Georgian England

Mary Wollstonecraft

In 1714 Queen Anne, the last Stuart ruler, died.  Britain was opposed to a Catholic ruler, so Parliament overlooked 56 Catholics who by ancestry had a better claim to the throne, and chose Protestant George, a German from Hanover. He was crowned as George I, and was succeeded by George II, George III, George IV (The Georges are known in the Horrible Histories as the sad, the bad, the mad and the fat).  Because of the dominance of ‘Georges’, the time between 1714 and 1837, when Queen Victoria succeeded William IV, is called by historians Georgian, or Hanoverian, or ‘the long 18th century’.  During the madness of George III, his son was Prince Regent, and those years are sometimes called the Regency

The long 18th century was a time of outstanding importance in British and world history.  In 1699 Britain was a small lower division country – but after 1815, the battle of Waterloo, had become a world power.  The British Empire was the largest empire in history, covering almost a quarter of the globe. During the 18th century the British carelessly lost America, but gained Canada, India, Australia and New Zealand: these acquisitions changed the world, not just for Britain but for all the people who lived under British rule.  Britain tried to police the world, as America does now: the greatest achievement was to end the slave trade.  There were beginning of liberation for women, but that was to take much, much longer.

Georgian society was a great time for the arts, with new forms of literature, great musicians, and great architecture.  Writers such as Henry Fielding, Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, and the Romantic poets, Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats, are still read today.  Handel came to England with George I.  Robert Adam and other architects introduced classical principles. The paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Turner and Constable illustrated the changing world around them, and parks and gardens were designed by Capability Brown, Humphrey Repton, and their followers.

1714 marked the beginning of  a golden time for the town of Beverley. Building in the market place, North Bar and around the Minster provided eye-catching accommodation that can still be seen today, whilst Quarter sessions, horse racing, gentlemen’s clubs and a theatre attracted rich county families to enjoy the dashing spirit of the period. The extensive commons were preserved from development, even though a  spa was planned on Swine Moor, which was to compete with the famous spas of Scarborough, Harrogate and Bath (the Swine Moor spa did not thrive).  The town built on a medieval street pattern became the county town of the East Riding, and is regularly rated in the top ten of all English market towns.