The German question
Tom Sutcliffe encourages us to visit an array of fascinating exhibitions in Hanover
Anglicans are bound to have mixed feelings about these matters because did not our prize Anglo-Catholics in 1688 refuse to swear fealty to King William III and his wife Qeen Mary II? Talk about Charles the Martyr has somewhat faded these days — no doubt the existence of a Charles Prince of Wales who is not universally approved helps to calm claims of martyrdom down — though talk of Archbishop Justin dissolving the synod if the laity again voted against women bishops reminded one of Cromwell.
I regard the Glorious Revolution as both glorious and a revolution, and I have long been more of a whig than a tory in that I think the development of our constitutional monarchy has been an extraordinary blessing. I think it was a ridiculous piece of political flimflam to give the royal family the name Windsor, and to preserve that name to this day in a way that simply does not reflect how any of us name ourselves upon marriage (though I do appreciate that some royal princes like Prince Philip of Edinburgh may have strictly never had a surname, only a title).
A major milestone
George I was in blood about 52nd in line to the British throne. Royal Mail is not bringing out any `Hanoverian connection’ stamps to mark the anniversary. I think they should. But that’s the German question again. The year 1714 was a major milestone in our history. King George was not a usurper. He did not exercise a claim to the throne except by invitation. The Act of Settlement 1701 stating that a Roman Catholic may not succeed to the British throne remains a cornerstone of our constitution, one of its few bits actually written down in statute law. Sophie of Brunswick Luneburg, George’s mother and the daughter of Charles I’s oldest daughter, the Princess Royal, Mary, was 35 years older than Anne, but only predeceased her by a mere 53 days. George I spoke fluent French at court and German, but not much English. He was crowned in Westminster Abbey not by divine right but by parliamentary invitation. He and his successors were usefully insecure and worked hard for their pay and position.
The Hanover story
Though we Brits are undoubtedly a German people — and virtually (at least the white part of us) indistinguishable racially from Hanoverian Germans especially who settled our island in the fifth and sixth centuries — we have never been quite sure about the Germans, even when they were essential allies and collaborators of ours against the awful Napoleon (who in some ways of course was the future of Europe and of Britain).
For a dozen years now I have been reviewing opera performances all over Germany, which is the operatic workshop of the world. I have certainly seen more opera in Hanover than any other British critic, andI have become very conscious of the Hanover story (and fond of that city). What happened to Hanover when its feudal master (a Johnny very much come lately in the role of Elector of the Holy Roman Emperor) and his family moved to London is both a fascinating footnote to British history and in a very telling way emblematic of Germany’s awkward democratic adolescence. And I was thrilled last month to spend three days in Hanover notjust in order to enjoy good productions of Rameau’s Castor et Polito and Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, but to be able to do so at a time when Hanover was hosting no less than five exhibitions about the personal union between their state (or Land) and the UK — all generously funded by the Land government in Hanover.
These exhibitions are very well worth a trip, and the 464-page colour exhibition catalogue about the biggest of the exhibitions in the Landesmuseum is well worth having. And even more irresistible (though it is in German) is the 176-page catalogue of `Royal Theatre’ about the exhibition of political caricatures and cartoons at the Wilhelm Busch museum, which includes lots of published material between 1714 and 1837, when the accession of a woman Victoria meant the end of the personal union because of Salic law which prevented the succession of women, as well as many modern caricatures of the last 50 years. The CY.,ueen has lent George I’s coronation crown (without the jewels which were transferred to a more appropriate crown when it was deemed too heavy for Victoria). And the Prince Regent’s coach is the heart of yet another exhibition of great fascination at the Historical Museum. There is also an exhibition at the royal castle in Celle, half an hour by train north of Hanover which is an absolutely beautiful small medieval town which was not flattened like Hanover by allied bombers. There one finds a great deal about the King’s German Legion — stationed at times in Britain. The level of engagement and the quality of research as well as the actual exhibits (including fascinating maps) are all staggeringly good.
Perhaps our government should bring a large proportion of these exhibitions over to Britain for us all to see, when the shows close in Hanover on October 5. But don’t hold your breath. Get on a plane or train to Hanover instead. You will be both fascinated and provoked — especially by the evidence in the caricatures that our British obsessions these days about matters royal and insular remain alarmingly the same as they were 200 hundred years ago.