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Kings & Queens: Amazing & Extraordinary Facts, page 1

 

Kings & Queens: Amazing & Extraordinary Facts
 


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Kings & Queens: Amazing & Extraordinary Facts


  KINGS &

  QUEENS

  Malcolm Day

  Contents

  Introduction

  Refugee from Ancient Israel?

  How the Trojan Brutus may have been Britain’s first Jew

  Bladud

  Legendary Celtic founder of Bath with Atheian Arts

  Tragic Loss Regained

  The alternative account to Shakespeare on King Lear

  Who Made Britain’s First Laws?

  Our bard says it was King Mulmutius

  Lud, Lover of London

  An early town planner

  Celtic Charioteers Shock Caesar

  How Cassivellaunus stalled the mighty Romans

  You’ve Never Had It So Good

  Rare peace and prosperity under Cymbeline

  A Charmed Life

  Despite heavy defeats Caractacus has the last word in Rome

  Holy War

  The sacred hare of Boudicca

  Did Constantine the Great have a British Grandfather?

  Could it have been Old King Cole?

  Great Mounted Archer

  Arthur’s role in a Somerset zodiac

  The Mystery of Sutton Hoo

  Was this the state funeral of the Anglo-Saxon king Redwald?

  First Christian English King

  Ethelbert sees the Roman Church as key to political power

  Dyke Twice the Length of Hadrian’s Wall

  But why did the great Offa build one at all?

  First Saxon King of England

  An unpromising start sees Egbert rise to the top

  The Mystique of Scone

  Kenneth MacAlpine inaugurates Scottish monarchy

  The King Who Forgave his Enemies

  Alfred the Great, gentleman and scholar

  Youngest Ever Royal Philanderer

  Eadwig the lustful

  Coronation Ceremony is Model for Europe

  Edgar ‘The Peaceful’ is compared to Christ

  Dorset’s Great Royal Pilgrimage

  Edward the Martyr is champion of Russian Orthodox Church

  Was Ethelred Really ‘Unready’?

  How come such a sloth reigned for 38 years?

  Ironside on the Case

  Wessex’s pride restored

  Canute Demonstrates Limits to Earthly Power

  England’s fiery Danish king is a man of contrasts

  Saintly Healer of the King’s Evil

  But was the founder of Westminster Abbey really that pious?

  Portents of Disaster

  Shipwreck and shooting star spell the end of Saxon England

  Changed Forever

  William the Conqueror ensures no reversions

  Live by the Arrow and Ye Shall Die by the Arrow

  William ‘Rufus’ gets his comeuppance

  The King Never Smiled Again

  The sorrowful fate of Henry I

  Twelve Year Old Weds Holy Roman Emperor

  Uncrowned Queen Matilda mothers Plantagenet dynasty

  Anarchy under Stephen

  Worst excesses in English history

  Penitent Ruler of Europe’s Largest Empire

  Henry II and his ‘turbulent priest’

  Ransom for a King

  Chivalrous ‘Lionheart’ who cost his country dear

  Church Bells Fall Silent

  King John invokes the wrath of all

  Too Nice For His Own Good

  Civilised Henry III loses touch

  Zealous Reformer Persecutes Minorities

  Edward I expels Jews and prostitutes

  Old Enemy Vanquished in a Day

  Robert ‘the Bruce’ delivers at Bannockburn

  Pansy Meets Grisly End

  Not all is proper in the reign of Edward II

  Order of the Garter is Toast of the Town

  Edward III leads a golden age of chivalry

  Child King Survives a Nest of Vipers

  How Richard II found his character

  Murky Rise of House of Lancaster

  Henry Bolingbroke plots downfall of Richard II

  French Crown Slips from Henry V’s Grasp

  Hard graft ends in twist of fate

  Architect of Eton Not Interested in Ruling

  Henry VI more monk than king

  Yorkist Star Rises

  Edward IV flies in the face of ‘Kingmaker’

  Wicked Uncle or Cornered Rat?

  Did Richard III really deserve his evil image?

  Patron of Expansion

  Henry VII commissions Cabot to set sail

  Canny Scot Eyes Opportunity

  James IV considers alliance with ‘Richard IV’ of England

  Visionary Supremo

  Why did Henry VIII not abandon his Supremacy once he had a son as heir?

  King with Socialist Agenda

  Edward VI points the way to care of the underprivileged

  Lady Jane Grey Faints on Hearing News

  England’s nine-day queen

  Phantom Pregnancy Changes All

  Mary I’s popularity turns sour without heir

  Two Cousins Who Never Met

  The Scottish and English queens

  Faerie Queen from Broken Home

  Brave Queen Elizabeth never recovers

  Eager Scot Opens Can of Worms

  James VI of Scotland has no idea what trials await him as James I of England

  So Good a Man, So Bad a King

  Failed experiment of the principled Charles I

  Time of Gay Abandon Comes to Woeful End

  Charles II liberates devils from Puritan prison

  Fleeing into Exile Disguised as a Girl

  The brief reign of James II

  Unlikely Double Act

  Mary distraught at having to marry unattractive William

  Anne Bears More Children Than Any Other English Queen

  Yet none to continue Stuart line

  German Prince Beats Rivals to the Throne

  The English non-plussed with George I

  Useful Conformist

  George II is meat and drink to Robert Walpole

  Struggle for Power

  George III faces the realities of a modernising democracy

  The Prince Who Lost His Charm

  The ungovernable Prince of ‘Whales’ and George IV

  Surprised to be King

  Sober William IV is welcome relief

  Propping Up The Queen

  Victoria and her men

  Pleasure Seeker

  Edward VII epitomises age of excitement

  Hanover Dropped

  George V endeavours to keep onside in wartime strife

  Eligible Bachelor Becomes Figure of Mistrust

  Edward VIII’s fall from grace

  Fearless in War, Fearful in Life

  Stuttering Bertie becomes the people’s champion

  Fashion Icon to Fading Star

  Elizabeth II was precocious but could she mother?

  INTRODUCTION

  When Prince Charles, though not actually king, but acting in the full role of heir apparent, objected to the proposed building of a modernist extension to the National Gallery, his remark that it would be like ‘a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved friend’ in many respects could only have been uttered by one blessed with royal prerogative. Anyone dispensable would never have dared to object with such forceful condemnation. Whatever our feelings about the right he might have had to make such a comment, the fact that he made it underlies the age-old reality that royalty knows no limits.

  Until they were reined in by Parliament, British monarchs historically have done whatever pleases t
hem, sometimes regretfully and to their undoing. But it is just this unbounded wilfulness that provides us with an enduring fascination for the royals. Sovereigns were for so long a rule unto themselves – and we surely envy such unrestrained liberty! Certainly to read about the eccentric, the bombastic, the outrageous deeds in these lives adds a vivid streak of colour to the mundane sphere of humanity, like blue veins through a cheese.

  Indeed it is royalty’s idea of self-importance – of being accountable to noone – that has set them apart. No wonder the notion of blue blood makes us smile: it is absurd yet appealing, and in a way it perfectly symbolises the historically held belief that our kings and queens came gift-wrapped in divine protection. Absolute power was bestowed in equal measure on the weak as on the mighty, the vain as the earnest, the desultory as the ambitious. Whatever earthly sin they may commit, deadly or venal, it was as nothing so long as blue blood coursed through the veins of its perpetrator.

  Bizarre though the idea of such infallibility might seem today, the concept was widespread in the ancient world. England was a Christian kingdom founded on the early Israelite tradition of anointed kingship. It should be no surprise that a monarch such as Charles I would do away with any obstacle to his rule, including a testy government he thought more nuisance than useful. The king’s divine right to rule was taken very seriously. Only a body with such certainty of religious conviction as the Puritans possessed could be confident of challenging such authority. However our kings and queens have viewed their role, their attitudes to the monarchy have varied enormously – some, such as Henry VI and George VI, have even wished they had no such blessing.

  It is the curious and the unusual in these royal lives that come into focus in this book, from the eccentric domestic routines of George II to young Eadwig caught by St Dunstan in a ménage a trois; or Queen Anne’s bearing of 17 children none of whom would survive to inherit her crown. The scope of the book is not to produce a series of potted biographies, dwelling on the well read. Some extraordinary facts might be familiar to us but are worth the re-telling because they are just that. Sometimes figures such as William and Mary we might feel are familiar to us, yet other, lesser-known facts about them can be learnt that cast these players in quite a different light.

  In the case of this double act, for instance, is it known that Mary dreaded marrying her Dutch cousin and wept with sorrow on their wedding day? Questions and unsolved mysteries still abound, despite the best investigations of historians who will disagree, and simply admit to not knowing what precisely motivated some actions. The jury is still out on Richard III, for example. What was going through his mind when he decided, fatefully, to take those two princes captive and execute them. And why was Elizabeth I so envious of her imprisoned sister Mary Queen of Scots?

  Every king and queen of England is included, except for the young Prince in the Tower, whose interest is related in the entry on Richard III. Some Scottish monarchs have been selected, and I apologise that space has not allowed more. There is also an admixture of mythical kings and queens – the likes of Trojan Brutus and King Lear – who I feel hold a place in our culture, representing as they do the earliest traditions of sovereignty in Britain.

  Malcolm Day, December 2010

  Refugee from Ancient Israel?

  How the Trojan Brutus may have been Britain’s first Jew

  The man credited with founding the ancient nation of Britons is by tradition descended from the Trojans. According to popular legend, the great grandson of Aeneas (refugee from Troy and founder of Italy) wandered westwards through western Europe and sailed up the River Dart to Totnes. From here Brutus led his band of cohorts to conquer the island by defeating the native Albion giants led by Gogmagog.

  If we look at the ancestral lineage of Brutus, there are interesting parallels to be made. As grandson of Aeneas he would have been descended from Dardanus, the founder of Troy. Now some traditions claim that Dardanus is a linguistic alternative to Dara or Darda, mentioned in the Bible in I Chronicles 2:6 as the grandson of Judah, founder of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Therefore Brutus may have a biblical pedigree and kinship with the Chosen People.

  It is thought that the Ten Lost Tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel may have followed in the wake of Brutus and made their way to Britain where they settled. A scriptural clue to this migration is given in the apocryphal II Esdras (chapter 13: 40-47), which says they ‘go forth into a further country … there was a great way to go, namely, of a year and a half: and the same region is called Arzareth.’ British-Israelites say that Arzareth, though literally meaning ‘another land’, actually refers to a land in southern Russia north of the Black Sea, to be identified with Cimmeria. In turn, this name developed into ‘Cymry’, the name for the Welsh people. So Brutus and his tribesmen were the forebears of the Celts of Wales and southern England.

  Indeed, British-Israelites claim that all the ancestral natives of Britain are of Israelite origin. The idea, based on the prophecy of Ezekiel, that all the dispersed elements of Israel would one day be reunited in a single nation in the Promised Land took hold in Britain on the grounds of this belief. And to some extent a lobby for its cause forced the momentum towards the formation of the British Mandate for Palestine in 1920.

  Bladud

  Legendary Celtic founder of Bath with Athenian arts

  When Bath became the most fashionable city in Georgian England, the sensation at the heart of its appeal was its miraculous spring water. A vast amount of water gushed out every day and was somehow heated to a temperature of 49°C (120°F). Not only was it a pleasant and sociable recreation to wade about in such an element, these waters had a reputation from ancient times of possessing a curative quality.

  Legend has it that a ninth-century BC Celtic pretender to the throne, Bladud, was responsible for discovering these special springs when caring for a herd of pigs. He noticed those that wallowed in the mud there seemed to develop healthier skin. Famously, on having a go himself Bladud discovered that he too lost the leprosy that had bedevilled his skin and hitherto disqualified him from inheriting the throne as descendant of King Brutus. This much is known.

  Certain conjecture, however, has it that the fantastic heat and minerality generated from the earth was in fact the product of Bladud’s own scientific experimentation. It is documented that as a bright youth he was sent to Athens to learn at the feet of Greek philosophers. He is said to have acquired advanced scientific knowledge there and returned to Britain with four scholars and founded a university at Stamford in Lincolnshire.

  With his new skill Bladud is believed to have created two huge ‘tuns’ (barrels with a capacity of 252 gallons), filled with burning brass, and two more containing salt, brimstone and fire. These four tuns he buried in the ground and they provided the source of the magical effluent of Bath.

  Not surprisingly, the waters were regarded as poisonous and certainly not to be drunk. Only a craze such as was likely to happen in the heyday of Georgian society could induce the gullible to ‘take the waters’, as they did in their droves, and then take to their beds!

  Liberated from the curse of leprosy, Bladud was able to claim his rightful crown as king. He is said to have ruled for 20 years before dying in a flying accident, hence his depiction sometimes with wings. Bladud was succeeded by King Lear.

  Tragic Loss Regained

  The alternative account to Shakespeare on King Lear

  The premature death of King Bladud from a flying accident left the throne to his young son, Leir. Made famous by William Shakespeare as King Lear, he ruled for near on 60 years according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, who places the British king in parallel time to the prophet Elijah of Ancient Israel.

  The story told by Shakespeare is well known but it differs from the legendary account in its ending. As in the play, Leir has no son for an heir. The problem of dividing his kingdom equally among his three daughters and his test of their love, which unjustly excludes his favourite youngest daughter, Cordelia, i
s common to both accounts.

  But the realisation of his misjudgement and reconciliation with Cordelia, who nurses her half-crazed father back to health, leads Leir to form a successful alliance with the king of Gaul, Aganippus. Together, they invade Britain and, unlike Shakespeare’s version, overthrow the dukes of Albany and Cornwall who have married his two other daughters respectively. Leir reclaims the British throne and rules for three more years until his natural death. He is succeeded to the throne by Cordelia. So Monmouth’s version has no tragic ending with a distraught Lear holding the dead body of Cordelia who has committed suicide.

  Who Made Britain’s First Laws?

  Our bard says it was King Mulmutius

  Centuries before the Romans arrived and imposed their judicial system on Britain, the land seldom had any real sense of political unity. Kingdoms came and went, most claiming descendency from the first British king, Brutus. And when King Lear’s squabbling offspring contrived their own demise, early Celtic society was once again plunged into chaos. The poor and the weak fell to the mercy of their overlords as tribal chieftains warred constantly for supremacy. Now Tudor historians claim there was one monarch among this unruly ancient rabble who broke the mould.

  On vanquishing his enemies in the fifth century BC, a great Celtic warrior king, by the name of Dunvallo Molmutius, determined not only to reunite the broken nation but to give his subjects a measure of protection against ruthless power moguls. To signify this new kind of sovereignty the king had a new golden crown made and instituted a canon of rights which in some ways anticipates Magna Carta of medieval times.

  This extraordinarily enlightened monarch so impressed William Shakespeare that he figured on the lips of King Cymbeline in his play of the same name:

  Mulmutius made our laws,

  Who was the first of Britain which did put

  His brows within a golden crown, and call’d

 
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