Authors: Malcolm Day
How the Trojan Brutus may have been Britain’s first Jew
Legendary Celtic founder of Bath with Atheian Arts
The alternative account to Shakespeare on King Lear
Our bard says it was King Mulmutius
An early town planner
How Cassivellaunus stalled the mighty Romans
Rare peace and prosperity under Cymbeline
Despite heavy defeats Caractacus has the last word in Rome
The sacred hare of Boudicca
Could it have been Old King Cole?
Arthur’s role in a Somerset zodiac
Was this the state funeral of the Anglo-Saxon king Redwald?
Ethelbert sees the Roman Church as key to political power
But why did the great Offa build one at all?
An unpromising start sees Egbert rise to the top
Kenneth MacAlpine inaugurates Scottish monarchy
Alfred the Great, gentleman and scholar
Eadwig the lustful
Edgar ‘The Peaceful’ is compared to Christ
Edward the Martyr is champion of Russian Orthodox Church
How come such a sloth reigned for 38 years?
Wessex’s pride restored
England’s fiery Danish king is a man of contrasts
But was the founder of Westminster Abbey really that pious?
Shipwreck and shooting star spell the end of Saxon England
William the Conqueror ensures no reversions
William ‘Rufus’ gets his comeuppance
The sorrowful fate of Henry I
Uncrowned Queen Matilda mothers Plantagenet dynasty
Worst excesses in English history
Henry II and his ‘turbulent priest’
Chivalrous ‘Lionheart’ who cost his country dear
King John invokes the wrath of all
Civilised Henry III loses touch
Edward I expels Jews and prostitutes
Robert ‘the Bruce’ delivers at Bannockburn
Not all is proper in the reign of Edward II
Edward III leads a golden age of chivalry
How Richard II found his character
Henry Bolingbroke plots downfall of Richard II
Hard graft ends in twist of fate
Henry VI more monk than king
Edward IV flies in the face of ‘Kingmaker’
Did Richard III really deserve his evil image?
Henry VII commissions Cabot to set sail
James IV considers alliance with ‘Richard IV’ of England
Why did Henry VIII not abandon his Supremacy once he had a son as heir?
Edward VI points the way to care of the underprivileged
England’s nine-day queen
Mary I’s popularity turns sour without heir
The Scottish and English queens
Brave Queen Elizabeth never recovers
James VI of Scotland has no idea what trials await him as James I of England
Failed experiment of the principled Charles I
Charles II liberates devils from Puritan prison
The brief reign of James II
Mary distraught at having to marry unattractive William
Yet none to continue Stuart line
The English non-plussed with George I
George II is meat and drink to Robert Walpole
George III faces the realities of a modernising democracy
The ungovernable Prince of ‘Whales’ and George IV
Sober William IV is welcome relief
Victoria and her men
Edward VII epitomises age of excitement
George V endeavours to keep onside in wartime strife
Edward VIII’s fall from grace
Stuttering Bertie becomes the people’s champion
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