Category: Kings and Queens

From Catherine of Valois to Kate Middleton: The First English Queen Catherine

By , November 26, 2010 4:25 am

Introduction

Kate Middleton is to marry Prince William on 29th April 2011, and will, in the fullness of time, become Queen Catherine.

Kate is far from the first to enjoy that title. From Queen Catherine of Valois onwards, there have been women who have been called Catherine and enjoyed (or suffered) the role of Queen of England, and later Queen of the United Kingdom.

This blog post is the first in a series which tells you about the Queen Catherines in English history, who they were, who they married, their lives, and children.

It is about Catherine of Valois, Queen of England for only 2 years, who gave birth to a son who became a King, and who by her second marriage founded the later Tudor dynasty.

Of the six women who were, or will be, Queen Catherine (including Kate Middleton), half of them were married to King Henry VIII. Which means, approximately, that at least half of English Queen Catherines probably regretted their marriages….

Queen Catherine of Valois, 1420 – 1422

Family and Upbringing

King Henry V, a 16th century painting

King Henry V, a 16th century painting

The first Queen Catherine, Catherine of Valois, was French. (Her name is also sometimes spelt “Katherine of Valois”, but usually it’s “Catherine”.)

She was born in Paris in 1401, the daughter of the French King Charles VI, who is (rather confusingly) known both as Charles the Beloved and Charles the Mad.

Charles VI suffered repeated episodes of mental illness, probably schizophrenia, and went through periods of failing to recognise his wife, and of beliving he was made of glass and might break.

Catherine’s mother was Isabella of Bavaria, also known as Isabeau of Bavaria.

Charles VI and Isabella had 12 children, of whom 4 died as children. Another 5 died in young adulthood, aged between 17 and 30.

Catherine was the third from youngest. One of her older sisters, Isabella, married King Richard II of England, at the age of 6.

Marriage to King Henry V

Contemporary engraving of the marriage of King Henry V and Catherine of Valois

Contemporary engraving of the marriage of King Henry V and Catherine of Valois

Richard II was deposed by his cousin, King Henry IV.

After winning the Battle of Agincourt, Henry IV’s son Henry V, negotiated a marriage treaty with Charles VI, and married Catherine of Valois in June 1420. Catherine was then 18, and Henry V was 32.

Queen Catherine of Valois visited England for the first time after her marriage, and was crowned Queen in Westminster Abbey on 23rd February 1421.

Catherine became pregnant, and the future King Henry VI was born in December 1421.

Henry V had by that time returned to the fighting in France, and did not meet his son and heir, as he died on campaign in August 1422.

Catherine of Valois had been Queen for just over two years, and was now a 20 year old widow.


Marriage to Owen Tudor

17th century engraving of Catherine of Valois

17th century engraving of Catherine of Valois

Catherine embarked in about 1423 on a relationship with the Welsh Sir Owen Meredith Tudor, whose name in Welsh was Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur.

This caused a great deal of concern about the influence a dowager Queen’s husband might have, and by a law passed in 1427, the Queen could only re-marry with her son’s permission, once her son was an adult. He was only 6 years old at time, so the law was clearly meant to delay any marriage for decades.

The couple nevertheless appear to have married in secret. Henry VI later declared that his mother had married and that her children by Owen Tudor were legitimate.

The couple had six children who lived past childhood. Thomas Tudor and Owen Tudor were monks, Edmund Tudor married Margaret Beaufort and fathered Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII, Jasper Tudor married Catherine Woodville, sister of Elizabeth Woodville, who married King Edward IV, and two other daughters became nuns.

Death and burial

The wooden funeral effigy of Catherine de Valois, made for her funeral

The wooden funeral effigy of Catherine de Valois, made for her funeral

Catherine of Valois died in January 1437 at the age of 35, shortly after giving birth to a daughter who died as a baby. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.

In a frankly revolting episode, Catherine of Valois’ tomb was damaged in the early 16th century, and her body exposed.

No-one got round to doing anything about it for about 350 years, and her body remained visible for the entire period.

It became a kind of bizarre tourist attraction, to view the corpse of the long-dead Queen.

Samuel Pepys noted in his diary that he went to the Abbey on his 36th birthday and held and kissed the Queen’s body. He wrote:

On Shrove Tuesday 1669, I to the Abbey went, and by favour did see the body of Queen Catherine of Valois, and had the upper part of the body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it I did kiss a Queen: and this my birthday and I thirty-six years old and I did kiss a Queen.

I think kissing skeletons is the matter upon which he should have reflected.

The 5 Longest Reigning Kings & Queens: George III, 2nd Place

By , July 28, 2010 3:12 am

King George III – 59 years, 3 months and 2 days

Some English (and British, after the accession of King James I of England & VI of Scotland in 1603) managed to keep their backsides firmly on the throne for longer than the average birth to death life expectancy of their subjects.

This post is one of a series about the 5 longest reigns – all of which were (or are, in the case of Elizabeth II) over 50 years.

For obvious reasons, they were all young when they came to the throne, but not all were children.

George III when Prince of Wales, aged 13

George III when Prince of Wales, aged 13

For the fifth-longest English reign, see King Edward III in the 14th century, for the fourth-longest reign, see King Henry III in the 13th century, and for the third-longest, see Queen Elizabeth II.

The second-longest reign is that of mad King George III in the 18th century.

King George III reigned from 25 October 1760 until 29th January 1820, a total of 59 years, 3 months and 2 days. From the date he ascended to the throne until 1 January 1801, he was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland.

After 1801 George was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until he died.

He was also Prince Elector of Hanover until October 1814, when he became King of Hanover, and was Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg.

Although the third of the King Georges of the House of Hanover, he was the first to be born in the United Kingdom and to speak English as a first language.

King George III at the time of his coronation.

King George III at the time of his coronation.


Unlike the other two, who spent most of their time in Hanover, he never actually visited the place at all.

King George’s reign was tumultuous. The first British Empire came to an end when the American War of Independence led to the establishment of the United States of America.

On the other hand, in long running battles against France, Napoleon was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Family and Childhood

The Hanover Kings had distinctly odd families. King George III was the grandson, rather than son, of the preceding monarch King George II.

King George II’s oldest son was Frederick Prince of Wales. George II disliked his eldest son the Prince of Wales and there was very little communication between George II and Frederick.

King George II, George III's grandfather and predecessor

King George II, George III's grandfather and predecessor

King George III’s parents

Prince Frederick Louis was the eldest son of Prince George, later to be King George II, and George’s wife, Queen Caroline, born Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline of Ansbach.

Prince George August and Caroline married in August 1705 and their first child, Prince Frederick, was born in February 1707.

When George I took the British throne in 1714, Prince George and Princess Caroline moved to the United Kingdom, leaving their 7 year old son Frederick behind in Hanover. They did not see him for another 14 years.

A large number of younger children had been born to the couple by the time Frederick arrived in England, and George and Caroline referred to their eldest son as a foundling, and nicknamed him “Griff” or “Griffin”.

In 1736 Prince Frederick married 16 year old Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. The couple had a total of 9 children, the last, a daughter, being born posthumously.

King George III

Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of King George II and father of King George III

Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of King George II and father of King George III

George William Frederick was born on 4 June 1738 in London at Norfolk House. He was 2 months premature, but grew into a healthy although shy child.

George was, unlike many of the Hanover royal children, well-educated.

He could read and write in both English and German by the age of 8, and also studied astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, French, Latin, history, music, geography, agriculture and constitutional law.

When George’s father died suddenly in 1751, King George II decided to take an interest in his grandchildren for the first time. 3 weeks after Frederick died, George II created Prince George as the Prince of Wales.

Marriage and Family

Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III and mother of King George IV and William IV

Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III and mother of King George IV and William IV

King George II died at the age of 76 on 25 October 1760.

A wife was clearly needed for the new King George III, and on 8 September 1761 the King married Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

At the time of their marriage, George III was 24, and Charlotte was 17.  The couple met for the first time on the day they married.

A fortnight after the wedding, the King and Queen were crowned together at Westminster Abbey.

Despite an extremely arranged marriage, the couple appeared to have been genuinely happy.  George III is not known to have had a  mistress at any time, unlike the vast run of Hanoverian royals who were knee deep in mistresses and illegitimate children.

King George III and Queen Charlotte had 15 children in total.  13 of these children survived to adulthood.

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales, mother of King George III

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales, mother of King George III

1. George IV born 12th August 1762

2. Frederick, Duke of York, born 16th August 1763

3. William IV born 21st August 1765

4. Charlotte, Princess Royal born 29 September 1766

5. Edward, Duke of Kent born 2nd November 1767

6. Princess Augusta Sophia born 8th November 1768

7. Princess Elizabeth born 22nd May 1770

8. Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland born 5th June 1771

9. Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex born 27th January 1773

10. Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge  born 24th February 1774

11. Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester born 25th April 1776

12. Princess Sophia born 3rd November 1777

13. Prince Octavius born 23rd February 1779

14. Prince Alfred born 22nd September 1780

15. Princess Amelia born 7th August 1783

The three youngest daughters of King George III, Princesses Mary, Sophia, and Amelia

The three youngest daughters of King George III, Princesses Mary, Sophia, and Amelia

The two youngest sons died before they were 5 years old, and the other 13 children lived to adulthood.

What those children didn’t do was marry and produce legitimate heirs for the British and Hanover thrones. For more on this see

George III’s lack of Heirs: 15 Children, but no Grandchildren….. and  A Funeral & Four Weddings: Princess Charlotte & Succession Crisis

King George and Queen Charlotte were the first of the royal family to live in Buckingham House, which later became known as Buckingham Palace.

It was originally intended as a private retreat for the King and Queen, and was known as the Queen’s House.

St James’ Palace remained the official and ceremonial royal palace in London.  14 of the couple’s 15 children were born at Buckingham House.

Queen Charlotte was possessive of her children, in particular her daughters, and kept them close by her side and refused to allow them to marry until they were in their 30s or 40s.  None of the King and Queen’s daughters had children.


King George III’s Reign

King George III in 1762

King George III in 1762

It is unnecessary to write much of a summary of the most important political events of George III’s reign.  Suffice it to say, that his reign saw the end of the first British Empire, when the American War of Independence began in April 1775.

King George III’s reign had, as the Declaration of Independence put it, “abdicated government here, plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”

After Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at the siege of Yorktown in 1781, King George III drafted an abdication notice, although he never acted upon it.  The King accepted, finally, the defeat in North America and authorised peace negotiations.

The treaties of Paris were ratified in 1783 and the United States of America became an independent country recognised throughout the world.

King George III told John Adams, American Minister to Britain in 1785 that:

I was the last to consent to the separation, but the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I will be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power.

King George’s reign also saw the Napoleonic Wars, culminating in the Duke of Wellington’s famous victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 (which he described as “a damn close run thing”).

What King George III was like

King George IV at his coronation in 1821

King George IV at his coronation in 1821

George III was extremely interested in agriculture and science.

During his reign the agricultural revolution really kicked off, allowing the release of a huge number of previously agriculture workers to become the workforce for the industrial revolution, in which Britain led the world.

He was nicknamed by pamphleteers and caricaturists as, “Farmer George” but the nickname later became an affectionate one, especially as his sons ran up huge debts and failed to do anything very useful.  By comparison, George III’s interests in agriculture and science came to be seen as positively virtuous.

George collected large numbers of scientific instruments, which can now be seen at the Science Museum in London, and funded the largest ever telescope built at that time, which was 40 feet.

The Madness of King George

By 1788, King George III was suffering from the first spell of mental illness, which later took over his life.  It is now thought likely that the illness from which he suffered was Porphyria, a genetic illness.

King William IV, also known as the "Sailor King"

King William IV, also known as the "Sailor King"

In 1788, he began to suffer a particularly acute episode of the illness.  At the end of the summer in 1788 he went to Cheltenham Spa.  Although only 100 miles from London, this was the furthest King George III had ever ventured in his life.

By November George had become seriously ill, speaking for hours without pausing for more than breaths, foaming at the mouth, and becoming increasingly unwell.

Arguments between parliamentarians were underway and the Regency Bill was introduced in parliament in February 1789 authorising Prince George, the Prince of Wales, to act as Prince Regent whilst his father was incapacitated.

However, before the Bill could be passed into an Act of Parliament George III recovered.

King George  suffered another serious episode of mental illness in 1804, which lasted for approximately 9 months.

In 1810, King George III was almost blind, from severe cataracts, and also suffered from bad rheumatism which left him in constant pain.  The death of his youngest daughter, Princess Amelia, triggered another severe episode of mental illness.

King George III in old age

King George III in old age

The Regency Act 1811 was passed, and Prince George, Prince of Wales (the future George IV) acted as Regent for the rest of George III’s reign.

By November 1811, King George III had become permanently insane.  He lived at Windsor Castle, secluded from the public and the world, for the next 9 years.

His illness was so severe that he was unaware that he became King of Hanover in 1814, or that Napolean was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, and was similarly unaware that his wife died in 1818.

He was completely blind, almost completely deaf, and suffered severe mobility problems.  He died in January 1820 at Windsor Castle.

King George III was followed on the throne by two of his sons, King George IV and King William IV, and both of whom who died without legitimate children.

The throne was then inherited in 1837 by King George III’s granddaughter, Queen Victoria, the child of George III’s fourth son, Edward Duke of Kent.

William the Marshal: The Greatest Knight

By , July 3, 2010 10:44 am

William Marshal 1146 – 14th May 1219

William Marshal unhorsing an opponent in a joust, from Matthew Paris' "History"

William Marshal unhorsing an opponent in a joust, from Matthew Paris' "History"

William the Marshal’s life is astonishing, and shows him as one of the towering giants of Medieval England.

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, rose from the obscurity of being a 4th son of a minor knight, to serving Kings and Queens of England and the Duchies of Anjou, Normandy, Maine &  Aquitaine, and was then Regent of England.

He was known across Christendom as “the Marshal”, and even went to Jerusalem as a pilgrim.

William’s loyalty and commitment were legendary, and enabled him to serve successive Kings who loathed and fought each other (despite the fact that those Kings were father / son or brothers).

Knights jousting, from René d'Anjou's "Livre des tournois"

Knights jousting, from René d'Anjou's "Livre des tournois"

William was a powerhouse of military skill and strength, winning prizes and acclaim throughout Europe.

He also won a reputation as being a loyal, chivalrous and honourable knight, who made his name on the tournament circuit, and was still leading an army at the age of 70, when his forces won the Battle of Lincoln on behalf of Henry III.

William married one of the greatest available heiresses, Isabel de Clare, who was 17 years old to his 43, and yet appears to have had a happy marriage, fathering many children.

This is the first of two articles about William. This one looks at his family, childhood, early exploits, and service under Henry the Young King and King Henry II.

The second looks at William’s services to King Richard I and King John, his role as governor of England, and as  the Regent who ruled while King Henry III was a child, and can be found by clicking on this link:

William the Marshal: 1st Earl of Pembroke & Regent of England

Family and Childhood

The Empress Matilda, also known as the Lady of the English

The Empress Matilda, also known as the Lady of the English

Born During the Anarchy

William was born half-way through the time called “The Nineteen Year Winter”, a bitter civil war which started in 1135 when King Henry I died without a male heir.

The following 19 years saw a battle between King Stephen, Henry I’s nephew, and Empress Matilda, Henry’s daughter, which ended only when Stephen died in 1154 and was succeeded by King Henry II, Matilda’s eldest son, and Henry’s Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

For more about this Civil War, see this article: Empress Matilda v King Stephen: When Christ and His Saints Slept.

William suffered directly and personally in the Civil War.

John FitzGilbert the Marshal – William Marshal’s Father

William was the 4th son of John FitzGilbert the Marshal, also known as just John the Marshal. The Marshal post was a mostly hereditary job in the Royal Household.

Originally the Marshal (or Maréchal in the Norman French spoken by the top levels of society) was in charge of the King’s horses and stables (the Marshalsea), but the post expanded to include organising the King’s household and soldiers in general.

The remains of Marlborough Castle, held by John the Marshal, and probable birthplace of William Marshal

The remains of Marlborough Castle, held by John the Marshal, and probable birthplace of William Marshal

John’s father, Gilbert, had also been a royal marshal, for King Henry I. (John’s often-used surname, FitzGilbert, means “son of Gilbert” in Normal French).

John the Marshal married firstly Aline Pipard, and they had two sons, Gilbert and Walter. His marriage to Aline was annulled, and he then married Sybilla of Salisbury, by whom he had four more sons, John, William, Henry and Ancel (or Anselm), and two daughters.

John was renowned for being extremely tough and a fierce opponent. He was described as being “a limb of hell and the root of all evil”.

During a battle John was imprisoned in a burning church, and molten lead dripped down his face and body, caused horrific burns. Despite the injuries, he escaped and recovered to fight again.

John became Marshal to King Henry I when his father died, in about 1130, and when King Henry himself died in 1135 AD, he became King Stephen’s Marshal in turn.  John held Hamstead Marshal as his own inheritance, and was granted the castles of Marlborough and Ludgershall nearby – all are in Berkshire and Wiltshire.

Sybilla of Salisbury – William Marshal’s Mother

Sybilla was the sister of Patrick, Earl of Salisbury, and daughter of Walter of Salisbury. Her family and John the Marshal’s had been local enemies, and the marriage was designed to keep the peace so that both families could join together and harass others instead of themselves.

William Held as a Hostage

King Stephan of Blois, from Matthew Paris' early 13th century chronicle

King Stephan of Blois, from Matthew Paris' early 13th century chronicle

John the Marshal was on the Empress Matilda’s side, and built an adulterine castle, one which was not permitted or licensed, on his lands at Hamstead Marshal, near Newbury.

In 1152, when William was 5 or 6 years old, King Stephen and his army besieged Newbury. A truce was agreed, so that John Marshal could seek permission to surrender the castle, and his young son William was given as  a hostage for John’s good behaviour.

Instead of surrendering, John took the opportunity offered by the truce to re-fortify and re-supply the castle, so that it could continue to hold against the siege.

King Stephen threatened to hang the boy and catapult his body over the castle walls if John did not surrender, and John replied:

I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!

Fortunately for William, but to the disgust of his allies, King Stephen couldn’t bring himself to kill a small boy, and William survived.

For more about Newbury Castle, see Hamstead Marshall Castles.


Military Training

At the age of 11 or 12, William was sent to be a page, then squire (training to be a knight) in a relative’s household in Normandy, in William de Tancarville’s care. He late moved, once knighted, to his maternal uncle’s household, Patrick of Salisbury.

Later Medieval Tournament illustration (15th century)

Later Medieval Tournament illustration (15th century)

He started to fight as a Knight from about 1166, aged 20, and attended his first tournament in 1167.

He became a very successful tournament fighter: tournaments and jousts at this time were extremely dangerous events, with many competitors dying or suffering serious injuries.

Knights who were caught by another competitor lost their horse and armour, and if rich, had to pay a ransom to the captor. So a tournament fighter could both make and lose vast sums of money, and William tended to win.

See this article for more about Medieval Armour.

First contact with Royalty

In 1168, the rebellious rebels, the de Lusignans, killed William’s uncle, Patrick of Salisbury, and captured William in an ambush near Poitiers, in Aquitaine.

The group was on business for Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Duchess of Aquitaine and wife of King Henry II. Eleanor paid William’s ransome, and he entered royal service as a knight.

William Marshal and Henry the Young King

King Henry II

King Henry II

King Henry II had decided to follow the French example of crowning the heir to the throne during the King’s lifetime. Henry, the oldest surviving son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, was therefore crowned in August 1170, when he was 15 years old.

William the Marshal was appointed as the Young King’s tutor and an important part of his household.

In 1173 Henry the Young King joined his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his brothers Geoffrey and Richard, in rebelling against King Henry II.  A bitter family war ensued, with father aligned against 3 of his sons and his wife, their mother.

William Marshal supported his lord and master, Henry the Young King, although by 1174 King Henry II had triumphed, making peace with his sons and capturing and imprisoning his wife, Queen Eleanor (she remained in captivity until Henry II died in 1189).

After peace broke out in 1174, William Marshal lead the Young King’s tournament team, and they competed across France, Normandy, Anjou, Aquitaine, Picardy and Flanders from 1174 until 1182. William devised the team’s tactics, and acted as guard for Henry the Young King, as Henry’s being captured and held for ransom would have lead to serious embarrassment all round.

By 1179, William was wealthy enough to run his own team of knights in tournaments.

In 1182, William and Henry fell out, for reasons that are not entirely clear, but probably owed much to others’ jealousy of William’s influence over the Young King, and increasing wealth and prestige from martial sports. William left the Young King’s household in the summer of 1182.

Henry the Young King

Henry the Young King

Some 6 months later, the Young King recalled William to his service. Henry was once again rebelling against his father, King Henry II, and this time also fought against his brother Richard, heir to the Duchy of Aquitaine.

Henry the Young King died of dysentery, or the bloody flux as it was then known, in June  1183. Henry had started to raid monasteries and shrines to pay mercenaries to fight against his father and brother, and many saw his death as a sign of divine displeasure. Fearful of damnation on his deathbed, the Young King asked William Marshal to take his cloak on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to fulfil the Crusader vow he had taken and not carried out.

After Henry the Young King’s death, William Marshal, with King Henry II’s approval, made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and returned 2 years later, to join Henry II’s household.

William Marshal and King Henry II

King Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart, or Richard Coeur de Lion

King Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart, or Richard Coeur de Lion

William basked in royal favour from 1185 onwards. He was given estates in the north-west of England, in Cumberland (now Cumbria), and the wardship of a Cumberland heiress, Heloise.

Late in 1188, Henry II’s sons, Richard and Geoffrey, rebelled against their father again. William Marshal acted as captain of Henry II’s troops, and accompanied Henry II as he travelled to fight the revolt.

On one occasion, William became the only man ever to knock Richard off his horse, as Richard and his soldiers chased after Henry II.

By mid 1189, Henry II was unwell. He promised William the heiress Isabel de Clare, one of the greatest heiresses in any of Henry II’s domains.

But before the marriage could take place, and the transfer be formalised, Henry II died in August 1189, mourning because his youngest son John had joined the rebellion of his older brothers.

Although William Marshal had fought against him on behalf of Henry the Young King and later Henry II, Richard valued the loyalty and prowess William had shown in the service of his brother and father.

Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart, appointed William Marshal to his own household, and sent him urgently to England, to release his long-held mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Read on for part two! William the Marshal: 1st Earl of Pembroke & Regent of England


Empress Matilda v King Stephen: When Christ and His Saints Slept

By , June 29, 2010 8:58 am

Introduction to the “Nineteen Year Winter”

When King Henry I died in 1135AD  without a male heir, all hell broke loose.

The following two decades saw civil war in England, between Henry I’s daughter, the Empress Matilda (also known as Maud) and Henry’s nephew, Stephen of Blois.

As well as the battles between the opposing Claimants to the throne, local barons took the lack of firm control as an opportunity to grab land, build unlicensed castles, settle old scores, and start new feuds.

King Henry I, from one of Matthew Paris' early 13th century works

King Henry I, from one of Matthew Paris' early 13th century works


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described the period as the time “When Christ and his Saints Slept”, and it is also known as “The Nineteen Year Winter” and “The Anarchy”.

King Henry I’s Family and Children

Father and Inheritance

Henry was the fourth son of the first Norman King, William the Conqueror.

When William died, he left the Duchy of Normandy to his eldest son, Robert, and the English Crown to his third son, William II, also known as William Rufus. The second son, Richard, died before his father.

As the fourth son, Henry Beauclerc (so called because he was the best-educated of William the Conqueror’s sons, and at one time destined for the Church) inherited only money.

William the Conqueror, father of King Henry I and grandfather of King Stephan and Empress Matilda, shown in the Bayeux Tapestry

William the Conqueror, father of King Henry I and grandfather of King Stephan and Empress Matilda, shown in the Bayeux Tapestry

William Rufus died in a very suspicious hunting accident, killed apparently by a stray arrow, in 1100.

Robert, Duke of Normandy, was on crusade at the time, and Henry took the opportunity, which he may have created or helped to create, to take the throne and become King Henry I. Henry was then about 31 or 32 years old.

Marriages and Children

Henry had no problem siring children. His problem was fathering legitimate offspring, who could inherit the throne.

After he ascended to the throne in August 1100, Henry married Edith, daughter of the King of Scotland, and therefore added the Anglo-Saxon royalty to his children. She changed her name from the very Saxon “Edith” to “Matilda”, which was a much more Norman name.

Henry and Matilda had two children who died as infants, and two who lived past childhood, one son, William, and a daughter, Matilda, Maude or Maud.

William Adelin died in the infamous sinking of the White Ship in November 1120, when he was 17 years old. That left Henry I without a legitimate male heir.

Queen Matilda had died in 1118, and Henry re-married, to Adeliza, a German Duke’s daughter, but had no more children.

Henry I also had between 20 and 30 acknowledged bastard children, including Robert, Earl of Gloucester.

Empress Matilda / Maude / Maud

The Empress Matilda, also known as the Lady of the English

The Empress Matilda, also known as the Lady of the English

Matilda was born in 1102, probably in Winchester. At the age of 7, she was betrothed to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, and was sent to live at her future husband’s court the following year.

Henry and Matilda married in 1114, when he was 28 and she was 12 years old. They had no children, and Henry V died in 1125; Matilda returned to England.

The 23 year old Matilda was, after 1120, King Henry’s only surviving legitimate child. Henry  arranged a second marriage for his daughter, in 1128, to the 15 year old Geoffrey, Count of Maine and Count of Anjou.

In status terms, a Duke was a comedown after an Emperor, and Matilda continued to be known as the Empress Matilda, or Lady of the English.

The marriage was marked by frequent arguments, separations and dislike, but the couple nevertheless had three sons, Henry, Geoffrey, and William.

Stephen of Blois was one of ten children. His parents were Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, and Stephen, Count of Blois.  He held the title of Count of Mortain, and also later Count of Boulogne, by right of his wife, Matilda.

Stephen was brought up at the court of his uncle, King Henry I. He was the first of the barons to swear allegiance to Matilda as the heir of Henry I.

The Succession Crisis

King Stephan of Blois, from Matthew Paris' early 13th century chronicle

King Stephen of Blois, from Matthew Paris' early 13th century chronicle

King Henry I named his daughter, Matilda, as his heir. He demanded that all his barons swore allegiance to Matilda, and that they accepted her as his heir.

Henry died in Normandy in December 1135, from a surfeit of lampreys (a type of eel). Matilda had two sons by then, but they were very young: Henry was 2 years old, and Geoffrey was a baby.

Three people appeared to have a potential claim to the throne, all with certain difficulties. Matilda had the best claim, by blood and by the oaths sworn to her, but she was a woman.

Stephen of Blois was the nephew of King Henry, and grandson of William the Conqueror, but was not a direct heir to Henry, and had an older brother, Theobald Count of Blois (who did not claim the throne).

Robert of Gloucester, an efficient and popular Earl, was the son of King Henry I, but was illegitimate.

When Henry I died, Stephen sprang into action. He rushed from Normandy to England, gathered support from the barons, had himself crowned, and grabbed the treasury. He was given strong support by his younger brother, Henry Bishop of Winchester.

Once King Stephen was crowned, the Pope decided to absolve the English and Norman barons of their oaths to Matilda, and Stephen became the de facto King of England and Duke of Normandy.

Matilda herself was in Anjou, and was overtaken by events. Stephen made his claim to the throne a fait accompli, helped by the fact that the English and Norman barons strongly disliked the idea of a woman on the throne.


Civil War

King Henry II, son of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou

King Henry II, son of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou

Matilda’s cause was championed by her illegitimate half-brother, Robert Earl of Gloucester.  King David of Scotland, Matilda’s uncle, also invaded from the north in her support, but was beaten back.

By 1139, King Stephen had alienated many barons and bishops, and did not focus on the administrative detail of actual running the government.

Matilda and her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, invaded Normandy and managed to take much the Duchy between 1135 and 1138. Fighting continued thereafter, but in 1144 Geoffrey captured Rouen, and Geoffrey and Matilda were proclaimed as the Duke and Duchess of Normandy.

Matilda arrived in England in 1139, and took Arundel Castle, and later joined Robert of Gloucester at his main castle in Bristol. Fighting continued across the country, and in 1141, Matilda’s cause took a significant step forward when her armies captured Lincoln Castle. Trying to reclaim it, King Stephen was captured and imprisoned.

Matilda travelled to London, taking the title “Lady of the English” and ruled for some months. She was not particularly popular, however, and the struggle continued, directed by Queen Matilda (another one!), wife of King Stephen.

When Robert of Gloucester was captured in September 1141, an exchange was arranged, and both Robert and Stephen were released.

In December 1142, Matilda was trapped in Oxford Castle, and besieged. She made a daring and renowned escape across ice and snow at night, and evaded Stephen’s army. A year later, she also had to escape from Devizes Castle, this time disguised as a body being taken for burial.

Oxford Castle, from where Empress Matilda made a daring night-time escape

Oxford Castle, from where Empress Matilda made a daring night-time escape

Unrest and battles continued, until Robert of Gloucester died in 1147, and Matilda left England and returned to Normandy in 1148. Geoffrey of Anjou then returned to Anjou and Maine, leaving their eldest son, Henry, as acting Duke of Normandy.

Henry invaded England several times, in 1147, 1149 and 1150. He was precocious and ruthless, a great military commander, as can be seen by his leading invasions from the age of 14.

Matilda’s superior claim to the throne came to be embodied in her son Henry, who was not only gifted, intelligent and successful, but was (crucially) male.

In 1153, King Stephen agreed a treaty with Matilda and Henry, agreeing that after his death, the throne would pass not to his own children, but to Henry. Stephen died the following year, in 1154, and Henry became King Henry II, at the age of 21.

The Country during the Anarchy

King Stephen was often said to be a good man, and a bad King. He was derided as being soft and too forgiving, and he certainly appears to have paid insufficient attention to running the country.

The Anglo-Saxon chronicle says of his taking the throne:

Meanwhile was his nephew come to England, Stephen de Blois. He came to London, and the people of London received him, and sent after the Archbishop William Curboil, and hallowed him to king on midwinter day. In this king’s time was all dissention, and evil, and rapine

Among King Stephen’s failings as a King were his inability to execute child hostages, such as William, son of John the Marshall, and his forgiveness, often more than once, of those who rebelled against him.

When the young Henry first invaded, at the age of 14, and then ran out of money, King Stephen paid for him to return to Normandy.

The First Page of the Peterborough version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The First Page of the Peterborough version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The Chronicle says:

When the traitors understood that he was a mild man, and soft, and good, and no justice executed, then did they all wonder.

All the armies and groups of armed men wandering the country from 1135 to 1153 did no good at all, plundering, looting after winning battles, taking what they wanted.

But the problems were greater than this. The barons became over-mighty subjects, building castles without permission, taking land from other barons, smaller landholders, and the church, and there was a lack of law and order that was universal.

When in control of an area, King Stephen was not able to impose the rule of law, one of the reasons subjects rebelled against his rule.

The Chronicle paints a grim picture of King Stephen’s reign:

Never yet was there more wretchedness in the land; nor ever did heathen men worse than they did: for, after a time, they spared neither church nor churchyard, but took all the goods that were therein, and then burned the church and all together. Neither did they spare a bishop’s land, or an abbot’s, or a priest’s, but plundered both monks and clerks; and every man robbed another who could.

To till the ground was to plough the sea: the earth bare no corn, for the land was all laid waste by such deeds; and they said openly, that Christ slept, and his saints. Such things, and more than we can say, suffered we nineteen winters for our sins.

Queen Anne’s Tragedy: 18 Pregnancies, no Children & Hanover Kings

By , June 21, 2010 9:18 am

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Introduction

Queen Anne, the younger of James II’s surviving daughters from his marriage to Lady Anne Hyde, was born at St. James’ Palace in London on 6th February 1665.

Most unusually for Stuart and Hanoverian royal children, their parents were not related to each other.

The clandestine marriage between the then Duke of York and the Chancellor’s daughter produced 8 children, but 6 died in infancy.

Anne and her older sister Mary were the only two children to grow to adulthood.

Queen Anne in 1705

Queen Anne in 1705, aged 40

Medieval and early modern statistics on pregnancy and infant mortality tend to make any modern mother wince and be grateful for health care and antibiotics.

But Anne was particularly unfortunate, and her obstetric history was a real tragedy.
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Accession to the throne

Anne’s older sister took the throne as Mary II in 1689 after their father, James II, was deemed to have abdicated during the Glorious Revolution.

Queen Mary ruled as joint monarch with her husband, William, Prince of Orange.

Queen Mary II married William of Orange, her first cousin, when she was only 15 years old, in an arranged marriage.

Queen Mary II, Queen Anne's older sister

Queen Mary II, Queen Anne's older sister

Mary was pregnant 3 times, and suffered two miscarriages and a stillbirth.

King William III and Queen Mary II reigned jointly until Mary’s death from smallpox on 28nd December 1694. William of Orange then ruled alone until his own death on 8th March 1702.

As William and Mary had no children, Anne inherited the throne.
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Queen Anne’s Marriage

When she was 18 years old, in July 1683, Anne married her second cousin, Prince George of Denmark.

George was suitably protestant, which was essential given the dislike and fear of Catholics which still prevailed in the country. George was not a member of the Church of England, and never became one – he was a Lutheran.

George, Prince of Denmark, Queen Anne's husband

George, Prince of Denmark, Queen Anne's husband

The marriage was arranged by Anne’s uncle, Charles II (Anne’s father’s older brother).

George was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and considered fairly good-looking. He was also monumentally dull, and not over-blessed with brains.

Charles II said of him after the marriage, I have tried him drunk, and I have tried him sober; and there is nothing in him.

George also suffered from asthma, and a contemporary said that his heavy breathing was the only thing which confirmed he was alive.

Anne herself was not particularly attractive (see the portraits on this page and judge for yourself).

Both George and Anne ate and drank with enthusiasm, and became extremely large.

George and Anne’s marriage appears to have been a happy one, despite the frequent tragedies. When George died in 1708, Anne mourned him sincerely and deeply.
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Queen Anne’s Pregnancies, Miscarriages and Stillbirths

Queen Anne aged 18, at the time of her marriage to Prince George of Denmark

Queen Anne aged 18, at the time of her marriage to Prince George of Denmark

Different sources quote different numbers of miscarriages and stillbirths, as the line between one and the other is not always clear.

What does appear to be the case is that Queen Anne was pregnant 17 or 18 times, with 18 or 19 children, between the ages of 18 and 34.

1. Stillborn daughter, 12th May 1684

2. Mary, 2nd June 1685

3. Anne Sophia, 12th May 1686

4. Miscarriage, January 1687

5. Stillborn son, 22nd October 1687

6. Miscarriage, 16th April 1688

7.  William, Duke of Gloucester 24th July 1689

8. Mary, 14th October 1690

9. George, 17th April 1692

10. Stillborn daughter, 23th April 1693

11. Stillborn child, 21st January 1694, about 7 months gestation, and a 3 month foetus (dead twin)

Queen Anne in 1700, aged 35

Queen Anne in 1700, aged 35

12. Stillborn daughter, 18th February 1696

13. Miscarriage, 20th September 1696

14. Stillborn daughter, 25th March 1697

15. Miscarriage, December 1697

16. Charles, 15th September 1698

17. Stillborn daughter, 25th January 1700

There was also another probable miscarriage in 1688.
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Queen Anne’s Children

As can be seen from the list above, Queen Anne gave birth to 6 living children.

Of those 6, the 3 born in the 1690s, Mary, George and Charles, all died within 24 hours of birth.

Mary and Anne Sophia, born in 1685 and 1686, were healthy girls. They both died of smallpox in February 1687, within a few hours of each other.

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester: Queen Anne's longest-lived child

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester: Queen Anne's longest-lived child

William, born on 24th July 1689, was the only one of Queen Anne’s children to survive infancy.

A British Medical Journal Article from 1982, For the want of an heir: the obstetrical history of Queen Anne states that he suffered from a mild form of hydrocephalus, also known as water on the brain.

The article is available online at the BMJ free, although you must register to read it.

This is based partly on portraits (see to the right, for example) and partly on medical descriptions of the boy when he was alive.

William had a large head, and had some trouble learning to walk. He was not a particularly healthy child. He was of normal intelligence and development otherwise, though.

At the age of 11, William caught a fever and possibly pneumonia as a result, and died on 30th July 1700.
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What was the Cause of Queen Anne’s Tragedy?

There is little doubt that, even by the standards of the worst maternal care and infant mortality, Queen Anne and Prince George were desperately unlucky.

The couple produced only 3 healthy children out of 18 or 19 in total. The fact that none of those three lived to adulthood is not attributable to any obvious cause – the girls were in perfect health until they died of smallpox, which was a common and deadly illness – Queen Mary II,  the girls’ maternal aunt, died of it too.

 Queen Anne and her son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester

Queen Anne and her son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester

Prince William may have been sickly as a small child, and certainly had an odd head, but neither seemed to kill him; rather, it was the result of a fever and pneumonia, which could and did kill many children at the time.

The 14 or 15 children who were miscarried late, stillborn, or died very shortly after birth does seem to suggest a problem, however. It is a statistically significant number.

There are two explanations often given. The first is that Queen Anne was Rhesus factor negative, and Prince George was rhesus factor positive.  If that was the case, then after the first rhesus positive baby, Anne’s body would have been inclined to reject rhesus positive babies, leading to the large number of ante-natal and short-lived deaths.

The BMJ article referred to above suggests that Queen Anne may have suffered from the auto-immune disease disseminated lupus erythematosus. The article refers to the severe gout she is said to have suffered from the age of 33 (rare in pre-menopausal women), the face rashes she had at the same time as the gout attacks, the dropsy (oedema) she suffered from periodically, and the eye problems she had from the age of 5.

Lupus is also strongly associated with increased and increasing difficulty in carrying healthy children to term in pregnancy.

Queen Anne was also massively obese from the age of about 30, which is not helpful for healthy pregnancies either.
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Lack of Heirs and the Hanovers

Whatever the reasons, Queen Anne’s childbearing and pregnancies must have been almost unbearable for both her and her husband.

It caused problems for the country, too. After Queen Anne’s death at the age of 49, the House of Stuart was extinct, and the throne passed to the Hanover Kings – George I, George II, George III, George IV, and William IV.

Taken as a group, the Hanoverian royals were dull, boring, not intelligent,badly educated, often illiterate, and prone to wasting absolutely huge sums of money and running up enormous debts.

As the childhood rhyme has it:

Of all the Georges, George the First

Is said by most to be the worst

But then again, by some t’is reckoned,

Even worse was George the Second

But of the three, so I have heard,

The greatest fool was George the third

When George the Fourth to hell descended

Thank the Lord the Georges ended!

There are many different versions of this poem – this one is my Dad’s favourite take on it. The original was, I believe, by Thackeray:

George the First most vile was reckoned;

Viler still was George the Second ;

And what mortal ever heard

Any good of George the Third ?

When George the Fourth to hell descended,

God be praised! the Georges ended!
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Oldest English Royal Bones – Queen Ædgyth’s 1000 year old Skeleton

A Thousand Year Old Royal Skeleton

The oldest bones which are confirmed as being those of an English royal have been identified this week.

The skeleton uncovered in January 2008 in Magdeburg Cathedral was thought to be Queen Ædgyth’s, and the coffin was labelled as such, but it had been moved more than once, and confusion was entirely possible.

Scientific tests confirmed that the skeleton was indeedthe Saxon Princess, Ædgyth’s, bones.

Statue of Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth from Magdeburg Cathedral

Statue of Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth from Magdeburg Cathedral


This article is about Ædgyth / Eadgyth / Edith, who she was, her life and times, and the tests which confirmed her remains were definitely the earliest-known royal bones from an English house.

Ædgyth’s Ancestry and Family

Ædgyth was the daughter of the Saxon King, Edward the Elder, and granddaughter of the best-known Saxon King, Alfred the Great.

Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871AD to 899, and the only King in England or Britain to be accorded the suffix “the great”.

Alfred married Ealhswith, daughter of Aethelred Mucil, who was from what is now Lincolnshire. Alfred and Ealhswith had at least 5 children, including Æthelflæd, who became Queen of Mercia, and Edward, Ædgyth’s father.

King Edward the Elder was the second child and oldest son of Alfred and Ealhswith. He was born between about 847 and 877. He became King of Wessex, and King of the Saxons, after Alfred died in 899.

Statue of King Alfred the Great in Winchester

Statue of King Alfred the Great in Winchester

Edward married three times, and had at least 16 children. His first wife (who might have been more mistress than wife) was supplanted by 901 by Ædgyth’s mother, Ælfflæd (also written as Elfleda), daughter of Æthelhelm, ealdorman of Wiltshire.

Edward and Ælfflæd / Elfleda had 6 daughters, one of them Ædgyth, and two sons. Ædgyth / Eadgyth was born in about 910.

William of Malmesbury’s De antiquitate Glastonie ecclesiae, written in the early 12th century, suggests that the marriage of Edward and Ælfflæd / Elfleda ended in divorce, and that Ælfflæd / Elfleda was still alive after Edward the Elder’s death.  This may or may not be the case, and is not mentioned in sources before the Norman Conquest.

Whether because of death or divorce, Edward the Elder remarried in about 919. His third wife was Eadgifu, the daughter of Sigehelm, the ealdorman of Kent.

King Edward the Elder died in 924, when his daughter Ædgyth was about 14 years old, and was succeeded by Athelstan the Glorious (also known as Æthelstan), Edward’s son by his first marriage.

King Athelstan the Glorious is usually said to be the first King of England.

Ædgyth’s Marriage

The tomb of King Athelstan the Glorious in Malmesbury Abbey

The tomb of King Athelstan the Glorious in Malmesbury Abbey

In about 928, an ambassador arrived at the English Royal Court, seeking a bride for Otto, son of King Henry I of Germany.

King Athelstan sent two of his half sisters on approval Otto, Duke of Saxony was given the option of either, and chose to marry Ædgyth, and their marriage took place in 929.

Otto, who was born in 912, was the  son of Henry I the Fowler and Matilda of Ringelheim. In 936, Otto’s father died, and Otto became King of the Saxons, also known as King of Germany.

An ambitious and successful man, Otto also later became the Holy Roman Emperor, and claimed the title of King of Italy, too. Ædgyth / Eadgyth was anointed as Queen in 936, upon the accession of her husband.

Otto and Ædgyth founded a Benedictine monastery, known as the Monastery of St Maurice Magdeburg in 937.

The couple had two children who lived past infanthood, a son, Liudolf, and a daughter, Liutgarde.


What was Ædgyth like?

Sources from the German royal courts give some details of Ædgyth. Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, a literate nun and poet, wrote that was calm and sincere, and “she was so very highly regarded in her own country that public opinion unanimously rated her the best woman who existed at that time in England”.

Of her death, Hrotsvit wrote:

the whole of the German nation mourned her with an intense grief -a foreign race that she had come to cherish with kindness. Their dearly beloved mistress was thus entrusted to the earth, to lie in the tomb until she could rise again.

Ædgyth’s death and burial

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth and her husband King Otto I

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth and her husband King Otto I

Queen Ædgyth died in January 946, aged 35 or 36.  Her death was apparently sudden, not preceded by lengthy illness.

Ædgyth was buried, and her bones (and those of her husband, Otto, who was later buried with her) were buried in the monastery of St. Maurice, that they had founded. The skeletons were  moved at least three times.

In 1510, a memorial was built King Otto and Queen Ædgyth  in Magdeburg Cathedral. It was long thought that this was a memorial only. In 2008, however, the tomb was opened.

A coffin within was labelled EDIT REGINE CINERES HIC SARCOPHAGVS HABET which, translated, says, The remains of Queen Edith are in this sarcophagus.

When opened, the coffin contained a skeleton, laid sideways in the coffin, bent at the knees, and covered in a silk shroud. Parts of the skeleton were missing, including bones from the hands and feet, and part of the skull.

Scientific Tests on the Bones and Teeth

Examination of the Bones

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth's bones being examined

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth's bones being examined

Anthropological examination of the bones undertaken in Mainz confirmed that the skeleton was that of a woman aged between 30 and 40 at the time of her death.

The femurs showed that the woman was a frequent rider, which pointed to her being a member of the nobility.

The bones also suggested that the woman had suffered either from serious illness or an eating disorder as a 9 or  10 year old child, which was the age at which Queen Ædgyth’s mother either died or was divorced by Ædgyth’s father.

Further tests on the molecular make-up of the bones suggested that the woman had eaten a high protein diet, including a lot of fish, which also suggested a wealthy upbringing.

Tests on the teeth

Deposits in the enamel of teeth can tell a lot of detail about where a person lived from birth until the age of 14. Isotopes of strontium and oxygen are mineralised in teeth as a person grows, and the precise nature of these mineral deposits depends on the geology of the area where the person lives.

The isotopes in the skeleton’s upper teeth showed that the woman had not been brought up in Magdeburg, or Germany. Instead, the isotopes pointed definitively to the chalk uplands of southern England. They also showed that until the age of 9, the woman had moved regularly between different parts of south England, but that after the age of 9, she had lived in one place until she was about 14.

The results are entirely consistent with what is known of Queen Ædgyth’s childhood and upbringing.

You can read about the University of Bristol’s scientific tests here.

The 5 Longest Reigning Kings & Queens – Elizabeth II, Second Place

By , June 17, 2010 3:20 pm

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Queen Elizabeth II – 60 years 4 months 11 days (and counting)

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Some English (and British, after the accession of King James I of England & VI of Scotland in 1603) managed to keep their backsides firmly on the throne for longer than the average birth to death life expectancy of their subjects.

This post is one of a series about the 5 longest reigns – all of which were (or are, in the case of Elizabeth II) over 50 years.

For obvious reasons, they were all young when they came to the throne, but not all were children.

Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, just after her accession to the throne. 	© Estate of Dorothy Wilding

Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, just after her accession to the throne. © Estate of Dorothy Wilding

For the fifth-longest English reign, see King Edward III in the 14th century, and for the fourth-longest reign, see King Henry III in the 13th century.

The second-longest reign is that of the present Queen, Elizabeth II. She recently overtook King George III to take second place, and has become only the second monarch in our history to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee – 60 years on the thone this year (2012).
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Family and Childhood

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Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on 21st April 1926, and is now 84 years old. She was named after her mother, great-grandmother, and grandmother (in that order). Her title at birth was Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth of York.

At the time Elizabeth was born, she was not expected to inherit the throne herself. She was the elder of two daughters born to Prince Albert, Duke of York, and his wife, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.
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Queen Elizabeth II’s Father

King George VI, Elizabeth II's father, in 1940

King George VI, Elizabeth II's father, in 1940


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Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, Queen Elizabeth’s father, was born on 14th December 1895, the second son of the future King George V and his wife, Queen Mary of Teck.

Albert was named after his grandfather, Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Little Prince Albert had one older brother, one younger sister, and three younger brothers, all with long strings of Christian names.

1. Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David (later Edward VIII, later still the Duke of Windsor)

2. Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary (known as Mary)

3. Henry William Frederick Albert

4. George Edward Alexander Edmund

5. John Charles Francis
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Queen Elizabeth II’s Mother

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Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was born on 4th August 1900, the 9th of the 10 children born to Claude Bowes-Lyon,14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and his wife, Cecilia.  Lady Elizabeth had 3 older sisters, 5 older brothers, and one younger brother. One of her brothers, Fergus, was killed in the First World War.
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Elizabeth’s Parents’ Marriage and Children

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Duchess of York, in 1925, aged 25

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Duchess of York, in 1925, aged 25


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The marriage was unusual because it was between a member of the Royal Family and a commoner. Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was not the normal choice for a Prince – they mostly married foreign princesses, in arranged or semi-arranged marriages.

“Bertie”, as Elizabeth II’s father was known to his intimates, first proposed marriage in 1921. It took Lady Elizabeth two years to agree, as she was reluctant to join the Royal Family.

In the end, she accepted the proposal and the couple were married in 1923.

The Duke and Duchess of York, as they then were, had two children, Elizabeth in 1926, and Princess Margaret Rose, born on 21st  August 1930.
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Elizabeth II’s upbringing

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Elizabeth and Margaret spent most of their childhood at their parents’ London home. They did not go to school, but instead were educated by their mother and governess, Marion Crawford.

Elizabeth had other lessons, such as French, from private tutors, and a special Girl Guides company was formed so that Elizabeth and Margaret could join it.
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The Abdication Crisis

Edward and Wallis Simpson, Duke and Duchess of Windsor, on their wedding day

Edward and Wallis Simpson, Duke and Duchess of Windsor, on their wedding day


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Until 1936, when Elizabeth was 10 years old, she was not expected to inherit the throne.  In January 1936, Elizabeth’s grandfather, George V, died, and the throne was inherited by her uncle, proclaimed Edward VIII.

Although unmarried, he was fully expected to choose a suitable bride and produce heirs of his own.

Edward, however, met and proposed marriage to the American Wallis Simpson. Wallis had been Edward’s mistress since about 1933, but was still married to her second husband, whom she divorced in 1936.

The Church of England did not allow divorced people who still living ex-spouses to marry in church, and Wallis had two living ex-husbands.

A constitutional crisis occurred, and King Edward VIII abdicated on 11th December 1936, so that he could marry.

Edward and Wallis were later created Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The couple had no children.

Elizabeth’s father therefore became King George VI, and Elizabeth herself was next in line to the throne.

Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth of York, as a toddler

Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth of York, as a toddler

Albert, soon to be King George VI, was horrified.

He hated the idea of becoming King, and was a shy, reserved man. He had had a bad stammer as a child, and had never wanted a very public role.

When he visited his mother, Queen Mary, on the day before the abdication, he said “When I told her what had happened, I broke down and sobbed like a child.”

But accept the throne he did, as he felt was his duty.

The couple, now King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, abandoned their quieter, more private life, and moved into Buckingham Palace with their daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret.
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Queen Elizabeth’s Later Childhood and Adolescence

Princess Elizabeth changing a tyre during the Second World War

Princess Elizabeth changing a tyre during the Second World War


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Elizabeth was now heir to the throne, and her education changed to take account of that.

She was taught constitutional law and procedure by Henry Marten, the Vice-Provost of Eton (a famous public school) and taught religious matters and canon law by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in preparation for becoming head of the Church of England.

Elizabeth and Margaret also learned to ride, swim, draw, paint, and dance.

In 1940, the Blitz was at its height, and the 14 year old Princess Elizabeth and her sister moved to Windsor to avoid the bombs.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stayed in London, in Buckingham Palace, touring bomb sites, being generally visible, and trying to raise morale. They did stay at Windsor Castle on many nights, however.

In February 1945, Elizabeth joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service. She learned to drive and maintain army lorries, and served in uniform for 8 months, until the end of the War.
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Queen Elizabeth’s Marriage and Children

His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh


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Princess Elizabeth met Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark as a child, in 1934 and 1937. After they met again in 1939, the couple began to exchange letters.  The couple are related as both second and third cousins through various descents from Queen Victoria.
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Prince Philip

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Philip was born on 10th June 1921  in Corfu, Greece, and was the fifth child (and only son) of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg.

In 1922, when Philip was still a baby, his uncle, the King of Greece, was forced to abdicate and the whole family went into exile.

Philip was educated in France until he was 7, then in England, then in Germany, and from 1933, in Scotland. Philip’s mother was placed in a lunatic asylum, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, in 1930, and saw her son very rarely for the next 8 years.

Philip joined the Royal Navy when he was 18 years old, and served in the Navy through the Second World War, until 1952. He saw active (and dangerous) service throughout the War.
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Engagement and Marriage

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the Queen's Coronation, 1953

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the Queen's Coronation, 1953


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Philip proposed marriage to Elizabeth early in 1946. George VI gave his permission, on condition that the engagement was not made public until Elizabeth’s 21st birthday.

Before the public announcement in July 1947, Philip renounced all his Greek, Danish and other royal titles, adopting the surname of his uncle, Earl Louis Mountbatten.

Philip Mountbatten also became a British Subject, ceased to be Greek Orthodox, and converted to be a member of the Church of England.

Shortly before the marriage, George VI bestowed the title His Royal Highness on Philip,and Philip was also created  Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich of Greenwich.

Philip and Elizabeth married on 20th November 1947. As the War still loomed large in the public mind, many of Philip’s relatives were not invited to attend: Philip’s sisters had all married Germans.
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Queen Elizabeth’s Children and Grandchildren

Queen Elizabeth II and her eldest son, Prince Charles

Queen Elizabeth II and her eldest son, Prince Charles


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Elizabeth and Philip have four children:

1. Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, born 14th November 1948

Charles has two children, Prince William and Prince Harry, born in 1982 and 1984.

2. Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise, the Princess Royal, born 15th  August 1950

Anne has two children, Peter Phillips and Zara Phillips, born in 1977 and 1981

3. Andrew Albert Christian Edward, Duke of York, born 19th February 1960

Andrew has two children, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, born in 1988 and 1990

4. Edward Antony Richard Louis, Earl of Wessex, born 10 March 1964

Edward has two children, Lady Louise Wessex, and James, Viscount Severn, born in 2003 and 2007
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Accession to the Throne

Queen Mary of Teck, King George V's wife, and Queen Elizabeth II's grandmother

Queen Mary of Teck, King George V's wife, and Queen Elizabeth II's grandmother

From 1948, King George VI was increasingly unwell, and Elizabeth replaced him on most overseas visits and tours. George was a heavy smoker, and developed lung cancer.

On 31st January 1952, Princess Elizabeth flew to Kenya on a royal visit, with Prince Philip. On 6th February, King George VI died in his sleep, and his daughter became Queen Elizabeth II.  She was proclaimed as Queen Elizabeth II throughout the British Empire and British Commonwealth.

The tour had originally been intended to extend to Australia and New Zealand after Kenya, but it was cut short and the new Queen arrived home.

At the time of her accession to the throne, there were three queens alive in the country. Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI, and Queen Mary, wife of King George V (Elizabeth’s grandmother).

To avoid confusion, Elizabeth’s mother gained a new title, “Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother”, often abbreviated by tabloid newspapers to “the Queen Mum”.

Queen Mary survived her son George VI for over a year, but died in March 1953, before her granddaughter’s coronation.
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The Coronation

Queen Elizabeth II in 2007

Queen Elizabeth II in 2007

Elizabeth’s coronation represented both centuries of tradition and innovation. The essentials of the Coronation Service have been the same for about a thousand years.

Queen Elizabeth II was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey on 2nd June 1953.

The innovation arose from the entire service, except for the anointing, being broadcast on television, and also on radio. The initial plan was to broadcast only the first part of the service live, but the Queen’s private intervention lead to almost all of it being televised.

An estimated 20 million people in the UK watched the service on television, and another 12 million listened to it on the radio.

The event established television in British life: many families acquired their first television sets specifically for the occasion.

My parents were both small children in 1953, aged 5 and 6. They both remember watching the coronation on television, in each case, on a set in a neighbour’s house bought especially for the event. Both my parents’ families acquired their own televisions within a year of the coronation.

You can see a video clip of the 1953 event here: The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
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Queen Elizabeth II’s Titles

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, on her 100th birthday in 2000

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, on her 100th birthday in 2000

Elizabeth is Queen of 16 countries:

United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua & Barbuda, and Saint Kitts & Nevis.

She is also Head of the Commonwealth, and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

For a fantastic article on Elizabeth’s hats and style throughout her reign, click on this article:  The Hats of Elizabeth II
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A Funeral & Four Weddings: Princess Charlotte & Succession Crisis

By , June 16, 2010 1:47 am

Heir to the throne – Princess Charlotte

By 1815, the succession hung by one teenage girl, Princess Charlotte. King George III and his wife, Queen Charlotte, had had 15 children, 12 of whom lived to adulthood.

But although George III  had at least 20, and perhaps as many as 35 grandchildren, all except Princess Charlotte were illegitimate, and couldn’t inherit the throne.

In 1817, 21 year old Princess Charlotte died in what was known as the “triple obstetric tragedy”. She was second in line to the British throne, after her father, the future George IV.

Princess Charlotte of Wales, daughter of King George IV and Queen Caroline of Brunswick, in 1817

Princess Charlotte of Wales, daughter of King George IV and Queen Caroline of Brunswick, in 1817

And her death in childbirth, and the stillbirth of her infant son at the same time, meant that there was a serious problem. (The third death was that of the doctor who attended her in labour, who shot himself.)

Heirs to the throne suddenly looked to be in short supply.

Her many bachelor uncles had to disentangle themselves from various mistress and live-in lovers, and join in a rather undignified stampede to the altar, to try and produce another legitimate heir for the British and Hanoverian thrones.

The uncles were by then all in their late 40s or early 50s, and had to select young German princesses and duchesses to marry.

This is the second in a related series of posts. The first isabout King George III’s children, their mistresses, and various illegitimate children.

Princess Charlotte’s Childhood

King George IV, Princess Charlotte's father, at his coronation in 1821

King George IV, Princess Charlotte's father, at his coronation in 1821

Charlotte Augusta, named after both her grandmothers, was born on 7th January 1796 at Carlton House, in London. She was the only child of her parents’ marriage.

Princess Charlotte’s parents loathed each other from the moment they met, shortly before they married in April 1795.

Prince George had agreed to marry Caroline of Brunswick because he wanted more money from Parliament. He hoped for a further increase when Charlotte was born, and was furious that his request was denied.

Charlotte’s father, later George IV, claimed they had only had sex 3 times.

After Charlotte was born, the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline separated and rarely saw each other again.

Charlotte was used as a weapon by both parents against the other from the time she was born, and throughout her childhood.

Her mother was forbidden from seeing her more than once a day, and then only under supervision.  Her father visited her every few weeks, if he could be bothered.

Queen Caroline of Brunswick, Princess Charlotte's mother, in 1820

Queen Caroline of Brunswick, Princess Charlotte's mother, in 1820

She had a strict and disciplined childhood, ordered by her father, with a timetable and little access to social life.

At the age of 11, on holiday, Princess Charlotte was described as overweight and too noisy, and was also prone to mood swings.

In 1811, when Charlotte was 15, her father became Regent of the country, as George III, Princess Charlotte’s grandfather, had succumbed again to insanity.

George used his new powers to restrict Caroline’s access to their daughter, and Caroline responded with a propoganda campaign, leaflets, and pamphlets.

Prince George then caused details of a secret enquiry into Caroline’s sexual conduct to be leaked.

In 1814, Caroline agreed to leave the country, in return for a higher allowance, and she left, initially for Italy.

Princess Charlotte’s Marriage & Pregnancies

The Wedding of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1816

The Wedding of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1816

Also in 1814, the Prince Regent arranged for his daughter Charlotte to marry Prince William II of the Netherlands, but both Charlotte and her mother, Caroline of Brunswick, refused the match.

Charlotte then married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld at her place of birth, Carlton House, in May 1816, when she was 20 years old.

She became pregnant quickly, twice, and mis-carried on both occasions.

Her third pregnancy within a year was subject to the sort of medical attention more likely to do her harm than good – her diet was very restricted, and she was bled regularly.

The Triple Obstetric Tragedy

Charlotte carried her third pregnancy to term – in fact, two weeks overdue.

The 9lb  baby, however, was lying sideways, instead of head down or even head up, and the labour lasted 50 hours before she gave birth to a stillborn boy on 5th November 1817.

Princess Charlotte herself died the following day.

Sir Richard Croft had been Charlotte’s doctor though her pregnancy and labour. Three months after Charlotte’s death, Croft shot himself, leaving a copy of Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labour Lost open at the scene which says, Fair Sir, God save you! Where is the Princess?

The Rush to the Altar

King Ernest I of Hanover

King Ernest I of Hanover

King George III’s two eldest sons, Prince George and Prince Frederick, were both married but separated from their wives.

Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale and Earl of Armagh, had married before Charlotte’s death. In 1815, he had married his first cousin, Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

At the time Princess Charlotte died, they had had no children.

Ernest and Frederica went on to have a stillborn daughter in 1818, and a son, later King George V of Hanover, born in May 1819.

After Princess Charlotte’s death in November 1817, the following year saw 4 of King George III’s children marry.

In April 1818, Princess Elizabeth married Prince Frederick of Hesse-Homburg, but as Elizabeth was then 48 years old, children were unlikely.

The Royal Dukes had to find brides, and had to do so quickly.

King George III, Princess Charlotte's grandfather, at the time of his coronation.

King George III, Princess Charlotte's grandfather, at the time of his coronation.

The first was Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, who married Princess Augusta of Hesse-Cassel, his second cousin, on 7th May 1818.

The marriage produced three legitimate grandchildren for George III, George,  born on 26th  March 1819, Augusta, born 19th July 1822, and Mary Adelaide, born 27nd November 1833.

The next to marry was Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. He had not had a long-term, live-in lover, but did have a bastard or two lurking.

Edward married, on 29th May 1818,  a widow, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, who was the sister of the Prince Leopold who had married Edward’s niece, Princess Charlotte.

In a further example of the incestuous royal marriages at this time, Princess Victoria’s first marriage had been to a man previously married to her own aunt.

The couple had one child, born in May 1819, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent, who later became much better known as Queen Victoria.

King William IV, also known as the "Sailor King"

King William IV, also known as the "Sailor King"

The third Royal Duke, the future William IV, had previously lived with Mrs Jordan for 20 years, and the couple had produced ten illegitimate children (William had other bastards, too).

William and the actress Mrs Jordan had more or less separated by the time Princess Charlotte died.

In July 1818, 50 year old William married the 25 year old Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen. William and Adelaide had two daughters, Charlotte Augusta Louisa (born 1819) and Elizabeth Georgiana Adelaide (born 1820) but both died within a few months of birth.

Adelaide also suffered several miscarriages, but had no more children.

George III’s lack of Heirs: 15 Children, but no Grandchildren…..

By , June 14, 2010 11:58 pm

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Introduction

The first in a series of two posts, this one looks at the children of King George III and Queen Charlotte, and their complicated marriages and illegitimate children.

The second looks at the succession crisis which ensued after the death of Princess Charlotte, the only legitimate grandchild at the time of her death in childbirth.

Click here to read about A Funeral & Four Weddings: Princess Charlotte and the Succession Crisis
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King George III and his descendants

King George III, Princess Charlotte's grandfather, at the time of his coronation.

King George III, Princess Charlotte's grandfather, at the time of his coronation.

By 1815, King George III and his wife, Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, had had 15 children, 13 of whom lived to adulthood.

The royal couple also had hordes of grandchildren. Not a likely recipe for a succession crisis, it might appear.

But a crisis was indeed brewing. Despite all the adult children and massed ranks of grandchildren, the succession hung by a teenage-girl thread – because, remarkably, although there were tens of grandchildren, they were all illegitimate, apart from one – the then 19 year old Princess Charlotte, daughter of King George III’s eldest son, the future George IV.

All George III’s daughters were past child-bearing age, and his sons had exhibited a remarkably consistant tendancy to form irregular marriages or relationships, which did not therefore produce legitimate heirs to the throne.

King George and Queen Charlotte seem to have been particularly protective of their daughters – some did not marry at all, while others only married in their 40s. Their parents appeared reluctant to have them live lives other than as their mother’s companions.

The sons, on the other hand, were a dissolute and unprepossessing group, taken as a whole. They ran up debts, the scale of which is almost impossible to imagine. The future George IV, for example, at one time had debts equivalent to about £50 million in today’s money.

There also appears to have been a considerable degree of in-breeding. Many of the children married first or second cousins. And all of the Hanoverians appear to have been a pretty ugly bunch!
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King George’s children

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Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III and mother of King George IV and William IV

Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III and mother of King George IV and William IV

1. George IV born 12th August 1762

2. Frederick, Duke of York, born 16th August 1763

3. William IV born 21st August 1765

4. Charlotte, Princess Royal born 29 September 1766

5. Edward, Duke of Kent born 2nd November 1767

6. Princess Augusta Sophia born 8th November 1768

7. Princess Elizabeth born 22nd May 1770

8. Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland born 5th June 1771

9. Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex born 27th January 1773

10. Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge  born 24th February 1774

11. Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester born 25th April 1776

12. Princess Sophia born 3rd November 1777

13. Prince Octavius born 23rd February 1779

14. Prince Alfred born 22nd September 1780

15. Princess Amelia born 7th August 1783

The two youngest sons died before they were 5 years old, and the other 13 children lived to adulthood.
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Marital Malarkies

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George IV

King George IV, Princess Charlotte's father, at his coronation in 1821

King George IV, Princess Charlotte's father, at his coronation in 1821

George Augustus Frederick, later Prince Regent, and later still King George IV, did his bit to contribute to the illegitimate grandchildren.

He married at the age of 21, but his marriage was not lawful for two reasons. Firstly, his bride, Maria Anne Fitzherbert, was a twice-widowed Catholic, and members of the Royal Family cannot produce heirs if they marry a Catholic. Secondly, he did not obtain (as he was obliged to do) the King’s permission for the marriage under the Royal Marriages Act 1772.

George IV and Maria Fitzherbert did not have children. George did father one named illegitimate son, George Seymour Crole, by another woman, and up to 5 other illegitimate children by various mistresses.

George IV was eventually pushed into an arranged marriage, with Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.

This was a disaster from the beginning. They did produce the one legitimate heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, but thereafter the marriage disintergrated into an undignified and public mess.

In a tactful move, Caroline of Brunswick was met on her arrival in the country at Greenwich by Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, her newly-appointed Lady of the Bedchamber and her future husband’s then mistress.

Queen Caroline of Brunswick, Princess Charlotte's mother, in 1820

Queen Caroline of Brunswick, Princess Charlotte's mother, in 1820

The couple disliked each other from the start. She thought he was ugly, fat and boring, he thought she was smelly, tactless and rude. They were probably both right. Nevertheless, they married in April 1795.

George IV later claimed they had had sex only 3 times, but fortunately one of those occasions lead to the birth of Princess Charlotte in January 1796.

George IV and Caroline separated immediately after Charlotte’s birth. Both were accused of taking lovers and having affairs.

In 1806, a secret commission lead by the Prime Minister investigate allegations that Caroline had given birth to an illegitimate son.

The commission cleared her of giving birth to a child, but said that her behaviour was appalling.

When George IV was crowned in 1821, Caroline arrived at Westminster Abbey but was barred from the building. She died a few months later.
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Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany

Frederick married a cousin, Frederica Charlotte of Prussia, in 1791. They quickly separated, and had no children. Frederick is thought to have had several illegitimate childern, about 5 in total.
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William IV, Duke of Clarence and St Andrews and Earl of Munster

King William IV, also known as the "Sailor King"

King William IV, also known as the "Sailor King"

William Henry spent 20 years living with his mistress, Dorothea Bland, better known by her stage name, Mrs Jordan.

William was another son of George III who realised he wouldn’t get the necessary consent under the Royal Marriages Act, so he co-habited with Mrs Jordan from 1791.

The couple had ten illegitimate children, 5 daughters and 5 sons, given the surname “FitzClarence”. William also had an illegitimate son by another woman before he started living with Mrs Jordan.
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Princess Charlotte, The Princess Royal

Charlotte Augusta Matilda married The Hereditary Prince Frederick of Württemberg in 1797 when she was 21 years old – he later became, in order, the Duke of  Württemberg, Elector of Württemberg, and King Württemberg.

The couple’s only child was a stillborn daughter born a year after their marriage.
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Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn

Edward Augustus was also unmarried in 1815. Unlike many of his brothers, Edward did not have a long-term co-habitation. He had a number of mistresses, and at least one illegitimate daughter.
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Princess Augusta

Augusta Sophia never married, and remained living in England until her death, when she was 71.
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Princess Elizabeth

Elizabeth married Prince Frederick of Hesse-Homburg in 1818, when she was 48 years old. The couple had no children.
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King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover

Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale and Earl of Armagh, inherited the throne of Hanover when his older brother William IV died, as Hanover had the salic law and women were barred from inheriting.

King Ernest I of Hanover

King Ernest I of Hanover

Unlike his elder brothers, Ernest kept his private life private, and was single until he married his twice-widowed first cousin, Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, in 1817.

The couple had a still-born daughter in 1818, and a son, Prince George, in 1819.
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Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex

Augustus Frederick married Lady Augusta Murray in 1793, without the required permission of the King under the Royal Marriages Act. the Privy Council annulled the marriage in 1794, but the couple continued to co-habit.

The couple had two children, Augustus and Augusta (no ego in naming there…..). After his first wife’s death, Augustus married again, in 1831, Lady Cecilia Letitia Buggin, also in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act.
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Prince Adolphus

Adolphus Frederick did not have any illegitimate children that I know of, but at the time of Princess Charlotte’s death, was still unmarried. He finally married a cousin, Princess and Landgravine Augusta of Hesse-Cassel, in 1818.
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Princess Mary

Mary married her first cousin, Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, in 1816, when she was 42 years old. The couple had no children.
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Princess Sophia

Princess Sophia

Princess Sophia

Sophia Matilda never married. There were long-standing rumours of an incestuous relationship with one of her brothers, Ernest Augustus, and also an allegation that she had an illegitimate child in 1800 by a royal groom.
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Princes Octavius and Alfred

Both died before they were 5 years old.
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Princess Amelia

The youngest of King George III’s 15 children, Amelia was often described as her father’s favourite.

She fell in love with a royal equerry, Hon. Sir Charles FitzRoy, when she was 20, and had an affair with him.

Amelia died unmarried at the age of 27, having been ill with tuberculosis for some years. Her death caused another episode of George III’s madness.
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The 5 Longest Reigning Kings & Queens – Henry III, Fourth Place

By , May 18, 2010 12:18 am

King Henry III – 56 years and 29 days

Some English (and British, after the accession of King James I of England & VI of Scotland) managed to keep their backsides firmly on the throne for longer than the average birth to death life expectancy of their subjects.

This post is one of a series about the 5 longest reigns – all of which were (or are, in the case of Elizabeth II) over 50 years. For obvious reasons, they were all young when they came to the throne, but not all were children.

For the fifth-longest English reign, that of King Edward III in the 14th century, see this previous post.

King Henry III

King Henry III

The fourth-longest reign was also a Medieval one – King Henry III in the  13th century. Henry’s reign, which started when he was only 9 years old, saw the development of the rule of law and the power of Parliament in England (despite, rather than because of, the King). It was also during Henry III’s reign that the City of Westminster became the fixed seat of many government functions.

King Henry III’s Family and Background

Like the fifth-longest reigning King, Edward III, Henry III had a difficult family and background. Henry was born on 1st October 1207, the eldest child of King John and Queen Isabella of Angoulême.

King John was the youngest of the 8 children born to King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. 

King John of England, father of King Henry III, from the "Historia Anglorum" by Matthew Paris

King John of England, father of King Henry III, from the "Historia Anglorum" by Matthew Paris

When he was born, his parents’ marriage was already turning hostile (Eleanor of Aquitaine later supported her sons in rebelling against their father, and was locked up for the rest of Henry II’s reign). When Henry II died, his eldest son, William, and his then heir, Henry the Young King, were already dead.

The third son, King Richard I (also known as Richard Coeur de Lion, or Richard the Lionheart in English) died without a legitimate son in April 1199, and John inherited the throne, having already tried to usurp it while his brother Richard was fighting in the Crusades in the Holy Land.

John, who was given the charming nicknames of John Lackland, and John Softsword, is popularly regarded as the worst-ever English King, amid some stiff competition. He alienated his barons by losing almost all the Crown’s possessions in France, by confiscation property without trial, and by having starved a baron’s wife to death in a dungeon.

King John was excommunicated by the Pope in November 1209, and the country placed under an interdict, so no baptisms, marriages or funerals could take place.

John was also responsible for the disappearance and likely murder of Arthur of Brittany, his older brother Geoffrey’s son, who had a better claim to the throne than he did.  His barons forced him into signing the famous Magna Carta at Runnymede on 15th June 1215.

The Effigy of King John, King Henry III's father

The Effigy of King John, King Henry III's father

King Henry III’s mother was Isabella of Angoulême, 11 or 12 years old at the time King John took her away from her home and her then-fiancee, Hugh of Luisignan. John, although 20 years older than his new wife, consummated their marriage immediately – Isabella was said to be very beautiful even at the time of her marriage, when she was so very young.

Henry III had 4 full brothers and sisters, Richard Earl of Cornwall, Joan, Queen of Scotland, Isabella, Holy Roman Emporess, and Eleanor or Nell, who married William the Marshall and then Simon de Montfort.

He had 9 half-siblings, the children of his mother Isabella of Angoulême and her second husband, Hugh X of Luisignan (the man to whom she had been engaged before King John married her instead).

As well as these legitimate half-siblings, he also had a large number (at least 12) of illegitimate half-siblings, the sons and daughters of King John by a wide variety of mistresses.


Henry III’s childhood

The effigy of Isabella of Angoulême, King Henry III's mother

The effigy of Isabella of Angoulême, King Henry III's mother

Henry III was born in Winchester Castle, in 1207, and was therefore often known as Henry of Winchester. A fascinating site about Winchester’s Great Hall can be found here.

Henry’s parents had separate households and incomes, as was normal for medieval Kings and Queens. From birth, Henry was based in the Queen’s household, before his own household and officials were established when he was 7 years old.

King John’s death in 1216 made Henry III the first child-King since the Norman Conquest, and the second-youngest monarch from then until now – only Henry VI inherited at an earlier age, when King Henry V died and left his 8 month old son as King.

Accession to the throne

After the Magna Carta was signed in 1215, King John fell out with his barons again. A majority of them rebelled against him, and offered the throne to the heir to the French throne, Prince Louis of France, who invaded as a result of the invitation. Louis was proclaimed King in London in May 1216, and King John then moved around the country to rally support against the French.

John was crossing the Wash, an estuary between Norfolk and Lincolnshire, when the tide came in faster, and much of his baggage train, horses and soldiers were lost. The Crown Jewels, in the baggage train, vanished for good. John died a few days later on 18th October 1216, at Newark Castle in Lincolnshire.

Having rid themselves of King John, the barons turned against Louis of France, and Henry III was proclaimed King at the age of 9, and crowned for the first time by the Bishop of Winchester, with a simple gold coronet, as the Archbishop of Canterbury was still with Louis, and the Crown Jewels were at the bottom of the North Sea. He was later re-crowned in 1220, in an attempt to remedy these problems.

King Henry III’s Minority

William the Marshall, the protector during King Henry III's minority, from the "Historia Anglorum" by Matthew Paris

William the Marshall, the protector during King Henry III's minority, from the "Historia Anglorum" by Matthew Paris

As Henry was too young to rule directly, a protector was appointed. The first was William the Marshall, Earl of Pembroke.

An extraordinary man, William had served 4 Kings – Henry II, Henry the Young King, Richard I, , and lastly John, despite the fact that most of these Kings loathed each other, blood relationships notwithstanding.  (Henry, Richard and John were all sons of Henry II).

When William the Marshall died in 1219, the second protector, until 1227, was Hubert de Burgh.

Both protectors announced that they would rule in according to the letter and in the spirit of the Magna Carta.

Although William the Marshall was about 70 years old when he became the protector, he nevertheless organised the defence against Prince Louis, and got rid of the French invasion quickly.  He personally lead the victorious English army against the French in the battle of Lincoln.

The Magna Carta was re-issued in 1217, by William the Marshall, who had been one of the original barons who signed it and made King John do the same.

Henry III’s Adult Reign

A stone sculpture of Queen Eleanor of Provence, King Henry III's wife, in Westminster Abbey

A stone sculpture of Queen Eleanor of Provence, King Henry III's wife, in Westminster Abbey

Henry took over the government in 1227, when he was 20 years old. His reign was marked by struggles with his barons, who liked the Magna Carta and resisted all attempts to dilute it or ignore it.

King Henry married Eleanor of Provence in 1236, when he was 28, and she was about 13 – she met him the same day as they married. Eleanor was intelligent, more educated than almost any other medieval woman, and attractive. She was disliked by many in England, however, and brought a lot of relatives with her who obtained patronage from the royal households.

Henry and Eleanor of Provence had at least 5 children, and perhaps up to 9. 5 children lived long enough to be counted for certain. The eldest was Edward, later Edward I, then two daughters, Margaret and Beatrice, who married the King of Scotland and the Duke of Brittany respectively. The fourth was another son, Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, and the fifth a daughter, Katherine, who died in late childhood.

Henry and Eleanor both encouraged literacy and education – at least 3 university colleges were founded at Oxford during Henry’s reign, and an increasing number of books were published, including Matthew Paris’  Historia Anglorum, part of his major work of history, Chronica Majora.

Henry’s royal motto was qui non dat quod habet non accipit ille quod optat, or in English, He who does not give what he has, does not receive that which he wants

Henry  imported a large number of his half-siblings from his mother’s second marriage, the Luisignans. This was  a very unpopular move.

The Coat of Arms of Simon de Montfort

The Coat of Arms of Simon de Montfort

One of Henry’s major opponents was Simon de Montfort, Ear of Leicester, who married Henry’s youngest sister, Eleanor (also known as Nell).

In 1258, the King was obliged by the barons to sign the Provisions of Oxford, which provided for a King’s Council and regular meetings of Parliament to supervise what the King did. Henry III objected to these limits on his power, and got the Pope to absolve him of the oaths in 1262.

This lead to war – the rebels, under Simon de Montfort, captured much of southern England, and in 1264, at the Battle of Lewes, captured Henry III and his heir, the future Edward I.

Edward escaped, and rallied his forces, and the de Montfort experiment in constitutional monarchy was ended 16 months later at the Battle of Evesham.

Following the victory at Evesham, the retribution against the rebels was thorough. Simon de Montfort’s body was cut up and the parts distributed as prizes of battle.

King Edward I, son and heir of King Henry III

King Edward I, son and heir of King Henry III

Edward I, having won at Evesham, was in many ways in control of the government, as his father was now a little vague and happy to leave important matters to his son and heir.

Henry III died in November 1272 at Westminster, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, also the site of Edward the Confessor’s tomb. Henry had been very fond of the cult of Edward the Confessor, and had made the Abbey, built by Edward in the early 11th century, an important royal site and place of pilgrimage.

Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Provence, lived almost 20 years longer. She stayed in England, and brought up several of her grandchildren, including Edward I’s. She then took the veil, and died in 1291 in Amesbury Abbey, a Benedictine foundation, also known as  the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Melor

Henry was succeeded by Edward I, also known as Edward Longshanks (because of his height) and Edward Hammer of the Scots (because of his successful wars in Scotland).

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