Has the British monarchy always been loved and admired? The evidence would appear to say no
- Credit: PA
On January 30, 1649, King Charles I was taken to a scaffold specially erected outside the banqueting hall at Whitehall and executed. His death sentence for treason was passed by an angry parliament after a bloody civil war that set friends against friends, brothers against brothers and crown against state.
It is too late to argue the rights and wrongs of the regicide but, at the time, it was felt necessary in the interests of the realm to kill the king.
The king's cavaliers, 'wrong but romantic' according to the book 1066 and All That, lost the war and, for a few years, Britain was a republic, a Commonwealth run by puritans who famously shut theatres and banned Christmas. There were restrictions too on sport. One wonders what might have happened if they had been a bit jollier.
But there's no doubt it was a low point for the British monarchy. Before and after, our kings and queens have endured fluctuating fortunes. But since that one dalliance with republicanism the institution has remained strong and today, it is probably as strong as it has ever been. Oh yes, there have been well-publicised scandals, reports of which are happily devoured by us all, but with the exception of the abdication crisis of 1936 and a few subsequent ripples of discontent, we have been largely happy with our constitutional monarchy in the modern era. Many feel the presidential alternative is too risky (see other countries).
Though, in Great Britain, the accident of birth is a tenuous reason for which to be endowed with fabulous wealth, great palaces, and unswerving obeisance and fealty, other options have not been seriously explored... at least not in my lifetime. Queen Elizabeth II, through her faith, her lifelong service to her country, and with little or no interference in Government has set an example of how well a monarchy can work. Will King Charles III manage his kingship in such an exemplary fashion?
Not all monarchs have behaved so impeccably as the Queen. A study of kings and queens would quickly come up with some pretty damning headlines:
'King marries sixth wife after death, divorce and extra marital affairs.' (Henry VIII marries Catherine Parr)
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'Queen IS a virgin.' (Elizabeth I)
'Young king disappears in mysterious circumstances – was uncle involved?' (Edward V and Richard III)
'King's Witch Hunt.' (James I)
'King's love of juicy fruit.' (Charles II)
'Move to make martyred King England's patron saint.' (St Edmund)
'King woos divorcee.' (Edward VIII)
'Royal obesity fears'. (Take your pick from Queen Anne, Henry VIII, George IV, Edward VII, King John and, in her later years, Victoria.)
One might argue that many of our kings and queens are more popular today than ever they were when on the throne. Henry VIII, for example, was undoubtedly disliked by The Roman Catholic Church, which he disestablished; the monks, and monasteries, which he dissolved and ransacked; many members of his court who were in favour one day and in The Tower the next. Even most of his wives, loyal and long-suffering, had their love tested to extremes. Katharine of Aragon was pushed aside, ignored and divorced so the King could pursue and marry Anne Boleyn and then Anne, having become his queen, was accused of incest and beheaded.
This is not the sort of guy you would want to pick up on a dating website.
Yet, I read, his subjects adored him. In contrast to his father, the po-faced Henry VII, Bluff King Hal was hugely popular – sporty, glamorous, larger than life. He was a musician, a dancer and loved pageants and masquerades. Mmm... but then his subjects didn't have to live with him did they?
If Charles I was among our least-loved monarchs who might be our most loved? Here are the contenders:
Queen Elizabeth II: Our longest reigning monarch. She has maintained the popularity of the monarchy during a difficult times which have included the Falklands War, conflict in Northern Ireland and wars in the Middle East. There has also been significant social change since her accession in 1952, Yet, while other members of the royal family may come in for criticism, she is much loved and rarely attracts censure... even from the media.
Elizabeth I: The daughter of Henry VIII, she was known as the Virgin Queen although it is speculated that she had more than a close friendship with the Earls of Leicester and Essex. She ruled England and Ireland from 1558 to 1603 and in 1558 her navy famously defeated the Spanish Armada after her stirring speech at Tilbury. An intelligent, educated woman she reigned over a golden age for art and literature.
Henry VIII: Charismatic but capricious
Queen Victoria: I am not sure what we should make of the fact there were seven attempts on Queen Victoria's life. She wanted to appear liberal in her attitudes and although public opinion fluctuated during her reign it is generally accepted she had the respect and, for the most part, the affection of her people. There was a rumble of discontent when she removed herself from public life for a decade following the death of her husband, Prince Albert, but she was to re-emerge and reclaim popularity.
George V: The father of our current Queen, acceded to the throne on the abdication of his older brother (Edward VIII). Unprepared for kingship this shy man, with great nobility of spirit, never wavered in his duty to his country. During the Second World War he and his family remained in London during the Blitz, giving heart to his people in the darkest days of the conflict.
George III: The first Hanoverian king to have English as a first language he was a devoted family man. Interested in science and agriculture, George conscientiously read all government papers. He opened his extensive library to scholars and founded the Rotal Academy of Arts.
And the worst?
Charles I: Beheaded for treason by order of Parliament, he is described as a stubborn and indecisive man.
George IV: In a poll to identify our 'most useless' monarch, George IV (formerly Prince Regent) was the winner. He was unkind to his wife, a glutton and a spendthrift. So unpopular was he that the newspapers celebrated his death in 1830.
James I: Successor to Elizabeth I, James I of England and VI of Scotland has been described as a 'foul-mouthed, conceited pacifist without royal dignity'.
James II: Grandson of James I, was invited to take the throne after the Commonwealth but was so determined to re-establish Roman Catholicism that he was ousted in favour of William of Orange and his wife, Mary.
King John: Long tarred as an out and out baddie in tales of Robin Hood, John fought his own his barons and, apocryphally, lost the crown jewels in The Wash. Metal detectorists, please note. On the plus side, he did, albeit reluctantly, sign the Magna Carta.
Edward VIII: Maybe we should accept that he could not reign without the woman he loved at his side but it has long been the lot of Kings that their duty to their country must come first.
Henry VIII: Capricious but charismatic. (The only monarch to feature on both best and worst lists here).
Mary Tudor: The only female monarch to make it into the unpopularity stakes... and talking of stakes, she had 300 Protestants burned for their beliefs. The oldest child of Henry VIII, she succeeded her younger brother Edward VI. Raised in the Roman Catholic faith by her mother Katharine of Aragon, Mary set out to re-establish her faith in England.
Richard III: Shakespeare painted him as a nasty piece of work and and a multiple murderer...but it may just have been pro-Tudor propoganda by the Bard.
Monarchs' screen appearances
If popularity equates to the amount of interest we have in British kings and queens then perhaps the number of film and television dramas and documentaries might be an indication. So which monarchs are most feted on screen?
Elizabeth I: With a tally of appearances approaching 40 among the famous actors who have portrayed her are Dame Flora Robson, Dame Helen Mirren, Glenda Jackson, Cate Blanchett, Bette Davis, Anne-Marie Duff, Jean Simmons (as Young Bess), Dame Judi Dench, Miranda Richardson (in Blackadder) and Sarah Bernhardt
Henry VIII: With more than 20 on-screen and documentary depictions, Henry is pipped by his daughter, Elizabeth. Among the players are Eric Bana, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ray Winstone, John Stride, Keith Michell, Richard Burton, Charles Laughton, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Robert Shaw.
Queen Victoria: In terms of references, there are too many to enumerate. As a character she has appeared in Sherlock Holmes' dramas and films biopics of the explorer David Livingstone, Disraeli and Florence Nightingale. She was a cameo in Jackie Chan's Victorian-set caper Shanghai Nights. Films and series with Victoria as the central character are fewer but they include Mrs Brown, with Judi Dench; Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria and, most recently, Jenna Coleman in the ITV drama series Victoria.
Queen Elizabeth II: Her Majesty is depicted in around 12 titles including, I'm afraid, a German comic film called Willi and the Windzors. Famously, Helen Mirren took the role of the Queen in The Queen, and Prunella Scales was Elizabeth II in Alan Bennett's play A Question of Attribution. But perhaps most famous of all is the Queen's real-life personal appearance with 007 (Daniel Craig) in a comedy sketch for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Our own Remainers and Chexiteers
Whose side were they on in the Civil War? We take a look at the region's Monarchist remainers and the Parliamentarian 'Chexiteers' who wanted to see the back of Charles I. The following are taken from contemporary accounts.
Kings Lynn: (Remainers). It is recorded the townsfolk: '... kept the Towne for His Majesty, and by the helpe of God would so keepe it against whomsoever; which they are able to doe, it being so strongly fortified.'
But in September 1643 a letter from Norfolk revealed: '... there hath been fighting between the Earl of Manchesters Army, and the Towne of Lyn, by continuall shooting off their great Ordnance one against another: that Colonell Cromwell hath battered them sorely from old Lyn.'
Norwich, August 1643: (Chexiteers) There was '... a terrible storme of thunder and lightning upon a Wednesday night, the thunder sounding distinctly, as if great peeces of Ordnance had beene shot off, and such a vehement showre of (r)taine, that boates might have floated in the streetes.' It was concluded: '...that it may menace Gods Judgment upon the plundring and pillaging Cavaliers.'
Ipswich: (Chexiteers): 'the Major and Magistrates there raised the trayned band and such Volunteeres as they could best confide in, and apprehended all the Malevolents... (including) 4 new Justices of the peace, who are extreamely disaffected to the Parliament, and in the search of their houses, they found Muskets and fowling peeces ready Charged...'
29 Nov 1642 : The Counties of Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk are now entring into an association for their mutuall defence and safety, so that all the Easterne, Westerne, Northerne and Southerne Counties standing upon their Guard by such conjunctures, the Cavaliers must of necessity crowd back againe into Wales...'
source: https://reportingtheenglishcivilwar.wordpress.com/category/suffolk/ (see also /norfolk/)