Whereas the bulk of the work on British-Hanoverian links either seeks to understand the importance of the connection without assessing its value, or suggests its benefits for Britain, Black has presented the Hanoverian dynasty, at least until George II's death in , as at best a very mixed blessing. He has been openly sceptical about the value of the German connection, depicting it as a severe limitation on British foreign policy, and even as a millstone round the national neck. The ability of the French, in particular, to threaten Hanover at times of European tension has been highlighted in Black's works as a major weakness in Britain's position on the international stage.
Given his views on Hanover and British politics, it might be supposed that Black's biography of George II would paint an unfavourable picture. But this is not the case. He produces a rounded and well-balanced account. His opening chapter explores the role of monarchy in 18th-century Britain, establishing clearly its continuing importance, despite the Revolution Settlement.
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He then goes on to look at the Hanoverian succession, and George's role as Prince of Wales. The tradition of Hanoverian monarchs falling out with their heirs, as Black demonstrates, began in George I's reign; the relationship between Prince George and his father was frosty at best and at times marked by bitter hostility on both sides.
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The next chapter attempts to paint a picture of George's realm on his ascending to the throne in The book then begins a chronological progress through the reign, breaking the narrative to consider George's character and preoccupations chapter five , and rounding off with a look at the king's reputation among historians.
In successive chapters, then, we are taken through the early years of the king's reign; his relationship with Sir Robert Walpole, first minister when George came to the throne, who eventually fell in February , despite the king's wish to keep him in office; the crisis years of the War of the Austrian Succession, the Forty-Five Rebellion, and the ministerial instability of ; the dominance of the Pelhams; and George's old age, coinciding with the outbreak of a new Anglo-French conflict and involving the French invasion of Hanover.
The influential role of George's wife Queen Caroline, who died in , is well brought out, and there is helpful and clear coverage of the key episodes of ministerial conflict, particularly when George failed to block Pitt's entry into office, was defeated when he tried to retain the services of Carteret, and was then forced to return to the Pelham brothers after trying briefly to sustain an alternative administration in power. Yet, for all the limitations on George's freedom to choose whomsoever he wanted as ministers, it remains clear that the king was more than a puppet, to use the phrase in Black's subtitle.
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The views of the monarch still mattered, as witness the efforts made by his ministers to secure and retain his support, and the way in which opponents of the ministry of the day tended to look to the heir to the throne for sponsorship and support, whether that was George's son Frederick in the s, or his grandson George in the late s. George II's Hanoverian predilections are fully acknowledged, though Black reflects as he has done elsewhere that the connection was not simply of doubtful value for Britain, but damaging for Hanover, which was exposed to attack and occupation by Britain's European enemies.
Religious divisions, puppet shows and politics.
The importance of the international 'Protestant Interest' to George is well established building on the foundations provided by Andrew Thompson ; George took seriously the idea of a confessional bond between Protestants in his British kingdoms and Protestants throughout Europe, especially in his native Germany. Even so, Protestant solidarity did not dictate British foreign policy and the forging of alliances.
For much of his reign, George remained committed to the Catholic Habsburgs, and deeply reluctant to ally with Protestant Prussia. The military cast of George's mind is discussed at some length.