Changes of regime are never straightforward. We wait on events. We certainly live in interesting times!
And yet, someone looking back at this time and whatever happens next will see the events as inevitable. Just as we think of George III following George II to the throne. If you read the history books, they say that Culloden was the end of the Jacobite threat.
But it wasn’t.
Several events occurred to make the 1750’s a time of uncertainty, of shifting opinions and events. There are so many “what if”s and turning points in the decade that I’m constantly surprised that more authors haven’t grabbed the opportunities and run with them.
Diana Gabaldon, for sure, took the Jacobite cause and looked at it anew. But she examined it from the point of view of the hapless Scots. There are other ramifications that have been obscured only by the passage of time, but once they were raw and new.
In 1751, the Prince of Wales died. Frederick was a popular prince, even though he didn’t get along with his father and had a court separate from him. Nevertheless, he was the King’s successor. We could have had a King Frederick! Frederick left a young family, all healthy, but none of them were out of the shcoolroom. The oldest, George, was the new Prince of Wales, but he was only thirteen when his father died.
The Princess of Wales, Augusta, was particularly close to Prince George’s tutor, John Stuart, the Earl of Bute. Of course, Bute was more of an advisor than a hands-on tutor, but it meant he saw the prince a great deal, and became very important in his life, just as Lord Mountbatten did to Prince Charles. However, it was also rumoured that Bute was the lover of Princess Augusta. Bute was not popular.
Parliament was settled until 1754, when the Prime Minister, Henry Pelham-Holles, died. His brother, the Duke of Newcastle, took over, but it soon became obvious that he wasn’t up to the job, and a change of political alliances was going to rock the House of Commons.
King George was in frail health during the 1750’s. He died in 1761, long enough for Prince George to attain his majority, but it was a close run thing.
If the old king had died before his grandson had come of age, George III would have had to have a Regent. There could have been a revolution.
Times of uncertainty make a country vulnerable. And so, into that potential perfect storm, came the Stuarts in exile.
The Young Pretender visited London in 1751 and converted to Protestantism. If the opportunity arose, he wasn’t going to let religion get in the way of his succession. He talked with several important people while he was there, and he could have returned throughout the decade. When he came to London, the government kept an eye on him, but preferred not to arrest him and make a martyr of him. Either that, or Charles came under an amnesty, but if there was one, it hasn’t come to light. He could have returned, but there is no evidence either way that he did so.
However, Charles had become a disillusioned drunk who refused to marry and sire children who would have been a threat to the throne. He was living with a woman who he beat regularly, and who bore him a daughter. His own folly disbarred him this time, and as the decade wore on, the establishment settled into a new pattern. The rise of the brilliant politicians Fox and Pitt, and the onset of the Seven Years’ War moved Britain into a new process, and Prince George grew older.
But for a few years, anything could have happened. And that is what authors rely on for their stories. At least this one does.
I’ve been commissioned to write three more books set in the 1750’s, this time about the Shaw family, and I’m spoiled for choice with plots. I’ve written another book, yet to find a home, about another aspect of life back then, the race to discover longitude, and the craze for astronomy.
I can’t see my interest ever waning!