Saturday 30 November 2019

John Toland 1670-1722

John Toland (1670-1722), the Irish-born rationalist philosopher and freethinker, was a visitor to the court of Hanover and among several of the influential thinkers of the day with whom Sophia corresponded, supported and endowed. Their relationship has been discussed previously on this website.

A new website, dedicated to the life of Toland, was unveiled last year with a view to the impending centenaries connected to his birth and his death. We are reproducing below, the website's mission statement, which was issued on 11 March 2018 (which also marks the centenary of Toland's death in 1722) to coincide with the launch of the new website.

John Toland (1670-1722)

– Irish-born Rationalist Philosopher and Freethinker –

John Toland (1670-1722)
[Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
John Toland, Irish-born rationalist philosopher and freethinker, died on this day (11 March) in 1722. "If you would know more of him, search his writings," he wrote in a self-penned epitaph that appeared a few days later.

Toland is best remembered today as a philosopher, freethinker, author, pamphleteer who made important contributions to the various fields of philosophy – in what today would be regarded as both the natural and social sciences.

We choose this day to formally unveil a new website dedicated to Toland, his life and work. This website will serve as a free online resource and repository of knowledge pertaining to his writings, the times in which he lived and to the social movement that he, along with others, spearheaded and represented, with particular reference to the enduring legacy and effect.

There is a lot that has been said about John Toland and probably a lot more that could be said. This website will serve the purpose of ensuring that nothing that should be said will go unsaid. That is why this is a free website, open to anyone who may wish to contribute. Furthermore, we invite those who may wish to contribute to get in touch with us.

The fact that this website is being formally unveiled on the anniversary of Toland's death is not coincidental. In fact, the date has been deliberately chosen. The 350th anniversary of Toland's birth will be observed on 30 November 2020 and the 300th anniversary of his death falls less than two years later, in 2022. We particularly encourage anyone who has an interest in these anniversaries to get in touch with us, to ensure that they are properly observed and accorded the respect that they are due. We will do our best (without fear or favour) to publicise events that are taking place, using networks and channels of communication within our reach.

Further details about this web project will be unveiled in due course. If you are interested, we encourage you to keep in touch – subscribe using the facilities that are available or sign up for e-mail alerts. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

If you would know more, follow us.

– reproduced from the website of the John Toland (1670-1722) Centenaries Project

Monday 14 October 2019

Sophia of Hanover – a life in under 11 minutes

Sophia of the Palatinate (who was Electress of Hanover from 1692 to 1698) was born on this day in 1630.

Much has been written about this remarkable woman, often described as a woman of letters and patron of the arts but, one who also made "interesting philosophical contributions of her own, principally concerning the nature of mind and thought," according to Lloyd Strickland of Manchester Metropolitan University.

For those who do not have the time (or inclination) to read all the material or, are looking for an introduction to the subject matter, the following audio presentation (courtesy of YouTube) offers a general summation and oversight, which may well whet the appetite and offer a guide to further study and investigation.

Elsewhere, her story is told in J.N. Duggan's book, Sophia of Hanover: Winter Princess published in 2010 by Peter Owen Publishers and available to buy online. See the author's website for further information.

Monday 1 July 2019

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Bernhard Christoph Francke
Christoph Bernhard Francke
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who was born on this day in 1646, was an important philosopher and mathematician of the 17th century. Together with René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza, he is often regarded as one of the three great advocates of rationalism. A largely self-taught polymath, his discoveries and contributions to many fields of human scientific enquiry would, in time, have important implications right up to the computer age.

Leibniz was born in Leipzig, Saxony just as the Thirty Years War was drawing to a close. His early studies were helped, in no small part, by access to his father's very large library, his father having been Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Leipzig.

From 1676 until his death in 1716, Leibniz was attached to the House of Hanover, following an invitation by Duke John Frederick of Brunswick, leading to his appointment as Privy Counselor of Justice. However, it was a position that he accepted with reluctance, having previously been unsuccessful in gaining employment in Paris or, with the Habsburg imperial court – appointments that would have offered him the kind of prospects more in line with what he relished.
"Among the few people in north Germany to accept Leibniz were the Electress Sophia of Hanover (1630–1714), her daughter Sophia Charlotte of Hanover (1668–1705), the Queen of Prussia and his avowed disciple, and Caroline of Ansbach, the consort of her grandson, the future George II. To each of these women, he was correspondent, adviser, and friend. In turn, they all approved of Leibniz more than did their spouses and the future king, George I of Great Britain." – Wikipedia
Author, J.N. Duggan, in her biography, Sophia of Hanover: Winter Princess, remarks that Leibniz's appointment as court librarian "would, in many ways, fill the gap left in her life by Karl Ludwig's (her husband) death."

Some time in 1686, Sophia and Leibniz embarked upon a project to reconcile the Christian churches. "The times, however, were particularly unsuited to such an enterprise," according to J.N. Duggan but, it provides an example of the depth and scope of the collaboration between two who can rightly be regarded as visionaries of their time.

While in Hanover, he was commissioned, by the Elector Ernest Augustus, to write a history of the House of Brunswick, going back to the time of Charlemagne. It is a project that he never finished, mainly because he insisted upon writing "a meticulously researched and erudite book based on archival sources" whereas, "his patrons would have been quite happy with a short popular book, one perhaps little more than a genealogy with commentary, to be completed in three years or less." (Wikipedia)

Nevertheless, the project "furnished its author an excellent excuse to embark on extensive travels throughout the Empire and Italy in search of ancient documents" (Sophia of Hanover: Winter Princess by J.N. Duggan). When the fruits of his labour were eventually published, in the 19th century, it filled three volumes.

Leibniz died, on 14 November 1716 at the age of 70, largely out of favour with the House of Brunswick, who were not represented at his funeral. His death also went unremarked upon by the academies of which he was a member. His grave went unmarked for more 50 years.

Google Doodle honouring Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz on the occasion of the 372nd anniversary of his birth

Source Material

  • Sophia of Hanover: Winter Princess by J.N. Duggan (published by Peter Owen Publishers, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-7206-1342-1)
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz on Wikipedia

Saturday 8 June 2019

The Hanoverian Succession – legacy, endurance and lasting effect

Sophia of Hanover died on this day in 1714. Her death occured just a few short weeks before the passing of Queen Anne of Great Britain (1665-1714). Had Sophia lived, she would have ascended to the throne. Instead, her eldest son, Elector George Louis of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1660-1727), became heir presumptive to the throne vacated by Anne's passing, under the terms of the Act of Settlement of 1701, marking the beginning of the Hanoverian dynasty in British court politics.

In the following article from 2014, marking the occasion of the tercentenary of the Hanoverian Succession, author J.N. Duggan reflects upon the legacy of of that succession as well as its endurance.

On the Tercentenary of the Hanoverian Succession
by J.N. Duggan

Originally posted on 6 Mar 2014, 20:45 to Books by JN Duggan website

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

Milestones and Anniversaries