The Duke of Cambridge and the Hanoverian Succession, 1706-14

The duke of Cambridge was the English title bestowed in 1706 on George Augustus, the electoral prince of Hanover (and future British king, George II), and it was by this title that the prince was often publicly known in Britain before his father, the elector, succeeded Queen Anne as George I in August 1714. Although the prince did not actually set foot on British soil until his arrival with his father in September 1714, his name was frequently at the centre of political manoeuvring to have a member of the Hanoverian royal family installed in England while Queen Anne was still alive.

In June 1706 Lord Halifax, one of the Whig Junto leaders, headed a mission to Hanover to convey formally to the Dowager Electress Sophia, as heiress presumptive to the English throne, the texts of the Regency and Naturalisation Acts passed during the 1705-6 session. Appropriately, the event coincided with the coming-of-age of the Pretender the same month. On behalf of the queen, Halifax also bestowed the order of the Garter on the prince as a further mark of her commitment to the Hanoverian succession, but soon found that the prince eyed the prospect of the British succession with greater apparent interest than his father and was keen to become an English duke.

In accordance with the queen’s orders a patent was issued on 9 December, though she was apprehensive that it would provoke a renewal of earlier attempts to establish a Hanoverian presence in Britain which at all costs she wished to avoid. Previous initiatives had focussed on the Electress Sophia herself, but the prince’s entitlement to a seat in the Upper House from 1706 provided a specific excuse for inviting him to England in addition to (or instead of) the aging electress. It was understood that for the time being the war would prevent the prince’s coming to England, though the question of procuring a writ for his summons to the Lords was nevertheless exploited by both Whigs and Tories for their own political ends. In 1708, for example, it was used by the Junto ministers to put pressure on the queen to admit more Whigs to the ministry.

 By 1713-14 the ‘writ issue’ had become a complex and significant bargaining point in the fluctuating relationship between the courts of Hanover and St James’s and in Lord Treasurer Oxford’s efforts to prop up his weakening ministry. While assuring the queen that her own wishes would be met, the dissension from within the ministry led by Bolingbroke left him no option but to use the promise of an invitation to the prince to entice support from the Whigs. Oxford had so far been able to control this policy, believing the elector would in fact hold firm to his determination never to allow his mother or his son to take up residence in England. Thus when the elector unexpectedly issued a memorial in May 1714 requesting that the queen invite his son to Great Britain, it dealt a severe blow to Oxford’s ministerial credibility and his professed ability to manage Hanover. Oxford was obliged to inform the Hanoverian royal family that none of its members would be welcome during the queen’s lifetime.

Author: Andrew A. Hanham