King George I (1660-1727) was King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1714-27. As the first British sovereign from the house of Hanover, George was personally unpopular in England due to his German background and culture, as well as his inability to speak English. The Whig party came to power in Parliament simultaneously with his succession.
In 1720, George was implicated in the financial collapse of the South Sea Company, an escapade that came to be known as the "South Sea Bubble." Holders of government bonds were allowed to exchange them for stock (with 6% interest) in the new company, which was given a monopoly of British trade with the islands of the South Seas and South America. The monopoly was established in anticipation of trading concessions from Spain in the Peace of Utrecht. But the concessions never materialized. Banks could not collect loans on inflated stock prices for the company; prices of stock fell, and thousands were ruined. In the ensuing scandal, it became apparent that George and his mistresses had taken part in South Sea Company transactions that may have been illegal. Yet his talented minister Robert Walpole defused the potential scandal in the House of Commons and saved him from disgrace. Subsequently, George was forced to give Walpole and his colleague Charles Townshend a free hand in the ministry. With the ascendance of Walpole came a policy of "wise and salutary neglect" toward the colonies. Instead of subjecting the colonies to firm royal control, the Board of Trade became a vessel for political patronage. The colonies became accustomed to running their own affairs and ignoring the Navigation Acts.