Learn about the monarchs and events that shaped this period
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read more about the fascinating trial here
Visit the Harrison clocks
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Explore the architectural significance of the Queen's House, the oil paintings it houses, and its place within Royal Greenwich in our publications