Tag Archives: Kings

The Kings We Never Had (Part 3)

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales was the better looking, more popular elder brother of Charles I. He was a staunch Protestant, something his father ensured by taking him away from his mother because of her tendency towards Catholicism. Personally, if I’d have been worried by that sort of thing I just wouldn’t have married her, but Kings do these things differently.

He was already becoming active in politics and was well thought of by the nation when he died of typhoid at the age of 18. At his funeral 1,000 people followed the coffin and many poems and songs were composed in his honour.

Cape Henry, Henricus and Henrico County are all named after him.  In those days it was still considered acceptable to steal a country off someone and rename bits of it.

Next question – do you include Cromwell? He was near enough a King when he was Lord Protector, and was actually related to the Jasper Tudor, the uncle of Henry VII. He also passed the country on to his son Richard at his death, which is pretty kinglike, but they probably shouldn’t be here. Sadly, that gives me no chance to talk about Tumbledown Dick.

When Charles II died, he left 12 children by 7 mistresses and, unfortunately, no legitimate children. His brother James was his heir, and James was a Catholic. This was a major problem, as the majority of the country did not want a return to Catholic rule.

Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester, who had been the youngest brother of Charles II and James II, had, at one time, been thought of as a successor to his father, being strongly Protestant after an education at the hands of tutors appointed by Parliament. He was later allowed to join the rest of his family in France, became a noted soldier and died of smallpox in 1660. If he had been alive in 1685 he might have helped to avert the Monmouth Rebellion by providing an acceptable alternative to James II.

The popular alternative was James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. He claimed his mother had been secretly married to Charles, though the King always denied it, and no proof was ever produced. Monmouth was popular in the country, had a good reputation as a soldier, and was a Protestant.

If all this talk of Catholics and Protestants seems out of touch with modern life you may like to check the Succession to the Crown Act (2013)You can now succeed to the throne if you are married to a Catholic, but you still cannot succeed to the throne if you are, or have ever been, a Catholic.

Anyway, back to Monmouth. It didn’t end well. Not only did the rebels lose a large number of men at the Battle of Sedgemoor, but more were condemed by Judge Jeffreys at the Bloody Assizes. Alice Lisle was executed for sheltering rebels (or, as some said, because her husband had signed the death warrant of Charles I), and was the last woman to be sentenced to death by beheading in the UK.

Probably the best known participants in the rebellion were John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, and Daniel Defoe who fought for the rebels but escaped punishment.

There is a story that after the execution the royal family realised that they didn’t have a portrait of Monmouth so they stitched the head back on, covered the join with a cravat and had a portrait done. Unfortunately the story isn’t true, as there are several portraits of Monmouth, and the supposed post mortem portrait probably isn’t him.

Meanwhile, on a personal note, I am probably the last man to shed blood for the Duke of Monmouth. At the 1985 re-enactment I was wielding my rubber billhook in a vain attempt to reverse the injustice of 1685 when a teacher of English, having imbibed enthusiastically for lunch and put on a red uniform, clipped me on the elbow with his sword.

It wasn’t much blood, but it was definitely shed when it would have been better left inside me..

(Sorry this has gone on so long – the final installment should be shorter.)

 

Sad Stories of the Death of Kings (Part II)

…let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings

Richard II  William Shakespeare

It’s time for Richard II now. He was the son of the Black Prince, who didn’t live long enough to be King, though he was quite kingly and was the victor of Crecy and Poitiers, the battles that, with Agincourt, make up the only three battles of the Hundred Years War most of us have ever heard of.

Richard was eventually imprisoned and was probably starved to death by his gaolers. Quite honestly, he had it coming, as he wasn’t an easy man to work with and seems to have gone out of his way to upset people. He didn’t, as I recall,  do right by the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt , though he was only a boy at the time. Later, he took on the political establishment, was accused of tyranny, and even madness, and was given a bad write-up by Shakespeare. His body was put on display to show he was really dead, and to stop anyone believing the was hope of a restoration.

Henry IV and V were interesting enough, but shuffled off this mortal coil due to natural causes, whereas Henry VI was said to have died (whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London) of melancholy. I’m sure it can be a melancholy place, but let’s face it, he was in there, out of sight and imprisoned by the man who had taken his throne (Edward IV). Several centuries after his death he was exhumed and examination showed damage to his skull and blood in his hair – more a sign of murder than melancholy.

Edward V ruled briefly before being replaced by his uncle, who became Richard III. He is one of the two Princes in the Tower and as nobody knows what really happened (though we all have an opinion) I will leave it there.

Richard III is well known, though mainly via Shakespeare, as is his death and his rediscovery under a car park in Leicester.

At that point we can leave the Wars of the Roses and get on with something a little less complex. Henry VII, who had no real right to the throne, came out on top and died of natural causes. Henry VIII also died of natural causes, unlike several of his wives. Edward VI was sickly, and died aged 15, bequeathing the throne to his cousin Jane.

Lady Jane Grey ruled 9 days, becoming a protestant martyr and making Edward V’s 86 days look like a lifetime, which, of course, it probably was. I know she’s a Queen rather than a ing but it seems out of step with modern views to exclude people for being women. She is the only monarch of the last 500 years of whom we have no proven portrait. I don’t suppose she had the time. Eventually she was executed. For details of how the Duke of Monmouth coped with this problem you will have to read the post Kings we Never Had. I can’t supply a link because I haven’t written it yet.

Mary I, Elizabeth I, James I (or VI if you are Scottish) all had their foibles but died of natural causes, and Charles I has been covered in an earlier post.

Charles II could have died of several things. With twelve illegitimate children it could possibly have been exhaustion. Two of his illegitimate sons had a place in the family tree of Diana, Princess of Wales, which means that when Prince William eventually ascends the throne he will be the first descendent of Charles II to do so.

It could also have been apoplexy or his kidneys, though I prefer the mercury poisoning explanation. It seems that one of his plans for financial security was to turn lead into gold.  He was a bon viveur, but, let’s face it, no financial genius. There was a lot of mercury involved in the process and though he obviously had people to do the work for him, he must have inspected his laboratory regularly and taken it in.

Charles’s last illness shows all the signs of mercury poisoning according to recent scientific examination and analysis of a lock of his hair shows ten times the normal levels of mercury.

William III, who ruled alone after the death of his wife Mary (daughter of the deposed James II) fell off his horse after it stumbled on a molehill, and died from pneumonia that came on as a complication. It was ironic that the horse had been confiscated from a Jacobite plotter. The Jacobites took the opportunity to toast the mole (“the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat”).

After that there were 234 years when Kings and Queens just died of natural causes.

That brings us to George V, who seems have been given an overdose to make sure he died at a time convenient for the morning papers. The evening papers, it seems, were not seen as respectable enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sad Stories of the Death of Kings (Part I)

…let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
Richard II  William Shakespeare

After writing about Charles I and his execution in a previous post I thought I’d write about a few more Kings and their deaths. I’m starting in 1066 and confining myself to Kings of England. To start earlier than that is to invite trouble from a raft of Kings called Ethelsomething and to include the Scots is to open up a story of multiple murders.

So, we will start with Harold Godwinson. He reigned for nine months, fought two big battles, beat the Vikings (and his brother Tostig) at Stamford Bridge and died after being shot in the eye at the Battle of Hastings. Or do we? As usual, someone has come up with a theory that this isn’t true. Nobody has any respect for legends these days. As the new theory draws on contemporary and near-contemporary sources it could well be true. It’s likely that he was cut down by Norman knights (including William) who then put the arrow story about to show that their victory was due to God’s Will rather than force of arms.

As usual, if God did have a view of the matter, he was on the side of the big battalions, as Napoleon didn’t say.

From there we will go to William Rufus, or William II to give him his formal title. He was out hunting in the New Forest one day (2nd August 1100 in fact – sounds like a nice time of year to be out in the woods) when he was killed by an arrow fired carelessly by Walter Tirel. Strangely, his nephew Robert had died in a hunting accident in the same forest in 1099 and his brother Richard in 1075.

It may well have been an accident, or part of a series of accidents. Who can say after this lapse of time? However, it was a very fortunately timed accident for Henry, youngest of the three surviving sons of William the Conqueror. As his brother bled to death Henry wasted no time in securing the treasury in Winchester before he headed off to be crowned in London. Things might have been different if his elder brother Robert had been there, but he was still on his way back from the First Crusade.

As I say, fortunate timing. Henry managed to hang on to England on Robert’s return, took the Duchy of Normandy from him in 1106 and held him prisoner for the next 28 years.

Henry himself died in France in 1135, supposedly from a surfeit of lampreys. Each to his own, I suppose, but they are very unattractive creatures.

We then skip a few kings, and ignore Richard I because I can. Despite his legendary status, Lionheart name and appearance in the Robin Hood legend he hardly spent any time in England, probably around 6 months. Basically he just used the country to finance his many military adventures.

It hardly seems fair that John, his brother, has a bad reputation when he seems to have been better for the country than Richard. John died in Newark Castle in 1216, which may have been the result of poison, a surfeit of peaches (in October? Really?) or dysentery.  Surfeits seem to have been quite fashionable in the Middle Ages. His troops took the body for burial in Worcester Cathedral.

We’ll skip a few kings and get to Edward II, one of the more famous murdered monarchs. He didn’t have a great reign, with trouble from the Barons, the Scots and a famine. He had favourites at court, first Piers Gaveston, then the Despensers, who took advantage of his patronage. As if that wasn’t enough he married a woman nick-named The She-Wolf of France.  Now, I have no way of knowing what she was like as a wife, but I’m guessing the nick-name may be a clue that suggests she wasn’t an easy woman to live with.

She deposed Edward and took up with Roger Mortimer. Edward died whilst imprisoned in Berkeley Castle, and in the years after his death lurid tales about his death started to circulate. These mainly centred on the insertion of a red hot poker into an orifice not normally associated with such things. It may or may not be the most accurate story of how a king died, but it is the one you’re most likely to remember.

The son of Edward II, or Edward III as he was known, eventually seized power back from Mortimer and his mother, capturing them in Nottingham Castle by means of a secret passage known as Mortimer’s Hole.