Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Murder Most Royal – Part III

Richard II murdered circa 14th February 1400

Richard was the son of the Black Prince, a warrior of great renown & grandson of Edward III. He succeeded his grandfather at the age of 10 in 1377. A regency of the king’s uncles was avoided. Many of the nobility feared the ambitions of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who had been effectively running the country during the final illnesses of his elder brother & father. Gaunt was still very influential during Richard’s minority.

Heavy poll taxes, the proceeds of which were used to prosecute the war in France, were one of the root causes of the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381. Following the loss of up to 60% of the population in the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century labourers were in short supply. But the Statute of Labourers of 1351 forbade the movement of peasants & the seeking of better wages. The nobles surrounding the king, particularly his uncle John of Gaunt, were immensely unpopular.

The revolt was triggered by poll tax collectors in Essex and quickly spread throughout the region. With ploughshare & scythe the farm workers & labourers marched on London, where they were eventually met by Richard (by now considered old enough to rule at the age of 14). Richard agreed to parley with their leaders. When the motley crew returned home, rejoicing at their triumphant meeting with the king, the ringleaders were cut down; Richard having reneged on his promises to his people.

Richard’s friend Michael de la Pole was from a merchant family & when Richard made him chancellor & later the Earl of Suffolk. De la Pole was viewed as an upstart by the nobility. Richard’s friend Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was also viewed with hostility, as the de Vere family was not of the top rank. De Vere’s elevation to the newly created Duchy of Ireland merely fanned the flames. The chronicler Thomas Walsingham claimed that relationship de Vere had with the king was of a homosexual nature.

The Duke of Lancaster at a banquet
Richard’s relationship with his uncle of Gaunt was further corroded by their polar attitudes to the ongoing war with France. Richard preferred to negotiate with the French, while the Duke of Lancaster wanted to protect the French lands conquered by his father.  In 1386 Gaunt left England, with an army, to further his pretentions to the throne of Castille. The proposed military actions in France required the Chancellor to increase taxation to pay for the campaigns. Parliament refused to allow the taxation unless de la Pole was removed from the Chancellorship. It wasn’t until he was threatened with deposition that Richard allowed the removal of de la Pole.

The earl of Oxford escapes from Radcot Bridge
Richard built up a power base in Chester. But on his return to London, from a tour of his country to raise support, Richard was met by the Duke of Gloucester, and the earls of Arundel & Warwick. The three wished to raise pleas of treason against Robert de Vere, de la Pole and other supporters of the king. Richard procrastinated, as he was expecting de Vere with military reinforcements from Cheshire. John of Gaunt’s eldest son, Henry Bolingbroke, earl of Derby, and the earl of Nottingham met with the three lords and jointly intercepted de Vere, routing his forces at Radcot Bridge. The Lords Appellant (as they became known) now forced Richard to comply with their demands. De la Pole & de Vere fled to the continent, but the king’s lesser supporters were executed, including Knight’s of the King’s chamber.

Richard & Isabella on their wedding day
The Lords Appellant were opposed to Richard’s strategy of negotiating with the French and unsuccessfully attempted to set up an anti-French coalition. The return of the Duke of Lancaster, from Castille, had a calming effect on English politics and on 3rd May 1389 Richard took full control of his kingdom. He now began negotiating a permanent peace with France. The price of peace with France was for the King of England to do homage to the King of France for his French possessions in Aquitaine, which was totally unacceptable to the English. Eventually in 1396 a twenty-eight year truce was agreed, as well as the marriage between Richard & the six year old Princess Isabella.

In the autumn of 1394 Richard led an expedition to Ireland, where the English lordships were under threat. Richard’s campaign was successful & he returned to England in May 1395.

In July 1397 Richard had the Lords Appellant arrested. Richard had always been a great believer in the Royal Prerogative and strongly felt that the Lords Appellant had acted against his royal person when forcing the execution of Richard’s supporters. Arundel was tried & executed in September. Then came the news that Gloucester had died in prison. Warwick & Arundel’s brother, the Archbishop of Canterbury, were exiled. John of Gaunt facilitated Richard’s revenge, but the king was assisted by his half-brother John Holland & his nephew Thomas, now the Dukes of Exeter & Surrey. The king also rewarded a number of his other remaining supporters.

In December 1397 Henry Bolingbroke, now Duke of Hereford, fell out with Thomas de Mowbray, now Duke of Norfolk. Before the matter could be decided by a trial of arms Richard exiled both men, Mowbray for life & Bolingbroke for ten years.

However when John of Gaunt died in February, Richard extended Bolingbroke’s exile to life. Bolingbroke was at the French court, where in June 1399 Louis Duke of Orleans took control of the court of the insane Charles VI of France. Louis was not interested in the peace policy previously followed by both courts & allowed Henry to return to England, where he claimed he was merely attempting to gain his inheritance as Duke of Lancaster.

At the end of June Henry arrived in Yorkshire & soon had men flocking to his banner. Richard meanwhile was with his army in Ireland; from where he returned, landing in Wales, on the 24th July. The Duke of York, as Keeper of the Realm, in Richard’s absence, had already sided with Bolingbroke. By the 19th August Richard had surrendered to Henry at Flint castle, promising to abdicate if his life was spared. Richard was then taken to the Tower of London and on 30th September Parliament accepted his resignation. Henry was crowned the fourth of that name on 13th October 1399.

Shortly before the end of the year, around the time of an uprising planned by Richard’s supporters, Richard was moved to Pontefract Castle. Richard was under the care of Sir Thomas Swynford, the son of the new king’s stepmother. In less than two months Richard was dead.

It is believed that Richard died of starvation; Henry IV and his council claimed that Richard refused food for four days and was thereafter unable to eat & so died. However the minutes for a council meeting on 8th February were doctored after the event. The original document showed that the following payments were authorised from the exchequer:

·         Payment to William Loveney, clerk of the Great Wardrobe, sent to Pontefract castle on secret business by order of the king – paid 66 shillings & 8d – in 2010 worth: £20,200.00 using average earnings

·         Payment to a valet of Sir Thomas Swynford to certify to the council on certain matters, with concern to the king’s advantage -  26 shillings & 8d – in 2010 worth: £8,100.00 using average earnings[i].

These payments would seem excessive for merely observing the king’s death & reporting it to king & council. They would appear to confirm suggestions that Richard was murdered; possibly by the withholding of food as suggested by the chronicler Adam of Usk, who also claims that Sir Thomas Swynford taunted Richard ‘with starving fare’.


Edward III – WM Ormrod, Tempus Publishing 2005

Richard II & the Revolution of 1399 – Michael Bennet, Sutton Publishing 1999

The Usurper King – Marie Louise Bruce, The Rubicon Press 1998

[i] The Usurper King – Marie Louise Bruce, The Rubicon Press 1998
Price information from

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Murder Most Royal – Part II

Edward II murdered 21st September 1327
The third son of the ‘Hammer of the Scots’; Edward was trained in warfare as his father’s heir from an early age. Edward was not a man who chose his favourites wisely; indeed he is often portrayed as being homosexual. As Prince of Wales, Edward’s prime favourite was Piers Gaveston, The prince’s favouring of Gaveston was so extravagant that Edward I exiled his son’s friend. Gaveston did not return to court until after the king’s death in July 1307. Within a month of ascending to the throne Edward II made Gaveston Earl of Cornwall; a title traditionally reserved for members of the royal family, and caused grave offence amongst the nobility. Gaveston used his position as the king’s favourite to control access to the king & his favours & rewards. Early in 1308 Edward made Gaveston his Regent, when Edward travelled to France to marry Princess Isabella, later to be known as ‘the She-Wolf’ of France.

In January the disaffected earls of Warenne, Arundel, Lincoln & Pembroke made known their displeasure by objecting to the oppression of the people & attacks on the honour of the crown. In April a declaration called for exiling Gaveston, which Edward resisted until it was backed by the French king, angered at Edward’s neglect of his wife, in favour of Gaveston’s company. On the 18th May Gaveston was exiled & then threatened with ex-communication by the Archbishop of Canterbury if he returned. Gaveston was sent to Ireland as the King’s Lieutenant, where he had some success in quelling Irish insurgency.

In July 1309 Edward agreed a series of concessions to his nobles and the return of Gaveston was agreed. By August Gaveston had been re-instated as Earl of Cornwall. But within a very short period of time Edward was again alienating the nobility; allowing Gaveston to exploit their relationship more openly, arranging favours and appointments for friends and supplicants.

On 16th March 1310 Edward was forced to appoint a group of men to ordain cutbacks in the royal household. The Lord Ordainers included the earls of Lancaster, Richmond, Warwick & Gloucester. The war against Scotland, deferred since Edward’s accession to the throne, was now part of the political problem; Robert the Bruce had overturned much of Edward I’s earlier gains; the Scots failing to proffer battle to the English, preferring to use guerilla tactics. This failure to prosecute the war was despite the continuing raising of taxes.

In August 1311 Edward met with the Lord’s Ordainer, the Ordinances were published in September & in November Gaveston was sent again into exile. He was back by Christmas & on the 18th January Edward restored him again to his titles & returned his lands. The nobles prepared for war – Gaveston was captured on 19th May and executed on the 19th June.

Following Gaveston's death, Edward turned to his nephew-in-law, Hugh Despenser, who had been Gaveston’s brother-in-law. The nobility were enraged at this second favourite and the privileges Edward lavished on the younger Despenser & his father. In 1321 the earl of Hereford amongst others took up arms against the Despensers over a breach of rights in Gower. Edward was forced to banish the Despensers. But by 1322 Edward & the Despensers had regained control & Edward revoked all previous limitations on his power.

Queen Isabella enters Paris
In March 1325 Edward refused to acknowledge the overlordship of the King of France for Gascony & sent a disaffected Isabella to negotiate with her brother. She agreed a treaty with Charles in May and Edward sent his son Prince Edward to swear fealty. Isabella refused to return to England with her son, until the Despensers were removed from their positions of power.

Isabella’s retinue returned to England in December, bringing shocking news. The queen had begun a liaison with the exiled baron Roger Mortimer. Isabella & Mortimer invaded in September of 1326 with assistance from Count William of Hainault. 

Execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger
Edward attempted to levy an army to crush the small invasion force, but many of the nobility refused to fight the invading couple. The earl of Lancaster raised an army, seizing a cache of Despenser treasure from Leicester Abbey, and marched south to join Mortimer. Edward and the Despensers were isolated, leaving London to fall into disorder.

Edward was abandoned by his followers on 31st October & on 16th November the earl of Lancaster marched into Wales to collect Edward & Hugh Despenser the Younger; Hugh’s father having already been executed by the rebels. The younger Despenser was brutally executed n the 24th November.

Coronation of Edward III
Failure to deal with the Scots & the loss of his father’s conquests in Scotland along with his insistence on squandering attention, money, lands & titles on his favourites, led to the alliance against Edward.
Hatred of the Despensers diluted or even killed the nobilities’ support for the king. Even those who did not join Isabella & Roger Mortimer did not support the king. Edward was imprisoned at Kenilworth & eventually accepted the chance to abdicate, rather than have charges including incompetence & leaving the country without proper governance amongst others, brought against him. His son Edward had refused to accept the crown without his father’s consent. The abdication was announced on 24th January 1327 and Isabella & her lover ruled in his stead, on behalf of the young Edward III.
Edward was moved to Berkeley castle under the care of two subordinates of Mortimer. His death on 21st September was suspicious and contemporaneous reports had Edward strangled or suffocated. His death turned Edward into a martyr & services were held throughout the country on the anniversary of his death. One or two historians believe that Edward was smuggled abroad to live in Italy until his death in circa 1330.


Edward III – WM Ormrod, Tempus Publishing 2005

Edward II – Mary Saaler, The Rubicon Press 1997

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Murder Most Royal

Four kings of England are believed to have been murdered, although there are doubts about the first three. The death of William Rufus may have been accidental, while both Edward II & Richard II disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
William Rufus murdered 2nd August 1100
William commenced his reign in 1087 with a distribution of part of the Royal Treasury to monasteries, churches & the poor for ‘his father’s soul’. The realm of William 1, Normandy & England, was divided between his two elder sons; Robert getting Normandy & William Rufus the throne of England. The younger son, Henry, was given 1000 marks to buy himself a lordship.
Almost immediately in 1088 there was an uprising against the king, led by Odo of Bayeaux, William’s half-uncle. The rebellion was brutally suppressed. Having been supported by the common people, William promised better governance, forbidding unjust taxes & to allow people access to the woods & forests. These promises were not kept, or kept only in part.
In 1091 William invaded Normandy & forced Robert to cede some of his inheritance to William. Taking advantage of William’s absence the Scots invaded England. When William arrived in force to do battle King Malcolm agreed to kneel as William’s vassal. Due to broken promises the Scots invaded again in 1093, but Malcolm was killed in a battle with the earl of Northumbria.

In 1095 William put down the rebellion of Robert de Mowbray, who was imprisoned & a fellow rebel was blinded & castrated. In 1096 William’s brother, Robert Duke of Normandy, borrowed 10,000 marks from William, to pay for joining what was to become known as the First Crusade. To raise the loan William imposed heavy, unwelcome taxes; ruling Normandy as Robert’s regent until his return. 1096 was a year of famine and the increased taxes meant suffering throughout the country.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles tell us that:

‘He was ever agreeable to evil men’s advice, and through his own greed he was ever vexing this nation with force and with unjust taxes’.
William was shot with an arrow, during a hunt near Brockenhurst in the New Forest on 2nd August 1100. There is doubt as to whether the shot was an accident on the part of Sir William Tyrrell; or part of a plot involving the king’s younger brother Henry along with Tyrrell & his brother-in-laws Gilbert & Roger of Clare. Immediatley after the incident Henry rode forthwith to Winchester; leaving his brother’s body on the forest floor, seized the treasury & had himself declared king. Tyrell fled overseas. During Henry’s reign the family of Clare was given sufficient favour for suspicion to fall upon them & the new king over the death of his predecessor.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles – Anne Savage, Colour Library Books 1995

Domesday Book to Magna Carta – AL Poole, Oxford University Press 1987

Monday, 20 February 2012

On This Day in History 1933

Three days after issuing the Firearms Decree, Hermann Goering, Prussian Minister of the Interior, tells Prussian police officials that he cannot expect policemen to act against the Communists if they are afraid of disciplinary procedures for their actions

'The responsibility lies with me alone … if you shoot, I have shot'

Goering is spearheading a drive to eradicate the Nazi’s political opponents. A flurry of decrees are used to legitimise his actions & those of his colleagues.  

On the 2nd February Goering bans all demonstrations throughout Prussia by Communists, having had their offices searched the night before & 'incriminating evidence' found. On the 4th February the Decree for the Protection of German People is issued - allowing for detention of up to 3 months for those engaged in armed breaches of the peace, or acts of treason. Police powers are extended in order to intimidate political opponents. On the 6th February Goering issues a decree giving him virtually unlimited emergency powers in Prussia

On the 11th Goering creates the post of Superior Police Leader West in Prussia, as a start in his campaign to bring the police under control. A purge of the police starts. On the 17th Goring orders Prussian police to cease surveillance of Nazis & associated organisations; he also gives policemen the right to use firearms freely.

Two days after his speech to Prussian police officials Goering sets up an auxiliary Prussian police force of fifty thousand men, recruited from the SA, the SS & Stahlhelm. The police are purged of Social Democratic party members & are set to attack the Communists; breaking into party & trade union offices. Within 2 days the police have raided the Communist Party HQ & claim to have found large amounts treasonable material

Already Goering is in conflict with Franz von Papen, the conservative Minister-President of Prussia & Hitler’s vice-Chancellor. This will not continue for long.


The Life & Death of Hermann Goering, Ewan Butler & Gordon & Young, David & Charles 1989
The Coming of the Third Reich – Richard J Evans, Penguin 2004
Nazi Aggression & Violence, Volume 4, International Military Tribunal, United States Government Printing Office 1946
Himmler Reichsfuhrer SS – Peter Padfield, Cassell 2001
The Devil’s Disciples – Anthony Read, Pimlico 2004

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Strange & Unusual English Taxes

Just a small selection of some of the weird & wonderful taxes imposed by the English parliament:

Hearth Tax 1662
In England the Hearth Tax, also known as hearth money, chimney tax, or chimney money, was imposed in 1662 to support the Royal Household, following the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Parliament calculated that the Royal Household needed an annual income of £1,200,000, but there was a shortfall of £300,000 in the Royal accounts. By 1661 the Hearth tax was projected to yield sufficient to cover the shortfall (an over optimistic estimate). This form of taxation was new to England, but had precedents abroad.

One shilling was paid for every hearth or stove, in all dwellings, houses, edifices or lodgings, and was payable at Michaelmas, 29th September and on Lady Day, 25th March. The Hearth Tax was designed to be more punitive for those with multiple or larger residences. The original bill did not distinguish between owners and occupiers with no exemptions. The bill was subsequently amended so that the tax was payable by the occupying family or household.

Revenue generated in the first year was less than expected, so from 1663, the names and number of hearths were required to be listed even if non-liable. From 1664, everybody with more than two hearths was liable.

Window Tax 1696

The Window tax was introduced in England and Wales in the Act of Making Good the Deficiency of the Clipped Money of 1696, under William III. The tax was constituted of two parts; a flat-rate tax of 2 shillings per house and a variable tax for the number of windows above ten in the house.

Properties with between ten and twenty windows paid a total of four shillings and those above twenty windows paid eight shillings. The number of windows that incurred tax was changed to seven in 1766 and eight in 1825. The flat-rate tax was changed to a variable rate, dependent on the property value. In 1778 those people, who were exempt from paying church or poor rates for reasons of poverty, were also exempted from the window tax. The tax was unpopular and there was a strong agitation in England to abolish the tax during the winter of 1850–1851. It repealed on 24 July 1851 and a tax on inhabited houses was substituted.

The term ‘daylight robbery’ may have resulted from the window tax, as it was described by some as a ‘tax on light’.

Beeswax Tax 1710

In 1710 the tax on beeswax was introduced. Excise duties of four pence per lb were imposed on beeswax candles.  It was forbidden for people to make their own beeswax candles, unless they held a licence and paid tax. As a result, rush lighting became prevalent. These duties were abolished in 1830. Tax figures show that between 1715 and 1800, the national production of beeswax candles rose tenfold.

Wallpaper Tax 1712

The earliest known wallpaper in England dates back to 1509 - an Italian inspired woodcut pomegranate design. Use of wallpaper became so widespread that it inspired the introduction of a tax in England by 1712 on paper that was ‘painted, printed or stained to serve as hangings’. The wallpaper tax was introduced in 1712, during the reign of Queen Anne. Patterned, printed, or painted wallpaper was initially taxed at one penny per square yard, rising to one shilling by 1809. The tax was bypassed by purchasing untaxed plain paper and having it hand stencilled. In 1806, falsification of wallpaper stamps was added to the list of offences punishable by death. The tax was abolished in 1836.

Soap Tax 1712

Soap was taxed during the reign of Queen Anne. Soap-makers paid a heavy tax on all the soap they produced. The lids on the soap boiling pans were locked every night by the tax collector, to prevent illegal soap manufacture after hours. Many soap makers were allegedly driven out of the country. Law was also in effect prohibiting the production of soap in batches of less than one ton. This kept the soap making process firmly in the hands of those wealthy enough to afford larger manufacturing facilities.

Because of the high tax, soap was a luxury item, and it did not come into common use in England until after the tax was repealed in 1853.

Hat Tax 1784

The hat tax was a tax levied in 1784 to 1811 on men's hats. The tax was introduced during the first ministry of Pitt the Younger and was designed to be a simple way of raising revenue for the government in a rough accordance with each person's relative wealth. It was supposed that the rich would have a large number of expensive hats, whereas the poor might have one cheap hat or none at all.

The hat tax required hat retailers to buy a licence and to display the sign Dealer in Hats by Retail. The cost of the retail licence was £2 for London and five shilings elsewhere. Each man's hat was required to have a revenue stamp pasted inside on its lining. The cost of the duty depended on the cost of the hat.

Cost of hat Duty paid
Under Four shillings Three pence
Four to seven shillings Six pence
Seven to twelve shillings One shilling
Over twelve shillings Two shillings

Heavy fines were given to anyone, milliner or hat wearer, who failed to pay the hat tax. However, the death penalty was reserved for forgers of hat-tax revenue stamps.

Brick Tax 1784

The Brick tax was introduced in 1784, to help pay for the wars in the American Colonies. It was based on the number of bricks. Bricks were initially taxed at four shillings per thousand. To mitigate the effect of the tax, manufacturers began to increase the size of their bricks. In response the government introduced a maximum volume for a brick of 150 cubic inches.

One result of the Brick Tax was minor brick producers went out of business; selling stock to pay tax arrears. It also brought; timber and weatherboarding back into fashionfor house construction. The tax was abolished in 1850 as it was believed to be impeding industrial development.

Hair Powder Tax 1795

The Hair Powder Act 1795 required that everyone wishing to use hair powder to purchase an annual certificate costing one guinea. Certain exemptions were included:

·    The Royal Family and their servants

·         Clergymen with an income of under £100 a year

·         Subalterns, non-commissioned officers, privates in the army, artillery, militia, mariners, engineers, officers in the navy below the rank of commander, yeomanry, and volunteers.

·         A father with more than two unmarried daughters could buy two certificates, which was valid for all daughters the stamp office was given details of.

·         The master of a household could buy a certificate for a number of his servants, which would be valid for any replacements within the year.

The use of hair powder was already declining by this time and the tax hastened its near death. The tax essentially destroyed the wig trade overnight and caused a total change in fashion. The fashionable new ‘sans poudre’ cuts for men, such as the ‘Titus’ & ‘Brutus’, & the new styles for women e.g. the ‘a la Sappho’, were introduced from France. In 1812 46,684 people still paid the tax. By the time the tax was repealed in 1869 it was bringing in an income of only £1000 per annum.

With thanks to Sarah J Waldock for her advice & assistance


Friday, 10 February 2012

On This Day in History 1943

SS Obergruppenfuhrer von Ribbentrop
Martin Luther, State Secretary at the German Foreign Ministry (Auswärtiges Amt) & attendee at the infamous Wansee conference, is arrested for attempting to overthrow the Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Luther has attempted to prove, with the assistance of SS Standartenfuhrer Walter Schellenberg, that von Ribbentrop is insane.
A report on von Ribbentrop’s insanity has been passed to Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Unfortunately for Luther, Himmler has been convinced by the head of his personal office – SS Obergruppenfuhrer Karl Wolff, that as von Ribbentrop is also an SS Obergruppenfuhrer, the SS should support him, rather than his accuser. Luther’s report is sent to von Ribbentrop.

Schellenberg has been involved in the plot to overthrow von Ribbentrop, as he believes it will be easier for the Germans to make a compromise peace without the beliigerent Foreign Minister.

Martin Luther & his co-conspirators are arrested. Luther is sent to a concentration camp, where he is made librarian & spends the rest of the war. SS Brigadefuhrer Ernst von Weisacker, another State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry, is moved to the role of Ambassador to the Holy See, as part of the re-organisation of the ministry that follows.


The von Hassell Diaries 1938-1944 – Ulrich von Hassell, Hamish Hamilton 1948

Himmler Reichsfuhrer SS – Peter Padfield, Cassell 2001

SS – The Alibi of a Nation – Gerard Reitlinger, Da Capo Press 1957

The Wilhelmstrasse – Paul Seabury, Greenwood Press 1976

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Lost Monarchs

These are the people who never became ruler of England for a variety of reasons, despite the throne being their birthright

William Adelin             5/8/1103 to 25/11/1120

The only son of Henry 1. Henry of Huntingdon, a chronicler of the time, refers to the prince as ‘pampered’ & seemed to be ’destined to be food for the fire’ which would imply that his chances of successfully surviving the rigours of a medieval court remote. He possibly lacked the skills needed to subdue his barons to his will. William died in the White Ship disaster crossing the channel from Barfleur. The party were all drunk & the helmsman took the ship onto the rocks. William died in an attempt to rescue his half-sister. William’s death eventually led to the period in English history when ‘Christ & his saints slept’ – the war between William’s sister Maud (also known as Matilda) & his cousin Stephen, when even a self-indulgent king would have been preferable to the mayhem that swept across the country.

Henry the Young King (as he was known to his contemporaries).           28/2/1155 to 11/6/1183

Henry was the second son of Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine (his elder brother died in infancy). Although technically crowned king while his father was still alive, to assure a non-contested inheritance, Henry never ruled alone as he died before his father, with whom he was in conflict. The Young King was not very interested in the day to day details of government (possibly because his workaholic father kept the majority of power in his own hands). According to WL Warren Henry showed ‘’no evidence of political sagacity, military skill, or even ordinary intelligence...’’ Henry was popular as he was heavily involved in partaking of the tournaments across Europe. But this was not a necessary skill for a king. The Young King joined with a number of his French subjects in a rebellion against the older king’s rule in 1173. Henry died of dysentery contracted during a further campaign against his father.

Edward of Woodstock – known to history as the Black Prince   15/6/1330 to 8/6/1376

The eldest son of Edward III, Prince Edward was popular with the people. He was a strong warrior; his victories in the Hundred Years War include Crècy, the Siege of Calais & Poitiers. He also acted as Regent during his father’s absences in France & was expected to attend council meetings. He & his wife Joan (commonly known as the Fair Maid of Kent) held court in Aquitaine as his father’s representative. After January 1371 Edward’s illness (possibly cancer or MS) meant that he was no longer able to campaign.

His contempt for the lower classes, evidenced by his rule in Aquitaine, would probably have been mirrored in England had he succeeded his father. There is no doubt that the sick prince would have been a sick king,  potentially unable to control his nobles. But this might have been better for the country than the 10 year old Richard, who succeeded his grandfather & whose misrule resulted in deposition & murder.

Edward of Westminster also known as Edward of Lancaster     13/10/1453 to 4/5/1471

Only son of Henry VI, who struggled with bouts of insanity, Edward was in thrall to his strong mother - Margaret of Anjou. There were rumours that Edward was not Henry’s son, although acknowledged as his son by Henry. In 1460, after capture at the battle of Northampton by the Duke of York, Henry VI was forced by the Yorkists to disinherit his son by the Act of Accord in 1460. Margaret was not prepared to accept her son’s disinheritance & the War of the Roses spiralled on, Edward spending much of the next eleven years on the run or in exile in France.

Following an agreement with the Earl of Warwick, Edward & his mother returned to rebel against the man who had become Edward IV in his stead. Prince Edward died at the battle of Tewkesbury, three weeks before his father was murdered in the tower. It would appear unlikely that Edward would have been the strong king England needed at this time; to heal the schism between the two warring factions of Lancastrians & Yorkists. He also carried the taint of madness inherited from his French great grandfather & his father.

Edward V         2/11/1470 to 29/7/1483? (Exact date of death unknown)

Eldest son of Edward IV, Edward was brought up as a scholar & had a dignity beyond his years according to one of his last attendants in the Tower (where he had been sent, allegedly for his safety). It is impossible to say what kind of king Edward would have made. Had his uncle done as Edward IV intended and ruled as Regent, handing the throne over to his nephew, when he reached his majority, then the final campaign of the Wars of the Roses might have been avoided. Without a strong committed guardian &/or Regent then the weakness of yet another child king would have seen a resurgence of the war. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, making use of rumours that Edward’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, was not married to Edward IV (there were only 3 witnesses to the marriage), had Edward & his brother Richard, Duke of York, declared bastards & thereupon took the throne himself. The cause of their deaths are not known, but popular belief is that they were murdered on the order of their uncle.

Prince Arthur   19-20/9/1486 to 2/4/1502

The elder son of Henry VII, Arthur was Prince of Wales & President of the Council of Wales & Marches. He was sent to live in Ludlow at the age of 6, where he began his training in kingship. Arthur was known to be studious, thoughtful & reserved. Married on the 4th November 1501 to the Infanta Catalina (known to history as Catherine of Aragon), within 6 months Arthur died at Ludlow of an unknown illness. He would probably have made a better king than his brother Henry, being less flamboyant & extravagant. Arthur appeared to be happy marrying Catherine, which would have left the country firmly in the bosom of the Catholic church. By 1509 he would have been 24, with 18 years of training in kingship behind him, ready to take on the role of ruling a kingdom.

Prince Henry Frederick 19/2/1594 to 6/11/1612

Elder son of James I - In 1598 James I had the Basilikon Doron printed for the instruction of his elder son Henry. The Basilikon sets out James’ views on kingship. On the king’s instructions Henry’s household was more akin to a college. In 1605 Henry was sent to study at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took an interest in sports. A witty, outgoing & popular young man, Henry was also interested in naval & military matters, as well as national issues; about which he was unafraid to take issue with his father. Henry was also able to keep financial control of his money (unlike his father & brother). Henry died of Typhoid fever at the age of 18. It would have been difficult for Henry to have made more of a mess of his reign than his younger brother.

James Francis Edward Stuart – known as the Old Pretender     10/6/1688 to 1/1/1766

The son of James II – controversy surrounded even James’ birth, when Protestant supporters claimed he had been smuggled into the birthing chamber in a warming pan, rather than being the natural son of a Catholic king, who already had two Protestant daughters by his first wife. At a period when anti-Catholic feelings ran high, the thought that James would be succeeded by a Catholic son inflamed the populace.

 At six months old James was taken abroad by his mother Mary of Modena, fearing for the safety of her son, just over a month after the successful invasion of England by William of Orange. James was brought up in France & was recognised by his father’s cousin, Louis XIV, as heir to the throne of England. In 1701, upon the death of James II, who was held by the English to have abdicated, James was declared King of England by the French & James’ Jacobite supporters. He headed an unsuccessful invasion in 1708 & in 1713 at the peace of Utrecht France was obliged to expel James & he moved to Rome, after a brief unsuccessful attempt to invade the country of his birth in 1715. Further attempts at a restoration of the Stuart dynasty were left to James’ son, Charles – the Young Pretender.

It is unlikely that James would have agreed to become a Protestant in order to placate his subjects fears of an enforced return to the church in Rome. His inflexibility in this matter does not indicate that he would have made a better king than his father, or his father’s successor – his brother-in-law William.

Prince Frederick           1/2/1707 to 20/3/1751

The elder son of George II, Prince Frederick was left in the care of his great-uncle from the age of seven & did not see his parents again until he was 21 years old, a young man, fond of drinking, gambling & women. When he finally arrived in England Frederick set up his own ‘court in opposition’.
Like several other Princes of Wales (including his grandson) Frederick ran up massive debts. George II refused to give Frederick an allowance that would cover his expenses & Frederick’s pecuniary difficulties were relieved by George Bubb Dodington, a rich politician. Eventually Frederick applied to Parliament for an increase in his allowance, which was granted but he was given less than he asked for.
Following an incident caused by Frederick’s removal of his heavily pregnant wife from Hampton Court, to give birth without the presence of the King & Queen (a serious breach of royal protocol & without much thought for his suffering wife)) Frederick was banished from court – ambassadors in London were told not to visit the prince & his family.
Frederick was detested by his parents & by Sir Robert Walpole, the Prime Minister for much of George II’s reign. Frederick’s sisters considered him one of the world’s greatest liars. But to his children Frederick was a good father, taking an interest in their education & encouraging them to share in his interests in art & science, gardening, astronomy, music (Frederick played the viola & cello) and amateur dramatics. Frederick enjoyed poetry & co-wrote a play that was taken off on its opening night & the entrance fee refunded to the audience.

In 1751 Frederick developed an abscess on the lung & subsequently a cold, which might have turned into pleurisy. The abscess burst & Frederick died. Popular with the masses as an alternative to the greatly disliked George II, Frederick had never been much thought of by his father’s supporters. His early ‘wild’ living settled down in middle age to a happy home life. It is not possible to say whether he would have been a good king, once upon the throne, but his son, immature at 22 faced a far more difficult reign than his father would have done aged 53.

Princess Charlotte Augusta      17/1/1796 to 6/11/1817
Princess Charlotte was the only child of the Prince Regent & his hated wife Caroline of Brunswick. As a child Charlotte was caught up in the vicious fight between her parents. The princess had restricted contact with her mother & her father was little interested in his daughter. The child was used as a pawn in her parents’ battles, both sides appealing to the king & queen to back their entrenched positions.

Charlotte was much loved by her grandfather & her aunts & spent some happy times with them in Weymouth & at Windsor. George III doted on his granddaughter & arranged for her education. As a teenager Charlotte was considered undignified, but her father was proud of her ability as a horsewoman. She was fond of Haydn & Mozart and identified herself with Marianne from Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility. Charlotte was deeply saddened by her grandfather’s descent into madness & must have been hurt by her father’s habits of exposing her grandfather’s ravings to his cronies.
A supporter of the Whigs Charlotte was annoyed by her father’s refusal, once Prince Regent, to bring the Whigs into government. The Prince Regent pressurised his daughter into accepting the suit of the Prince of Orange. The breaking off of the engagement by Charlotte led to a battle of wills between her & her father. But in 1816 Charlotte was allowed to marry Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. Charlotte died in childbirth, after 18 months of happy married life.

Obviously a woman with a mind of her own, Charlotte would have been 34 when she became queen. Her husband Leopold became an adviser to Queen Victoria. There is no reason to suppose he would not have done the same for his wife, whose reign might have been as successful. She would certainly have been as popular as Victoria, as Charlotte was seen as an antidote to her extremely unpopular father.

Edward VIII – later Duke of Windsor      23/6/1894 to 28/5/1972

The Duke & Duchess of Windsor meet Adolf Hitler
Edward (known to his family as David) was the son of a strict, disciplinarian father. His mother loved her children, but always deferred to her husband’s harsh treatment of the children, who were often reduced to ‘nervous trepidation’ in his presence. In 1907 Edward was sent to the Osborne Naval College & two years later to the Royal Naval College. In 1910 Edward was made Prince of Wales & the start of his training to become king began. After 8 terms at Magdalen College, Edward left Oxford without a degree.
In 1914 Edward joined the Grenadier Guards but was not allowed to serve, as the effect on morale of his capture by the enemy would have been crippling. However Edward visited the front line on a number of occasions, making himself popular with the troops.

As Prince of Wales, Edward undertook many foreign tours, representing his father. He became extremely popular & appeared in magazines & newspapers regularly. His numerous affairs & his failure to settle down worried the king & his advisers. The affair with twice married Wallis Simpson, who appeared to have the prince completely under her thumb, was even more disturbing. It has been alleged that Wallis was very ‘friendly’ with the Nazi German ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop & in Italy there were rumours that in the 1920s Wallis had an affair with Galleazzo Ciano, when he was posted in Singapore.

After the death of his father in January 1936 the politicians’ unease was increased by the new king’s apparent disinterest in the affairs of state. State papers were ignored & left about for his guests to peruse, if they so chose. Prime Minister Baldwin & his colleagues were concerned when the king spent much of August & September 1936 cruising in the Mediterranean with his mistress. Although it was not until November that the king informed Baldwin that he wished to wed a twice divorced woman.

On 10th December Edward signed the Instrument of Abdication, preferring to marry Wallis Simpson, to reigning as King of England. It is however believed that Edward offered to abdicate to get his own way over marrying Wallis. He was unable to believe that his offer would be accepted, forgetting that the rule of royals to produce ‘an heir & a spare’ meant that Edward’s brother Albert was available for the job. As it was Albert, who became George VI, rose to the occasion & was a source of inspiration to his subjects during the dark days of World War II.

Edward would have caused problems in British relations with Nazi Germany as his visit as Duke of Windsor in 1937 illustrates. One of Edward’s close associates, a Charles Bedaux, was in close contact with the Nazi hierarchy & had a home at Berchtesgarden along with Hitler, Goering & Bormann. Edward would possibly also have interfered in politics. His brother was a much better choice as monarch.


The Later Stuarts – George Clark, Oxford University Press 1985

Edward VIII – Frances Donaldson, Wiedenfeld & Nicholson 1978

James 1 – Antonia Fraser, Book Club Associates 1974

The Reign of King Henry VI - RA Griffiths, Sutton Publishing 1998

George III – Christopher Hibbert, Viking 1998

King George II & Queen Caroline – John van der Kiste, Sutton Publishing 1997

The Earlier Tudors – JD Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992

Edward III – WM Ormrod, Tempus Publishing 2005

Henry II - W. L. Warren, Yale University Press, 2000

The Princes in the Tower – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1997