Gallery

Gallery: 
Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1646 - 1723
Portrait of King George I 1660 - 1727
Portrait of King George I
oil on canvas
124.46 x 81.28 cm. (49 x 32 in. )
Price: 
£15,000

Notes

This triumphalist Portrait is has a number of symbols that helped to cement King George I claim to the British Throne, based on the act of succession. The Union flag was formed at the act of Union in 1707, when England and Scotland United under a single sovereign state as the United Kingdom of Great Britain. George I came tio the throne in August 1714. The Kings colours of the Great Union Flag are shown in this portrait and were used from 1707-1801. After the act of Union the flag gained a regularised status as the ensign armorial of the Kingdom of Great Britain. The French Flag is also shown in this portrait, showing the Azure three fleurs-de-lis. George styled himself in Great Britain as " George, by Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, defender of the Faith" The two flags and drums may allude to the creation of the Triple Alliance, composed of Great Britain, France and the United Provinces formed in 1717, for which George was an active contributor. George I (1660–1727), king of Great Britain and Ireland and elector of Hanover, was born Georg Ludwig (George Lewis) at Hanover on 28 May 1660, the first of the seven children who survived of the marriage in 1658 of Ernst August (1629–1698) of Brunswick-Lüneburg to Sophia (1630–1714), youngest daughter of Frederick V of the Palatinate, Winter King of Bohemia, and of Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England. At the time of the marriage, and still in 1660, Ernst August was not a ruling prince. He had the expectation of becoming the next protestant prince–bishop of Osnabrück, but that was a non-hereditary position which, under the terms of the settlement of 1648, alternated between Roman Catholic and protestant incumbents. Moreover, as the youngest of the four sons of the junior branch of the dukes of Brunswick, his chances of becoming the ruling prince of either of the two duchies into which the Brunswick-Lüneburg inheritance had been divided under the will of his father, Duke Georg (1582–1641), were remote. Nor did they become much more certain when, on 21 April 1658, Ernst August's brother Georg Wilhelm, as amends for the slight he had done Sophia and the Palatinate house, and for the dishonour he had brought upon his own house by reneging on a solemn contract to marry Sophia, entered into an agreement with him never to get married. There was still no guarantee that Ernst August would succeed to either of the two duchies and anyway, given the track record of Georg Wilhelm in breaking promises, the agreement might not be honoured. Still, it was the best deal available, and it did at least offer Ernst August improved odds in the race for an inheritance. Mortality among his competitors greatly improved his chances. In 1661 he achieved independent status as prince–bishop of Osnabrück, which gave him an army and the capacity to perform a minor role on the stage of European power politics. In 1665 his eldest brother, Christian Ludwig, died without children. In 1679 another brother, Johann Friedrich, died without a male heir, and Ernst August succeeded him as duke of Calenberg (Hanover). If the engagement of 1658 remained in place then Ernst August was now within sight of reuniting the Brunswick-Lüneburg duchies, and closer to realizing the long-cherished dream of the dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg of obtaining from the emperor elevation to the prestigious, influential, and financially rewarding rank of elector by creating a ninth, Hanoverian, electorate. Georg Ludwig and his prospects now became central to Ernst August's designs. As the eldest son of an ambitious father who was fearful that he might die young or in battle, Georg Ludwig's early education and experience had been shaped to prepare him for the vital role he would be called upon to play. His early years seem to have been happy and conventional. Sophia was a good and devoted mother to all her children: Georg Ludwig, if not the best loved, was much loved. He seems to have been in his mother's eyes dutiful, conscientious, and anxious to please, capable of jollity, but in the eyes of others reserved, even cold. He received a formal education from a governor and a preceptor until 1675. Although never as good at languages as his mother, and never possessing anything but the most rudimentary knowledge of English, he was no mean linguist. His education and a cosmopolitan court enabled him to gain a good command of French and German, the languages with which he grew up, as well as Latin, some Italian, and Dutch. But his interests seem to have been practical. From an early age he showed that liking for things military which was to become a dominating passion throughout the rest of his life. It was a liking which his father shared and encouraged. Father and son were also companions in riding and hunting. Georg Ludwig developed into a good horseman, and riding and hunting remained his abiding pleasures. In 1675 he received his first taste of military combat, accompanying his father in operations against the French in the so-called Dutch War, showing personal bravery at the battle of Conzbrücke. He participated in three more campaigns in that war, in 1676, 1677, and 1678, developing into a capable officer. More serious preparations for his future as a ruling prince took place from 1679, after Ernst August became duke of Hanover. In 1679 another uncle died unexpectedly without sons and Ernest Augustus became reigning Duke of Calenberg-Göttingen, with his capital at Hanover. George's surviving uncle, George William of Celle, had married his mistress in order to legitimise his only daughter, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, but looked unlikely to have any further children. Under Salic law, where inheritance of territory was restricted to the male line, the succession of George and his brothers to the territories of their father and uncle now seemed secure. In 1682, the family agreed to adopt the principle of primogeniture, meaning George would inherit all the territory and not have to share it with his brothers. The same year, George married his first cousin, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, thereby securing additional incomes that would have been outside Salic laws requiring male inheritance. The marriage of state was arranged primarily as it ensured a healthy annual income and assisted the eventual unification of Hanover and Celle. His mother was at first against the marriage because she looked down on Sophia Dorothea's mother (who was not of royal birth), and because she was concerned by Sophia Dorothea's legitimated status. However, she was eventually won over by the advantages inherent in the marriage. In 1683, George and his brother, Frederick Augustus, served in the Great Turkish War at the Battle of Vienna, and Sophia Dorothea bore George a son, George Augustus. The following year, Frederick Augustus was informed of the adoption of primogeniture, meaning he would no longer receive part of his father's territory as he had expected. It led to a breach between father and son, and between the brothers, that lasted until Frederick Augustus's death in battle in 1690. With the imminent formation of a single Hanoverian state, and the Hanoverians' continuing contributions to the Empire's wars, Ernest Augustus was made an Elector of the Holy Roman Empire in 1692. George's prospects were now better than ever as the sole heir to his father's electorate and his uncle's duchy. Sophia Dorothea had a second child, a daughter named after her, in 1687, but there were no other pregnancies. The couple became estranged—George preferred the company of his mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg, by whom he had two daughters in 1692 and 1693; and Sophia Dorothea, meanwhile, had her own romance with the Swedish Count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck. Threatened with the scandal of an elopement, the Hanoverian court, including George's brothers and mother, urged the lovers to desist, but to no avail. According to diplomatic sources from Hanover's enemies, in July 1694 the Swedish count was killed, possibly with the connivance of George, and his body thrown into the river Leine weighted with stones. The murder was claimed to have been committed by four of Ernest Augustus's courtiers, one of whom (Don Nicolò Montalbano) was paid the enormous sum of 150,000 thalers, which was about one hundred times the annual salary of the highest paid minister. Later rumours supposed that Königsmarck was hacked to pieces and buried beneath the Hanover palace floorboards.However, sources in Hanover itself, including Sophia, denied any knowledge of Königsmarck's whereabouts. George's marriage to Sophia Dorothea was dissolved, not on the grounds that either of them had committed adultery, but on the grounds that Sophia Dorothea had abandoned her husband. With the concurrence of her father, George had Sophia Dorothea imprisoned in Ahlden House in her native Celle, where she stayed until she died more than thirty years later. She was denied access to her children and father, forbidden to remarry and only allowed to walk unaccompanied within the mansion courtyard. She was, however, endowed with an income, establishment, and servants, and was allowed to ride in a carriage outside her castle, albeit under supervision. Ernest Augustus died on 23 January 1698 leaving all of his territories to George with the exception of the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück, an office he had held since 1661.George thus became Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (also known as Hanover, after its capital) as well as Archbannerbearer and a Prince-Elector of the Holy Roman Empire.His court in Hanover was graced by many cultural icons such as the mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz and the composers George Frideric Händel and Agostino Steffani.Shortly after George's accession to his paternal dukedom, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, who was second-in-line to the English and Scottish thrones, died. By the terms of the English Act of Settlement 1701, George's mother, Sophia, was designated as the heir to the English throne if the then reigning monarch (William III) and his sister-in-law, Princess Anne of Denmark (later Queen Anne) died without surviving issue. The succession was so designed because Sophia was the closest Protestant relative of the British Royal Family; fifty-six Catholic relations with superior hereditary claims were bypassed. The likelihood of any of them converting to Protestantism for the sake of the succession was remote; some had already refused.In August 1701 George was invested with the Order of the Garter and, within six weeks, the nearest Catholic claimant to the throne of England, ex-King James II, died. William III died the following March and was succeeded by Anne. Sophia became heiress presumptive to the new Queen of England. Sophia was in her seventy-first year, older than Anne by thirty-five years, but she was very fit and healthy and invested time and energy in securing the succession either for herself or her son.However, it was George who understood the complexities of English politics and constitutional law, which required further acts in 1705 to naturalise Sophia and her heirs as English subjects, and to detail arrangements for the transfer of power through a Regency Council. In the same year, George's surviving uncle died and he inherited further German dominions: the Principality of Lüneburg-Grubenhagen, centred at Celle. Shortly after George's accession in Hanover, the War of the Spanish Succession broke out. At issue was the right of Philip, the grandson of King Louis XIV of France, to succeed to the Spanish throne under the terms of King Charles II of Spain's will. The Holy Roman Empire, the United Dutch Provinces, England, Hanover and many other German states opposed Philip's right to succeed because they feared that the French House of Bourbon would become too powerful if it also controlled Spain. As part of the war effort, George invaded his neighbouring state, Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, which was pro-French, writing out some of the battle orders himself. The invasion succeeded with few lives lost. As a reward, the prior Hanoverian annexation of the Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg by George's uncle, was recognised by the British and Dutch. In 1706, the Elector of Bavaria was deprived of his offices and titles for siding with Louis against the Empire. The following year, George was invested as an Imperial Field Marshal with command of the imperial army stationed along the Rhine. His tenure was not altogether successful, partly because he was deceived by his ally, the Duke of Marlborough, into a diversionary attack, and partly because Emperor Joseph I appropriated the funds necessary for George's campaign for his own use. Despite this, the German princes thought that he had acquitted himself well. In 1708 they formally confirmed George's position as a Prince-Elector in recognition of, or because of, his service. George did not hold Marlborough's actions against him which he understood were part of a plan to lure French forces from the main attack. In 1709, George resigned as Field Marshal, never to go on active service again. In 1710, he was granted the dignity of Archtreasurer of the Empire,an office formerly held by the Elector Palatine—the absence of the Elector of Bavaria allowed a reshuffling of offices.The death of the Emperor in 1711 threatened to destroy the balance of power in the opposite direction, so the war ended in 1713 with the ratification of the Treaty of Utrecht. Philip was allowed to succeed to the Spanish throne but was removed from the line of succession to the French throne, and the Elector of Bavaria was restored. Though both England and Scotland recognised Anne as their Queen, only the English Parliament had settled on Sophia, Electress of Hanover, as the heir. The Parliament of Scotland had not formally settled the succession question for the Scottish throne. In 1703, the Estates passed a bill that declared that their selection for Queen Anne's successor would not be the same individual as the successor to the English throne, unless England granted full freedom of trade to Scottish merchants in England and its colonies. At first Royal Assent was withheld, but the following year Anne capitulated to the wishes of the Estates and assent was granted to the bill, which became the Act of Security 1704. In response the English Parliament passed measures which threatened to restrict Anglo-Scottish trade and cripple the Scottish economy if the Estates did not agree to the Hanoverian succession.Eventually, in 1707, both Parliaments agreed on an Act of Union which united England and Scotland into a single political entity, the Kingdom of Great Britain, and established the rules of succession as laid down by the Act of Settlement 1701.The union created the largest free trade area in eighteenth-century Europe.Whig politicians believed Parliament had the right to determine the succession, and bestow it on the nearest Protestant relation of the Queen, while many Tories were more inclined to believe in the hereditary right of the Stuarts. In 1710, George announced that he would succeed in Britain by hereditary right, as the right had only been removed from the Catholic Stuarts, and he retained it. "This declaration was meant to scotch any Whig interpretation that parliament had given him the kingdom [and] ... convince the Tories that he was no usurper. George's mother, the Electress Sophia, died on 28 May 1714 at the age of 83. She had collapsed in the gardens at Herrenhausen after rushing to shelter from a shower of rain. George was now Queen Anne's direct heir. He swiftly revised the membership of the Regency Council that would take power after Anne's death, as it was known that Anne's health was failing and politicians in Britain were jostling for power. She suffered a stroke, which left her unable to speak, and died on 1 August 1714. The list of regents was opened, the members sworn in, and George was proclaimed King of Great Britain and Ireland. Partly due to contrary winds, which kept him in The Hague awaiting passage, he did not arrive in Britain until 18 September. George was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 20 October.His coronation was accompanied by rioting in over twenty towns in England. George mainly lived in Great Britain after 1714 though he visited his home in Hanover in 1716, 1719, 1720, 1723 and 1725; in total George spent about one fifth of his reign as King in Germany.A clause in the Act of Settlement that forbade the British monarch from leaving the country without Parliament's permission was unanimously repealed in 1716.During all but the first of the King's absences power was vested in a Regency Council rather than his son, George Augustus, Prince of Wales. Within a year of George's accession the Whigs won an overwhelming victory in the general election of 1715. Several members of the defeated Tory Party sympathised with the Jacobites, and some disgruntled Tories sided with a Jacobite rebellion, which became known as "The Fifteen". The Jacobites sought to put Anne's Roman Catholic half-brother, James Stuart (called "James III" by his supporters and "the Pretender" by his opponents), on the Throne. The Pretender's supporters, led by Lord Mar, an embittered Scottish nobleman who had previously supported the "Glorious Revolution", instigated rebellion in Scotland where support for Jacobitism was stronger than in England. "The Fifteen", however, was a dismal failure; Lord Mar's battle plans were poor, and the Pretender arrived late with too little money and too few arms. By the end of the year the rebellion had all but collapsed. In February 1716, faced with impending defeat, Lord Mar and the Pretender fled to France. After the rebellion was defeated, although there were some executions and forfeitures, George acted to moderate the Government's response, showed leniency, and spent the income from the forfeited estates on schools for Scotland and paying off part of the national debt.George's distrust of the Tories aided the passing of power to the Whigs. Whig dominance would grow to be so great under George that theTories would not return to power for another half-century. After the election, the Whig-dominated Parliament passed the Septennial Act 1715, which extended the maximum duration of Parliament to seven years (although it could be dissolved earlier by the Sovereign).Thus Whigs already in power could remain in such a position for a greater period of time. After his accession in Great Britain, George's relationship with his son (which had always been poor) worsened. George Augustus, Prince of Wales, encouraged opposition to his father's policies, including measures designed to increase religious freedom in Britain and expand Hanover's German territories at the expense of Sweden. In 1717 the birth of a grandson led to a major quarrel between George and the Prince of Wales. The King, supposedly following custom, appointed the Lord Chamberlain, the Duke of Newcastle, as one of the baptismal sponsors of the child. The King was angered when the Prince of Wales, disliking Newcastle, verbally insulted the Duke at the christening, which the Duke misunderstood as a challenge to a duel. The Prince was told to leave the royal residence, St. James's Palace.The Prince's new home, Leicester House, became a meeting place for the King's political opponents. George and his son were later reconciled at the insistence of Robert Walpole and the desire of the Princess of Wales, who had moved out with her husband but missed her children who had been left in the care of the King. However, following the quarrel at the baptism, father and son would never again be on cordial terms.George was active in directing British foreign policy during his early reign. In 1717 he contributed to the creation of the Triple Alliance, an anti-Spanish league composed of Great Britain, France and the United Provinces. In 1718 the Holy Roman Empire was added to the body which became known as the Quadruple Alliance. The subsequent War of the Quadruple Alliance involved the same issue as the War of the Spanish Succession. The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) had recognised the grandson of King Louis XIV of France, Philip, as the King of Spain on the condition that he gave up his rights to succeed to the French throne. Upon the death of Louis XIV in 1715, however, Philip sought to overturn the treaty.Spain supported a Jacobite-led invasion of Scotland in 1719 but stormy seas allowed only about three hundred Spanish troops to arrive in Scotland.A base was established at Eilean Donan Castle on the west Scottish coast in April, only for it to be destroyed by British ships a month later. Attempts by the Jacobites to recruit Scottish clansmen yielded a fighting force of only about a thousand men. The Jacobites were poorly equipped, and were easily defeated by British artillery at the Battle of Glen Shiel.The clansmen dispersed into the Highlands, and the Spaniards surrendered. The invasion never posed any serious threat to George's government. With the French this time fighting against him in the War, Philip's armies fared poorly. As a result the Spanish and French thrones remained separate. Simultaneously Hanover gained from the resolution of the Great Northern War which had been caused by rivalry between Sweden and Russia for control In Hanover, the King was absolute monarch. All government expenditure above 50 thalers (between 12 and 13 British pounds), and the appointment of all army officers, all ministers, and even government officials above the level of copyist, was in his personal control. In contrast, in Great Britain George had to govern through Parliament. In 1715 when the Whigs came to power, George's chief ministers included Sir Robert Walpole, Lord Townshend (Walpole's brother-in-law), Lord Stanhope and Lord Sunderland. In 1717 Lord Townshend was dismissed and Walpole resigned from the Cabinet over disagreements with their colleagues; Lord Stanhope became supreme in foreign affairs, and Lord Sunderland the same in domestic matters.Lord Sunderland's power began to wane in 1719. He introduced a Peerage Bill which attempted to limit the size of the House of Lords by restricting new creations. The measure would have solidified Sunderland's control of the House by preventing the creation of opposition peers but it was defeated after Walpole led the opposition to the bill by delivering what was considered "the most brilliant speech of his career".Walpole and Townshend were reappointed as ministers the following year and a new, supposedly unified, Whig government formed.Greater problems arose over financial speculation and the management of the national debt. Certain government bonds could not be redeemed without the consent of the bondholder and had been issued when interest rates were high; consequently each bond represented a long-term drain on public finances, as bonds were hardly ever redeemed. In 1719 the South Sea Company proposed to take over £31 million (three fifths) of the British national debt by exchanging government securities for stock in the company.[The Company bribed Lord Sunderland, George's mistress Melusine von der Schulenburg, and Lord Stanhope's cousin, Charles Stanhope, who was Secretary of the Treasury, to support their plan.The Company enticed bondholders to convert their high-interest, irredeemable bonds to low-interest, easily-tradeable stocks by offering apparently preferential financial gains. Company prices rose rapidly; the shares had cost £128 on 1 January 1720, but were valued at £500 when the conversion scheme opened in May.On 24 June the price reached a peak of £1050.The company's success led to the speculative flotation of other companies, some of a bogus nature,and the Government, in an attempt to suppress these schemes and with the support of the Company, passed the Bubble Act.With the rise in the market now halted,uncontrolled selling began in August, which caused the stock to plummet to £150 by the end of September. Many individuals—including aristocrats—lost vast sums and some were completely ruined.[66] George, who had been in Hanover since June, returned to London in November—sooner than he wanted or was usual—at the request of the ministry.The economic crisis, known as the South Sea Bubble, made George and his ministers extremely unpopular. In 1721 Lord Stanhope, though personally innocent,collapsed and died after a stressful debate in the House of Lords, and Lord Sunderland resigned from public office.Sunderland, however, retained a degree of personal influence with George until his sudden death in 1722 allowed the rise of Sir Robert Walpole. Walpole became de facto Prime Minister, although the title was not formally applied to him (officially, he was First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer). His management of the South Sea crisis, by rescheduling the debts and arranging some compensation, helped the return to financial stability.Through Walpole's skilful management of Parliament, George managed to avoid direct implication in the Company's fraudulent actions. Claims that George had received free stock as a bribe are not supported by evidence; indeed receipts in the Royal Archives show that he paid for his subscriptions and that he lost money in the crash. As requested by Walpole, George revived the Order of the Bath in 1725 which enabled Walpole to reward or gain political supporters by offering them the honour. Walpole became extremely powerful and was largely able to appoint ministers of his own choosing. Unlike his predecessor, Queen Anne, George rarely attended meetings of the cabinet; most of his communications were in private, and he only exercised substantial influence with respect to British foreign policy. With the aid of Lord Townshend, he arranged for the ratification by Great Britain, France and Prussia of the Treaty of Hanover, which was designed to counterbalance the Austro-Spanish Treaty of Vienna and protect British trade.[76] George, although increasingly reliant on Walpole, could still have replaced his ministers at will. Walpole was actually afraid of being removed from office towards the end of George I's reign,but such fears were put to an end when George died during his sixth trip to his native Hanover since his accession as king. He suffered a stroke on the road between Delden and Nordhorn on 9 June 1727,and was taken by carriage to the Prince-Bishop's palace at Osnabrück where he died in the early hours of 11 June 1727.He was buried in the chapel of Leine Castle but his remains were moved to the chapel at Herrenhausen after World War II.George was succeeded by his son, George Augustus, who took the throne as George II. It was widely assumed, even by Walpole for a time, that George II planned to remove Walpole from office but was prevented from doing so by his queen, Caroline of Ansbach. However, Walpole commanded a substantial majority in Parliament and George II had little choice but to retain him or risk ministerial instability. In subsequent reigns the power of the prime minister increased further at the expense of the power of the sovereign. George was ridiculed by his British subjects; some of his contemporaries, such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, thought him unintelligent on the grounds that he was wooden in public. Though he was unpopular in Great Britain due to his supposed inability to speak English, such an inability may not have existed later in his reign as documents from that time show that he understood, spoke and wrote English.He certainly spoke fluent German and French, good Latin, and some Italian and Dutch.His treatment of his wife, Sophia Dorothea, became something of a scandal.The British perceived him as too German, and in the opinion of historian Ragnhild Hatton, wrongly assumed that he had a succession of German mistresses. However in mainland Europe, he was seen as a progressive ruler supportive of the Enlightenment who permitted his critics to publish without risk of severe censorship, and provided sanctuary to Voltaire when the philosopher was exiled from Paris in 1726.European and British sources agree that George was reserved, temperate and financially prudent;George disliked to be in the public light at social events, avoided the royal box at the opera and often travelled incognito to the house of a friend to play cards.Despite some unpopularity, the Protestant George I was seen by most of his subjects as a better alternative to the Roman Catholic Pretender James. William Makepeace Thackeray indicates such ambivalent feelings as he wrote: His heart was in Hanover. He was more than fifty-four years of age when he came amongst us. We took him in because we wanted him, because he served our turn. We laughed at his uncouth German ways, and sneered at him ... I, for one, would have been on his side in those days. Cynical and selfish as he was, he was better than a King out of St Germains [James, the Stuart Pretender] with a French King's orders in his pocket, and a swarm of Jesuits in his train. Writers of the nineteenth century, such as Thackeray, Sir Walter Scott and Lord Mahon, were reliant on biased first-hand accounts published in the previous century such as Lord Hervey's memoirs, and looked back on the Jacobite cause with romantic, even sympathetic, eyes. They in turn, influenced British authors of the first half of the twentieth century such as G. K. Chesterton, who introduced further anti-German and anti-Protestant bias into the interpretation of George's reign. However, in the wake of World War II continental European archives were opened to historians of the later twentieth century and nationalistic anti-German feeling subsided. George's life and reign were re-explored by scholars such as Beattie and Hatton, and his character, abilities and motives re-assessed in a more generous light.John H. Plumb noted that: Some historians have exaggerated the king's indifference to English affairs and made his ignorance of the English language seem more important than it was. He had little difficulty in communicating with his ministers in French, and his interest in all matters affecting both foreign policy and the court was profound. Yet the character of George I remains elusive; he was in turn genial and affectionate in private letters to his daughter, and then dull and awkward in public. Perhaps his own mother summed him up when "explaining to those who regarded him as cold and overserious that he could be jolly, that he took things to heart, that he felt deeply and sincerely and was more sensitive than he cared to show." Whatever his true character, he ascended a precarious throne, and either by political wisdom and guile, or through accident and indifference, he left it secure in the hands of the Hanoverians and of Parliament.

Artist biography

Kneller was born Gottfried Kniller in Lübeck, Germany. His father Zachary Kniller was a painter and the Chief Surveyor of the city of Lübeck. In about 1662 he read mathematics at Leyden University before turning to painting, studying under Ferdinand Bol and probably Rembrandt. He was in Rome and Venice from 1672 to 1675, probably painting portraits of the Venetian nobility, before settling in England in 1676. There he ran a successful studio producing replicas and copies. After being introduced to the Duke of Monmouth, he received sittings from the king and was launched as a court artist, establishing a reputation as a portrait painter in the grand manner.

In 1684-5 Kneller was in France, painting Louis XIV for Charles II. A court painter to James II and George I, he was appointed principal painter to William and Mary in 1688. He was knighted in 1692, and in 1695 received, in the presence of the king, an honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Oxford. In 1700 he was created a Knight of the Holy Roman Empire by the Emperor Leopold I. He married Susanna Grave, a widow, in 1704; the couple were childless. In 1711 he became Governor of the first London Academy, and was re-elected annually until 1718. George I granted Kneller a baronetcy in 1715. At the time of his death in London, about five hundred works remained unfinished in his studio.