7 Surprising Facts about Royal Births

7 Surprising Facts about Royal Births

Five months after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, married at Windsor Castle, royal watchers around the world were thrilled with the announcement that the couple was expecting a child in the spring of 2019. On May 6, 2019, Meghan gave birth to a son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor—the first interracial baby in the British monarchy’s recent history.

The child is seventh in line to the British throne. Harry’s brother, Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton), welcomed their third child, Prince Louis, last April. Prince George, the couple’s eldest child, was born in 2013, and their daughter, Princess Charlotte, was born in 2015.

Here are some facts about royal births through the ages.

1. William and Kate’s children are in line for the throne based on their birth order, regardless of gender.

Until recently, centuries-old laws of succession gave male heirs priority and required that the crown be passed to a monarch’s sons, in order of birth; a daughter could only inherit the throne if she had no male siblings. However, the rules were revised in the Succession to the Crown Act of 2013 so that a monarch’s male and female offspring have an equal right to the throne, and a younger boy could not jump ahead of his older sister in the line of succession. As a result, Princess Charlotte (born in 2015) has become the first female royal heir to not be pushed down the order of succession by a younger male sibling. She remains fourth in line for the throne after her brother Prince George (born in 2013), her father Prince William, and her grandfather Prince Charles. The royal couple’s second son is fifth in the line of succession, one spot ahead of his uncle, Prince Harry. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's son will follow Harry's succession to the throne.

2. William is the first direct heir to the British throne who was born in a hospital.

The son of Prince Charles (who was born at Buckingham Palace in 1948) and the late Princess Diana (born in 1961 at a home leased by her aristocratic parents in the English village of Sandringham), William was delivered at London’s St. Mary’s Hospital on June 21, 1982. His arrival was announced with a proclamation signed by his doctors and placed on an easel in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace.

3. Prior to Prince Charles’ arrival in 1948, it was customary for the British home secretary (a high-ranking government official) to attend royal births.

In one notable instance, Home Secretary John Robert Clynes traveled to Scotland in 1930 to witness the birth of Princess Margaret at Glamis Castle. Margaret, the daughter of the future King George VI and sister of Elizabeth, the future queen, was born two weeks after her due date but Clynes had to remain in Scotland on alert until she made her debut.

4. Royal births are announced by an official royal notice, placed on a golden easel.

Royal arrivals are heralded with the placement of a gilded easel bearing a framed notice announcing the royal birth in front of Buckingham Palace. The announcement remains on display for approximately 24 hours. The practice of posting a bulletin after a royal birth goes back to at least 1837, when Buckingham Palace became the British monarch’s official residence. With the births of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge's children, official announcements were made via social media for the first time in royal history.

5. Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria (1819-1901) had nine living children but hated pregnancy and childbirth.

Queen Victoria’s road to motherhood got off to a rocky start in 1840, when, four months into her first pregnancy, an unemployed Londoner named Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate her while she was riding in a horse-drawn carriage with her husband Prince Albert. (Victoria escaped unharmed and Oxford, the first of at least seven people who tried to attack or murder the queen, later was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental institution.) Victoria went on to become the first monarch to give birth under the influence of chloroform, whose anesthetic effects were discovered in the late 1840s and which her physician administered when Victoria delivered her eighth and ninth children, Prince Leopold, born in 1853, and Princess Beatrice, born in 1857. The queen’s experiences helped popularize the use of anesthesia among London’s upper classes. However, Victoria maintained a sour attitude toward pregnancy, which she derided as an “occupational hazard” of being a wife, and labeled her own babies ugly and frog-like and refused to breastfeed them.

6. Royal babies have been a source of public fascination for centuries.

In one historic example, James Francis Edward, prince of Wales, was a topic of controversy from the time of his birth in 1688. Until James’ delivery, his mother, Mary of Modena, the Catholic second wife of King James II, had suffered a number of miscarriages and was childless. Following James’ arrival, rumors circulated widely that Mary was never pregnant to begin with (or had experienced another miscarriage) and snuck an imposter baby into her bed via warming pan, in an effort to produce a Catholic male heir, an alarming prospect to England’s Protestants. That same year, James II was ousted and Mary fled the country with their son. As an adult, the prince (whose royal blood proved legitimate, despite the conspiracy theories) tried unsuccessfully to reclaim the British crown and was dubbed the Old Pretender.

7. England’s King Henry VIII (1491-1547) famously married six different women, in part due to his quest to produce a son who could succeed him.

Although Henry VIII fathered three legitimate children who survived—daughters from his wives Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and a son, Edward, by Jane Seymour (who died shortly after the boy’s birth), Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn also experienced multiple miscarriages and stillbirths, leading experts to believe Henry was the source of the fertility troubles. Syphilis once was speculated to be a factor in the king’s reproductive issues; however, this theory has been discounted and more recent research suggests a blood group incompatibility (involving the Kell antigen) between Henry and his wives might have been at the root of his problems.

READ MORE:
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7 Surprising Facts About King Henry VIII

On June 24, 1509, Henry VIII received the crown of England. But as his reign progressed, he grew desperate for a son who𠆝 carry on the Tudor dynasty. When the pope wouldn&apost annul his first marriage so that Henry could wed again, he took matters into his own hands.

Henry was a king who hadn’t been expected to rule — he only took the throne because his older brother had died — but he ended up embarking upon a religious reformation, cracking down on dissent and marrying a grand total of six wives. In honor of Henry’s coronation, and the unexpected chain of events that followed, here are some surprising facts about the Tudor monarch.


Looking Back at Royal Births Throughout History

Prince Philip was playing squash when Prince Charles was born, for starters.

As the world celebrates the birth of the newest member of the royal family&mdashPrince Harry and Meghan Markle's daughter, Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor&mdashTown & Country looks back on royal births of the past.

The future queen was born at 2:40 a.m. on April 21, 1926, at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, the London home of her maternal grandparents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore.

Left: Elizabeth, Duchess of York (1900-2002) holds her baby, the future Queen Elizabeth II, in May 1926.

The Prince of Wales was born at Buckingham Palace on the evening of November 14, 1948. Princess Elizabeth was just 22 at the time, and she was reportedly in labor for 30 hours before giving birth by Caesarean section. But her husband, Prince Philip, was not present. Instead, he was playing squash with his private secretary in another part of the royal residence. When he got word of the birth, Philip ran up to the delivery room and, once the princess woke up from her anaesthetic, gave her a bouquet of red roses and carnations. He also declared that Charles resembled "a plum pudding." (Charles's birth was the first royal birth not attended by the British Home Secretary, who in earlier times was required to be present to witness and verify the births of royal children.)

Left: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (pictured when she was Princess Elizabeth) poses with her first baby Prince Charles at his Christening in 1948

Princess Anne was born at 11:50 a.m. on August 15, 1950, at Clarence House, a royal residence in London. Buckingham Palace was undergoing renovations following damage it suffered during World War II, so Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip moved to Clarence House in 1949 and lived there until 1953.

Above: Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip hold their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, in August 1951.

Queen Elizabeth II gave birth to her third child, Prince Andrew, at Buckingham Palace on February 19, 1960.

Above: Prince Philip and Princess Anne hold Prince Andrew's hands as he sits up in his pram on September 7, 1960.

The queen's third son and fourth child was born on March 10, 1964, at Buckingham Palace. This time, Prince Philip reportedly joined her in the delivery room. "The Duke of Edinburgh was actually holding his wife's hand as their youngest was born, Ingrid Seward writes in My Husband and I: The Inside Story Of 70 Years Of Royal Marriage. "The Queen, by then aged 37, had asked him to be there she'd been keenly reading women's magazines that stressed the importance of involving fathers in childbirth and had become fascinated by the idea. Thus Philip became the first royal father in modern history to witness the arrival of one of his children . Compassion comes from the Queen. And the duty and discipline comes from him Philip."

Above: Queen Elizabeth, holding an infant Prince Edward, stands with Prince Philip, on the balcony at Buckingham Palace during the Trooping of the Colour on June 13, 1964.

Diana, Princess of Wales, gave birth to Prince William in the Lindo Wing of St. Mary&rsquos Hospital on June 21, 1982&mdasha break from the tradition of royal births at Buckingham Palace. "William had to be induced because I couldn&rsquot handle the press pressure any longer," Diana told her biographer, Andrew Morton. She reportedly stood during the birth.

The queen was the first royal relative to visit Prince William in the hospital Prince Philip was traveling at the time so she went alone.

Left: The Prince and Princess of Wales stand with their newborn son Prince William on the steps of St Mary's Hospital in June 1982.

Prince Charles was there to witness his first son's birth and later wrote to his godmother Patricia Brabourne, "I am so thankful I was beside Diana&rsquos bedside the whole time because by the end of the day I really felt as though I&rsquod shared deeply the process of birth and as a result was rewarded by seeing a small creature which belonged to us even though he seemed to belong to everyone else as well!" It was a more sensitive reaction than the "joke" he made immediately after William's birth, when, according to an account Diana gave to Morton, he uttered, "Oh God, it's a boy. And he's even got red hair."

Left: Prince Charles and Princess Diana at Prince William's christening on August 4, 1982.

Prince Harry arrived a week early and was born at 4:20 p.m. on September 15, 1984 in the Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital, just like his older brother. Diana read a book for the first six hours of her nine-hour labor, and Charles napped in a chair next to the bed. When the big moment came Diana "sucked on an ice cube to prevent dehydration during the delivery, w hile a nurse rubbed her chapped lips with cream," People reports.

Left: Princess Diana and Prince Charles leave the Lindo Wing of St. Mary's Hospital with Prince Harry in September 1984.

For her first child, the Duchess of Cambridge had a team of 20 medical professionals dedicated to her care ("Everyone was sworn to secrecy," People reports). The group included: two obstetricians, three midwives, three anesthetists, four surgical staff, two special care baby-unit staff, four pediatricians, one lab technician, and three to four managers. After about 12 hours of labor and no pain medication, Prince George was born at 4:24 p.m. on July 22, 2013, weighing in at eight pounds, six ounces.

Left: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stand with their newborn son, Prince George of Cambridge, outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary's hospital on July 23, 2013.


Back then, people heavily relied on charms and prayers, making birth girdles of immense importance across varying social levels.

The pregnancy process of a royal woman was woven in rituals aimed at protecting both the infant and the mother, and one of such rituals was of accessing the Holy Girdle of the Virgin, held at St Peter’s Westminster and that of St Aelred at Rievaulx Abbey.

Interestingly, several times, other holy girdles, supposedly blessed by the Virgin Mary, were sent to the royal pregnant woman to reduce pain in childbirth and strengthen the contractions.


10 jaw-dropping facts about Meghan Markle's iconic royal wedding dress

When Meghan Markle stepped out to the crowds on 19 May 2018, ready to marry Prince Harry, the world took a collective gasp at her stunning wedding dress. Her timeless gown was the handiwork of Clare Waight Keller, of Parisian fashion house Givenchy &ndash and it has gone down in history. Take a look at some of the most stunning photographs of the Duchess of Sussex in her bridal gown and discover the most remarkable facts&hellip

The rumour mill went into overdrive in the weeks leading up to the wedding, with couture house Ralph & Russo hotly tipped to have won the much-coveted gig, and designers including Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham also touted as possible contenders. But when the royal bride finally stood on the steps of St George's Chapel in Windsor, her stunning gown by Givenchy was revealed.

WATCH: Magical highlights from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's royal wedding

What a moment it was, eh? Since the happy couple celebrate their wedding anniversary on 19 May, there's no better excuse to look back on Meghan's beautiful wedding gown - here's ten fashion facts you might have missed on the big day.

1. Meghan's stunning veil was embroidered with the national flowers of each of the 53 commonwealth countries

She was later filmed reuniting with her dress in the ITV documentary Queen Of The World &ndash revealing that it had been a total surprise to her groom! Touching the beautiful veil, she said: "It was important for me, especially now being part of the royal family, to have all 53 of the commonwealth countries incorporated. And I knew it would be a fun surprise for my now husband - he didn't know! He was really over the moon to find that I would make this choice for our day together, and I think the other members of the family had a similar reaction."

Meghan's beautiful veil

2. Crops of wheat were blended with the floral details

The statement from Givenchy read: "Symmetrically placed at the very front of the veil, crops of wheat are delicately embroidered and blend into the flora, to symbolise love and charity."

3. The veil was also decorated with the California poppy and a wintersweet, also known as a Japanese allspice

This represented both Meghan's place of birth, and the flower that grew in Harry and Meghan's private garden at their previous home in Kensington Palace.

Meghan and Harry married at St George's Chapel in Windsor

4. Hundreds of hours (3,900 in fact!) were spent sewing the flowers on the veil

The fashion house stated: "Each flower was worked flat, in three dimensions to create a unique and delicate design. The workers spent hundreds of hours meticulously sewing and washing their hands every thirty minutes to keep the tulle and threads pristine."

5. The stunning veil was 16 feet long

Or five metres! It was sweetly carried by page boys Brian Mulroney and John Mulroney, the sons of Meghan's best friend and stylist Jessica Mulroney.

Designer Clare Waight Keller shows off sketches of the gown

6. Meghan only had a few meetings with Clare Waight Keller about the iconic dress

She revealed she had always wanted a classic look during Queen Of The World, saying: "We had two or three meetings talking about sketches and different ideas of how this could really come to life. We knew we wanted it to be very delicate, but then after that point, I just said I trust her implicitly with what she did."

7. She chose to work with Clare after meeting her in early 2018

It's thought that Meghan wanted to highlight the success of a leading British talent who has served as the creative head of three globally influential fashion houses &ndash Pringle of Scotland, Chloe and Givenchy. Clare said of their relationship: "It has been an immensely rewarding experience to get to know Meghan on a personal level, one I will forever carry with me. The House of Givenchy joins me in wishing her and Prince Harry every wish of happiness in their future."

With the adorable bridesmaids and pageboys!

8. A piece of material from the dress Meghan wore on her first date with Harry was also sewn into the dress

How adorable is that? Meghan told the ITV documentary it was her "something blue". She added: "It's fabric from the dress that I wore on our first date."

9. It's believed Meghan's wedding dress cost around £100,000

And she paid for it herself, just like the Duchess of Cambridge did in 2011.

The couple shared a moment after arriving in church

10. The bride didn't see her finished dress until the big day!

That's right, Meghan didn't know exactly what her gown looked like until her royal wedding day. "I didn&rsquot see it really until the morning of, so this is my first time seeing the veil like this," she said, while viewing her dress in its exhibition display at Windsor Castle.

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8 Ways Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's Baby Has Made Royal History

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have no qualms about breaking from tradition.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry just welcomed a healthy baby boy on May 6, 2019, and while the royal family loves their baby traditions, these two have already deviated from the same-old, same-old. Here's how the littlest Sussex stands out from the most recent royal babies to occupy the palace nurseries.

American ancestry in the royal family is unprecedented. (Remember when Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson in 1937?) As of right now, the brand-new Sussex meets the requirements for U.S. citizenship as he has a married American parent who's lived in the States for at least five years, according to TIME.

Meghan Markle has previously opened up about her biracial background in a 2015 essay for Elle. "While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that," she wrote. "To say who I am, to share where I&rsquom from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman." Her child reflects a growing mixed-race population in the U.K., too, and is the first mixed-race heir since possibly Queen Charlotte's children in the 1800s.

Meghan Markle deviated from the more recent tradition of presenting the baby to the public almost immediately after the birth. For example, Kate Middleton stood on the steps of the Lindo Wing holding Prince Louis just seven hours after he was born! The Duke and Duchess of Sussex instead returned to an older history of more private births. Case in point: Queen Elizabeth II had all four of her children at home.

Palace spokespeople have previously opted to release the news via official statements, or for Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, on Twitter. In a very 2019 turn of events, this birth marked the first time that the news broke first on Instagram.

Located on the grounds of Windsor, this garden home has more than 200 years of history, but no heir has never grown up there. Queen Charlotte and some of her unmarried adult daughters lived there in the early 1800s, and it also housed Queen Victoria's attendant Abdul Karim. Fast forward to 2018, when Queen Elizabeth II gifted the property to her grandson and his new bride. Until recently, estate workers lived there in divided units, but a massive restoration recently converted it back into a family home.

The baby is seventh in line for the throne behind his dad. Ahead of them are Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis. The littlest Sussex bumps Prince Andrew and his daughters Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie down a notch as well. Who's in the top six matters quite a bit because they have to seek the approval of the monarch to marry if they want to stay eligible for the crown.

According to the Letters Patent issued by King George V in 1917, the new royal baby will not be a prince. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's child could instead go by Lord Mountbatten-Windsor or Earl of Dumbarton, his father's secondary title used in Scotland, peerage expert William Bortrick told PEOPLE. Or there's another option: no title at all. For example, Princess Anne declined HRHs for her children in an effort to give them a more normal life.

Historically, the royal family has paid homage to relatives and ancestors when it comes to picking monikers. Current odds-on favorites include Albert, Philip, and Arthur for a boy &mdash all choices with rich histories behind them. But that doesn't mean Meghan and Harry will go an expected route. Not a single bettor predicted Princess Eugenie's name before her birth in 1990, so Meghan and Harry could still surprise everyone with an unanticipated pick.


12 facts about the Stuarts

The Stuart dynasty immediately succeeded the Tudors, and the period witnessed some of the most monumentally changeable times in British history – civil war, rebellion, the beheading of a king, plague outbreaks, the Great Fire of London and a successful foreign invasion – and seven monarchs of Britain. But how much do you know about the Stuarts?

This competition is now closed

Published: December 13, 2019 at 6:05 am

When was the Stuart period?

The Stuart period in Britain was between 1603 to 1714, and witnessed some of the most monumentally changeable times in British history – civil war, rebellion, the beheading of a king, plague outbreaks, the Great Fire of London and a successful foreign invasion. There were seven Stuart monarchs of Britain: James VI and I (1566–1625) Charles I (1600–1649) Charles II (1630–1685) James II and VII (1633–1701) William III and II (1650–1702) Mary II (1662–1694) and Anne (1665–1714). Two lord protectors interrupted this dynastic line in the middle of the 17th century: Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), followed by his son, Richard (1626–1712).

But how much do you know about the Stuarts? Here, writing for History Extra, Andrea Zuvich shares 12 lesser-known facts about the Stuart dynasty…

The Stuarts had a nasty habit of losing their heads

Mary, Queen of Scots, was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, in 1587. She was Queen Elizabeth I’s cousin, and when Mary was found guilty of treason [after being accused of involvement in a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth], the English queen agonised over the signing of the execution warrant.

Mary was not the only Stuart to lose her head. Her grandson, Charles I, lost his to the executioner’s axe in the winter of 1649 after two devastating civil wars. Charles I’s grandson, the dashing but doomed Duke of Monmouth, was the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II. In 1685, he led an invasion of England, seeking to overthrow his uncle King James II, in order to take the throne for himself.

Monmouth’s rag-tag army suffered a substantial defeat in early July, when their leader was captured, brought to London and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Monmouth’s grisly execution was botched, and remains one of the ghastliest in British history: the executioner’s axe was said to have struck several times before Monmouth’s head was severed.

And it wasn’t just the executioner’s axe that cost leading Stuarts their heads – Monmouth’s cousin, James FitzJames, Duke of Berwick, was decapitated by a cannonball at the Siege of Philipsburg (aka Philippsburg) in 1734.

Witchcraft was a serious matter, but science and reason began to take hold

In the 17th century, a substantial portion of the population believed that witchcraft was real and dangerous. The hysteria surrounding the Salem witch trials in 1692 Massachusetts is undoubtedly the best-known example of this, but there were many other notable events. King James I, whom historian Tracy Borman refers to in her book Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts as “one of the most famous witch hunters in history”, was indeed very much concerned with witchcraft and demonology.

It was during James I’s reign, in 1612, that two important witch trials took place: that of the Samlesbury Witches and the Pendle Witches. Throughout the chaos of the Civil Wars in the 1640s, Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed ‘witchfinder general’, terrorised East Anglia with the cruel methods he used to ‘find’ witches: according to some sources he would fling the accused bound into water to see if they would float or sink (a witch, having denied his or her baptism, would be repelled by the water so that he or she would float). Another test was to “force the accused to walk about all night, because only when at rest could a witch summon his or her familiars, who would terrify the accusers away”.

Yet at around the same time, science was progressing to amazing new heights. William Harvey discovered that blood circulated around the body – an astonishing leap for medical science – and later in the period mathematicians and scientists such as Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle and other gifted men formed the Royal Society.

The extremes of both superstition and scientific endeavour during the Stuart age made for a remarkable dichotomy.

The Stuarts knew how to have fun

The Stuart era coincided with a period of global cooling known as the ‘Little Ice Age’. As such, winters were incredibly cold, and the river Thames sometimes became so frozen solid that people were able to go out onto the ice and take part in frost fairs. These must have been magnificent, for there would have been ice-skating, music playing and hot food being sold and eaten on the ice.

Theatres were very popular in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, but were done away with under Oliver Cromwell. At the restoration of the monarchy, however, theatres were re-opened, and then something even more remarkable happened – women were allowed to act on stage, and the first actresses (Elizabeth Barry, Peg Hughes, Nell Gwynn, Moll Davis etc) stole the show.

Executions were another popular entertainment of the day: vast crowds of people would gather to see a nobleman beheaded or a common thief hanged from the Tyburn tree. Akin to, say, a football match today, street vendors would sell food, and people would cheer.

The monarchy was abolished, but then restored

In 2015, Britain saw Queen Elizabeth II break the record set by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, to become the longest-serving monarch in British history. Although we have a constitutional monarchy (in which the sovereign is mostly a ceremonial figurehead), the fact that Britain has a monarchy at all was something that might not have been possible had the ‘Roundheads’ continued to have their way.

By 1649, Parliament had won: Charles I was executed, and the monarchy and the House of Lords were abolished. It transpired, however, that living under a Cromwellian Protectorate was less than ideal. After Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, his son Richard became the second lord protector, and to cut a long story short, he was not very good at the job.

Soon after, General Monck invaded London at the head of the army, and it was decided that England would welcome King Charles II from his exile. Upon the Restoration in 1660, and then much more substantially at the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 when William of Orange invaded and seized James II’s throne, monarchy became rather more constitutional.

There were three Mary Stuarts you should know about

From the late 16th century to the end of the Stuart dynasty in 1714, there were three royal ladies with the name of Mary Stuart. The most famous of these was, of course, Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived from 1542 until her execution in 1587 (after nearly 20 years of imprisonment). Mary’s son would be the sixth King James of Scotland, but the first of England.

Next, there was Mary Stuart, Princess Royal, the eldest daughter of King Charles I of England and Queen Henrietta Maria of France. At a very young age, Mary was betrothed and married to Prince Willem II of Orange, with whom she had a son (who became King William III of England/II of Scotland). Sadly for the young family, Willem II contracted smallpox and died about a week before his son’s birth. Mary herself followed her husband to the grave 10 years later, again from smallpox.

Finally, there was Mary Stuart, daughter of James II, then Duke of York, and his first wife, Anne Hyde. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, it was this Mary who became Queen Mary II and ruled together with her husband, the aforementioned William III.

Britain was successfully invaded by a foreign power, again

The best-known successful invasion by a foreign power was the Norman Conquest of 1066, which saw William the Conqueror seize power. Fast-forward to 1688, and Britain was once again successfully invaded – this time by the Dutch, and by invitation.

Prince William of Orange, Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, had a reputation for being one of the great heroes of Protestant Europe. He was always battling it out with his arch nemesis, King Louis XIV of France, whose megalomaniacal attempts to conquer more territories made him a constant force to be reckoned with.

When Louis’ cousin, King James II of England (James VII of Scotland), became king following the death of his elder brother Charles II, concern spread that the new king would return his kingdoms to Roman Catholicism. When his wife, Mary of Modena, gave birth to a healthy son in the summer of 1688, rumours and fears of a Catholic succession pushed the kingdom to the verge of rebellion.

The so-called ‘Immortal Seven’ – seven of the most powerful men in the kingdom – invited William of Orange to invade England. Why? William had royal blood connections (his mother was a Stuart) and he was married to James’s eldest daughter, Mary. William landed in Torbay in November 1688 (pictured below), James II fled, and in early 1689, William and Mary became the first diarchy [a form of government in which two individuals – diarchs – are joint heads of state] in British history.

We tend to forget about the consorts

With the exception of Henrietta Maria, Charles I’s strong-willed consort (who remains a controversial figure), many tend to forget about the other royal consorts.

Anne of Denmark, James I’s wife, was a stylish Catholic woman whose tastes influenced pastimes such as masques – the formal entertainments so beloved by the Stuarts. Meanwhile, Catherine of Braganza, Charles II’s wife, a Portuguese princess famed for putting up with her husband’s public adulteries, is often credited with making tea fashionable.

Mary of Modena, James II’s wife, was a highly educated Italian princess who was, if her Catholic religion could be overlooked, the perfect queen consort. When James went into exile, she followed, and under the patronage of Louis XIV, they retained an exiled court at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Although all of the aforementioned consorts were women, there was one male consort: Queen Anne’s husband was Prince George of Denmark. George was devoted to his wife, but has retained a somewhat boorish reputation. Charles II is believed to have said of him: “I’ve tried him drunk and I’ve tried him sober and there’s nothing in him.”

The Stuart monarchs were rarely faithful

King James I is known for his male favourites (rumoured to have been his lovers), especially Robert Carr and, most infamously, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. James’s son, Charles I, although having been the soul of fidelity for the many years of his marriage to Henrietta Maria, ended up seeking physical solace in the arms of Jane Whorwood, a loyalist conspirator, during his imprisonment.

Charles II, meanwhile, is better known for his bevy of mistresses (Nell Gwynn, Barbara Villiers, Louise de Kerouaille etc) than any of his actual policies – with perhaps the exception of the 1670 Treaty of Dover [a pact by which Charles promised to support French policy in Europe in return for a French subsidy that would free him from financial dependence on parliament].

James II, Charles’s brother, engaged in adultery but then was saddled by a guilty conscience. This, however, did not stop him from carrying on long-term affairs with several women, most notably Arabella Churchill and Catherine Sedley.

James’s nephew and son-in-law, William III, had a mistress as well, though he was much more private about it than his uncles. His wife, Mary II, was considered to be one of the most beautiful women of her time, but William sought the stimulating intellectual companionship (and perhaps more) of his wife’s lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Villiers. William only broke up with Betty after Mary’s death, for that was what the latter had asked of him on her deathbed.

Samuel Pepys published one thing in his life, and it wasn’t his diary

While his diary is the work with which Samuel Pepys is most associated, it was not published during his lifetime. Of course, being a diary, it was intensely private – so much so it was written in what at first appears to be undecipherable code. In reality, this code was actually shorthand (created by Thomas Shelton in the early 1600s). Shorthand not only kept things private, but also made writing faster – once you got the hang of how to use it.

Pepys did, however, publish what we know as the Memoires Relating to the State of the Royal Navy of England. This was because there had been accusations of negligence in relation to ships during his time as secretary of the Admiralty. The Memoires, published in 1690 during the reign of William and Mary, was Pepys’ way of fighting back against his accusers.

Historian JD Davies, writing in the introduction to a 2010 publication of this work, states that the Memoires provide not only “a vivid insight into the state of the navy in the 1680s, but…(is) one of the best memorials to the ingenuity and sheer political cunning” of Pepys.

The Stuarts knew the value of propaganda

Several days after Charles I was executed on a bitterly cold January morning in 1649, a royalist work was printed. Eikon Basilike was an extremely popular piece, and the deceased king became seen by some as a martyr. This work, however, was countered by parliamentarian propaganda from the very able hand of John Milton in the form of Eikonoklastes.

During the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688, William III sent his propaganda printers ahead of him, and they printed his manifesto and circulated it widely. Propaganda wasn’t just limited to the printed word, though. William gave due consideration to his image as well. Although he was physically rather puny and sickly, most of the images depicting him have a strong, martial air about them. In William III’s state apartments in Hampton Court Palace, William chose to identify with the mythological hero Hercules, and the glorious staircase that leads to his apartments, painted by Antonio Verrio, powerfully convey this imagery.

Is it Stewart or Stuart?

Often a source of some very heated debate in online history groups, the spelling of this surname is rather contentious, to say the least. There are some who swear it must be spelled Stewart, as it comes from the word “steward”, while others insist it must be spelled Stuart. So, which is correct?

Truth be told, they are both acceptable, but it makes it easier to stick to the Gallicised (French) version to help differentiate between the Stewart line in Scotland, and those Stewarts who became monarchs over both England and Scotland, beginning in 1603.

Mary, Queen of Scots used Stuart, and she was both a queen of Scotland and a queen of France, so using the Gallicised spelling makes sense because the letter ‘W’ is rarely found in French. Since it was her son, James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England, this continued usage of this spelling is appropriate.

That being said, on the death warrant for James’s son, King Charles I, in 1649, his name was written “Charles Stewart”. The early modern period, in which the Stuart era firmly lies, was significantly more relaxed when it came to spelling than it is in the present day.

It wasn’t always safe to be the ‘favourite’

Throughout British history, the royal favourite was lavished with titles, estates, money and above all, power. These things would, unsurprisingly, arouse envy and hostility in those who were not the favourite.

George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, did just that when he was initially King James I’s favourite, and then the favourite of King Charles I. He became so hated a public figure that when he was eventually assassinated by John Felton in 1628, the general population seemed to have been very well pleased, and they spat and cheered as his coffin was wheeled to Westminster Abbey.

English courtiers at William III’s court became resentful when the Dutch-born Arnold Joost van Keppel became the king’s favourite. Van Keppel, although a blatant womaniser, was the subject of rumours involving him with the king. During the reign of Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, had become used to treating Anne badly. Sarah thought her position of power would last, but Anne rightly put her in her place after Sarah publicly told her to “be quiet!”, leading to a row at Kensington Palace and an end to a lifelong friendship.

Andrea Zuvich is the author of The Stuarts in 100 Facts. You can follow Andrea on Twitter @17thCenturyLady or visit her website www.andreazuvich.com.

This article was first published by History Extra in December 2015


6. Lyness Royal Navy Cemetery

Opened in 1915, Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery located on Hoy Island, is the final burial place of many Royal army members who lost their lives during both world wars. The 600 soldiers laid to rest here include Empire and Commonwealth service personnel, mostly sailors.

According to war documents, more than 440 Commonwealth servicemen buried here were from the First World War, of which 107 remain unidentified.

And around 200 soldiers buried during Second World War include 26 men from H.M.S. “Royal Oak”, which was sunk by a German U-boat.

In addition, there are also the graves of 13 sailors of the German High Seas Fleet. The Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery was closed in 1946, as the navy started shifting its operations from Orkney.


The Tudors: 51 moments that shaped the royal dynasty

The Tudors are one of the best-known royal dynasties in history, popularised by the likes of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I. What are the most important moments that shaped the period? In this timeline spanning the Tudor era, historian Tracy Borman selects 51 pivotal events from 1485–1603…

This competition is now closed

Published: February 16, 2021 at 6:18 am

From Henry VII’s victory at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 to the dazzling reign of Elizabeth I, this chronological guide from historian Tracy Borman charts the history of England’s best-known royal dynasty through the 51 moments that mattered most. Read on to learn about the formidable characters and pivotal events that shaped the Tudor era…

The battle of Bosworth

22 August 1485

The Tudor age began on a remote field in Leicestershire. The battle of Bosworth pitted the forces of the Yorkist king Richard III against those of his Lancastrian challenger, Henry Tudor. Richard’s reign had begun only two years before upon the death of his brother, Edward IV, who appointed him lord protector during the minority of his 12-year-old son and heir, Edward V. But Richard had soon declared Edward and his younger brother illegitimate and claimed the throne for himself – they later became known as the Princes in the Tower. The two boys had disappeared in the Tower of London in the summer of 1483, and had almost certainly been put to death – at whose orders is still hotly debated.

The turbulence that followed presented Henry Tudor, who was waiting in the wings (or rather Brittany), with his chance. Although his claim to the throne was tenuous, he was one of the few surviving Lancastrian descendants and whipped up what support he could for an invasion. His forces were considerably outnumbered by those of the king, but Richard was undone by the treachery of the powerful Stanley brothers, who changed sides halfway through the fighting. He was hacked to death in the heat of the battle. Legend has it that his crown was found under a hawthorn bush and brought to Henry Tudor, who was proclaimed king – Henry VII.

Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York

18 January 1486

Henry Tudor may have triumphed at Bosworth, but his hold on the throne was by no means secure. Many of his subjects saw him as a usurper and there were other claimants with arguably stronger blood claims than his. Henry’s own claim was on the side of his indomitable mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. She was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, fourth son of Edward III, and his third wife (and long-standing mistress) Katherine Swynford. But Katherine had given birth to Henry’s great-grandfather when she was still John’s mistress, so Henry’s claim was through an illegitimate line. It was something of which he was painfully aware and it would make him increasingly paranoid about rival claimants, particularly those of Yorkist descent.

Henry VII therefore decided to boost the legitimacy of the new Tudor dynasty by marrying a bride of that house. And chief among the candidates was Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV. Elizabeth’s beauty and royal blood had attracted other suitors in the past – perhaps including her own uncle, Richard III, who was rumoured to have planned to marry her shortly before Bosworth. Elizabeth proved an excellent choice for his Tudor rival. Just eight months after the wedding, she gave birth to a son, Arthur. Six more children followed, three of whom survived into adulthood. The Tudor dynasty had been established.

Battle of Stoke Field

16 June 1487

Henry VII’s paranoia about rival claimants grew stronger as his reign progressed – with good reason. The 30 years leading up to his accession had seen the crown change hands numerous times, and there was no reason to suspect that this latest king would survive any longer than the one he had usurped. The first serious challenge to Henry’s authority came in 1487 in the form of the 10‑year-old pretender, Lambert Simnel. Struck by the boy’s resemblance to the sons of Edward IV, Simnel’s tutor, Richard Simons, decided to turn kingmaker. At first he planned to masquerade Simnel as Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two princes who had disappeared in the Tower. But when he heard rumours that the princes had been murdered, he switched the boy’s identity to Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of Edward IV’s brother George, Duke of Clarence.

Henry VII had taken the precaution of confining Warwick to the Tower of London, but Simons spread the rumour that he had escaped. Gaining support from those sympathetic to the House of York, he took the boy to Ireland and began to gather an invasion force. Bolstered by 2,000 Flemish, German and Swiss mercenaries sent over by Warwick’s aunt, Margaret of York, Simnel’s army landed in Lancashire on 5 June 1487. They were defeated by the king’s forces at Stoke Field 11 days later in what is commonly regarded as the last battle of the Wars of the Roses. Henry pardoned Simnel and made him a spit-turner in his kitchens.

Henry VIII is born

28 June 1491

By 1491, Henry VII had reason to feel more secure on his throne. He had seen off the early threats to his authority, and his marriage to Elizabeth of York – which, somewhat against the odds, had grown into something of a love match – had yielded a male heir and a daughter, Margaret Tudor. Now, Elizabeth was pregnant again and, in June, she entered her confinement at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich. Originally built by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1443, it remained one of the principal royal palaces for the next two centuries.

The birth of a second son was the cause of great rejoicing for the king, who always had an eye to strengthening his dynasty. The prince was christened Henry and later made Duke of York. He received an excellent education, becoming fluent in Latin and French, and showed a natural aptitude for sports. He spent a great deal of his childhood with his mother at Eltham Palace, and was devastated when she died in February 1503. Given that he had an elder brother, Henry was not expected to be king and it is possible that he was intended for the church – a career that this boisterous young prince was quite unsuited for.

The last pretender is executed

23 November 1499

Little is known of the early life of Perkin Warbeck, although – according to his later confession – he was born in Tournai and began his training as a merchant in Antwerp and other key trading cities in the Netherlands. In 1490, at the age of about 16, he travelled to Burgundy and first made the claim that he was Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the younger son of Edward IV.

Burgundy was a centre for Yorkist sympathisers. Its regent, Margaret, was the sister of Edward IV and willing to support anyone who challenged Henry Tudor’s rule. On 3 July 1495, Warbeck landed at Deal in Kent with a small army provided by Margaret. He was swiftly defeated by Henry’s forces and fled first to Ireland and then Scotland, where he found favour with James IV, who promised to help him invade England. This came to nothing, and Warbeck was on the run once more.

In September 1497, he landed near Land’s End and found ready support among the Cornishmen who had recently rebelled against Henry’s rule. Having been declared Richard IV on Bodmin Moor, he and his army of 6,000 men marched eastwards towards London. But Warbeck was captured at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire.

Although Henry initially showed clemency towards the imposter, even welcoming him to court, Warbeck posed too great a danger to remain at liberty. He was confined to the Tower of London alongside Edward, Earl of Warwick, and the two were executed in November 1499.

Prince Arthur marries Catherine of Aragon

14 November 1501

Henry VII had ambitious marriage plans for his eldest son and heir, Arthur, Prince of Wales. He knew that securing a bride of sufficient stature would not only further legitimise his dynasty, but provide England with a much-needed international ally. The lady upon whom he had set his sights was Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Allying with these powerful Catholic monarchs would greatly strengthen Henry’s hand against England’s traditional enemy, France, so he pursued negotiations with vigour. The Treaty of Medina del Campo was duly signed on 27 March 1489, pledging Arthur and Catherine (then aged two and three) to be married when they came of age.

The Spanish princess eventually arrived in England in October 1501 Catherine and Arthur were married the following month and took up residence at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches.

Death of Arthur, Prince of Wales

2 April 1502

Soon after the marriage Arthur’s health began to fail and, on 2 April 1502, he died, aged just 15, possibly from the sweating sickness. His parents were devastated upon hearing the news – a contemporary account records how the weeping king and queen comforted each other in their grief. Meanwhile, England had a new heir: Henry, Duke of York.

Arthur’s young wife Catherine was then betrothed to Prince Henry, but his father and Catherine’s parents disagreed over her dowry, and Catherine languished in political limbo until after Henry VII’s death.

Arthur’s death certainly changed the course of English history, as Henry succeeded his older brother. Perhaps the largest issue of contention, which directly influenced Henry’s dramatic break with Rome, was whether Catherine and Arthur had consummated their marriage. Although it was never proven one way or the other, Henry claimed it was the catalyst for his later annulment.

Margaret Tudor marries James IV of Scotland

8 August 1503

The eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Margaret was born in 1489. Although it was sons that counted in royal families, daughters were useful for forging alliances even before her sixth birthday, Henry had made plans for Margaret’s marriage. Greatly troubled by the King of Scots’ support for Perkin Warbeck, Henry resolved to tempt him into an alliance by offering his eldest daughter in marriage. A truce was concluded in 1497, but it wasn’t until January 1502 that the marriage treaty was finally agreed. Some of Henry’s councillors were against the match, arguing that it would give the Stuarts a claim to the English throne. But Henry retorted: “I foresee that our realm would suffer no harm, since England would not be absorbed by Scotland, but rather Scotland by England.”

The marriage was completed by proxy a year later at Richmond Palace and, in August 1503, Margaret arrived in Scotland. The wedding ceremony between the ‘thistle and the rose’ was conducted soon after.

Just as Henry’s councillors had predicted, it gave the Scottish rulers a claim to the English throne, although it was one that they would have to wait a while to capitalise upon. A century after the marriage, one of Margaret and James’s descendants would take the English throne.

Death of Henry VII accession of Henry VIII

21 April 1509

The death of his wife and eldest son had plunged Henry VII into a deep melancholy from which he never fully recovered. Increasingly paranoid and miserly, he had failed to win over the English people, but had succeeded in establishing a relatively stable new dynasty – as well as a much healthier treasury. This was the legacy that he passed on to his 17-year-old heir, Henry, upon his death at Richmond Palace in April 1509.

“For the future, the whole world will talk of him,” remarked the Venetian ambassador with remarkable foresight upon the accession of Henry VIII. Everyone was full of praise for this ebullient, charismatic, intelligent and pleasure-loving new king – a true Renaissance prince, and the antithesis of his father in almost every possible way.

Henry had inherited the charm, charisma and good looks of his mother’s family, the House of York. Affable, quick-witted, idealistic and hugely generous, he was “the man most full of heart,” according to Erasmus. As if to distance himself from the old king, one of Henry’s first acts was to have his father’s despised ministers, Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, arrested and executed for high treason. He also took his late brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, as his bride – this would have far-reaching consequences in the years ahead.

Battle of Flodden

9 September 1513

The treaty signed by Henry VII and James IV in 1502 was hardly one of ‘perpetual peace’, as it claimed to be. The long-standing hostilities had resumed soon afterwards and, in 1513, they spilled out into open conflict. James declared war on England to honour the Auld Alliance with France by diverting Henry VIII’s troops away from their campaign against the French king Louis XII. Henry had already antagonised James by claiming to be overlord of Scotland and, in late August 1513, the Scottish king gathered his troops and marched south towards England.

He encountered the English force, under the command of the Earl of Surrey, near the village of Branxton (rather than Flodden, from which the battle of Flodden takes its name) in Northumberland. What followed was the largest clash of arms ever between England and Scotland – and one of the most fiercely contested battles in history. “The battle was cruel, none spared other, and the king himself fought valiantly,” stated one contemporary chronicler.

James paid a high price for his bravery: he was mortally wounded by an arrow as he was advancing upon Surrey. His wife, Margaret, was appointed the formal guardian of their infant son (by now James V), and initially given powers of regency, although these were withdrawn when she remarried.

Wolsey is appointed lord chancellor

24 December 1515

Thomas Wolsey’s rise to power was thanks to his own political guile and the young king’s obvious preference for pleasurable pursuits over the business of government. Having served Henry’s father, Thomas Wolsey rapidly proved his worth to the new king. His servant, George Cavendish, observed how he “dayly attendyd uppon the kyng in the Court beyng in his especyall grace & favour”. His ecclesiastical appointments – notably as archbishop of York and cardinal – were swiftly followed by political ones. Towards the end of 1515, Henry raised him to the position of lord chancellor.

Not long after, Erasmus, who spent some considerable time at Henry’s court, described Wolsey as governing “more really than the king himself”. The fact that Wolsey was merely the son of a butcher made his rise to prominence a bitter pill to swallow for the blue-blooded members of Henry’s council and he soon had a coterie of dangerous enemies. But Wolsey cared little for that and his ambition knew no bounds. In the same year that he was made lord chancellor, he set about building a magnificent new palace for himself – Hampton Court – which he filled with priceless furnishings and works of art, together with a household of more than 400 staff. Soon, envious courtiers were whispering that Wolsey’s magnificence was beginning to eclipse that of his royal master.

Birth of the future Mary I

18 February 1516

Although the early years of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s marriage were happy and harmonious, a string of stillbirths and miscarriages had started to put a strain on their relationship. The joy that accompanied the birth of a son on New Year’s Day 1511 proved short-lived: the little prince died just seven weeks later. The birth of a healthy princess, christened Mary (and later to become Mary I), in February 1516 eased relations between Henry and Catherine. Even though she was not the hoped-for son, she could still be useful in the international marriage market and, more importantly, she was proof that Catherine could bear healthy children.

But Mary would be the only surviving child from the marriage, and Henry became increasingly convinced that he had displeased God by taking his late brother’s widow as a bride. For the first few years of her life, though, Mary was a source of delight to her parents. A pretty and precocious child, she entertained a visiting French delegation with a performance on the virginals when she was just four and a half years old. She would grow to be particularly close to her mother, with whom she shared a devout Roman Catholic faith and a love of all things Spanish. By contrast, her relationship with her father became increasingly strained.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold

7-24 June 1520

Henry VIII and Francis I, king of France, were natural rivals. Close in age, they were both lauded for their good looks, sporting prowess and cultural accomplishments, and had established magnificent courts. But on the surface, they were careful to maintain the impression of cordiality. To this end, they had signed a treaty in 1514 and, six years later, it was decided that the two kings should meet to “increase their bonds of friendship”.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold, which was organised by the Francophile Cardinal Wolsey and took place near Calais in June 1520, was one of the most ostentatious ever seen. This was an opportunity not just for a political rapprochement, but for each king to try to outshine the other. A dazzling array of fireworks, feasts and tournaments was staged, costing Henry and Francis millions in modern-day money. The tents, clothes and other fabrics displayed so much cloth of gold that it gave the meeting its name. The English king triumphed with an enormous temporary palace (covering an area of 10,000 square metres and erected by 6,000 men sent ahead for the purpose) and a wine fountain, but his French rival outwitted him in the field of combat.

Their natural competitiveness ensured that the meeting actually worsened, rather than cemented, their relationship. Within a short time, they were at war again.

Anne Boleyn arrives at court

In 1522 the ambitious politician and diplomat Thomas Boleyn secured a place for the younger of his two daughters, Anne Boleyn, in Catherine of Aragon’s household. Having taken up her appointment, Anne swiftly established herself as one of the leading ladies of the court. What set her apart was her style and sophistication, both of which had been honed to perfection during her service at the French court. Although she had strikingly dark eyes which “invited conversation”, Anne was no great beauty. The Venetian ambassador was clearly bemused by Henry VIII’s later fascination with her. “Madam Anne is not one of the handsomest women in the world,” he wrote. “She is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised.”

The early relationship between Henry and Anne showed little of the intensity that it would later develop. Indeed, Anne had been at court for four years by the time there was any hint of romance. This was very different to Henry’s previous infidelities Anne proved to be the most unyielding of mistresses. She persistently held out against the king’s increasingly fervent advances, insisting that while she might love him in spirit, she could not love him in body unless they were married.

It was an extraordinarily audacious ploy. She would not be a mistress she would be queen.

Exit Wolsey, enter Cromwell

31 October 1529

When Henry’s VIII’s chief adviser Cardinal Wolsey fell from grace in October 1529 for failing to gain his master an annulment from Catherine of Aragon, it was expected that his favourite servant, Thomas Cromwell, would fall with him. Cromwell feared this himself and wept bitter tears of regret. But he soon rallied, pronouncing that he would go to the court and “make or marre”.

Acting as an intermediary between his fallen master and the king had all the makings of a thankless task, but Cromwell turned it to his advantage with spectacular success. Henry was quick to appreciate the skill of this self-trained lawyer and soon put it to his own use. Within days of his arrival, Cromwell had secured a seat in parliament and he was appointed a member of the council the following year. Far from being overawed by such a meteoric rise, he was outspoken and persuasive in his opinions, much to the annoyance of his higher-born colleagues. The similarity between this new kid on the block and the man whom he had effectively replaced could not have been lost on the king. Wolsey and Cromwell shared more than their humble birth: both were highly intelligent, ambitious, audacious and extraordinarily industrious.

But Henry had had his fingers burnt with the cardinal and was not about to entrust another adviser with as much power as he had enjoyed. Cromwell would have to work hard to gain his trust.

Henry marries Anne Boleyn

25 January 1533

In late 1532, Anne Boleyn finally submitted to Henry’s advances and became his mistress. The gamble seemed to have paid off: Eustace Chapuys, the Holy Roman empire’s ambassador to England, noted with some disgust that “the king cannot leave her for an hour”. By December, Anne was pregnant. Her royal lover and his ministers now had to act fast if the baby was to be born legitimate. On 25 January 1533, Henry married Anne in his private chapel at Westminster. The ceremony was conducted in great secrecy, for the divorce from Catherine of Aragon had not yet been secured. Convinced that the child Anne carried was a son, the king immediately ordered Cromwell to legitimise their union. The very day after the wedding, parliament was recalled to pass the necessary legislation. The divorce was finally confirmed on 23 May, and Anne was crowned on 1 June.

But the child that was born to Anne on 7 September was not the expected son and heir. It was a girl. Henry was devastated. He had overturned the entire religious and political life of England in order to marry Anne, on the promise that she would give him the prince upon which the stability of his realm depended. Little did he know that this “useless girl”, Elizabeth, would go on to become the longest-reigning of all the Tudor monarchs, Elizabeth I.

First Act of Supremacy

16 November 1534

In November 1534, during one of the most revolutionary parliaments of the Tudor age, the Act of Supremacy was passed. This legislation is often seen as the beginning of the English Reformation, although the foundations had been laid during the previous five years.

It declared Henry VIII to be supreme head of the Church of England and rejected all “foreign authority”.

At a stroke, this ended centuries of papal jurisdiction over the religious life of England. The initial inspiration for this seismic shift had been the king’s desire for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon: when the pope refused to grant it, Henry’s ministers concluded that the only option was to reject his authority. But the wording of the act made it clear that there were more revolutionary changes to come. It stipulated that Henry and his heirs “shall have full power and authority from time to time to visit, repress, redress, reform, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offences, contempts, and enormities, whatsoever they be”. This gave Cromwell carte blanche to undertake a thoroughgoing reformation of the English church, but its revolutionary tendrils would reach even further than that. By the end of his ascendancy, the entire government of the realm had been overhauled by his reforms.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries

21 January 1535

On 21 January 1535, Henry appointed Cromwell viceregent in spirituals, or ‘vicar-general’. This gave him considerable new powers over the church and he wasted no time in dispatching commissioners across the country to assess the state of each religious house. With typical attention to detail, he even investigated a few himself. Eustace Chapuys reported: “Wherever the King goes, Cromwell, who accompanies him, goes about visiting the abbeys in the neighbourhood, taking inventories of their lands and revenues.”

Motivated as much by tales of widespread corruption as by the prospect of seizing their immense wealth and landholdings, Cromwell began a programme of systematic dissolution which would see the closure and demolition of hundreds of monasteries. At the same time, he organised a series of executions to make an example of those who refused to recognise Henry’s supremacy. Principal among his victims were Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, both of whom had been thrown in the Tower for refusing to sign the oath of supremacy.

When Fisher and More resisted intense pressure from Cromwell to conform, they went to the block. His favour with the king now seemed unassailable. The Venetian ambassador scathingly remarked that although “this Cromwell was a person of low origin and condition he is now Secretary of State, the King’s prime minister, and has supreme authority”.

Anne Boleyn is executed

19 May 1536

Although Henry VIII had pursued Anne Boleyn relentlessly for seven long years, shaking England to its core in the process, once won, she had proved a disappointment. Her high-handed and ‘unqueenly’ manner made her dangerously unpopular and sparked frequent rows with her husband. Most damning of all her ‘sins’, though, was her failure to produce the longed-for Tudor prince. When she miscarried a male foetus on the day of Catherine of Aragon’s funeral in January 1536, things began to unravel rapidly. “This king has not spoken 10 times to the Concubine… when formerly he could not leave her for an hour,” reported a gleeful Eustace Chapuys in February.

Worse still, for Anne, was the fact that her royal husband had already found a new favourite to replace her: the virtuous and rather insipid Jane Seymour. Henry wanted rid of Anne and there was only one man who could fix it: the same man who had arranged the marriage in the first place. Cromwell was swift to act. He gathered ‘evidence’ (flimsy at best) of her adultery with not one but five men, including her own brother. It was one of the most brutal plots in history, resulting in the beheading not only of the queen, but of all her alleged lovers.

Pilgrimage of Grace

1 October 1536

On 1 October 1536 Thomas Kendall, vicar of Louth in Lincolnshire, used his weekly sermon to speak out against the royal commissioners who were expected in the town the following day. It was rumoured that these men were planning to raid all of the local churches, as well as the monasteries, seizing their treasures and laying waste to their adornments. The rumours spread like wildfire and, within days, almost all of northern Lincolnshire was up in arms. Henry VIII’s religious reforms had swiftly sparked widespread resentment among his subjects – and this was the first open expression of their fury.

The uprisings, which became known collectively as the Pilgrimage of Grace, spread rapidly across the northern counties, winning support from nobility and commoners alike. They constituted the greatest threat to Henry’s authority that he had faced during his 27 years on the throne. Although he was inclined to clemency at first, when fresh revolts continued to break out during the early months of 1537, he took swift and brutal action. All the ringleaders were executed, including the most influential: Robert Aske, a one-eyed Yorkshire lawyer, who was hanged from the walls of Clifford’s Tower in York as a grim warning to the inhabitants of that rebellious city. For all his bluster, though, Henry’s confidence in the Reformation had been badly shaken.

Birth of Edward VI

12 October 1537

Henry VIII had married his third wife just 11 days after the execution of his second. Jane Seymour had proved a welcome contrast to Anne Boleyn. Meek and compliant, she was likely to give the king little trouble as a wife. What he hoped she would give him was a son. In May 1537, it was announced at court that the new queen was pregnant. Henry was transported with joy, convinced that this time God would grant him a boy. A mass was held to celebrate later that month.

Jane’s pregnancy progressed without incident and, in the middle of September, she began her confinement at Hampton Court. The king and his courtiers waited anxiously for news as Jane’s labour dragged on for two days and three nights. Finally, at about two o’clock on the morning of 12 October, the child was born. It was a boy. Henry’s long struggle for a son and heir was over at last. There was great rejoicing throughout the court and beyond. England had a male heir her troubles would surely now be over. But Jane never recovered from the long and tortuous birth. She died, possibly of puerperal fever, some 12 days later. The grief-stricken king lamented: “Divine Providence has mingled my joy with the bitterness of the death of her who brought me to this happiness.”

Every parish is given an English Bible

One of the greatest legacies of the English Reformation was to provide every parish church in the country with a copy of the Bible in English. This gave the king’s subjects direct access to the word of God for the first time in history. The move was masterminded by Thomas Cromwell, whose reforming drive was motivated by personal piety, not just a desire to swell the royal coffers. So committed was he to the project that he had contributed £400 of his own money to bring it to fruition.

In 1538, he ordered that “one book of the whole Bible of the largest volume in English” should be set up in every church, so “that every man having free access to it by reading of the same may both be the more apt to understand the declaration of it at the preacher’s mouth, and also the more able to teach and instruct his wife, children and family at home”. The task of distributing copies of the ‘Great Bible’, translated by Miles Coverdale, to all 8,500 parishes in the country was a gargantuan one. It took several false starts before it was finally achieved.

Did you know…? Tudor London was a mudbath

Andreas Franciscius, an Italian visitor to London in 1497, was horrified by what he found. Although he admired the “fine” architecture, he was disgusted by the “vast amount of evil-smelling mud” that covered the streets and lasted a long time – nearly the whole year round.

The citizens, therefore, in order to remove this mud and filth from their boots, are accustomed to spread fresh rushes on the floors of all houses, on which they clean the soles of their shoes when they come in.”

Franciscius added disapprovingly that the English people had “fierce tempers and wicked dispositions”, as well as “a great antipathy to foreigners”.

Henry VIII marries Anne of Cleves

6 January 1540

Within weeks of the death of the king’s third wife, Jane Seymour, the search was on for a successor. With no obvious home-grown candidate, the net had to be cast further afield. Anne, daughter of the Duke of Cleves, soon became the lead contender. Her father had expelled papal authority from his realm and was therefore a natural ally for the English king.

But Henry’s ambassadors admitted they had heard “no great praise either of her personage or of her beauty”, so Henry demanded that Holbein be dispatched to Cleves to paint Anne’s likeness. The result was flattering enough to convince him that she would make a pleasant wife and the marriage treaty was duly signed. But when Henry met Anne of Cleves upon her arrival in England in December 1539, he was bitterly disappointed. “I like her not! I like her not!” he shouted at a dismayed Cromwell, and ordered him to find a way out of the marriage.

But the treaty was binding it was with extreme reluctance that Henry was obliged to “put his neck in the yoke” and marry Anne on 6 January 1540. He found his bride so repugnant that he was unable to consummate the union. This at least made it easier to secure an annulment, which Henry succeeded in doing just six months later on the grounds that Anne had been betrothed to someone else before their marriage.

Cromwell goes to the block

28 July 1540

In a move that sent shockwaves across the court, Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, was arrested at a meeting of the Privy Council on 10 June 1540. His fall from grace had been spectacular, even in a court renowned for its swift turns of fortune: just two months earlier, the king had shown Cromwell great favour by making him Earl of Essex. The coup was almost certainly engineered by the minister’s arch rivals, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, who had long sought his destruction.

A bill of attainder was passed on 29 June. This claimed that the base-born minister had plotted to make himself more powerful than the king in all matters – political as well as religious – and had thus committed high treason, for which Cromwell was condemned to die. It went on to list a host of trumped-up charges, the most outlandish being that he had plotted to marry the king’s eldest daughter, Mary. A beleaguered Cromwell wrote a long and impassioned letter to his royal master from the Tower, begging for “mercye mercye mercye”’. His plea fell on deaf ears and, on 28 July, Cromwell was beheaded with three blows of the bungling executioner’s axe. Within a few short months, Henry was bemoaning the death of “the most faithful servant he had ever had”.

Catherine Howard is executed

13 February 1542

Henry VIII married his fifth wife on the very same day as Cromwell’s execution. Catherine Howard was only about 16 years old, making her the king’s junior by more than 30 years. A lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves, Catherine had quickly beguiled the king with her seductive charms. But the new queen’s past did not bear scrutiny. Her first sexual liaison was with her music teacher when she may have been as young as 12 and it had been followed by a relationship with her kinsman, Francis Dereham.

None of this was known to Henry, who prized chastity in his brides. Neither was he aware that, not long after the wedding, Catherine began an illicit affair with Thomas Culpepper, a gentleman of the privy chamber. When their affair was discovered, an investigation was launched into the queen’s conduct. Her previous indiscretions soon came to light. Confronted with the evidence, Catherine confessed on 8 November 1541. Her affair with Culpepper had been testified to by her lady-in-waiting, Jane Rochford, as well as by a love letter that Catherine had written to him, which she had signed: “Yours, as long as life endures.” Meanwhile, Dereham, she said, had used her “in such sort as a man doth use his wife many and sundry times”. Heartbroken and humiliated, Henry had no hesitation in sending her to the block.


10. Her cause of death remains unknown

There have been many controversies regarding Cleopatra’s death by suicide. Legend has it that she killed herself by using an asp – probably an Egyptian cobra – to bite her, yet the writer Plutarch concedes that “what truly occurred is known to nobody.” He says Cleopatra was also known to conceal poison in one of her hairbrushes, and the Greek historian Strabo notes that she may have suffered “a deadly treatment.” Research suggests that she probably did die from some sort of poison, but nothing has been proven.