the ceremonies and also contains detailed photographs of the carriage which is on permanent display in the Historical Museum.[10]

Staatswagen Nr. 1. Historisches Museum Hannover. Source:

These five exhibitions, officially sponsored by the government of Niedersachsen, were curated to observe a politically correct stance. The sixth, in Schloss Marienburg, was not. This large, neo-gothic castle is still owned by the Hanoverian dynasty. Prince Ernst August of Hanover, better known in the press as the husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco, hosted a highly commercial exhibition. During the high season people had to wait for hours to visit three different exhibitions, each requiring a different ticket. The special exhibition, ‘Der Weg zur Krone’, presented as a ‘once in a life time experience’, was only one of them. A number of Germans decided not to attend under these circumstances.

Schloss Marienburg. Photograph: Ralf Claus. Source: Wikipedia.

The development of Marienburg (30 kilometres south of Hanover) reflects the parting of the ways between Britain and Hanover after 1837. Queen Victoria could not succeed to the Hanoverian throne because she was female. Instead, her eldest uncle, Ernest August, Duke of Cumberland, became the King of Hanover. He abolished the liberal constitution and began a personal rule. In 1843, the politically controversial king ordered a coronation. Crown jewels had to be produced for the occasion. The regalia are still owned by the Hanoverian dynasty and were on show before, in Berlin.[11] In 2014, these jewels went on public display for the first time within the former Hanoverian kingdom since its abolition in 1866. They were researched by an art historian and photographed for the catalogue, but general historical information was not provided.[12]  

Schloss Marienburg. ca. 1864. Source: Wikipedia.

In general, the crowds of Germans who attended all of these exhibitions demonstrated a lively German interest in royal history. However, the officially ‘sanctified’ catalogues make it clear that further research is needed. The Celle exhibition showed religious and political propaganda material but rigorous interpretation of the British and Dutch historical context was absent. The exhibition there (‘Reif für die Insel’) concentrated on William III and the German dynastic ambitions to succeed him. The exhibition arrangement and catalogue suggested that William III arranged his own succession and tried to bypass Sophia and her son because they would not be popular in England, where William himself had to rely on the popularity of his pious wife, Mary II.[13] The catalogue suggested William wasn’t popular because he was homosexual. However, things were not that simple. William III - the son of Henriëtte Mary Stuart, Princess Royal, and nephew of both Charles II and James II - reigned without Mary after her death in 1694. Mary is described in primary sources as a dutiful wife, but without political interests. She showed jealousy when her husband had an affair with a lady-in-waiting. William III was not popular within British court and the victim of slander, but it was the English parliament which had to give assent to the Succession Act.  Parliamentary assent was essential as long as the Jacobites had their own candidate in ‘the Old Pretender’ (James III).[14]

Mary II, Queen of Great Britain, ca. 1677-1680 (Mary was not yet Queen by then, but - married to Stadholder William III - she was already Princess of Orange). Portrait by Peter Lely (1618-1680). Collection of James Stunt. Source: Wikipedia.

The exhibition museum mise-en-scène in Celle was, after showing the ‘dealing rooms’ of William and his Hanoverian discussion partners, suggestive: copies of the electoral bonnets; a coronation print of William III and Mary owned by the local museum; a portrait of George I as a knight of the Garter and a state portrait of George I - an ambitious dynasty was eager ‘to learn the job’. The Hanoverians were William’s partners within the war against Louis XIV and James II, but was the coronation print a gift from William III to his self-chosen successors? Dutch literature suggests otherwise: it is more likely the print was obtained through the commercial market. This print was not from life and it is not accurate in details.[15] Pieter de Hooghe has prepared propaganda prints of William III and his circle against Louis XIV and in preparation of the Glorious Revolution. However, he didn’t follow William III to Britain. There is even no evidence William III gave De Hooghe commissions.[16] It’s more likely the Prince made rewards after receiving unsolicited works of art.[17] De Hooghe was a highly controversial person who produced prints for the free market, as well as satirical cartoons and pornographic prints.[18]

Questions like these are important. In 1903, British historian Adolphus Ward undertook extensive research in the Hanoverian state archives to trace the Protestant succession rights of the Electress Sophia. His book, which is not used in these catalogues, borders on hagiography. But Ward does not deny that the Electress was ambitious. His studies reveal that William III went to Celle after he had already had several meetings with Sophia at Het Loo, his hunting palace in the Netherlands. [19] For a number of reasons, Sophia was not sure of the succession at the time of the death of William III. A Dutch diplomatic despatch, dated March 1702, is revealing: it claims that Sophia was controversial because she was not the daughter of a king.[20] In fact, as Howard Nenner pointed out, it is likely that if ‘the Old Pretender’ had become a Protestant, he would have succeeded to the British throne.[21] The archives in Hanover await future generations of historians to look closer at this important issue in British history.[22]

 Sophia of the Palatine, Electress of Hanover. Painter: unknown. Source: Wikipedia.




‘Reif für die Insel. Das Haus Braunschweig-Lüneburg auf dem Weg nach London’, Residenzmuseum in Celle Schloss, Celle.

‘Hannovers Herrscher auf Englands Thron 1714–1837’, Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Hannover

‘Hannovers Herrscher auf Englands Thron 1714–1837’, Museum Schloss Herrenhausen, Hannover

‘Royal Theatre. British Caricatures from the Time of the Personal Union and the Present Day’, Wilhelm Busch – Deutsches Museum für Karikatur und Zeichenkunst

‘Eine Kutsche und zwei Königreiche: Hannover und Großbritannien 1814–1837’, Historisches Museum Hannover

 ‘Der Weg zur Krone’, Schloss Marienburg, Pattensen   

Model of the City of Hanover, 1689. Neuen Rathaus, Hanover, Germany, 2005.  Photograph: Axel Hindemith, 2005. Source: Wikipedia.


[1] The editors of the Court Historian combined this essay review with a book review by Andrew Thompson, Senior College Teaching Officer in History at Queens’ College, Cambridge (‘Visualising the Georgians’) and another exhibition review by Tessa Murdoch, Deputy Keeper at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass (‘The Art of the Hanoverians’).

[2] The author would like to express thanks for Rosemary Harle, whose help in smoothing out some of the English and  the ideas expressed in this essay review has been invaluable.

[3] Such a position supports the view of Torsten Riotte given in his article ‘The Kingdom of Hanover and the Marienburg Sale’, The Court Historian, vol. 12 (June 2007), 49-61.

[4] See the details in the exhibition catalogue (published in Dresden, 2014): Reif für die Insel, pp. 18-24, 37-38. Franz Haarmann, Das Haus Hannover. Welfen – Herzöge von Braunschweig und Lüneburg. Deutsche Fürstenhäuser 27 (Werl, 2014).

[5] Reif für die Insel, catalogue number I.120, p. 99. The print, without naming an author, is dated ca. 1710.

[6] Reif für die Insel, catalogue numbers I.7 and I.74, pp. 55, 62.

[7] Gottfried Mraz, ‘Das Ende des Heiligen Römischen Reichs’, in Peter Claus Hartmann and Florian Schuller, eds, Das Heilige Römische Reich und sein Ende 1806. Zäsur in der deutschen und europäischen Geschichte (Regensburg, 2006), pp. 78-86. Wolf D. Gruner, “England, Hanover und der Deutsche Bund 1814-1837”, Adolf M. Birke & Kurt Kluxen (ed), England und Hannover (München, 1986), 81-126.

[8] Hannovers Herrscher auf Englands Thron, p. 59.

[9] Königliches Theater (Dresden, 2014). See also Elisabeth Reich, ed., Loyal Subversion? Caricatures from the Personal Union between England and Hanover (1714-1837) (Göttingen, 2014).

[10] Catalogue number 83. Eine Kutsche und zwei Königreiche (Dresden, 2014), pp. 14-39.

[11] On, ‘Krone des Königreichs Hannover’, is stated with reference to German literature, the jewels replaced elder, more simple ones produced in 1814. The crown jewels are still in possession of the dynasty, but the store house is not officially known. In 1867 they were kept in Schloss Marienburg: Lord Grey, European regalia (London, 1967) 65-66, 81, 112.

[12] Alheidis von Rohr, Der Weg zur Krone. Macht- und Herrschaftszeichen der Welfen (Göttingen, 2014), pp. 102-07. See also Haarmann, Das Haus Hannover, pp. 22-4.

[13] Reif für die Insel, p. 126.

[14] Tony Claydon, William III (London, 2002) pp. 35-47. W.A. Speck, ‘Mary II’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [].

[15] C.H. Slegte, ‘De propagandacampagnes voor koning-stadhouder Willem III. Een verkenning’,  in: Jaarboek Oranje-Nassau Museum 2002, 71-105, 79, 93.

[16] This is suggested by Lois G. Schwoerer, ‘Propaganda in the Revolution of 1688-1689’, American Historical Review 82 (1977) 843-874, 869. Lois G. Schwoerer, ‘The coronation of William and Mary, April 11, 1989’,  in: Lois G. Schwoerer (ed), The Revolution of 1688-1689. Changing perspectives (Cambridge, 1992) 107-130, 108 

[17] Henk van Nierop, ‘Profijt en propaganda. Nieuwsprenten en de verbeelding van het nieuws’, in: Henk van Nierop  (ed), Romeyn de Hooghe. De verbeelding van de Gouden Eeuw (Zwolle, 2008)  66-85,  77-82.

[18] Anna de  Haas, ‘Commissaris van zijne majesteit en mikpunt in faamrovende paskwillen. Een biografische schets’, in: Van Nierop  (ed), Romeyn de Hooghe, 12-27.

[19] Adolphus William Ward, The Electress Sophia and the Hanoverian Succession (London, 1903) pp. 122, 133-6, 163-82, 207-49.

[20] Van Saunier de l’Hermitage to Heinsius, 31 March 1702, in A.J. Veenendaal, ed., De Briefwisseling van Anthonie Heinsius 1702-1720 (The Hague, 1976), vol. I, pp. 59-61. There are no files relating to this subject in the Dutch Royal Archives (personal communication, L.J.A. Pennings, archivist, and B. Woelderink, former director of the Koninklijk Huisarchief, to the author).

[21] Howard Nenner, The Right to be King. The Succession to the Crown of England, 1603-1714 (Houndsmill and London, 1995), pp. 219-49.

[22] The Hanoverian archives are not used for Reif für die Insel. A selection of relevant documents is published in Georg Schnath, Geschichte Hannovers im Zeitalter der neunten Kur und der englischen Sukzession 1674-1714 (Hildesheim, 1982), the main study on this subject (personal communication from Christine van den Heuvel, Archivdirektion Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv, to the author, 4 November 2014).

Schloss Herrenhausen, ca. 1890-1905. Photographer: unknown. Source: Wikipedia.

Note written for Hereditas Historiae

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