George Louis (1660-1727) became the King of Great Britain and Ireland despite some unusual circumstances. He was German born and bred and couldn’t speak a word of English. There were at least 50 other people with closer blood ties to the throne than him but as he was the only one who was a Protestant - and the 1701 Act of Settlement prohibited Catholics from ascending the British throne - he got the job. He arrived in England from Hanover in 1714 with two cooks and two mistresses and on the 20th of October of the same year was crowned in Westminster Abbey. There was muted celebration and a number of riots. He really wasn’t popular.
In 1682 George married the beautiful Sophia Dorothea of Celle but it wasn’t the happiest of marriages. The trouble started before they had even met. When Sophia first heard that she was to marry George she shouted “I will not marry that pig snout!” and threw a miniature of him against the wall. Things didn’t improve when they did finally get together. She fainted. She fainted again on meeting her future mother-in-law.
George seemed happy enough with the marriage plan because it guaranteed him an additional income of 100,000 thalers a year - a large amount of money at the time. His mother was happy too…
“One hundred thousand thalers a year is a goodly sum to pocket, without speaking of a pretty wife, who will find a match in my son George Louis, the most pigheaded, stubborn boy who ever lived, who has round his brains such a thick crust that I defy any man or woman ever to discover what is in them. He does not care much for the match itself, but one hundred thousand thalers a year have tempted him as they would have tempted anybody else.”
His new wife Sophia Dorothea was an attractive but uncouth woman. She had no manners, didn’t understand court etiquette and worse than that she had a lover, the dashing Count Philip Christophe von Konigsmarck. George and Sophia fought bitterly over her infidelity - and his too.. George would leap on her, tearing out her hair and trying to strangle her, forgetting perhaps that he had two mistresses of his own - a tall, thin one and a short plump one, the pair of them earning the nickname “Elephant and Castle”.
The arrival of the second mistress in George’s life, the ‘Castle’ of the ‘Elephant and Castle’ pairing, was not announced in a particularly discreet or sensitive way. No private letters or quiet words for George. He simply stood up at a ball held at Herrenhausen in Germany and told everybody. Sophia who was also at the ball was so offended and insulted by this affront that she immediately scuttled home to her father who was living just up the road in Celle. Daddy was not amused by her behaviour and sent her back to George without delay. This new woman in George’s life was another German, Melusine von der Schulenburg, a tall, skinny and unattractive woman described by one contemporary writer as of “a lank bony hideousness that was later to distinguish her in England.”
Undeterred George 1st installed her in Kendal House just off the Twickenham Road in Isleworth and opposite where the West Middlesex hospital now stands. The local Isleworthians, noticing ‘her lank bony hideousness’, immediately dubbed her ‘The Maypole’ which was marginally better perhaps than her German nickname “The Scarecrow!”
George and Melusine, who enjoyed the title the Duchess of Kendal, seemed to get on very well indeed, prompting Robert Walpole to say that she was “as much the Queen of England as anyone was.”
Melusine, who bore the King three illegitimate children, was an avaricious woman who made a good living selling public titles, offices and patent rights. These included the licence to supply Ireland with a new copper currency. Melusine sold the licence to William Wood, a Wolverhampton merchant, who flooded the country with an inferior, debased coinage. He got a bad reputation. She got £10,000.
George and Sophia divorced in 1694 on account of her alleged adultery and Sophia was imprisoned on the King’s command in Leineschloss Castle in Germany. Unfortunately her relationship with the dashing and multi-named Count Philip Christophe von Konigsmarck ended in the same year when he mysteriously disappeared during a futile attempt to help her escape. The rumour was that he was murdered on King George’s instruction. In August 2016 a human skeleton believed to be the bones of Königsmarck was found under the Leineschloss castle during a renovation project.
King George eventually died on 11th June 1727. He was never a popular monarch for a number of reasons - his inability to speak English, the widely reported greed of Melusine and the rumoured ill treatment of his wife. For all that he was seen by most of his subjects as a better alternative to the Roman Catholic Pretender James…
“His heart was in Hanover… He was more than fifty years of age when he came amongst us: we took him because we wanted him, because he served our turn; we laughed at his uncouth German ways, and sneered at him. He took our loyalty for what it was worth; laid hands on what money he could; kept us assuredly from Popery… I, for one, would have been on his side in those days. Cynical and selfish, as he was, he was better than a (catholic) king out of St. Germains [James, the Stuart Pretender] with the French king’s orders in his pocket, and a swarm of Jesuits in his train.”
William Makepeace Thackeray
One of the abiding stories about George and Melusine concerned the promise he made that if he died before she did he would return from the dead and pay her a visit. Melusine so believed him that on those odd occasions when a raven or any other large black bird crashed into the windows of her house in Isleworth she was fully persuaded that it was the soul of her beloved monarch and would treat the injured bird with tenderness and respect.
– from Martyn Day