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  • Hanover and Göttingen,1837
  • James M. Brophy (bio)

In 1837, the death of King William IV brought the personal union between the United Kingdom and Hanover (1714-1837) to an end. The practice of one dynasty ruling over two separate states was not uncommon in medieval and early modern European history, and eighteenth-century Great Britain was no exception, as it established personal unions with Ireland (1707-1801) and with Hanover, following the accession of George I to the British throne in 1714. Following Salic law and its requirement of male rulership, however, Guelph dynastic custom barred Queen Victoria from ascending to Hanover's throne, thus concluding the 123-year monarchical link between the two kingdoms. The impact of this complex relationship remains understudied. Whether examining Britain's relations with continental powers, its alignments during the Seven Years War, its strategy in the Napoleonic wars, or its policies toward Metternichian Germany, Britain's personal union with a central European kingdom (situated in the larger political framework of the Holy Roman Empire and the German Confederation) complicated its geopolitical strategies. A superb recent reassessment of the "Hanoverian dimension" in British political life should reconfigure current discussions about Britain's empire, national identity, and political culture.1 But one might equally ask how the personal union—an institutional and cultural instance of British rule beyond its shores—affected Hanover and the political world of the German Confederation, within which Hanoverian politics operated. Given its status as an "outpost of English civilization," how did Hanover's personal union with the United Kingdom affect its public affairs (Biskup 128)? To examine this large question, this brief essay examines the last years of the union. In particular, it examines the political crisis surrounding King William IV's constitution of 1833. When his successor, King Ernst August, dissolved the constitution four years later, seven professors of Göttingen University protested the king's decision and refused to take a new oath. In response, Ernst August dismissed them from their university posts, an action that became a political sensation. In 1837, the cause célèbre of the "Göttingen Seven" unleashed a four-year constitutional crisis in Hanover, strengthened Germany's public sphere as an autonomous force in civil society, and constituted a signal moment in forming moderate constitutional liberalism as an oppositional front in German politics.

In 1833, King William IV, the last of the Hanoverian line, promulgated a new constitution in the Kingdom of Hanover, replacing a royal patent from 1819 that allowed an anti-constitutional aristocratic party to govern through provincial diets and an absentee foreign chancellery in London (Huber, Deutsche 86). By contrast, the constitution of 1833 provided the kingdom with a bicameral [End Page 9] legislature, an aristocratic upper house and a lower chamber that represented clergy, towns, and the peasantry. Collectively, they made laws, set taxes, approved the budget, and furthermore possessed limited ministerial accountability. The king retained key executive privileges, such as the naming and dismissing of ministers. The fruit of intense negotiation between conservatives, liberals, and the crown for over two years, this arrangement transformed Hanover into a modern constitutional monarchy. Viewed in a broader context, the reform joined a broader German evolution toward participatory politics; between 1814 and 1847, all but four of the Confederation's thirty-nine states enacted constitutions (Barclay 47). As a timely response to tumult in the Hanoverian countryside, to a student rebellion that closed Göttingen University, and to riots in Hesse, Saxony, and Brunswick following the July Monarchy and Belgian independence, William IV's reform can be viewed as politically prudent (Huber, Deutsche 87-89; Lampe 59-81). A subsequent land reform in July 1833, which abolished peasants' duties and services, strengthened the case that the kingdom's new political direction fell in step with a broader liberal trend in Europe (Bertram 124). Yet the link between British political culture and Hanoverian reform should not be overlooked. That this political initiative of William IV followed in the wake of Britain's Reform Act of 1832 was not coincidental. Further, the anglophilic Göttingen University, a renowned university founded by King George II that enjoyed a sustained relationship with British scholars...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 9-14
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-07
Open Access
No
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