Wednesday 30 November 2016

The Heretic and the Heiress: Remembering John Toland (1670-1722)

John Toland, the Irish-born philosopher whose writings had an important influence on the early Enlightenment period of European history, was born on this day (30 November) in 1670. He was also a contemporary of Sophia of Hanover but, the two had much more in common than that. In fact, despite their vastly different backgrounds, their lives intertwined in more ways than one, as recounted in the following article from 2010, that is re-published from the official website of J.N. Duggan, author of biographies of both Sophia and Toland.

The Heretic and the Heiress

John Toland
John Toland (1670-1722),
via Wikimedia Commons
What is the connection between a European Princess (a descendant of the Wittelsbach and Stuart dynasties, who would go on to become Heiress Presumptive to the throne of Great Britain by the Act of Settlement of 1701) and a Donegal heretic widely denounced by political and ecclesiastical authorities of the day? Two new books by Irish author, J.N. Duggan, furnish an answer.

Sophia, Electress of Hanover (1630-1714) was daughter of Frederick and Elisabeth of the Palatinate, known as the Winter King and Queen of Bohemia. Irish readers may be interested to know that she was a 20x great grand-daughter of Brian Boru and counted Strongbow and Aoife among her ancestors.

She is best remembered, in the English-speaking world, as the connection between the Houses of Stuart and Hanover but, in the opinion of her biographer, she deserves to be remembered, in her own right, as a gifted writer and chronicler of her times (1630-1714).
She has left us an enormous legacy of writings in the form of her memoirs, (which she wrote at the age of 50), and the many letters which she wrote to her family and friends over the course of her long and eventful life. Her writings are remarkable both for the light that they throw on the politics and personalities of the 17th Century – she was related by blood or marriage to all the great families of Europe – but also, for the insiders view that she gives us of life in the princely courts of Europe.
Because of her privileged position and ringside seat at the cockpit of European politics, she was able to report to Leibniz on 4 November 1688:
The Prince of Orange left last Saturday with 50 vessels. He had no manifesto except a memoir that the English Protestants sent him listing all their grievances against their King and the reasons that made them doubt that the Prince of Wales is the Queen’s child. However, the King of England [James II] has done me the honour of writing to me in his own hand on this subject, where he says that he would have to be the wickedest man on earth to do such a thing, but it seems that those who believe in such an imposture judge him by their own standards. H.M. writes to me also that he had not been able to believe for a long time that his son-in-law and nephew would be willing to invade his country and that was why he had delayed so long in making preparations, but that if the wind remained contrary for another few days he would be in a state to receive him. Therefore we are all impatient to learn how matters went in England. On all the Prince of Orange’s banners there is 'For Religion and Liberty'.
J.N. Duggan is the author of Sophia of Hanover: from Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain 1630-1714, recently published by Peter Owen Publishers of London. The circumstances in which her book on Sophia of Hanover was completed, led directly to her second book, John Toland: Ireland's Forgotten Philosopher, Scholar ... and Heretic. The author explains that she had never heard of John Toland (1670-1722) until coming across his name while researching for her biography of Sophia:
Searching through other people’s bibliographies, I realised that he was the recognised source of information on the Courts of Hanover and Berlin in the first decade of the Eighteenth Century, and Chambers Biographical Dictionary informed me that he was an Irishman.
In fact, John Toland was born and raised on the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal, in 1670. He was a prolific writer on important political and religious issues of the day. He was the first person to be called a freethinker (by Bishop Berkeley); a radical republican who challenged the divine right of kings; the first to advocate full citizenship and equal rights for Jewish people in Great Britain and Ireland, among other notable achievements.

Toland left Ireland soon after his first book, Christianity Not Mysterious, was publicly burned in Dublin, having been denounced in both the Irish and English parliaments. He moved to London, where he resided till his death in 1722 but, was also a frequent visitor to the continent. At the behest of some leading Whig lords, he wrote a book (Anglia Libera) in support of Sophia of Hanover's claim to the throne. He was able to present her with a copy in person, when he travelled with Lord Macclesfield's delegation that delivered the Act of Settlement to her.
Sophia of Hanover: Winter Princess by J.N. Duggan

That Toland and Sophia would take an instant liking to each other is not surprising, according to the author of these two volumes. It was noted that that during daily walks, Sophia and the Irishman would distance themselves from the attendant courtiers so that they could talk in private.
They were both very forward-looking but also, very practical people. He loved an audience and she loved to be entertained. Throughout her life, Sophia kept in touch with the thinking of the foremost philosophers of her day. Gottfried Leibniz was not only librarian to the court of Hanover but, he was Sophia’s best friend and confidante. The two of them, together with the Catholic bishop of Neustadt, Christof Rojas de Spinola, attempted to reunite the Catholic and Protestant churches.
John Toland: Ireland's Forgotten Philosopher, Scholar ... and Heretic by J.N. Duggan
The attempt ended in failure and acrimony but, in any case, Sophia's enthusiasm for ecumenism was waning as prospects of a Protestant crown loomed on the horizon.

Toland, for his part, was in turn a member of each of the major religious sects – Catholic, Church of Ireland and Presbyterian – but, he abandoned them all and was denounced by each as a dangerous heretic. Outside of academic circles, he is barely known in his native Ireland but, where he is remembered, he is celebrated for the important role that he played in laying the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment.
  • Sophia of Hanover: from Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain, 1630-1714 is published by Peter Owen Publishers.
  • John Toland: Ireland's Forgotten Philosopher, Scholar ... and Heretic is published by The Manuscript Publisher.

Further information about both of these titles, including how to buy online, is available from the author's website.

Monday 1 August 2016

The Act of Settlement, 1701 and the Hanoverian Succession

Michael Dahl [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
On this day in 1714, Anne, Queen of Great Britain died, having suffered a stroke days previously that left her unable to speak. Her death paved the way for the Hanoverian succession to the throne of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as, under the terms of the Act of Settlement of 1701, the lawful descendants of the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her non-Roman Catholic heirs would accede to the throne in the event that Queen Anne should die childless, which is what happened.

George I, the eldest son of Sophia, was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 20 October, under the terms of the Act of Settlement, 1701. Bad weather had prevented him from arriving in Britain until 18 September. It is said that his coronation was accompanied by rioting in over twenty English towns (source: Wikipedia). Nevertheless, the event ushered in a new era in British politics. "Within a year of George's accession the Whigs won an overwhelming victory in the general election of 1715. ... George's distrust of the Tories aided the passing of power to the Whigs. Whig dominance would grow to be so great under George that the Tories would not return to power for another half-century." (source: Wikipedia).

In observance of this important anniversary, we are reproducing here an article by historian and biographer, J.N. Duggan, which appeared in 2014 to mark the tercentenary of the Hanoverian Succession.

On the Tercentenary of the Hanoverian Succession

by J.N. Duggan

The 300th anniversary of the Accession of George I to the thrones of Great Britain and Ireland, which occurs on August 1st 2014, will probably be overlooked amidst the commemorations and remembrances of the First World War. This is understandable but, nevertheless, regrettable. Over the centuries, the Hanoverians have served their adopted realms well and Britain should be proud of them. The last eleven monarchs have borne different surnames: Welf, Wettin and Windsor, but they are all Hanoverians, since their succession to the throne of Great Britain was due, in each case, to their legitimate descent from the body of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, as had been laid down by the Act of Settlement of 1701.

Their success in holding onto the Crown over three centuries, probably owes a great deal to the fact that they arrived with no illusions about their Divine Right, or entitlement to rule. They understood from the start that they were there only by the Will of Parliament - which, over the 19th and 20th centuries, gradually became the will of the people - and that they could be dismissed at any time, as easily as they had been summoned. Sophia did, in fact, have scruples about disinheriting her Stuart cousins, but she soon overcame them, believing that she and her descendants could succeed where James II and his Catholic progeny were doomed to failure.

In 1701, there were 54 people who had a greater right to the British throne, in strictly hereditary terms, than the House of Hanover, but then, the English throne had never been bound by strict rules of inheritance. William the Conqueror had, after all, been a bastard, with a very dubious title to the crown and the Tudor claim was equally tenuous. Furthermore, it was on account of their Tudor blood that the Stuarts based their own claim to the English crown.

In spite of being thirty-five years older than Queen Anne, Sophia was optimistic about her chances of mounting the throne, although she wrote to her niece, Ameliese, in June 1703:

"There is little likelihood that I will ever go to England. The Queen doesn’t want me and she may well live longer than I. ‘Krakende Wagens gaan lang’ (creaking wagons travel far) says the Hollander, and the healthy, as God be praised and thanked I am, often die first. Everything is in God’s hands. I keep myself as calm as I can, which preserves my health."

However, she died (in her beloved garden at Herrenhausen, in her 84th year) on June 8th 1714, just 52 days before the Queen. Even the timing of her death facilitated her family in their aspirations. Had she died a few years earlier, the link between Hanover and Great Britain might have been seen as less compelling. If, on the other hand, she had survived long enough to actually be crowned Queen and set up her own court, that would have provided the Jacobites with innumerable opportunities to make mischief: especially as Sophia was accustomed to obey her eldest son in his position as Elector of Hanover, which she could not have been seen to do as Queen of Great Britain. Furthermore, George was a consummate politician, whereas Sophia, for all her intelligence, intellect and wit, was a political innocent and the dynasty might well have begun and ended with Queen Sophia.

For the last 300 years, her descendants have provided their subjects with a regal figurehead and rallying point in times of both triumph and tragedy. Over the centuries, they have transformed themselves, from German autocrats into thoroughly British constitutional monarchs, (who have, incidentally, gained a hundredfold in influence what they have lost in actual power). They have given their names and put a face to different periods of our history. The epithets Georgian, Regency, Victorian, Edwardian conjure up a far more evocative picture than the mention of actual dates.

The Hanovers have also conserved, preserved and added to our national heritage - George III deserves to be remembered for his additions to the Royal Library and The Royal Art Collection, rather than as the mad old King. Above all, they have provided stability and continuity for the Nation, and a fascinating family saga that has kept us all spellbound.

If only for their many contributions to the entertainment of the Nation, in the shape of Coronations, Royal Weddings, Royal Births, Royal Scandals, Royal Jubilees and even Royal Funerals, the Hanoverian tercentenary should not be allowed to pass unremarked!

J.N. Duggan's historical biography, Sophia of Hanover: Winter Princess published by Peter Owen Publishers, is available to buy online, in print and e-book editions.

Monday 18 January 2016

Hello World!

The Sophia of Hanover - Winter Princess website is dedicated to the life of Sophia of the Palatinate (1630-1714), Electress of Hanover from 1692-1698, heiress presumptive to the British throne under the terms of the Act of Settlement 1701. Woman of letters and patron of the arts.

This website aims to serve as a free, online resource about Sophia of Hanover (1630-1714), chronicling her life and work, documenting and detailing the range of resources that exist, in both print and digital media.

Follow us to stay informed and discover more about this remarkable woman: Electress of Hanover from 1692-1698, heiress presumptive to the British throne under the terms of the Act of Settlement 1701, woman of letters and patron of the arts.

Sophia of Hanover: from Winter Princess to Heiress of Great Britain, 1630-1714 by J.N. Duggan is an authoritative account of the life of Sophia. It is available buy online in print and e-book editions. See our web store and online shopping portal for more information about this and other titles relating to Sophia of Hanover (1630-1714).

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