7 August 2011

Why I Love Stuart History

One of the most famous -or infamous- English royal dynasties is the Tudors. They are certainly the only one to have their own sexy TV show made in the US.
The Tudors have some great characters. Henry VIII with his enjoyment of weddings and executions. Bloody Mary I, who has her very own cocktail. Feisty Elizabeth I who love her country more than any man!
There was also a financially responsible guy and some kids as well.

Now this is all well and good, but what I like is the family came after that.
The Stuart monarchs are an interesting lot who ruled over a fascinating period of British history.
In just four generations the monarch went from the most powerful person in the country to being a figure whose religion and choice of spouse had to conform with the constitutional will of the nation, with Civil War, execution, abolition and revolution along the way.

Things started well enough for James I (VI of Scotland) who was the first adult King of England since Henry VIII. James' father was blown up when he was just a child and his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was imprisoned and then executed by her cousin Elizabeth I. Given this background it's unsurprising that he was paranoid, and the 1605 Gunpowder Plot couldn't have helped.
Other than being the monarch who instituted Bonfire Night (giving generations of Britons a reason to set off fireworks in November), James is probably most famous for commissioning the King James Bible. James greatly  feared witchcraft and Macbeth -with it's scary witches and general Scottishness- was written to please him.
James was probably homosexual, and certainly enjoyed the close company of handsome men. Perhaps his most infamous 'favourite' was George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham was widely hated for rapidly becoming one of the most powerful men in the country, and for generally proving awful at any job he was given.

Charles I is best known for upsetting Parliament and being so principled and unbending that the country was ripped apart by Civil War, which ended with his execution. Unlike previous internal wars this was not a battle between competing factions over who should be king, but a conflict between the King and his subjects. At the outset no one had any intention of executing the King or abolishing the monarchy, but things just got crazy. Charles wouldn't give up on his beliefs, and his opponents realised that Charles Stuart would not surrender his power.
Charles married Catholic princess Henrietta Maria of France. The marriage was initially neglectful, but the couple bonded and eventually fell in love after Charles' friend Buckingham was assassinated by a disgruntled naval officer (he had it coming). During the Civil War Henrietta Maria first went to Europe to beg for aid, then returned to the dangers of war torn England and despite being heavily pregnant travelled around the country with Royalist forces.

After Charles I's execution no one really knew what to do next, no one had planned for that outcome. There followed years of uncertainty and governmental change, which many people unsurprisingly took as a sign of the end times. Religious and political radicalism ran rife. Parliamentarian general Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector -he refused the title of King, even though that would have provided ongoing stability to his regime. Instead Cromwell tried to find a new way to govern the country, however he received much opposition and eventually ended up dissolving Parliaments and throwing opponents in prison -exactly the sort of thing that had made everyone so mad at Charles I. Cromwell held things together, mostly by resorting to military dictatorship whenever his latest idea for governing the country failed. On his death his son Richard inherited the title of Lord Protector, but didn't have his father's support and the government fall into chaos again.

Charles II was invited to reclaim his father's throne in the Restoration. Charles had fought a second Civil War to get the throne back after his father's execution, but had only been crowned in Scotland and had been beaten back into exile (with a brief stopover in an oak tree on the way).
Charles II is known as the Merry Monarch, and considering the number of mistresses and illegitimate children he had it's fair to say that he was no stranger to pleasure. He was also surprisingly loyal to his long-suffering wife Catherine of Braganza, refusing to divorce her even though she never had children.
Charles became popular when he stayed in London during the Great Plague and then helped firefighting efforts during the Great Fire of London. Unlike his father and brother Charles was good at getting on with people and though he faced various problems and plots he is mostly remembered as a charming, roguish figure.

James II came to the throne after the death of his brother Charles. As an open Catholic and a believer in absolute monarchy it was clear he wasn't going to get on well with a largely Protestant country that was still scarred from what happened last time a king got too big for his boots.
If a Catholic King was a worry then a Catholic succession was a nightmare. When the Queen gave birth to a son rumours were rife that the child wasn't truly the heir. One of the odder conspiracy theories states that a baby was smuggled into the birthing chamber in a warming pan.
Leading Protestants invited James' son-in-law, William of Orange, to invade -the country having learned the benefit of forward planning since the last time they needed a change of ruler. After a 4 year reign James II fled and despite some serious attempts to regain his throne he died exiled in France.
James II is pictured fleeing the country with the Royal Seals (not salt and pepper shakers). He threw them in the Thames as he fled and Parliament conveniently decided that this was tantamount to abdication.

Willam III (II of Orange) and Mary II were cousins and spouses (that's just how it goes in royal circles). After kicking out his father-in-law with his Dutch army William -who was third in line to the throne after his wife and sister-in-law- became King on equal terms with his wife Mary, they were the only co-monarchs in English history.
William and Mary were the first constitutional monarchs, ruling by the will of the nation. Many of the rules of British monarchy (especially those involving Catholics in succession) were laid down in law for their reign. William had to defend his reign from the Jacobites, who felt that the succession rightly lay with James II and his son. Mary gave William a lot of her authority, although she did rule well when he was away on military campaigns
Interestingly the History Mug has William and Mary separate, something which rarely happens in Monarch lists - though that might be because the handle got in the way. I have no idea why William is pictured upside down with rodents by his head, I'd be fascinated to know what that's about.

Anne finally became Queen when her brother-in-law/cousin William died. She had refused to speak to her sister Mary for years, resenting the fact that Mary had allowed William to leapfrog her place in the succession. Anne was the first monarch of Great Britain after the Kingdoms of England and Scotland were united.
Anne had many pregnancies and many miscarriages, her eldest child only lived to eleven. Succession caused Anne political as well as personal difficulties. Jacobite Tories wanted Anne to name her half brother James as heir, whereas the Whigs wanted her to pass the throne to her Protestant second cousin from Hanover. This was a period when the two party Parliamentary system first became entrenched in British politics.

Like the Tudors the Stuart's Royal dynasty ended with a childless Queen. The Hanoverians -known as the Georgians- came to the throne, although the exiled Jacobite Stuart line continued to cause them problems.

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