The Georgian era

The Georgian Era spanned over the reigns of the first four Hanoverian kings of Britain, all of whom were named George. During this time, the country established itself as a global power at the centre of a turbulent empire. We take a look at these events and the revolutionary changes in the arts, science and literature, and war. 

Who were the Georgian Kings? 

King George I (r. 1714-1727) Known for spending a fifth of his reign living in Germany and scarcely speaking English.
 
King George II (r. 1727-1760) Known as the last British king to lead an army into battle yet relied heavily on his ministers to run the country.
 
King George III (r. 1760-1820) Known for his long reign and spending the last part of his life suffering from a mental illness.
 
King George IV (r. 1820-1830) Known for leading an extravagant lifestyle. His charm and grand style of living earned him the title "the first gentleman of England" by the British people.

Timeline of the Georgian Era

1714 | George I inherits the throne and the Georgian Era begins

When Queen Anne died in 1714, she left no male heir to the throne. With no direct successor, the crown passed to her nearest Protestant relative in Northern Germany, George of House of Hanover - a direct line of succession that continues to this day. 
 
While there were over 50 Roman Catholic relatives with stronger claims to the throne, George’s right to inheritance was asserted by the Act of Settlement 1701. This law was designed by parliament to protect Protestant royals and prevent Roman Catholic royalty from becoming members of the monarchy.
 
During George’s coronation at Westminster Abbey on 20 October 1714, riots broke out in twenty towns across England. In addition to English political unrest, a Jacobean rebellion began in Scotland. 

1714 | Board of Longitude established

In the same year of George’s coronation, the British government established the Board of Longitude. The board was created to help solve the “longitudinal problem” required to work out a fixed point upon the Earth, and more particularly, to find a ship’s location on a featureless sea.
 
The board announced a prize of £20,000 for any person who could devise a method that could stand the test of a voyage from England to the West Indies. The membership of the Board consisted of scientists, naval officers, and government officials. Advisors included many notaries of the time, including Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed and Sir Isaac Newton.

1721 | The South Sea Bubble crash and the rise of parliament 

George I mainly depended on parliament during his reign, and after 1717 he rarely attended any Cabinet meetings. When the South Sea Company, a government stock investment scheme crashed, the British people (including the monarchy and government) suffered a catastrophic loss of money and property. 
 
Robert Walpole, George’s minister and member of the Whig party, managed the crisis and divided the national debt. Walpole won favour with George I and became known as Britain's first de facto "Prime Minister."
 
Walpole still holds the longest administration in British history (1721 - 1742). With Walpole, the Georgian period saw the beginning of the transfer of power from the monarchy to parliament. 

1727 | George II inherits the throne

On the 11 June 1727, George I died of a stroke on a trip to Hanover. He was buried in the chapel at the Hanoverian residence of Leine Castle. He is the last British monarch to be buried outside of the United Kingdom. Following his death, he was succeeded by his son, George Augustus (9 November 1683 - 25 October 1760). 
 
The public knew George II as ‘the king who wasn’t there’ due to his spending a large portion of his time in Hanover. It was George’s wife, Caroline of Ansbach and Robert Walpole who presided over Britain for much of his reign, with Caroline maintaining popular support for the monarchy. 
 
George II, 1683-1760
George II, 1683-1760, by Robert Edge Pine (c) National Maritime Museum

1746 | The end of the Jacobite Rebellion

A series of Jacobite uprisings threatened the Georgian kings from the beginning of their reign. Led by James Stuart and his son Charles Stuart (both known respectively as the Old and Young Pretenders, and Charles as Bonnie Prince Charlie), the Jacobite intention of reinstating a Catholic Stewart king to the throne met its conclusion on 16 April 1746. 
 
At Culloden, near Inverness in Scotland, British Government forces met the Jacobean armies.
 
The battle lasted little over an hour, with the British troops overpowering the smaller Scottish army. Between 1,000 and 1,500 Jacobites were killed or wounded, and 200 to 400 British were killed or died of their wounds.
 
The battle of Culloden led to the end of the Jacobite rebellion with many of the supporters exiled, imprisoned or executed for treason, and Charles escaping to France, never to return to Britain again. 

1757 | British victory in at the Battle of Plassey in India

On the 23 June 1757, the British East India Company defeated the ruler Siraj-ud-daulah and his French allies at the Battle of Plassey in Bengal, India. This victory is seen as the beginning of the almost two hundred year-long British Rule in India. 
 
With political control in India, the British had the influence and power to extract wealth from the country and deindustrialize the nation, reducing India to a supplier of raw materials.
 
India would also form the foundation for Opium Trade, which would have major implications for other developing countries such as China.  

1760 | George II dies, George III inherits the throne

On 25 October 1760, George II died, just before his 77th birthday. The throne was inherited by his 22-year-old grandson, George who was the first Hanoverian monarch to be born in England and to speak English as his first language.
 
George III, 1738-1820, painted about 1800, by William Beechey
George III, 1738-1820, painted about 1800, by William Beechey

1763 | Britain wins the Seven Years' War

Beginning in 1756, the Seven Years’ War is seen by some historians as the first actual world war, involving many of Europe’s nations and influencing many events around the world, including Europe, India, Africa and North America. 
 
Britain effectively won the war in 1763 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 10 February, paving the way for the global dominance of the British empire in the 19th Century. However, Britain’s substantial investment in the war caused massive amounts of debts. It was expected these debts would be recouped, in part, through heavy taxation of the Americas, which became a contributing factor in the American war of Independence. 

1764 | Invention of the Spinning Jenny

The Spinning Jenny was a multi-spindle spinning frame invented by James Hargreaves of Lancashire. It was one of the first and decisive inventions of the Industrial Revolution in Britain that powered the cotton textile industry. 

1765 | John Harrison solves the longitude problem

Fifty years after the Board of Longitude was established, John Harrison, a self-trained carpenter and clockmaker, solved the problem of accuracy and longitude with his H4 ‘sea watch.’ Due to the changing rules and boundaries of the test, it wasn’t until 1773, Harrison received a monetary award from Parliament for his achievement. He never received the official reward. Three years later, at the age of 83, Harrison passed away. 
 
John Harrison
 
 

1768 | George III founds the Royal Academy of Arts

On the 10 December 1768, George III founded the Royal Academy of Arts and provided the initial funding. The first significant exhibition of contemporary art, began the following year, presenting 136 works of art. This later became known as the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and has been held annually to the present day. 

1769-1770 | Australia and New Zealand claimed as British Colonies

In 1769, Captain Cook made his first journey to New Zealand and Australia. Cook and his crew aboard the HMS Endeavour made landfall in September and spent six months charting the coastlines. Cook was the second European to visit New Zealand, following the island’s European discovery by Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman 127 years earlier.  
 
In April 1770, Cook became the first European to reach the east coast of Australia. His ship reached the south-eastern coastline, and the crew disembarked at Botany Bay, several kilometres from what is now Sydney Harbour. 
 

1776 | America declares independence

After a decade of protest and civil disobedience, America claimed its national sovereignty and declared war against Britain on 4 July 1776. This became known as the American War of Independence or the Revolutionary War. Over the next eight years, other nations allied themselves with America such as France, Spain and the Dutch, leading to many conflicts and power struggles with the British in other parts of the world - such as India and Europe.  

1783 | End of the American War of Independence

After an expensive and drawn-out struggle against many countries, Britain entered peace negotiations with the US. The signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3 1783, recognised the US as an independent nation and surrendered British-occupied lands to the American Congress. 
 
Originally entitled Yankee Doodle, later known as The Spirit of '76 - oil painting by Archibald MacNeal Willard (1876)
Originally entitled Yankee Doodle, later known as The Spirit of '76 - painting by Archibald MacNeal Willard (1876)) (c) wikicommons

1801 | The Act of Union unites Great Britain and Ireland

At the beginning of the 19th century, England was still at war with France, and there were fears in both Britain and Ireland that Ireland would once again resort to rebellion or fall to an invasion attempt by the French. Through a mix of bribery and diplomacy of the Irish parliament, on 1 January 1801, a legislative agreement came into effect which united England and Scotland with Ireland. The new title of the nations became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This union lasted for over two hundred years until 15 January 1922. 

1805 | Battle of Trafalgar

After Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in France in 1799, Britain declared war on the nation, its long-time rival, in 1803. On the 21 October 1805, one of the most famous naval battles in history took place between British fleet opposing French and Spanish Napoleonic forces. Led by Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, the British victory was one of its most famous naval triumphs and highlighted British maritime superiority.  

Find out more about Nelson

 
J.M.W. Turner’s largest painting, The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805, is one of the jewels of our fine art collection. See it for free at the National Maritime Museum

1807 | Slave Trade Act received royal assent

Following nearly twenty years of protest from abolitionists across Britain, on 25 March 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was entered into the statute books. Although the Act made it illegal to engage in the slave trade throughout the British colonies, trafficking between the Caribbean islands continued until 1811. 
 

1811 | George, Prince of Wales becomes prince regent

Due to psychiatric illness, George III becomes mentally unfit to reign as king. His son, George rules in his stead as prince regent. While his George IV’s formal rule lasted only from 1811 until his accession as George IV in 1820, the entire late Georgian period is often labelled Regency.
 
George III, Allan Ramsay, National Portrait Gallery, London
National Portrait Gallery, London

1811 | Jane Austen releases her first novel

Jane Austen released her first novel, Sense and Sensibility in mid-1811. The novel was published anonymously with “By A Lady” appearing on the title page. Austen continued to publish novels through 1815 and achieved notable success with her work, which often highlighted life among the gentry of the Georgian period.

18 June 1815 | Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo began on 18 June 1815 in South of Brussels in modern Belgium. The conflict was waged by Napoleon Bonapart’s French army and a coalition of forces from across Europe and Britain (known by historians as the Anglo-allied army) led by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian Field Marshal Blücher. The Anglo-allied victory concluded a war that had raged for 23 years and ended French attempts to dominate Europe and destroyed Napoleon’s imperial power forever.
 
"Scotland Forever!" by Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler, 1881, depicts the terrifying charge of the Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo
"Scotland Forever!" by Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler, 1881, depicts the terrifying charge of the Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo. (c) wikicommons

29 January 1820 | George III dies, George prince of wales becomes King George IV

In George III’s last years, his physical and mental powers deserted him, and he became blind. He died at Windsor Castle on 29 January 1820, after a reign of almost 60 years - the third longest in British history. His son, George IV - who had been Prince Regent since 1811 became King at the age of 48. 

1830 | George IV dies and the Georgian Era ends

In 1828, George IV’s eyesight began to fail, he also became breathless very quickly, and his legs became inflamed and painful with dropsy. Due to his heavy drinking and indulgent banquets, George had become obese, weighing in 1824 over 17 stone and 7 pounds with a corset made for a waist of 130cm. At the age of 67, he died at Windsor. With no heirs of his own, the throne passed to his next brother, William, Duke of Clarence, as William IV.
 
Lithograph of George IV in profile, by George Atkinson, printed by C. Hullmandel, 1821
Lithograph of George IV in profile, by George Atkinson, printed by C. Hullmandel, 1821 (c) wikicommons