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THE RISE OF THE HOUSE OF HANOVER The naissance of the Georgian age, made glorious under the House of Hanover, was the direct result of the Act of Settlement. Without going into tedious details, suffice to say that upon Queen Anne’s death, Great Britain passed-over fifty Catholic aspirants to the throne in order to settle it upon the closest Protestant, a German princeling who neither desired the crown, nor spoke the tongue!
JACOBITE INTRIGUE The Scots and English Jacobites, however, were never completely on board with this plan of succession, which would eventually result in several attempts over the next half-century to restore the Stuarts, all doomed to failure. They continued to try nonetheless!
THE BIRTH OF PLURALISTIC GOVERNMENT What history says of the reluctant but avaricious Georg Ludwig, is that he left England to rule itself as much as possible, and took his living from it as much as achievable. During his rather apathetic reign, Britain began a steady transition of power away from the absolute monarchy favored by the Stuarts of old, toward a government led by a cabinet of ministers. Chief among these was Sir Robert Walpole, who proved more than willing to take up the reins of government to become the first de facto Prime Minister.
THE AGE OF REASON The early Georgian Age was the age of enlightenment, ushered in by men such as Sir Isaac Newton, with the torch carried on by Henry Cavendish and Joseph Priestly.
THE GROWTH OF THE ARTS The literati were led by the poets Alexander Pope and John Gaye, who made their homes at Button’s or Will’s Coffee House. The modern novel was crafted by the hand of Samuel Richardson, only to be satirized by the brilliantly sardonic wit of Henry Fielding.
CULTURE AND SOCIETY Georgian Society was a fascinating paradox, with its powerful aristocracy using an outer façade of honor and politesse to cover its multifarious sins. In the words of Dr. Johnson: “Vice, in its true light, is so deformed, that it shocks us at first sight; and would hardly ever seduce us, if it did not at first wear the mask of some virtue.”
Marriage in the upper classes was seldom pursued without social or financial gain. Gin was cheap and readily available. The cities were rife with prostitutes. All of these realities were readily lampooned by the pencil and brush of William Hogarth.
The Georgians by-and-large were a profligate and riotous breed: hard drinkers, with little regard to sexual morality. Brothels abounded to suit any particular fancy, from flagellation to sodomy, considered the “English” vice. Mercury pills may have killed more patients than the “French disease” it was meant to cure.
ENTERTAINMENT AND PLEASURE The gentlemen of rank and title pursued every manner of pleasure, dissipation, and gaming. They lived hard and played harder – wagering on bare-fisted pugilism, (sometimes employing cudgels), cock fighting, bear, and bull bating. Astronomically high stakes were laid out at the hazard and card tables, and let us not forget the horses!
HORSERACING Horses, in particular were ideally suited for this fast-living crowd who admired no virtue more than “bottom.”
Following the example set by the voluptuary Charles II in the prior century, for whom horseracing came to be called “the sport of kings,” the aristocrats of the Georgian age wholeheartedly embraced horseracing.
Although twenty-eight Royal Plates were run under the patronage of Queen Anne, who first remarked the open heath near Windsor Castle (later Ascot) ideal to “gallop horses at full stretch,” the Georgian era breathed new life into the sport of kings. Ninety races were held under George I, but horseracing reached its true zenith under George II, with four-hundred-sixty-two Royal Plates run between 1727 and 1760!
With this growing fervor came the importation of Eastern blood horses, the kings of the desert well known for their unparalleled stamina. The Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and later the Godolphin Arabian were some of the very best horses selectively crossed with the blood of the early mares of Charles II to create an entirely new type of horse. Bred specifically for racing, this horse became known around the world as the English Thoroughbred.
As fodder for a horse-loving historical novelist, the Georgian era offers untold delights. In writing THE HIGHEST STAKES, a novel of thwarted love, retribution and horseracing, I have barely scratched the surface of this bygone world. Nonetheless, I hope you “enjoy the ride.”
Emery Lee is graciously providing 1 signed copy of THE HIGHEST STAKES to 1 of my lucky readers! Thank you Emery!
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GOOD LUCK TO ALL!!