TV historians these days come in all shapes and sizes, some so forgettable that I am not so much struggling to fit a name to a face as to recall their names and faces in their first place. No such problem with Lucy Worsley, or Dr Lucy Worsley as a caption reminded us at the start of her latest BBC4 series, The First Georgians – a timely reminder that Worsley is so much more than just an enthusiastic television personality.
Not that her perkiness, or her habit of jumping into period costume whenever the fancy takes her (less in evidence last night than of fore) is to be sniffed at – you can't fake this stuff, and when it's backed by scholarship partly gleaned from her day job as a curator of historic buildings, then we're talking 24-carat TV gold. She seems to genuinely relish the dead people she is disinterring, along with their foibles – although the early Hanoverians, Georges one and two, were disappointingly short of these.
Worsley describes George I as "uncharismatic and not particularly impressive", unlike his mum, Sophia the Electress of Hanover, who liked nothing better than to hunker down with the philosopher Leibniz to discuss the nature of the human soul. Sophia, whom Parliament had chosen to rule over of us because she was the nearest Stuart relative not to be a Papist, was "the greatest queen we never had", according to Worsley, unfortunately kicking the royal bucket just two months before Queen Anne, the reigning British monarch whose 17 pregnancies had come to nought.
Worsley identifies with intelligent, lively women. George II's wife, Caroline, who introduced smallpox inoculation (when she wasn't ruling Britain for her often absent husband), she calls "my favourite queen". In comparison, predecessors Mary and Anne were "badly educated and dull as ditchwater." Worsely didn't wag her finger at this point – that admonishment being reserved for George II's habit of taking a siesta.
The dullness of the first two Georges proved to be to the benefit of Great Britain, which, under these German kings, became even greater – the most liberal country in Europe, brimming with satirical novels and newspapers being read by an increasingly wealthy middle-class gathered in coffee houses. Next time you visit Starbucks to read your Private Eye, you will know whom to thank.Reuse content