September 2014

September 18th 1714 was an unpleasant, foggy day in London. A flotilla of boats made its way up the Thames towards Greenwich carrying the 54-year old Elector of Hanover, the soon to be crowned George I, his family and his entourage including 18 cooks and two mistresses. 

The new King first set foot on British soil at the Water Gates of Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital for Seamen, now the Old Royal Naval College.  The ORNC marked this historic event today on the 300th anniversary of George’s arrival.

George’s arrival itself, however, did not go quite to plan as a volunteer guide at the ORNC, explains.

The first boat moored at the Royal Hospital for Seamen and the waiting crowds cheered the arrival of their new King. What they didn’t realise was that the man who had disembarked was in fact George Augustus, the future George II.  By the time the real King disembarked only a few stragglers were left to greet him. This was not perhaps the most auspicious beginning to a reign. The king, who had succeeded to the throne on 1 August 1714 was finally crowned at Westminster Abbey on 20 October, an event that was marked by riots in over 20 English towns.”

The arrival of the Hanoverian king was also marked by artist Sir James Thornhill in one of the paintings in the upper hall of the glorious Painted Hall at the ORNC. King George I is depicted inside a chariot in Roman costume, and appears with the figure of St George defeating a dragon, (representing the papacy and the family of the deposed James II who were at the time living in exile).

Meanwhile, the centerpiece of the west wall of the Painted Hall is a striking family portrait of the new Royal family (minus George’s wife, Sophia Dorothea, who was imprisoned in Germany). The group portrait is full of symbolism and also reflects the less than cordial relations between the various members of what was something of a dysfunctional family. When Thornhill asked George I where he should depict his wife the answer was “I don’t care. Under the carpet if you like.” George II meanwhile is depicted with his back to his father reflecting the hostility between the two which almost certainly dated back to the time of Sophia Dorothea’s imprisonment.

The west wall of the Painted Hall was restored and conserved by the Old Royal Naval College in 2013. The ORNC is now working to raise the £7m required to conserve the rest of Thornhill’s glorious paintings

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