I am delighted to be part of Claire Ridgway’s book tour, in which she will be visiting various blogs and discussing the Kings and Queens of England for her new book. For your chance to win a paperback copy of her book, simply leave a comment after this post between now and 29th November 2016. The giveaway is open internationally and don’t forget to leave your name and a contact email. A winner will randomly be selected and contacted by email shortly after the competition closes.
10 Memorable Monarchs
Thank you so much to Charlie Fenton for inviting me here today on day 4 of my virtual book tour for Illustrated Kings and Queens of England. I do hope you enjoy this guest article.
“Why do you weep. Did you think I was immortal?” are said to be the last words of King Louis XIV of France in 1715. Well, royalty is immortal in one way, in that kings and queens will never be forgotten. Some monarchs are remembered as tyrants, others as heralding in golden ages or improving society, some as warriors, and others as peacemakers. Other monarchs are simply known for the myths, legends and stories connected to their names.
King Alfred and the cakes
King Alfred (849-899) was the first king to claim to be “King of the English” or “King of the Anglo-Saxons” and although he should be remembered for his hard work in promoting literacy by establishing schools and bringing law to his people, and the way he encouraged the building of “burhs” (fortified towns) for defence, he is more often remembered for burning cakes. According to legend, while King Alfred was hiding from the Vikings in the Somerset marshes a peasant woman asked him to keep an eye on some cakes that she was baking. Unfortunately, he forgot and the cakes burned. The woman, having no idea that Alfred was her king, gave him a good scolding!
Alfred the Great
King Cnut and the waves
King Cnut (c. 995-1035) was a strong, effective leader and patron of the Church, but say his name to people on the street and all they will know is the story of King Cnut and the waves. According to the 12th century historian Henry of Huntingdon, King Cnut rebuked his flattering courtiers and showed his humility by sitting on his throne near the sea and commanding the incoming tide to stop. The tide continued to come in, soaking the King’s feet and legs, and Cnut declared “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws.”
Harold I, son of a cobbler?
According to the 12th century monk, Florence or Florentius of Worcester, King Harold I (c.1015-1040) was not really the son of King Cnut and Queen Aelfgifu. The monk alleged that Queen Aelfgifu deceived her husband and that she had actually adopted Harold, who was also known as Harold Harefoot (fleet of foot), as an infant. The chronicle told of how Harold was actually the son of a cobbler, while his brother, Svein, was a priest’s illegitimate son. This is now thought to be a tale spread by Emma of Normandy, King Cnut’s second wife, to discredit Harold.
St Edward the Confessor
King Edward the Confessor (c. 1005-1066), who ruled over England from 1042 until January 1066, is an actual saint! He was canonised on 5th January 1161 by Pope Alexander III and was considered England’s patron saint until 1552, when St George became the patron saint. His feast day was celebrated on 13th October every year. But why was he canonised? Well, he was a pious king, and his reign was one of peace and prosperity, but there were also miracles associated with him. In 1102, his remains were examined and found not to have decayed, and William of Malmesbury recorded that a man’s sight had been restored after his eyes had been touched with water used for washing Edward’s hands. The idea that monarchs had the gift of healing and the tradition of “touching for the king’s evil”, a king laying hands on those suffering from scrofula, is said to date back to Edward the Confessor. A whole cult grew up around Edward’s story and reign.
Edward the Confessor
Henry II and Thomas Becket
Although King Henry II (1133-1189) should be remembered for his legal reforms, many only know him as the king who caused the death of Thomas Becket, his Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1170, Henry II had an argument with Becket, who also served as his chief adviser, over church-state relations. According to tradition, the furious king cried out in rage, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”, or, according to another source, “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” Four knights, Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton, were happy to oblige the king by getting rid of the cleric, and Becket was cut down on 29 December 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket was promptly declared a martyr and was canonised by Pope Alexander III in 1173.
King Richard I (1157-1199) has gone down in history as Richard the Lionheart, or Richard the Crusader, due to his time crusading in the Holy Land and his reputation as a warrior king, but he was also known by another nickname in south-west France. This name, “Ricart Oc-e-No”, meaning “Richard Yes and No” in Occitan, was alleged to have alluded to the King’s curtness.
King John (1167-1216) is known as one of history’s baddies. Not only did he take advantage of his brother King Richard I’s four-year absence while on crusade by declaring that his brother was dead and plotting to take the throne, but he was also rumoured to have ordered the murder of Arthur of Brittany, his nephew and a rival claimant to the throne of England. Arthur disappeared in 1203 after being captured by John’s barons in August 1202 and being imprisoned. Arthur’s fate is unknown.
John is also seen as a greedy, cowardly, cruel ruler and he has been depicted as such in films and stories like those of the Robin Hood legend. It’s easy to forget that his reign was also that of the famous Magna Carta, which is regarded as the first written constitution in the history of Europe.
With my background being in Tudor history, I can’t exactly forget the Tudor monarchs (I’ll count them as one!): the miserly Henry VII, the tyrannical and much-married Henry VIII, sickly boy-king Edward VI, the Nine Day Queen Lady Jane Grey, Bloody Mary I and the Virgin Queen of a golden age. All monickers which aren’t exactly true or fair. Henry VII should be known for uniting the kingdom and bringing peace after decades of civil war, and for reforming and modernising government and the legal system; Henry VIII should be remembered for founding the English Navy and the Church of England, his promotion of Parliament, his remodelling of government and taxation, the translation of the Bible into English, his major rebuilding programme and his patronage of the Arts; Edward VI’s reign was one of huge religious change, and he was a boy who knew his mind; Lady Jane Grey should be remembered for the way she fought for what she saw as her destiny and for her strong faith; Mary I maintained the navy and reformed the militia, she established the gender-free authority of the crown and paved the way for her half-sister, she strengthened the position of Parliament and the administrative structure of the church, and she was the first queen regnant of England; and Elizabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada, continued improving the navy, increased literacy, expanded England overseas, helped the poor with her poor laws, ruled in her own right, founded the Church of England as we know it today, and promoted the Arts.
Charles II, the Party King
Well, that’s how my children know him after learning about him on “Horrible Histories”! While his father, Charles I, is known for being deposed and executed, King Charles II (1630-1685) is known for the restoration of the monarchy and for being the “Merry Monarch” who brought joy back to England after the austerities of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell’s protectorate. He was witty and tolerant, his court was licentious, and he had a collection of mistresses, causing him also to be ‘christened’ “Old Rowley” after one of the stallions in the royal stud! Good times and women, that’s what this king has gone down in history for, although his reign also saw the rise of the arts and science.
Mad King George
George III (1738-1820) was immortalised in Alan Bennett’s play, and the subsequent film starring Nigel Hawthorne, “The Madness of King George”. The real King George suffered some kind of mental breakdown in 1788/9, forcing him to leave things to his prime minister, William Pitt the Younger, and then suffered further mental collapses in 1801, 1804 and 1810. In 1811, a regency act was passed making his eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, regent and the King spent his final years in seclusion at Windsor Castle. It used to be thought that his mental collapses were due to porphyria, a genetic blood disorder, but recent research suggests that the King suffered from bipolar disorder.
About the author:
Claire Ridgway is the author of best-selling books including:
- ON THIS DAY IN TUDOR HISTORY
- THE FALL OF ANNE BOLEYN: A COUNTDOWN
- THE ANNE BOLEYN COLLECTION
- INTERVIEWS WITH INDIE AUTHORS: TOP TIPS FROM SUCCESSFUL SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS
- THE ANNE BOLEYN COLLECTION II
- GEORGE BOLEYN: TUDOR POET, COURTIER & DIPLOMAT
- TUDOR PLACES OF GREAT BRITAIN
- ILLUSTRATED KINGS AND QUEENS OF ENGLAND
Claire was also involved in the English translation and editing of Edmond Bapst’s 19th century French biography of George Boleyn and Henry Howard, now available as TWO GENTLEMAN POETS AT THE COURT OF HENRY VIII.
Claire worked in education and freelance writing before creating The Anne Boleyn Files history website and becoming a full-time history researcher, blogger and author. The Anne Boleyn Files is known for its historical accuracy and Claire’s mission to get to the truth behind Anne Boleyn’s story. Her writing is easy-to-read and conversational, and readers often comment on how reading Claire’s books is like having a coffee with her and chatting about history.
Claire loves connecting with Tudor history fans and helping authors and aspiring authors.
Make sure to visit QueenToHistory.com tomorrow for the last stop of the tour!