The Norman Conquest – a starting point
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the events leading to the Norman Conquest from the Norman point of view. The Saxons had been troubled by Sweyn Forkbeard and Cnut resulting in the flight of Ethelred the Unready at the beginning of the eleventh century. His son Edmund Ironside also chose exile rather than continued warfare. However, Ethelred’s second wife, Emma of Normandy was made of sterner stuff. Having sent her two young sons, Edward and Alfred, to the safety of the Norman court she remained in England to become queen for a second time – to Cnut. Links with Normandy were forged long before Duke William arrived in 1066. It seems reasonable then that the last Saxon king who appears at the beginning of the story told in the Bayeux Tapestry, seated on his throne with a stick to show his age and then on his deathbed bequeathing his kingdom into the care of his queen Edith and her brother Harold Godwinson should be the first of the monarchs on the list of kings, queens and mistresses.
King Edward the Confessor died on the 5th January 1066. He had no children of his own and no close kinsmen descended from the royal house of Wessex. The Witan, or council, elected Edward’s brother-in-law Harold Godwinson as England’s next king. Harold faced two invasions that year. He was killed at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066. William, Duke of Normandy became King of England by right of conquest.
Kings and queens of England from the Norman Conquest onwards beginning with a rhyme to help remember them all:
Willy, Willy, Harry, Steve,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry Three;
One, two, three Neds, Richard Two,
Harries Four Five Six, then who?
Edwards Four Five, Dick the Bad,
Harries (twain) Ned Six (the lad);
Mary, Bessie, James ye ken,
Then Charlie, Charlie, James again
Will and Mary, Anna Gloria
Georges four, Will Fourth, Victoria
Edward Seven next, and then
Came George the Fifth in nineteen ten
Ned the Eighth soon abdicated
Then George the Sixth was coronated
After which Elizabeth
And that’s all folks until her death, after which comes King Charles III.
King Henry I arranged the marriage of his widowed daughter Matilda to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. It was not a happy marriage however Geoffrey’s personal badge was a sprig of flowering broom (Planta genista) which gave England’s medieval royal family its surname.
Henry succeeded to the English throne upon the death of Stephen. Aged 21, he was already the Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Touraine and by his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine also Duke of Aqitaine. He’d been involved in governing his realm since 1144. He spent most of his time travelling from province to province ruling his vast empire: the Angevin Empire.
Married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, initially a love match, in his later years he took the ‘Fair Rosamund’ as a mistress. He is also famous for his ill-fated relationship with his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.
Henry had his eldest surviving king crowned King of England while he was still alive. The Young King Henry was crowned in 1172 and when no power followed, he rebelled against his father in 1173. He was still rebelling when he died in 1183.
Gerald of Wales described Henry II. “He was a man of reddish, freckled complexion, with a large round head, grey eyes that glowed fiercely and grew bloodshot in anger, a fiery countenance and a harsh cracked voice.”
Richard reigned for ten years but spent only seven months in England. He once said that he would sell London, if he could, in order to raise funds for his crusade. He was crowned on the 2nd September 1189 in Westminster Abbey. He married Princess Berengaria of Navarre in Limassol during his journey to the Holy Land. Richard was personally brave and a military strategist but although he was able to negotiate a three year truce with Saladin in 1192 he was never able to take Jerusalem. On his return from the Holy Land he was taken prisoner by the Holy Roman Emperor who ransomed the English king for 100,000 marks.
Richard’s brother John was also called ‘Lackland’ and ‘Softsword’.
Henry II had arranged John’s marriage to Isabella of Gloucester in order to ensure that John had land. Richard made sure the marriage went ahead so that John should not cause trouble while he was on crusade. It was a strategy that failed. Upon his accession to the crown on 27 May 1199 John found himself faced with rebellion in Normandy. His nephew Arthur of Brittany, the son of his older brother Geoffrey, had been heir to Richard’s crown and as the son of the elder brother had, in many men’s eyes a better claim.
The rebellion against John failed and Arthur disappeared. John is the only King of England who has been accused of personally committing murder. John’s reputation continued on its downward spiral when he divorced his wife in order to marry the strategically more important Isabella of Angouleme. He is said to have been besotted with his bride but their marriage was a strange one with John forcing his ex-wife and wife to live in the same palace on occasion. John is once said to have sent a poisoned egg to a woman who spurned his advances and fined another one 100 chickens for daring to ask to spend the night with her own husband rather than him. Another man substituted a prostitute in John’s bed rather than his wife. Along with his seeming inability to keep his hands off other men’s wives and daughters John also irritated the barons by paying attention to them. Having lost his father’s empire he focused on England. This led to the Baron’s War and the signing of Magna Carta. Positively, John was a keen reader and a good administrator. John is alleged to have lost his jewels in The Wash.
Henry was nine when he was crowned at Gloucester Cathedral on the 28 October 1216. London was under the control of the french and the land was in the midst of civil war. He was also the first child monarch to accede to the throne. England was ruled by two regents during his minority – Hugh de Burgh and William Marshall. Henry took full control of England in 1227.
He married Eleanor of Provence with whom he had nine children.
Henry was forced to sign the Provisions of Oxford in 1258 which sought to limit royal power. Henry repudiated the provisions and a war with the barons broke out in 1264. It was led by Simon de Montfort who was married to Henry’s sister, Eleanor. De Montfort won the Battle of Lewes even though he had a broken leg at the time and was forced to direct the battle from a cart. Henry was captured but the following year Henry’s son Edward was victorious at the Battle of Evesham.
Henry’s reign was a long one but following the battle of Evesham the real power lay with Prince Edward.
Edward was the first king not to have to be on ‘the scene’ in order to claim his crown. He was on his was home from crusade when he learned that his father was dead. He became king in November 1272 but was not crowned until 19 August 1274.
This is the king famous for the great circle of castle’s built around Wales. He invaded Wales in 1282 and the Welsh lost their independence in 1284 with the Statute of Rhuddlan. The death of King Alexander III of Scotland without an heir resulted in the short-term with the investiture in Scotland of John Balliol and in 1296 with the invasion of Scotland. 1297 saw the Battle of Stirling Bridge and the defeat of the English at the hands of William Wallace who was finally executed in London in 1305. Edward died in 1307 on his way back to Scotland. Warfare between England and Scotland occurred intermittently for the next two hundred years and gave rise to a culture of border reiving.
Edward married first Eleanor of Castille, commemorated by the Eleanor Crosses that mark the places where her body lay on its journey for burial. He then married Marguerite of France.
Edward was the fourth son of Edward I but the first Prince of Wales having been born while Queen Eleanor was staying at Caernarfon. He was married to Isabella of France (known as the She-Wolf) and they had four children. It was Isabella who probably ordered Edward’s murder at Berkeley Castle.
Edward relied on his favourite Piers Gaveston who was so secure in the king’s favour that he wore Isabella’s jewels on her wedding day. Gaveston was kidnapped and murdered in 1312. Two years later the Scots won the Battle of Bannockburn under Robert Bruce.
The period is notable for the growing power of the Despensers and for the fact that Queen Isabella together with her lover, Roger Mortimer, seized power, deposed Edward and executed both of the Hugh Despenser – father and son. It is also a time when Parliament can be seen to be growing in power.
Robert the Bruce is said to have declared that he was more afraid of the bones of Edward I than he was of his living son. He also made a comment about the fact that it was more difficult to get a half a foot of land from the first Edward than a kingdom from his successor.
Edward came to the throne after the deposition of his father. He was 15. It wasn’t until 1330 that he was able to take power from Isabella and Mortimer. Edward was married to Philippa of Hainault. His mistress was the infamous Alice Perrers.
Parliament was divided into Commons and Lords during this period; the Hundred Years War got started and the Black Death killed one-third of the English population.
Edward’s heir – the Black Prince- died in 1376 meaning that when Edward died the following year the throne was once again inherited by a child. Unfortunately Edward left many other sons all of whom he’d made dukes. This was the first time that England had dukes as well as earls.
This image -oil painted on board- is the first portrait of a monarch. Richard was ten when he was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 16 July 1377. His regents were his uncles John of Gaunt and Thomas of Gloucester.
Richard’s reign is chronicled by Froissart who writes not only about the king but narrates his own story as well.
“I was sitting at table in Bordeaux when King Richard was born. It was a Wednesday, at ten o’clock. And Sir Richard de Pont-Chardon, who was at that time Marshal of Aquitaine, came over to me and said: ‘Froissart, write it down and record it that the Princess of Wales has given birth to a fine son. He is a King’s son, for his father has been made King of Galicia by Don Pedro, and is even now leaving for that country to conquer it. He is of a royal line, and he will be a king himself’. The gentle knight of Pont-Chardon made no mistake, for Richard was King of England for twenty-two years”
from Froissart’s Chronicle
Richard’s reign began promisingly when he faced down the peasants on Blackheath during the Peasants Revolt in 1381. His wife was Anne of Bohemia pictured on the right from the Liber Regalis (Coronation Book). They had no children but he came to rely upon her and was distraught when she died unexpectedly. He then married Isabella of Valois, a child-bride. It was also during this reign that John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales but internal family politics led to his demise. In 1387 the Lords took control of the Government. Initially, once Richard regained control he made no move to take his revenge but then in 1397 he exiled his cousin Henry Bolingbroke. In 1399 Bolingbroke became the Duke of Lancaster upon his father’s death. Richard confiscated his property and Bolingbroke returned to England to claim his inheritance. Richard was away fighting in Ireland. When he returned he was captured and imprisoned in Pontefract Castle where he was starved to death.
The House of Lancaster
Henry seized the throne from his cousin. He was the fourth son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. He was married first to Mary le Bohun with whom he had seven children and then to Joan of Navarre. The Welsh rebelled against English rule during Henry’s reign they were led by Owain Glyndwr. The great northern family -the Percies also became rebellious during this time. It was also during this reign that the English started burning protestant heretics. The followers of John Wycliffe who translated the Bible into English were called Lollards. Henry was constantly short of money and constantly trying to quell the rebellions against him. He also suffered from ill health having contracted an illness much like leprosy.
Henry famously defeated the French at Agincourt in 1415 and by 1420 he had been accepted by the French king as his heir. The pact between Charles VI and Henry was sealed by Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Valois. This famous sideways on image was possibly painted like this because Henry suffered a disfiguring facial injury – so this really a case of seeing his best side. When he died from an ongoing dysentry-like illness contracted during his military campaigns in France he left a 10-month-old son.
and 1470- 1471
This monarch’s weakness tipped England into civil war.
Henry’s uncles the Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Gloucester were appointed as regents during Henry’s minority.
In 1431, Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and in 1437 Henry assumed his personal rule. In 1445 he married Margaret of Anjou. Eight years later his only child Edward was born. The English were driven out of France by 1453 and even worse Henry VI became ill. He was unsuited to being a medieval king having a gentle and pious personality. It was rumoured that he was at best
‘childish’ at worst ‘insane’. His French grandfather was, after all, Charles the Mad. Whatever the reasons behind his behaviour a regent – Richard Duke of York was appointed. Richard and Henry’s wife – Margaret of Anjou- disliked one another intensely. A year after Richard assumed responsibility, Henry got his wits back and Richard was dismissed. In 1455, The Battle of St Albans was fought. This is the first battle in the Wars of the Roses.
The Wars of the Roses continued intermittently for thirty years.
Henry was deposed in 1461 but restored to the throne in 1470. He was deposed again the following year and murdered in the Tower of London the same year. His son, the long awaited for Edward, was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury.
The House of York
Edward was the son of Richard of York (killed during the Battle of Wakefield) and Cecily Neville. He defeated the Lancastrian army at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross to be declared king by his cousin, the Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker). He then went on to marry the widowed Elizabeth Woodville which irritated warwick and ensured that the court was full of Woodville relations seeking preferment. As a result of this Warwick changed sides and Henry VI briefly regained the throne. 1471 saw the death of Warwick, young Prince Edward and the murder of Henry VI in the Tower of London.
Following his death rumours circulated about Edward’s legitimacy and also the legitimacy of his marriage, He died unexpectedly in 1483 possibly due to his love of good food, wine and women.
Edward was the elder of the so-called “Princes in the Tower” allegedly murdered by their uncle Richard III. There are other contenders for the role including Henry VII and there is also a theory that at least one of them survived.
Edward was born whilst Elizabeth Woodville was in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey in November 1470. When he died he was aged twelve. His accession to the throne was marked by his move from Ludlow Castle to the Tower in preparation for his coronation. Instead, he is declared illegitimate along with the rest of his siblings on the grounds that his father was already pre-contracted to Lady Elizabeth Butler at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Parliament ratified the decision and hey presto no more Edward V. The young princes were last seen alive in September. Their disappearance remains a mystery.
Richard III 1483-1485
‘The King in the car park’ as he has become known since the discovery of his skeleton by a University of Leicester team of archeologists was really a hunchback, though whether he was as black as the Tudor propaganda machine painted him is another matter. What s certain is that forensic experts have reconstructed how he would have looked and the finished model shows a remarkable resemblance to his portrait.
Initially Richard became the regent for his nephew the child-king Edward V who was never crowned. He and his brother Richard were last seen alive in the Tower of London. Shakespeare makes it clear that their evil uncle did away with them so that he might be king himself. His two year kingship was filled with rebellion, executions without trial and general misery especially when Richard’s son died and also his wife Anne of Warwick. The house of Lancaster played its last remaining card and on the 22nd August 1485 Richard died on the field at the Battle of Bosworth -partly due to the treachery of the Stanleys and Henry Tudor claimed the crown bringing the Wars of the Roses to its official conclusion.
Henry’s claim to the throne came from his mother Margaret Beaufort. She was descended from John of Gaunt. Henry’s father was Edmund Tudor was the son of Owen Tudor and Katherine of Valois who had been Henry V’s wife. So Henry VI was Henry Tudor’s half-uncle. In either event the claim was a weak one
but it was all that remained to the House of Lancaster. Margaret Beaufort had no other children so she worked tirelessly on her son’s behalf and once he’d gained the throne was an important figure in the royal household. She is shown in this image with a prayer book in her hands. As well as being exceptional pious she was also very learned. In an attempt to ensure that fighting didn’t break out again and to add to his claim to the throne Henry married the daughter of Edward IV- Elizabeth of York . Henry set about crushing the power of the nobility by dating his reign to the day before the Battle of Bosworth, through fines and the legal system administered by the Star Chamber and by careful administration.
Henry VIII 1509-1547
Henry should never have been king. His older brother Arthur was destined for that role. Henry should have been a churchman. However Tudor males proved prone to early death due to ill health. Henry acquired the crown and his brother’s wife Katherine of Aragon. Henry famous for his six wives (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded survived) became increasingly anxious about providing a male heir for the succession. His need for an heir and his infatuation with Ann Boleyn led in 1534 to the Act of Supremacy and a break with Rome. When he died he left a will dictating the order of succession.
Henry’s wives were Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleve, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr.
Edward VI 1547-1553
Edward was nine-years-old when he became king. He was the youngest child of King Henry by his wife Jane Seymour who died of childbed fever giving birth to Edward. The country was ruled by a council and Protector; the Duke of Somerset (Edward Seymour) and the Duke of Northumberland.
Somerset continued Henry’s policies especially so far as Scotland was concerned. The plan was that Edward should marry the infant Queen Mary Queen of Scots who had a claim to the English throne through her grandmother Margaret Tudor who was Henry VIII’s sister. This led to what history records as ‘The Rough Wooing’ and ended with Mary being married to the Dauphin of France.
Edward was a convinced protestant. His reign saw the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer. Edward was, like all of Henry’s children, precocious. He kept a diary and once he reached the age of twelve he began to take a hand in the way policies were determined. However he’d been a weak child who turned into a sickly young man. He contracted TB and died but not before The Duke of Northumberland had persuaded Edward to bypass his sisters and nominate Lady Jane Grey to be queen. As well as a dedicated protestant she was also Northumberland’s daughter-in-law.
She was queen for nine days until the attempted coup failed and she found herself in the Tower along with her young husband. Mary was loath to execute the innocent girl but further intrigues made Jane’s execution an inevitability.
Mary I 1553-1558
Mary was born in 1516 at Greenwich. She began life as a pampered princess, marriage negotiations began early in her life, but when Henry VIII divorced Catherine of Aragon she became the Lady Mary and was no longer heir to a throne. She was not permitted to see her mother and was sent to look after her new half sister Elizabeth.
She remained fiercely Catholic throughout her life but despite her reputation as Bloody Mary she did not seek Lady Jane Grey’s death until the aftermath of Wyatt’s Rebellion. Philip of Spain, her intended husband would not come to England until the source of possible Protestant uprisings were stamped out.
Following her marriage in 1554, the year after she became queen, she set about reversing her father’s and her half-brother’s Protestant policies. People who refused to return to Catholicism were burned at the stake including Thomas Cranmer. Most of all Mary feared that should her half-sister Elizabeth become queen her work would be undone. Her greatest desire was for an heir. She believed that she was pregnant but she wasn’t. Then Philip left England never to return. Mary whose life had been marred by her father’s determination to have a male heir was left an ill lonely woman. In 1557 England declared war on France in a bid to please Philip. The following year England’s last foothold on continental Europe was lost. Mary is supposed to have said that Calais would be found engraved upon her heart after her death.
Elizabeth I 1558-1603
Elizabeth – Glorianna, the Virgin Queen- became queen in 1558 after some difficult early years including a spell in the Tower of London. She gathered her advisors around her, chief of whom was Robert Cecil and relied on them throughout her reign. Protestantism was restored as England’s official faith and the Prayer Book reintroduced. Initially she said she did not wish to make windows into men’s souls but in the aftermath of the Papal Bull deposing her from her own throne in 1570 the State began to close its net on Catholics.
The focal point for Catholic plotting was centred on Mary Queen of Scots who had fled her own kingdom and arrived in England in 1568. She was to spend the next nineteen years in custody at various stately homes and castles in England until her execution following the Babington Plot. Elizabeth never met her although they exchanged many letters.
Elizabeth never married although the cult of Elizabeth was an important part of court life. Instead she used the possibility of marriage to an assortment of foreign princes and kings as part of her foreign policy. At home her favourites included Sir Robert Dudley and later the Earl of Essex. Other men such as Sir Walter Raleigh fell, briefly, from favour when he married one of Good Queen Bess’s ladies-in-waiting. Both he and Bess Throckmorton ended up in the Tower for a while.
Men such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh explored new territories and made things difficult for the Spanish who sent an Armada to attack England in 1587. This picture of Elizabeth is known as the Armada Portrait because it was commissioned to celebrate English victory.
Elizabeth died in 1603 without officially naming her heir but it had been apparent for some time that King James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Queen of Scots and great-grandson of Margaret Tudor (sister of Henry VIII) would ascend the throne. Ironically, every monarch since then has descended from Mary Queen of Scots rather than Queen Elizabeth.
James I 1603-1625
James ascended to the English throne upon the death of Elizabeth I. He was already James VI of Scotland. He’d been king since he was an infant in his cradle and despite the various gifts and letters that his mother sent to him he remained distant from Mary Queen of Scots. His early years were troubled by cabals of earls seeking to dominate the privy council. His reign saw the tensions between Protestants and Catholics intensify. In 1605 a plot was formulated to destroy king and parliament together. Elsewhere Sir Walter Raleigh was implicated in a plot to put Bess of Hardwick’s grand-daughter Arbella Stuart upon the throne. Raleigh spent the majority of the rest of his life in the Tower as a consequence until he persuaded the king of the ill-fortuned Guiana expedition. In Ireland protestant settlers began to colonise Ulster and the borders between England and Scotland became known as ‘the Middle Shires’. It was a time of change and James ‘the Wisest Fool in Christendom’ with his personal fear of witchcraft and his interest in male royal favourites such as George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, was the man in charge of the kingdom. In 1604 the long running war with Spain was ended with a treaty that would have seen Prince Charles married to the Infanta of Spain. It was not something that went down particularly well with the largely anti-catholic establishment. In the end Charles married Henrietta-Marie of France.
It was during his reign that the Authorised version of the Bible was produced in 1611 and it was during these years that William Shakespeare produced some of his finest plays including the ‘Scottish Play’ performed for James as a reminder to his claim to the throne. Five years before James’ death in 1625 the Pilgrim Fathers set off for America.
James’ eldest son Henry was a personal friend of Raleigh and was regarded as James’ finest offering to England. Unfortunately Henry died of typhoid leaving his younger brother Charles – a prince who had been destined for the Church- to inherit a changing kingdom. Of his seven children with Queen Anne of Denmark only two survived him. Charles and the Princess Elizabeth who was married to Elector Frederick of the German Palatinate.
Charles I 1625-1649
Charles was James’ second son. He’d been a weakly child. He became the friend of the Duke of Buckingham who was his father’s favourite. Married to Henrietta Maria of France his reign was troubled by religious intolerance and the problem of raising taxes. Charles, a believer in the Devine Right of Kings, refused to allow Parliament to interfere in what he regarded as his prerogative. This resulted in twelve years of personal rule and reliance on outdated royal prerogative for gathering taxes. The initial problem arose when Charles’ first parliament voted him the taxes of tonnage and poundage for one year rather than the usual life. In addition to forced loans and taxes which the people resented Charles also attempted to enforce an Armenian reform of the Church of England favoured by Archbishop Laud. This led to the First Archbishop’s War and a Scottish invasion followed by the humiliation of Charles at Ripon when he was forced to pay the Scots off. Ultimately the country found itself at war with itself and in 1649 Charles lost his head.
During this twelve year period England was ruled by Parliament. It was the time of the Protectorship of Oliver Cromwell. He was offered the crown but refused it. It was only after his death that the monarchy was restored.
Technically Charles, the so-called “Merry Monarch”, became king when his father Charles I was executed in January 1649 but he did not ascend the throne until 1660 and the Restoration which Samuel Pepys writes about in his diary. Charles II is the king who had a way with the ladies and who ‘never said a foolish thing nor yet did a wise one.’ His reign saw the Anglo-Dutch wars which included the embarrassing capture of the navy’s flagship, the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Bubonic Plague written about in journalistic detail by Daniel Defoe.
Charles was married to Catherine of Braganza. She was never crowned queen because she was a Catholic and in later years Charles was forced to protect her household from his ministers. Her dowry gave the United Kingdom its toehold in India as well as a liking for tea. She had to contend with Barbara Villiers who was Charles’ mistress for many years. Charles’ most famous mistress was Nell Gwyn.
Charles had no legitimate children – although Lucy Walters declared that she had been married to Charles in Holland. If this was the case James Crofts, the Duke of Monmouth would have been the heir to the throne. He tried to take the throne from his Uncle James but lost and was executed. Charles had many other children often identified by the surname FitzRoy or FitzCharles. Charles ensured that all his children made good marriages.
James II 1685-1689
Born in 1633, James like his elder brother Charles had spent his formative years on England’s battlefields and in the company of soldiers. Like his brother he was well known for his womanising. In fact James’s first wife Anne Hyde was the daughter of Charles’ first minister and most important advisor. James arrived at an understanding with Anne before the Restoration. As a penniless second son, albeit a prince, the match was a good one for him. After the restoration he sought to distance himself from Anne. Unfortunately for James, Anne was already pregnant. It was Charles who insisted that James marry Anne despite the slurs that James and his friends cast upon the unfortunate girl’s honour.
James was resolutely Catholic. His second wife was Mary of Modena. The girl was a similar age to his daughters. He and Anne had eight children but only Mary and Anne survived to adulthood. Both daughters were Protestant. Mary was married her cousin the very Protestant William of Orange. The country was horrified when James’ Catholic wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy – James Edward Stuart. James who had been able to put down the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion and that of the Duke of Argyll now found that William of Orange met with a warm welcome when he arrived in England. He’d been on the throne three years in 1688 when he was forced to abdicate and flee. It should be added that William of Orange was keen to allow his father-in-law to escape as two kings in one kingdom is a tad inconvenient.
William III and Mary II 1689-1702
William of Orange was the son of Mary Stuart – so the sister of Charles and James. He was born in 1650. James’ daughter Mary was born twelve years later in 1662. The pair were married in London in 1677 as part of Charles II’s attempt to balance his relations with the various Catholic and Protestant factions within Europe. Seven leading statesmen invited William to come to England to take the throne from his father-in-law following the perceived infringement of the rights of the ordinary people at the hands of a Catholic and tyrannical king. Their concerns were triggered by James’ insistence on a standing army and by his suspension of laws against Catholics and, ironically, non-conformists. The key act of William and Mary’s first year on the throne was a parliamentary act to reverse James’ unconstitutional actions. Meanwhile James sought to regain his throne by using Ireland as a springboard. William famously won the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and then having promised Irish Catholics their rights proceeded to inflict some very unpleasant penalties upon them for their beliefs. In between times he went to war against the French.
He died in 1702 when his horse tripped on a mole hill.
Between 1678 and 1680 Mary had given birth to three children. All of them were still born. The Stuart crown passed from William to his sister-in-law.
Anne was born in 1665. Her husband George was a prince of Denmark. Together the pair of them had eighteen children, only one of them lived beyond infancy. William Henry was born in 1689 but he died in 1700 of hydrocephalus.
Anne succeeded to the throne in 1702 and following the Act of Union in 1707 was known as the queen of Great Britain. Britain celebrated Anne’s enthronement by going to war with France. This was the period that saw the Duke of Marlborough carve a path across Europe. His most famous victory was the Battle of Blenheim. Famously Queen Anne and Marlborough’s wife, Sarah Churchill began the reign as best friends and finished it best of enemies. Anne died in 1714.
George I was Queen Anne’s third cousin. His mother was Sophia, the wife of the Elector of Hanover. She was the daughter of Elizabeth of Bohemia, the so-called Winter Queen. Elizabeth it should be added was the daughter of James I. Sophia’s brother was Prince Rupert of the Rhine (the one with the poodle called Boy and a bit of a reputation during the English Civil War for attacking baggage trains.) There were twelve possible contenders for the British throne including James Edward Stuart, the son of James II and Mary of Modena. The Pope and the kings of France and Spain recognised James III of Britain but James’ was a Catholic with no intention of changing his faith to suit his erstwhile potential subjects. George had two advantages so far as the Protestant majority were concerned. The first were his religious beliefs and the second was the fact that he had sons. His disadvantages included his lack of knowledge about his new kingdom and the fact that he spoke no English.
The House of Hanover changed the relationship forever between crown and parliament. Parliament invited the family to England. The crown was rapidly decreasing in political importance as a consequence. Of course, not everyone was particularly happy about this. 1715 saw the first Jacobite Rising with the second one led by the Old Pretender’s son (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in 1745. George I’s reign saw the South Sea Bubble and the first British Prime minister in the form of Robert Walpole. George was married to Princess Sophia of Zelle.
George was born in 1683 to the Elector of Hanover and his wife rather than the King of Great Britain. He went on to marry Catherine of Ansbach and have ten children. Georgia in the USA is named after this particular monarch. The charter for its foundation was granted in1732. Towards the end of George II’s reign Robert Clive secured Bengal for Britain and General Wolfe captured Quebec. The age of empire was beginning to take shape. It was also the reign in which the song ‘Rule Britannia’ was first sung.
Finally, a Hanovrian born and bred in Britain. He was born in 1738. His father was Frederick, the eldest son of George II but Frederick died in 1751. George III was married to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and is the king who suffered from porphyria so experienced periods of prolonged mental illness. Matters probably weren’t helped by the Americans who took to dumping tea into Boston Harbour and demanding independence. The country was further troubled by rebellion across the Channel when the French took it into their heads to rid themselves not only of their monarchy but also their aristocracy. Having demonstrated the effectiveness of the guillotine in the closing years of the eighteenth century the French then introduced Europe to a small Tunisian called Napoleon. 1803 saw the start of the Napoleonic Wars. Nelson got himself killed in 1805 at his greatest victory – the Battle of Trafalgar. George III was titular head of state for the Peninsular Wars, the Corn Laws and the Luddites as well as the Peterloo Massacre. He died in 1820 aged 81.
George had been Prince Regent since 1811. George is best remembered for his years as Prince of Wales – a snappy dresser he also had the Brighton Pavilion built and managed to create scandal by his relationship with Maria Fitzherbert. Maria had been twice widowed when she married Prince George. The marriage was illegal under British law because she was Catholic. Unsurprisingly the marriage was recognised by the Pope. Maria didn’t die until 1837 but they’d spent most of their married life apart principally because George was swiftly married off to Caroline of Brunswick whose main qualification was that she was a protestant. George was not keen on his new spouse. He tried to divorce her for adultery (a bit rich coming from a bigamist all things considered). When George was crowned in 1821 Caroline attempted to take part in the coronation. She was refused entrance. The pair produced one daughter called Charlotte. The princess died in childbirth in 1817.
Also known as Sailor Billy. William was George’s younger brother. He swiftly married a German princess called Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen when he became king having spent most of his life as a carefree bachelor. In that particular role he’d fathered many children who lived to adulthood. As king he was markedly less successful at procreation. His reign saw the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire and a royal race amongst his brothers to produce a legal wife and a legitimate heir to the throne. At about the same time all this was going on Factory Acts were being passed and folk in Tolpuddle were being transported for attempting to form a trade union.
Victoria was aged just 18 in 1837 when she ascended the throne. She died in 1901 aged 81. Her father was Prince Edward of Kent and her mother was another German princess called Victoria of Saxe-Coberg. She married her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who died of typhoid and plunged Victoria into prolonged mourning.
Edward VII became king at the age of 59 in 1901. He reigned for nine years. He is sometimes known as Edward the Caresser because of the number of mistresses he had. His wife Princess Alexandra of Denmark put up with an awful lot of shenanigans including Lily Langtree. Aside from spending most of his life seducing aristocratic women, shooting things and following the races because his mother wouldn’t trust him with any reposnisbility he also admired the French, As a consequence once he became king he did much to establish good relations with the French – which had an unexpected consequence in terms of alliances forged.
The House of Windsor
George V was Edward VII’s second son. The eldest son was called Albert and he died of pneumonia. His fiancée had been Princess Mary of Teck. George claimed not only the crown but also the royal fiancée. Having the surname Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was not necessarily deemed helpful during World War One so the Royal surname changed to the very British sounding Windsor.
Edward VIII 1936
Edward was a very popular Prince of Wales so great things were expected of him when his father died in January 1936 but by December he’d abdicated in order to marry Bessiewallis Simpson a twice-divorced American who is recorded as saying that ‘one can never be too rich or too thin.’
George VI 1936-1952
George VI who was actually another Albert was quite happy as the Duke of York. He did not relish public life, not least because of his stammer. He was married to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and they had two children; the Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose.
Queen Elizabeth II By Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
The queen succeeded her father in 1952 but was crowned on 2 June 1953. Coronation Chicken was invented as part of the celebrations in post-war Britain.