How did Britain Get a Prime Minister?

John Derbyshire spells it out for us.
In those days the monarch was still a force in ruling Britain. He could, in theory at least, dissolve the actual government and form a new one more to his taste. There had, however, been a change of dynasty in 1714. Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, had failed to produce an heir despite having endured seventeen pregnancies.... The law required a Protestant monarch, so Anne’s nearest Protestant relative, the German George of Hanover, was shipped over to be George I....

Unfortunately George I couldn’t speak English. He had rehearsed a little speech to make when he landed in England, to reassure the English that he had come for the good of all. He got the grammar mangled though, and proclaimed: “I haff come for all your goods!”

Unable to follow the debates of his ministers in the council chamber, George got bored and stopped showing up. Walpole, already the alpha male among the King’s advisers, took over the vacant chair.
Accident of history, then, brought on by preferring a Protestant to an Englishman. Or a Briton, I suppose, since the more recent kings had been Scots.


Texan99 said...

An accident of history, yes, but there was a reason the Brits looked to George of Hanover instead of to anyone from the Stuart line. They'd already had to behead one with an inadequate respect for Parliament. They wanted someone more tractable, and someone they weren't afraid of from the religious point of view. They didn't necessarily want to dispense with a king altogether--they hadn't enjoyed Cromwell--but someone who didn't mind the idea of letting his subjects run the day-to-day show was an appealing prospect.

Coming into that situation, I'd have been surprised if George I had had a strong appetite for power-grabbing, too. I think both sides understood each other.

That Parliament was quick to step into the power vacuum when George I got bored is a testament to the tradition of self-rule that had been building for some time. Cf. Libya or Iraq, for instance.

jaed said...

Could you expand on your last sentence? (I can interpret it two contradictory ways.)

Texan99 said...

I meant that Libya and Iraq had no such tradition of self-rule without a king, so when they lost their dictators they just devolved into chaos rather than enjoying a chance to see a nice, solid, experienced Parliament to step even further into the task it was already doing reasonably well. That may be a bit harsh as to Iraq, but fair as to Libya, and Iraq's governance looks pretty iffy these days.