Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stuff for research

I'm putting this information on the blog, because it's the sort of thing I use for researching when writing my historical novels. I want to keep it where I can get to it easily,
. Check out Charles I. He is the king in my novel, Clan Gunn.

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Page last updated at 07:20 GMT, Saturday, 19 July 2008 08:20 UK
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Monstrous monarchs

Are there too many awful rulers to pick the worst?
With the pressure of ruling and the stress of succession, perhaps it is no wonder that so many of Britain's kings and queens have made a mess of their reign.

On Tuesday, Today spoke to historians taking part in a debate organised by English Heritage, which seeks to answer the question of which British monarch should be considered the biggest failure.

Their nominees - Edward II, George IV and Mary, Queen of Scots - are certainly contenders for the dubious honour of Britain's worst monarch.

But following the programme, listeners emailed us to disagree with the selection.

It seems there is barely a name in the royal lineage - from Vortigern to Victoria - not considered by someone as an utter failure.

Perhaps the only way to avoid controversy is to rule in the style of Edward VII who, as historian John Cannon says:

"Loved uniforms, was good on names and didn't outstay his welcome."

The contenders

There were calls for William the Conqueror to be added for conquering England and Harold for being conquered.

Victoria got a mention for being miserable and Richard the Lionheart for being absent (and spending all England's money on crusades).

Alexander III ruined a good reputation by falling off his horse at an inopportune moment and Lulach the Simple was nominated for, well, being simple.

So who did you nominate? The top three contenders in our highly un-scientific survey are as follows:


An egotist who murdered two wives for failing to provide a son, who destroyed an entire culture to satisfy his own desires and launched failed, unnecessary wars

Robbie, Blackburn
Among the most popular contenders is Henry VIII.

Ironically, he was in the frame for last year's debate on the best British monarch.

However, in his personal life he did little to secure public popularity.

Historian John Cannon, editor of the Oxford Companion to British History, agrees with our emailers' sentiments.

"He is a horrid beast. It turns one's stomach over a bit - when he looses his taste for a wife he has their head cut off.

"He is then marrying and dancing within a week. Perfectly dreadful," he says.

Cannon says that Henry inherited a kingdom in rude health with no debts and little conflict. He left it split, bankrupt and, the worst crime for any monarch, without a clear successor - leading to a long and destructive battle for the throne.

In the 17th Century, it took an unprecedented combination of deviousness and political incompetence for a king to end up tried and executed as a tyrant, murderer and public enemy

John, London
Another popular choice, not mentioned by the panel, is Charles I.

He was a monarch who believed so fervently in his divine right to rule that half the country rose up against him.

Eventually, of course, Charles was beheaded on 30 January 1649. Called martyr by some, many Today listeners branded him incompetent instead.

Historical biographer Lady Antonia Fraser agrees he should have been included on the list.

"He was a weak king in a situation that demanded a strong one.

"He was ended by his own actions, making inevitable a civil war that brought no great good to anyone," she says.


She was a religiously bigoted tyrant full of prejudice and narrow mined religious fervour. Her reign held terror for any that did not conform to her ideals

Jane, Derby

And who could ignore the ignominious reign of Mary I?

After attempting to return England to Catholicism, she unleashed vengeance on unlucky Protestants so fierce she earned the title 'Bloody Mary'.

Professor David Loades can understand why Mary I is still so unpopular.

"She burned about 285 protestants in the course of three and a bit years.

"When you consider that the Spanish inquisition probably burned about 30 or 40 it was a very severe persecution.

"No-one at that time had any scruples about burning heretics, but she did burn rather a lot," he says.


On Tuesdays programme the panel of experts taking part in the English Heritage debate nominated their worst three monarchs.

Here are the charges against Edward II, Mary Queen of Scots and George IV.


After being forced to abdicate, Edward was imprisoned and brutally murdered
Edward ruled from 1307-1327. In that time he not only lost the war with Scotland that his father started but was also imprisoned by his estranged wife and forced to abdicate on grounds of incompetence.

Historian Alison Weir nominated Edward II. The charges are as follows:

A poor soldier during the war with Scotland.
Saw English defeat by Robert the Bruce in 1314, therefore failing to realize his fathers dream of a united Britain.
Irritated the nobility by lavishing money and rewards on his male favourites.
Forced to abdicate on grounds of incompetence following imprisonment by his own wife's army.


Mary was next in line to the English throne at the time of her execution
Scotland's queen from 1542 to 1567 managed to be implicated in murder and treason, forced into exile, imprisoned for 19 years and executed.

Historian Sarah Gristwood nominated Mary, Queen of Scots. The charges are:

Suspected involvement in the murder of husband (and second cousin) Henry Stuart at Kirk o'Field in 1565.
Marriage only three months after the murder to the Earl of Bothwell, also a suspect in the murder. This caused Scotland's Protestant Lords to rise against her.
Decision to flee to England, where she thought Elizabeth I would protect her, but where she was imprisoned for 19 years.
Suspected involvement in numerous plots to assassinate the English queen, eventually leading to a trial for treason - and execution.


George became obese from eating one too many lavish royal banquets
The Playboy prince ruled Britain as Prince Regent during his father George III's madness and as King from 1820-1830, following his father's death. Despite seeing Britain's victory in the Napoleonic Wars, George's reign was notable mainly for his lavish lifestyle and womanising tendencies.

Historian Martyn Downer nominated George IV. These are the charges:

Serial womaniser.
Scandals with his mistresses and extravagant spending while Britain suffered the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.
Married his cousin Caroline of Brunswick to please his father and clear his debts.
Barred his (by then estranged) wife from his coronation.

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