The Monthly Consort. 1

Prince Albert

Albert, Prince Consort 1842 by Franz Xaver Winterhalter

Full Name: Albert Francis Charles Augustus Emmanuel Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
Born: 26th August 1819
Son of Ernest, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and Louise of Saxe-Gotha Attenburg
Married: His cousin, Queen Victoria, 10th February 1840

My monthly series on the spouse of the monarch. Albert is a significant first post owing to his title. When Albert and Victoria married, she was already Queen and his title took a while to be established. Victoria interestingly wanted him to be styled King Consort however parliament was not in favour of this and so Prince Consort was finalised. 

The reason this was not previously established, was owing to the fact that there had been so few female monarchs, and within those few, not all had even married. Mary I (or bloody Mary as some still call her) was the first Queen to address the issue of naming the male spouse with her husband Philip II of Spain becoming a King Consort. This was not the case to Albert for several reasons, firstly, he was not popular. He came from a small and poor royal family in Saxony, which was seen as far below the status of Victoria as Queen of Great Britain. As a foreigner, he was also not liked, with satirical magazine, Punch regularly posting offensive cartoons of the Prince. The most important reason why he could not be King Consort was the distinction of ‘King’ over ‘Queen’. When a King by blood marries, his wife is automatically a Queen. This is due to Queen being a lower status to King (technically speaking) which is why Prince is used. 

Albert’s next difficulty, having been granted the Prince Consort title, was creating a role for himself. Again this position had not been established, and Albert found it difficult having to play second fiddle to his wife. An intelligent young many, well educated not only in traditional areas such as music and languages but he had also received a University education studying at the University of Bonn where he excelled in the sciences, politics and law. Albert’s role gradually became more defined. In 1840, only a few months after their wedding, he spoke at the Society for the Abolition of Slavery, which was still in action throughout much of the world even though it had been outlawed in Britain. His speech was a success and showed how beneficial he could be to important causes.

Many more causes and campaigns were championed by Albert, particularly the Arts and sciences. It is thanks to Albert’s interest that science as a subject became much more prominent and was in part a contributor to the Industrial Revolution.  This was showcased in the impressive Great Exhibition of 1851, displaying all of the finest parts of the Empire in one place. In addition to this Albert was made chancellor of the University of Cambridge, a role which he took most seriously.

Nevertheless, despite all of Albert’s triumphs, he died young, with many plans unfulfilled. At only 42 it was a massive blow to his besotted wife, who lived the rest of her life in mourning. Albert’s legacy lives on very visibly today, owing to the sheer quantity of monuments and building named in his honour by none other than his wife. The Royal Albert Hall is one of the most notable. To summarize Albert is challenging, as he achieved a lot in such a short time, however for any consort the main triumph is producing heirs which Albert very much did.

The Weekly Monarch .4

Henry VII


Full Name: Henry Tudor
Born: 28th January 1457, Pembroke Castle
Son of Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort
Reigned: 22nd August 1485 – 21st April 1509

The Tudors. This name stimulates images of Henry VIII standing impressively in regal robes. You probably know which painting I am describing. If not, simply google Henry VIII and it should come up. He is synonymous with this dynasty, known for his numerous wives and changing the structure of religion in England. However, I feel his father, who gave this renowned dynasty his name, is often overlooked as a serious and boring king. I plan to change this perception.

Henry Tudor’s route to become king was not straightforward like the majority of rulers. As you an see above, neither of his parents were a monarch, so how did he come to be king? The answer is the Wars of the Roses. This series of conflicts officially began in 1455 with the Battle of St Albans and ended with Henry Tudor’s triumph at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The issues surrounding the initial battle stemmed from the political problems of the time, to the weakness of Henry VI and the shared royal bloodline from John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III. The establishment of two royal houses followed, The House of York and The House of Lancaster. 

After Henry VI death, the House of York remained in power until Henry VII,  whose claim was through his mother, Margaret Beaufort to the Lancastrian line. (also a decedent of John of Gaunt) Henry’s early life is not widely known, which is unusual for a king. Much this was owing to his unorthodox royal family and distant claim to throne, which resulted in him spending his early years in exile abroad. Henry’s return came from the dislike of Yorkist King Richard III, who had overthrown his brother, Edward IV’s sons and heirs to take throne for himself. Margaret Beaufort was instrumental in promoting her son as an alternative king.  Richard’s defeat at Bosworth signaled the end of the Wars of the Roses, with Henry taking the throne and marrying Edward IV daughter, Elizabeth of York. 

Now to address Henry as boring king. He was not boring but cautious. Unlike previous kings, Henry had not been brought up to be the next monarch and had therefore not been taught the ways of diplomacy and statesmanship, he had to learn this quickly. But he was ultimately a very successful king. He made England peaceful, for the first time in over 30 years, and vastly improved the country’s finances. But the success of Bosworth was not the end of Henry’s need to defend his position as king. Throughout his reign he had to contend with those that opposed his reign. Most notably Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, whom both posed separately as the ‘Princes in the Tower’, trying to play on the sympathies of the country. Luckily for Henry, his own supporters were larger in number and these threats were not long lasting. Yet the first Tudor King was never fully confident of this.

His main success of security was marrying Elizabeth of York, and in doing so uniting the two houses. Thus the Tudor Rose was born. Their marriage was prosperous and unusually caring for an arranged marriage. Together they had four children who reached adulthood, with the renowned Henry VIII taking the throne. Henry Tudor’s greatest accomplished can be argued as fully establishing the Tudor dynasty for his son, as Henry VIII never encountered any opposition to his rule.

The Weekly Monarch .3

George V

King_George_V coronation portrait, kingsqueensandallthat.jpg
George V coronation portrait by Sir Luke Fildes, 1911

Full Name: George Frederick Ernest Albert
Born: 3rd June 1865
Son of Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark
Reigned: 1910 – 1936
Hobby: Stamp Collecting (he took this very seriously)

The Grandson of Queen Victoria, who was not meant to be king, grew up in the strict and proper society emerging in Britain in the late 19th century. His limited education did not prepare him for what would be in store when his elder brother, Albert Victor (known as Eddy) died suddenly of pneumonia. At 27, George was faced with the daunting prospect of being the next in line to the throne. 

Having only ever learnt about George V with relation to the First World War, I had an impression of him as a very brave and prepared King, who led Britain successfully through the war. I never thought how little provision had been made for George to take the throne, and even how little education his elder brother (whom I knew nothing about) had experienced. Schooling seemed to have little importance to the future monarch, and was the case, up until Prince Charles (current heir to the throne) attended Gordonstoun boarding school in the 1960s. The main focus of their education came from the Navy as they were both enrolled as sea cadets. For George, little was expected from him as the second son. He simply followed in his brothers footsteps, and even did so when Eddy died by being encouraged to marry his brother’s finance Mary of Teck.  

Becoming King was a burden for George. ‘I am heartbroken and overwhelmed by grief. May God give me strength and guidance in the heavy task that has fallen upon me.’ He was crowned in 1911, and shortly afterwards visited  India, the first British monarch to do so. His reign brought much change to politics in Britain, as he appointed (on behalf of the British public) the first labour government, saw women gain the vote, and the supremacy of the elected House of Commons over the House of Lords.

The First World War came only four years into George’s reign and was a horrifying shock to him, especially being at war against his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm. This led to the general distrust and anger to any German within Britain and caused George to rethink the family name which was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (his grandfather, Prince Albert’s name). The new name of Windsor was selected because of historic roots to William the Conqueror and therefore how British it seemed! This was an important move for the propaganda of the royal family, showing how loyal they were to their country. The war was an ultimate victory for Britain but a disaster in terms of loss. Nearly one million men died during the First World War.

For George and the royal family, the war had been a turning point for the future of the monarchy in Britain. 27 crowned heads of state were disposed or abdicated by the end of of the war including George’s close cousin, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, whom was murdered. This was a major political concern for Britain, owing to the growing feelings of socialism. George’s approach to monarchy changed, with the help of his loyal wife Queen Mary, they made royalty approachable. This was shown by visiting the many wounded in hospitals, making trips to the more deprived parts of the country which were experiencing vast amounts of unemployment. George even attended a football game. He made monarchy what it is today, drastically different from the aloof and out dated system that it had been before. George introduced the Christmas broadcast which his granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth still dutifully does each year.

King George V’s legacy is an notable one. He may not have been the most academic or confident monarch, but held his role in the highest importance. Duty came before all else. His preference for remaining at home, living the quiet life with his stamp collection was overturned by his duty to his country during the war. But for me, we really do have George to thank for the fact that we still do have a monarchy today, as it was his understanding that reinvented the role of the king and queen for future generations. 



The Weekly Monarch .2

King Charles II

Charles II by Godfrey Kneller

Born: 29th May 1630, St James’ Palace
Son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria
Reigned: 1660 – 1685

“The King who brought back Partying!”

My favourite King. This may surprise some people as his reputation has not always been the best. Womaniser is the main derogatory noun used to describe him, owing to his numerous mistresses. Lucy Walters, Barbara Villiers and Nell Gwyn to name a few. This I feel often over looks him as a very able King who revitalised the monarchy and prevented rebellions.

Any account of Charles II seems to always be accompanied by an account of his father, which seems unfair especially as his father’s disastrous reign over shines any later positives. However comparisons have to be made to understand the difficulty faced by Charles II and how he proved to be successful regardless of his father.

Charles was only 12 years old when the Civil War broke out in England, provoked to the extreme by his father’s unwillingness to rule with parliament. With the Roundheads victory, Charles, his mother and younger siblings were forced into exile.
With the death of Oliver Cromwell came the end of the Commonwealth in England that had driven the country into a decade of religious piety and control. And returned the rightful King.

The quote at the top is a reference to the song King of Bling from the CBBC ‘Horrible Histories’ series about Charles II. It’s such a catchy song but also the lyrics are very true. Charles did bring back partying which had been outlawed by Cromwell. Yet aside from bringing back fun (and Christmas) Charles was also very pragmatic in his approach to ruling. He was careful to pursue a policy that accepted and promoted power sharing and listened to his advisers. Although his return did mean prosperity for many, there were still concerns over religion, particularly Catholicism.

Five years into Charles’ reign and the hot summer of 1665 was a breading ground for the deadliest plague in Britain since the middle ages. It overcome the London’s slums, when conditions were cramped and hygiene non existent. The King and others with money were able to evade the disease by escaping London, however many were not as lucky and hundreds of thousands of people died. The plague only truly ended the following year due to the devastation caused by the Fire of London. For this the King stayed and played his part, helping the locals to put out the fire, though the diarist, Samuel Pepys stated that this was purely to help his own image.

This image waned in popularity particularly owing to his rather extravagant lifestyle, especially his mistresses. Charles was very public with his lovers, and showered them with expensive gifts, titles and land. He even gave them rooms in his palaces. His poor wife Catherine of Braganza had to put up with his adultery. She did this stoically at first, however the hardest part of the King’s philandering, was his numerous illegitimate children from his mistresses, made even more difficult as Catherine herself was unable to produce an heir.  Charles is believed to have had at least 15 children from various mistress, whom he not only acknowledged but also gave titles. His son James Scott, Duke of Monmouth tried to claim the throne after Charles died, showing that he believed his right as the King’s son, not often the case for children of royalty born out of wedlock.

Charles died at the age of 54. Having no legitimate heir the throne was left to his younger brother, James. His reign to me is interesting. He is remembered now as the ‘merry monarch’ who’s reign brought back ‘fun’ to Britain.


The Weekly Monarch .1 Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria in her Coronation robes by Winterhalter.

Full Name: Alexandrina Victoria
Born: 24th May 1819, Kensington Palace
Daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent and Victoria Saxe-Coburg
Reigned: 1837 – 1901

Until Sept 2015, she had been the longest reigning English Monarch. Having been on the throne for 63 years she had not only seen the vast changes of the Industrial Revolution but also (for me the most significant) the revitalisation of the monarchy. 

You may have watched the recent ITV series Victoria staring Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell which showed Victoria’s first few years as Queen. These years were difficult for the young Queen, only 18-years-old and with little knowledge and awareness of the complexity of the job. Her isolated childhood at Kensington Palace with no siblings or friends to play with, and her widowed mother, manipulated by Sir John Conroy for power played a significant part in her early reign. Victoria’s first request as Queen was to have her bed removed from the room she shared with her protective mother.

Yet, as many programmes, documentaries and dramas about Queen Victoria heavily emphasise, her difficult early years and her marriage to Albert, I want to focus on her legacy. As earlier stated, to me the most striking part of Victoria’s reign is how she made the monarchy popular again. Prior to her reign, the Hanoverian’s had ruled Britain since 1714, and had generally been more unpopular than popular. Even Victoria herself would refer to her ‘disgraceful Uncles’. Their extravagant lifestyles of excess, no legitimate children and sense of entitlement due to their royal blood tarnished their reigns’.

This was particularly the case with George IV who had been regent during his father’s madness. His public perception was so poor that a polite reference in a newspaper stated that he was ‘lazy, selfish and arrogant’.  For Victoria, her reign was a chance to reinvent the monarchy, which some historians have said was essential for the type of monarchy we have now. 

So what made Victoria such a successful monarch? It is difficult to pinpoint one area alone. For me, it’s a combination of factors, the first being her marriage to Prince Albert. Despite this only lasting 21 years due to his untimely death, they had a very prosperous one, and it produced nine children. All of their offspring reached adulthood, something that was rare during the 19th century, with many children dying in infancy.  This gave the royal family a image of stability and prosperity in difficult times, and led to marriages across European royal families. 

The second factor was Victoria’s ability to understand the importance of modernisation. This was shown by her deliberate interest in current affairs and not just politics. For example, she became the patron of over 150 charities and societies during her reign, showing great interest in the arts, literature and music. Science and innovation became much more important, with awareness and funding for research made a priority. The Victoria Cross was also established in her name to honour  acts of bravery during the Crimean War. Victoria was fascinated by other cultures. She spoke five languages and in her later years learnt Hindustani and Urdu to be able to communicate with her servants from India. This interest was greatly significant in her success as not only a British monarch, but also a ruler of a vast Empire. 

The final factor that made her such a successful monarch was her longevity. This in someways is ‘luck’ owing to the fact she lived into her eighties, however the unpopularity of the monarchy at the beginning of her reign shows how she regained the public’s interest in having a royal family. Victoria had overcome her fair share of difficulties, enduring six assassination attempts. Nevertheless, her death caused mourning in Britain in a way that had not been previously prevalent. Her legacy is even now apparent in her great-great granddaughter, Elizabeth II.