Amazing & Extraordinary Facts About Kings & Queens

BOOK: Amazing & Extraordinary Facts About Kings & Queens
2.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



Malcolm Day



Refugee from Ancient Israel?

How the Trojan Brutus may have been Britain’s first Jew


Legendary Celtic founder of Bath with Atheian Arts

Tragic Loss Regained

The alternative account to Shakespeare on King Lear

Who Made Britain’s First Laws?

Our bard says it was King Mulmutius

Lud, Lover of London

An early town planner

Celtic Charioteers Shock Caesar

How Cassivellaunus stalled the mighty Romans

You’ve Never Had It So Good

Rare peace and prosperity under Cymbeline

A Charmed Life

Despite heavy defeats Caractacus has the last word in Rome

Holy War

The sacred hare of Boudicca

Did Constantine the Great have a British Grandfather?

Could it have been Old King Cole?

Great Mounted Archer

Arthur’s role in a Somerset zodiac

The Mystery of Sutton Hoo

Was this the state funeral of the Anglo-Saxon king Redwald?

First Christian English King

Ethelbert sees the Roman Church as key to political power

Dyke Twice the Length of Hadrian’s Wall

But why did the great Offa build one at all?

First Saxon King of England

An unpromising start sees Egbert rise to the top

The Mystique of Scone

Kenneth MacAlpine inaugurates Scottish monarchy

The King Who Forgave his Enemies

Alfred the Great, gentleman and scholar

Youngest Ever Royal Philanderer

Eadwig the lustful

Coronation Ceremony is Model for Europe

Edgar ‘The Peaceful’ is compared to Christ

Dorset’s Great Royal Pilgrimage

Edward the Martyr is champion of Russian Orthodox Church

Was Ethelred Really ‘Unready’?

How come such a sloth reigned for 38 years?

Ironside on the Case

Wessex’s pride restored

Canute Demonstrates Limits to Earthly Power

England’s fiery Danish king is a man of contrasts

Saintly Healer of the King’s Evil

But was the founder of Westminster Abbey really that pious?

Portents of Disaster

Shipwreck and shooting star spell the end of Saxon England

Changed Forever

William the Conqueror ensures no reversions

Live by the Arrow and Ye Shall Die by the Arrow

William ‘Rufus’ gets his comeuppance

The King Never Smiled Again

The sorrowful fate of Henry I

Twelve Year Old Weds Holy Roman Emperor

Uncrowned Queen Matilda mothers Plantagenet dynasty

Anarchy under Stephen

Worst excesses in English history

Penitent Ruler of Europe’s Largest Empire

Henry II and his ‘turbulent priest’

Ransom for a King

Chivalrous ‘Lionheart’ who cost his country dear

Church Bells Fall Silent

King John invokes the wrath of all

Too Nice For His Own Good

Civilised Henry III loses touch

Zealous Reformer Persecutes Minorities

Edward I expels Jews and prostitutes

Old Enemy Vanquished in a Day

Robert ‘the Bruce’ delivers at Bannockburn

Pansy Meets Grisly End

Not all is proper in the reign of Edward II

Order of the Garter is Toast of the Town

Edward III leads a golden age of chivalry

Child King Survives a Nest of Vipers

How Richard II found his character

Murky Rise of House of Lancaster

Henry Bolingbroke plots downfall of Richard II

French Crown Slips from Henry V’s Grasp

Hard graft ends in twist of fate

Architect of Eton Not Interested in Ruling

Henry VI more monk than king

Yorkist Star Rises

Edward IV flies in the face of ‘Kingmaker’

Wicked Uncle or Cornered Rat?

Did Richard III really deserve his evil image?

Patron of Expansion

Henry VII commissions Cabot to set sail

Canny Scot Eyes Opportunity

James IV considers alliance with ‘Richard IV’ of England

Visionary Supremo

Why did Henry VIII not abandon his Supremacy once he had a son as heir?

King with Socialist Agenda

Edward VI points the way to care of the underprivileged

Lady Jane Grey Faints on Hearing News

England’s nine-day queen

Phantom Pregnancy Changes All

Mary I’s popularity turns sour without heir

Two Cousins Who Never Met

The Scottish and English queens

Faerie Queen from Broken Home

Brave Queen Elizabeth never recovers

Eager Scot Opens Can of Worms

James VI of Scotland has no idea what trials await him as James I of England

So Good a Man, So Bad a King

Failed experiment of the principled Charles I

Time of Gay Abandon Comes to Woeful End

Charles II liberates devils from Puritan prison

Fleeing into Exile Disguised as a Girl

The brief reign of James II

Unlikely Double Act

Mary distraught at having to marry unattractive William

Anne Bears More Children Than Any Other English Queen

Yet none to continue Stuart line

German Prince Beats Rivals to the Throne

The English non-plussed with George I

Useful Conformist

George II is meat and drink to Robert Walpole

Struggle for Power

George III faces the realities of a modernising democracy

The Prince Who Lost His Charm

The ungovernable Prince of ‘Whales’ and George IV

Surprised to be King

Sober William IV is welcome relief

Propping Up The Queen

Victoria and her men

Pleasure Seeker

Edward VII epitomises age of excitement

Hanover Dropped

George V endeavours to keep onside in wartime strife

Eligible Bachelor Becomes Figure of Mistrust

Edward VIII’s fall from grace

Fearless in War, Fearful in Life

Stuttering Bertie becomes the people’s champion

Fashion Icon to Fading Star

Elizabeth II was precocious but could she mother?


hen Prince Charles, though not actually king, but acting in the full role of heir apparent, objected to the proposed building of a modernist extension to the National Gallery, his remark that it would be like ‘a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved friend’ in many respects could only have been uttered by one blessed with royal prerogative. Anyone dispensable would never have dared to object with such forceful condemnation. Whatever our feelings about the right he might have had to make such a comment, the fact that he made it underlies the age-old reality that royalty knows no limits.

Until they were reined in by Parliament, British monarchs historically have done whatever pleases them, sometimes regretfully and to their undoing. But it is just this unbounded wilfulness that provides us with an enduring fascination for the royals. Sovereigns were for so long a rule unto themselves – and we surely envy such unrestrained liberty! Certainly to read about the eccentric, the bombastic, the outrageous deeds in these lives adds a vivid streak of colour to the mundane sphere of humanity, like blue veins through a cheese.

Indeed it is royalty’s idea of self-importance – of being accountable to noone – that has set them apart. No wonder the notion of blue blood makes us smile: it is absurd yet appealing, and in a way it perfectly symbolises the historically held belief that our kings and queens came gift-wrapped in divine protection. Absolute power was bestowed in equal measure on the weak as on the mighty, the vain as the earnest, the desultory as the ambitious. Whatever earthly sin they may commit, deadly or venal, it was as nothing so long as blue blood coursed through the veins of its perpetrator.

Bizarre though the idea of such infallibility might seem today, the concept was widespread in the ancient world. England was a Christian kingdom founded on the early Israelite tradition of anointed kingship. It should be no surprise that a monarch such as Charles I would do away with any obstacle to his rule, including a testy government he thought more nuisance than useful. The king’s divine right to rule was taken very seriously. Only a body with such certainty of religious conviction as the Puritans possessed could be confident of challenging such authority. However our kings and queens have viewed their role, their attitudes to the monarchy have varied enormously – some, such as Henry VI and George VI, have even wished they had no such blessing.

It is the curious and the unusual in these royal lives that come into focus in this book, from the eccentric domestic routines of George II to young Eadwig caught by St Dunstan in a
ménage a trois
; or Queen Anne’s bearing of 17 children none of whom would survive to inherit her crown. The scope of the book is not to produce a series of potted biographies, dwelling on the well read. Some extraordinary facts might be familiar to us but are worth the re-telling because they are just that. Sometimes figures such as William and Mary we might feel are familiar to us, yet other, lesser-known facts about them can be learnt that cast these players in quite a different light.

In the case of this double act, for instance, is it known that Mary dreaded marrying her Dutch cousin and wept with sorrow on their wedding day? Questions and unsolved mysteries still abound, despite the best investigations of historians who will disagree, and simply admit to not knowing what precisely motivated some actions. The jury is still out on Richard III, for example. What was going through his mind when he decided, fatefully, to take those two princes captive and execute them. And why was Elizabeth I so envious of her imprisoned sister Mary Queen of Scots?

Every king and queen of England is included, except for the young Prince in the Tower, whose interest is related in the entry on Richard III. Some Scottish monarchs have been selected, and I apologise that space has not allowed more. There is also an admixture of mythical kings and queens – the likes of Trojan Brutus and King Lear – who I feel hold a place in our culture, representing as they do the earliest traditions of sovereignty in Britain.

Malcolm Day, December 2010

BOOK: Amazing & Extraordinary Facts About Kings & Queens
2.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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