As we wrote in "A Year of 1914" there are countless ways in which the centenary of the first world war will be marked this year. But while the 20th century will always be remembered as a disastrous period in British-German relations, I’m looking forward to celebrating a happier time in the two countries’ histories. For this year also marks the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession, when a German prince became King George I of Great Britain and Ireland and the glorious Georgian period began.
It was a crafty piece of legislation that led to this remarkable turn of events. In 1701 the Act of Settlement was passed which disqualified Catholics from inheriting the throne. This meant that the Duke of Hanover, who was a second cousin of the childless Queen Anne, beat over 50 of the queen's other blood relatives to become king. Three more King Georges and a King William followed until Queen Victoria ushered in her own eponymous age.
My fascination with the Georgians was sparked by my obsession with Jane Austen. “Pride and Prejudice” to be exact, which celebrated its 200th anniversary last year. I devoured the book and the 1995 BBC mini-series and even learnt to play the theme tune on the piano—just like a Regency lady. But it was only later, when I read more about the period, that I realised that the world of Elizabeth and Darcy had grown out of a golden age of democracy, philanthropy, empire and the arts. In the years between 1714 and 1837, London became the capital of the world.
To give the briefest summary, the Georgians gave us the poetry of Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats, the architecture of John Nash and Robert Adam, the paintings of Turner and Constable and the music of Handel. It was a period that saw the birth of the novel, the abolition of slavery and Captain Cook’s voyages to the Pacific Oceans. Who could resist celebrating all that?
Monarchists and art historians alike should head to “The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714-60” (The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, Apr 11th-Oct 12th). Over 300 paintings and objects from royal residences—lavish portraits, satirical works by William Hogarth, elegant porcelain and a golden tea set—will conjure up a cosmopolitan society indulging in leisure and entrepreneurship.
The kings and their heir apparents often didn’t see eye-to-eye, but Hampton Court Palace is celebrating the splendour of their reigns, not the squabbles. “Florimania” will be a riot of flowers and floristry (Mar 28th-30th). Families can imagine they are visiting a Georgian pleasure garden at the "Big Picnic" (May 24th to 26th). In the original Chocolate Kitchen, re-opened after three centuries, the luxurious chocolate drink once prepared by royal chocolatiers will flow again.
The Foundling Museum in London, originally founded as a children’s hospital during the Georgian period, will get musical with “By George! Handel's Music for Royal Occasions” (Feb 7th-May 18th). Handel’s anthemic “Zadok the Priest” has been performed at every coronation since King George II’s. The “Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music” (May 16th-24th) will also celebrate Handel, and other German composers who made London their home, with a programme of concerts in London churches.
The Georgians were big builders (the upper classes required a London townhouse as well as a country seat) and for the newly fashionable Palladian designs William Kent was the go-to man. His grand buildings, such as Holkham Hall in Norfolk and Horse Guards in London, are the subject of “Designing Georgian Britain” at London’s V&A museum (Mar 22nd-Jul 13th).
The BBC is championing the arts with “Eighteenth Century Britain: Majesty, Music and Mischief”, a season of programmes in April across BBC Two, BBC Four and BBC Radio 3. Expect a heavy dose of patriotism and more Handel. And “Belle”, a ravishing period drama about a mixed-race girl raised by Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice whose rulings contributed to the abolition of slavery, will be in cinemas in June.
In Germany, the Lower Saxony State Exhibition for 2014 will celebrate the regions royal connections with Great Britain with exhibitions in five locations.
“Hanover's Rulers on the English Throne: 1714-1837” (May 17th-Oct 5th) at both the Lower Saxony State Museum and the Palace of Herrenhausen will highlight the riot of the royal court, the music of Handel, the founding of Göttingen University and the effect of English fashion on Hanover.
The Royal Coach (May 17th-Oct 5th), built for the Opening of Parliament, will be the star of the show at the Museum of History in Hanover. It will also show how the Guelph rulers in Hanover grappled with Britiain's growing power.
In “Royal Theatre!” (May 17th-Oct 5th) the Wilhelm Busch Museum will turn a whimsical eye on more than 250 caricatures. The Georgians had a healthy appetite for these sketches which lampooned politicians and spread society gossip.
The Residence Museum in Celle Castle takes a step back to look at the wars, marriages and money that enabled the prince to become king in “Ready For the Island” (May 17th-Oct 5th).
The German Tourist board invite you to don an imaginary crown and take princely steps along the Royal Heritage Route—ideal if you want to overdose on the fairy-tale castles and magnificent palaces of Lower Saxony.