Monday, April 30, 2007

16: Monarchy Business

Traditionally (ie 'until everything went wrong in the 70s') history was taught in schools largely as a string of kings and queens, and what they did and what happened during their reigns. I went to school in the 70s and early 80s by which time it had been deemed that none of that stuff was really important, and that instead we should be taught a smattering of information about the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, then nothing at all before the Industrial Revolution, rounding off with the causes of the First World War.
Needless to say, all those various topics meant very little in isolation, so I remained vaguely curious about all the gaps for many years after that. Just vaguely enough, in fact, not to actually read up on those gaps very much, and consequently it wasn't until the last year or so that I finally got the succession of the monarchy straight in my head - more or less. By which I mean, with a mental effort I can rattle off the complete list of British monarchs from William the Conqueror. Doesn't mean I know anything ABOUT them, but just find me someone else with a post-50s education who can do that, and who isn't a history graduate.

There now follows the aforementioned list, with whatever random facts about those monarchs that have permeated my brain over the years. None at all in many cases, I expect.

WILLIAM I 1066-1080-something
William the Conqueror, William the Bastard, William of Normandy. Invaded England in 1066 and took over from Harold, who was killed at the battle of Hastings, reputedly with an arrow in the eye. Like all good historical stories, apparently not true.

WILLIAM II 1080something-1100ish

William Rufus, on account of his red hair. If you don't have a smattering of Latin, this makes as much sense as those never-explained Bible stories where Jesus says something like 'I shall call you Peter, because you will be the rock upon which I shall build my church'. You might as well say 'I shall call you Kevin, because you like fish' (or something). You could be forgiven for thinking that people just liked to be cryptic in those days.

HENRY I 1100ish-1135

Henry Beauclerc, on account of his administrative prowess. Sound like an interesting chap, doesn't he? Married Matilda, daughter of the king of Scotland, and named her as heir, a move that led to raised eyebrows and later swords.

STEPHEN (You can look up the dates yourself for now on.)

'King Steve' Who'd have thought there was ever such a chap? Henry's nephew. Much of his reign was spent disputing his claim with the equally-surprising Queen Matilda. 


He of 'Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?' fame. A good friend of Thomas Becket for many years until Becket got above himself and started stirring things up.
Someone with a sword overheard the king's offhand remark and saw him off righ there in the cathederal, the bounder.
Becket was, for some reason, known to the history books for centuries as 'Thomas a Becket'. Obviously a mistake - if he wasn't Thomas the Becket, then I don't know who was.


Crusader King, often played in movie cameos by the likes of Sean Connery. Got held prisoner for a king's ransom (naturally) on his way back from the crusades. Bit of a lapse of security there. Reigned for about 12 years I think but only spent six months of that time in the country, the rest of it off slaughtering Saracens or other heathens.

JOHN (Some years either side of 1215)

Ruled as regent in Richard's absence and is rather badly spoken of in all the Robin Hood stories. Became the victim of Magna Carta during his own reign, the famous piece of legislation that is noted for not being the King's own idea, and therefore a major early move in shifting power further down the social scale - if only as far as the aristocracy.


Reigned from 1216 to 1272, but failed to include a War of the Roses, Thomas a Becket or Magna Carta in all that time. Therefore wins my prize for having Longest Reign With Fewest Famous Things In It.

'Hammer of the Scots' - not a nice man, if 'Braveheart' is anything to go by. Wasn't any nicer to the Welsh either, apparently. Got put to a lot of trouble by William Wallace. (Incidentally there are no contemporary accounts that say Wallace looked anything like Mel Gibson). Didn't die on the same day either.


Bit of drip compared to the old man - so much so that he more or less abdicated in the face of collosal lack of support, and was subsequently spirited away to a country castle somewhere, where he was apparently disposed of by skilful use of a red-hot poker.


Decided he was King of France as well as England, thus setting off a string of wars. Against that, he wins my prize for being King Who Looks Most Like a King, if portraits are anything to go by.   

RICHARD II (around 1347)

Youngster who saw off the Peasant's Revolt, qv.


Obscure prequel to Henry V

'Hold their manhood cheap, accursed they were not here, those who fought with us, upon St Crispin's day' or something of the kind. Apologies to Shakespeare and Lawrence Olivier. (Kenneth Who?)
Conquered France.

Lost it again. Duh. Lost the Wars of the Roses as well. 


Calling yourself King Edward at this point in time seems like a triumph of faith over experience, but there you go. Henry VI was still alive when Edward was king, but was in his dotage and wearing a paper crown, if you believe the old movies.


One of the unfortunate princes-in-the-tower of Richard III fame.


Of princes-in-the-tower fame... as in, bumped them off to aid his own succession. Probably. Or is it all just Tudor propaganda? If it wasn't him, who was it, eh? Tell me that. Guilty as the man on the grassy knoll, if you ask me.


First of the Tudor kings, defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field. Famously thrifty - organised the country's finances sufficiently well to build a royal palace good enough to compete on the increasingly-glamourous European stage.


Most notable monarchs only seem to have got the job on account of the unexpected death of an older sibling. Perhaps there's something to do with NOT having been groomed for the job, that allows one to retain enough independent spirit to make an impression. (Other examples are King Richard and John F Kennedy). In Bluff King Hal's case, this manifested itself in his determination to marry who he wanted, when he wanted, and pulling out all the stops to get away with it, including setting up a new state religion and dispensing with the old one. That's what being *KING* is all about-!


Poor mite, never got a good shot at the job. Died a sickly youth.


Tried to reassert Catholicism as state religion. Burnt a lot of unrepentant Protestants. "Bloody Mary", as many a Protestant no doubt muttered as quietly as possible.


Good Queen Bess. Put Protestantism back. Burnt Catholics. Seems like if you were foolish enough to have outspoken integrity in these times, you were going to get burnt by SOMEONE.


Oh dear, oh dear... Catholic AND Scottish - bound to be unpopular. No wonder they tried to blow him up.


Had a spaniel named after him. Or was that his son? Possibly both.


Bit of a hiatus between the two Charleses while we experimented with having a republic... but it turned out to be one of those states of affairs that can't seem to survive with the force of personality of its leader, in this case Oliver Cromwell... a bit like the empire of Alexander the Great or Nazi Germany, or the GLC.
Anyway, Charles II's 'restoration' reign was a bit like the Swinging Sixties - a time of freedom and licentiousness following a long period of war alternating with spiritual repression. Many parallels. The Restoration had Restoration Comedies, the Sixties had The Monkees. The Restoration the Plague, the sixties had other interesting infections. The Restoration had the Fire of London, the sixties - well, should have had, really.


Another unwelcome return to Catholicism. Tried to make Catholicism acceptable and consequenrtly got seem off after only three years.


A Dutch import, no local Protestant candidates being available.


Had some chairs named after her.


Now then. George was a German import. Reason being, a thing called the 'Act of Settlement' had gone through Parliament by this time, decreeing that all monarchs had to be C of E. (There must have been a feeling of 'That's THAT settled', hence the name.) George was about 50th in line for the throne, but 1st if you take away all the Catholics, who must have been well miffed.


Last British monarch not to be born here. In charge during the memorably-name "War of Jenkins's Ear". (I think Jenkins lost.)


Farmer George. Longest reign until Victoria at about 60 years. Was upset about losing the American colonies when they declared independence. Went mad. God, this is taking ages. I forgot there were so many.


Ruled as Prince Regent while his dad was mad. Anything labelled 'regency ' hails from this time.


Bit of a lad-about-town. Just brings to mind a mental picture of a newspaper (or possibly 'Punch') cartoon of the time, showing the bemused king looking at graffiti on a wall reading 'Reform Bill'.


Ah, the Victorians. Invented everything. Most of them were Scottish, you know. Except Stephenson, he was a Geordie. Lots to say about this lady and her times but I can't be bothered right now.




Wore a sailor cap I think. I'm getting tired now. Can you tell? It's 1.30am.


Abdicated. People objected to his brash American girlfriend stomping round Balmoral saying things like 'Those curtains will HAVE to go!!'


Had a stutter. Terrible public speakers, the royals, aren't they?


Gawd bless 'er. Despite sixty years of steadfastly maintaining dignity at all times and in all circumstances, will no doubt probably be best remembered for apparently parachuting into the 2012 Olympics with James Bond.  I can't help wondering if she had to get talked into that, because she had a face like thunder when she walked into the stadium.

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