The expression “Turnip Head” always makes me think of poor old Graham Taylor and that picture in the Sun after England lost to Sweden and failed to qualify for Euro ’92. George I never lost to Sweden (there was some talk at one point about Sweden backing the Jacobites, but the Swedes had enough problems with Peter the Great of Russia without getting too closely involved with British politics), but he got called a turnip head anyway. There was even a song about it, which BBC 4 obligingly played for us.
There’s something very annoying about Lucy Worsley’s jolly hockey sticks manner, but the point of this programme was a very good one – that George I deserves a lot more credit than he ever gets. I think the trouble is that, especially since the Victorian era when the Scottish Highlands came to be seen as super-romantic, the Jacobites have got this romantic lost cause image, a bit like the Confederates have in the Deep South, and the Hanoverians are seen as being extremely dull and boring by comparison. “The madness of George III”, which I’m still convinced was caused by porphyria, and the excessive eating of George IV don’t really help.
However, as this programme emphasised, the Georgians brought stability to Britain, and George I’s time also saw the rise of cabinet government. I do wish BBC 4 hadn’t seen fit to show the infamous Walpole bottom cartoon, though! In my fattest days, I was once in a changing room trying on a pair of trousers when I caught sight of myself in a mirror, and that evening I wrote miserably in my diary that my rear view looked just like the Walpole bottom cartoon: seeing it brings back bad memories! Or am I getting mixed up with the Broad Bottom Ministry cartoons from George II’s time? Anyway, getting back to the point, the rude cartoons were all part of the increased freedom of the press – which was all due to the fact that Parliament forgot to pass a bill restraining the said freedom of the press. Talk about the “cock up theory of history”!
So, George I was called a turnip head, and the press made fun of Walpole’s fat backside, but all this took place against a background of stability and, after the South Sea Bubble, growing prosperity for Britain and, as the programme pointed out, George never gets given much credit for anything and he deserves some. So do BBC 4, for their excellent Georgian series. History lessons tend to teach “royal history” until the Glorious Revolution and then swap over to the agricultural and industrial revolutions and ignore the first four Georges. They deserve a bit more attention, and it’s nice to see them getting it.