Georg Ludwig was born in Hanover, the capital of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, part of the Holy Roman Empire, on May 28, 1660. His parents were Ernst August, duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and Sophia of the Palatinate, the granddaughter ofof England through her mother, Elizabeth Stuart. They raised Georg with the hope that he would one day rule. With extensive military training, he proved himself a decisive yet balanced battle commander. His marriage to Sophia Dorothea in 1682 resulted in two children, including his future heir, George II. Their marriage was dissolved in 1694 after mutual infidelities, but Sophia’s public affairs seemingly threatened succession and so she suffered state confinement until her death in 1726. Ernst August died in 1698, resulting in Georg’s elevation to elector, or ruler, of Hanover. And when Protestant heirs to William III‘s throne became scarce through death and lack of progeny, the Act of Settlement, passed by Parliament in 1701, brought the crown to Sophia of the Palatinate’s family as the closest non-Catholic relative. Her death on June 8, 1714, made Georg next in line for the throne.
Queen Anne died less than two months later, and on that same day, August 1, 1714, Georg was swiftly proclaimed George, king of Great Britain and Ireland. The new Hanoverian succession unseated numerous Catholic potential-heirs and ignited immediate plots in Great Britain to overthrow the non-English king. George I was received more positively across the ocean, however, with what the Reverendcalled “all decent joy.”
George I’s importance to colonial Virginia fell into three areas: geopolitics, British politics, and, as peculiar as it might seem, the politics of his death. His modest contributions to these matters combined to produce his greatest achievement for Virginia and the rest of the British world—the security of the Hanoverian settlement and the Whig supremacy.
In geopolitics, George I’s focus on peace, stability, and prosperity for his two states—Great Britain and Hanover—enabled him to help establish a new European balance of power that ended decades of war. Except for a few brief respites, these ongoing conflicts had made transatlantic trade a worrisome business for Virginians because, although the English market remained open for Tidewater tobacco, getting it there was a hazardous venture. In some cases, even when naval convoys protected a fleet of tobacco merchant ships, enemy warships and privateers stopped them from reaching the Chesapeake Bay. Unsafe waters virtually cut off continental consumers from Northern Neck and Piedmont tobacco growers. Moreover, the demand for military and naval manpower contributed to a diminishing supply of servant labor available to Virginia planters, leading them to turn to the less expensive and somewhat more reliable, but dehumanizing, system of involuntary chattel slavery of African men and women.
The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which ended the War of Spanish Succession (1701–1714), and the separate peace between George I (acting as elector of Hanover) and Louis XIV, of France, in 1714, temporarily halted the fighting. But George I established a more lasting peace with a system of collective security for both western Europe and the British Hanoverian succession through the Triple Alliance of 1717 (a treaty between the Dutch Republic, France, and Great Britain) and the Quadruple Alliance of 1718 (a treaty that included these same states and the Holy Roman Empire). The diplomatic accomplishments largely made possible by George I’s trans-European perspective reopened continental markets to Virginia tobacco, boosted the prosperity of the mostly Scottish merchants who brokered it, allowed greater investment in Chesapeake expansion, and enabled waves of European immigration to Virginia.
George I also helped lower the windspeed of politics at home with his moderate political sense. Having been cognizant of developments in British politics from his first visit to England in 1680, George I retained a long-standing distrust of Tories as opponents to his succession in 1714. (The Tories first emerged as a political party by opposing the effort to disinherit the eventual king,, a Catholic.) It was unsurprising, therefore, that George I filled his ministries almost entirely with Whigs who had proved their loyalty both to him and to parliamentary supremacy.
James II had been deposed by the Glorious Revolution (1688–1689) in favor of the Protestant monarchs William and Mary, and the Jacobite rising of 1715—a year after George I took the throne and led by a group of Tories—unsuccessfully attempted to crown James’s Catholic son, James Stuart. The discovery of the pro-Stuart Atterbury Plot (1722) allowed George I’s ministers, Sir Robert Walpole chief among them, to make Tories virtually synonymous with Jacobitism and treason, thereby removing them as a viable opposition force in British politics.
Prominent Virginians saluted these developments, including the wealthy landowner, who exclaimed to a friend in 1717, “Pray God bless King George & send him to crush all his enemies at home & abroad.” Carter prayed that Tories everywhere would be rooted out and “lett but us & our legal King alone.” George I’s appointment of Walpole as prime minister following his capable management of the South Sea Bubble’s burst—which negatively impacted the finances of several Virginians directly but also had implications for the entire empire—made the Whig triumph more or less complete. Walpole shared George I’s desire to avoid the chronic instability plaguing British and colonial politics under William III and Queen Anne, and he therefore focused on peace, low taxes, limited restraints on trade, and toleration for dissenters. Walpole remained in office until 1742, pursuing the political sense established under George I.
Because of George I’s success in securing stability at home and abroad, the last four years of his reign were relatively uneventful on both sides of the Atlantic. In Virginia, the stable European markets and safe transatlantic trade routes meant a boost to the economy and greater investment in slave labor. George I also replaced the troublesome lieutenant governorwith the Oxford-educated , whom Carter saluted as “mild, Temperate & courteous.” Drysdale’s leadership helped foster the stable, moderate Chesapeake political culture based on accommodation that historians later referred to as Virginia’s golden age.
George I’s death on June 11, 1727 (June 22, according tocalendars), while traveling to Hanover, therefore, has been described by one historian as “a non-event” and another as “a curious anticlimax,” which amounts to quite an achievement given the uncertainty that surrounded his ascension as the first Hanoverian monarch. The historian Paul Langford has compared the political calm of George II’s succession with the treasonous plots during George I’s rise, stating that there “would be no Twenty-Eight to follow 1727 as there had been a Fifteen to follow 1714.” The king’s abrupt death, of a stroke, did not allow potential Jacobite opponents time to organize, and Walpole’s extraordinary political power enabled him to navigate the transition from George I to George II with relative ease. Walpole thereby secured the Whig gains achieved over the previous thirteen years. Much like Walpole’s reputation in Britain, George I’s moderate legacy was ensured, even promoted, in Virginia by leaders like Drysdale and his successor, , who likewise served as a moderate and esteemed lieutenant governor until 1749.