Interesting facts & stories picked at random from the history of the Royal Family.
A new form of address developed during king Richard II's reign (1377-1399); where the king had previously been addressed simply as "Highness", now "royal MAJESTY", or "high MAJESTY" were often used.
Starting in August 1417, it was Henry V (r.1413-1422) who promoted the use of the ENGLISH LANGUAGE in government & his reign marks the appearance of Chancery Standard English as well as the adoption of English as the language of record within government. He was the first king to use English in his personal correspondence since the Norman conquest 350 years earlier.
Queen Regent inspires her troops
In 1513, Henry VIII appointed his wife Katharine of Aragon Regent in England with the titles "Governor of the Realm & Captain General," while he went to France on a military campaign. During that time the English won the Battle of Flodden against the Scots. Katharine rode north in full armour to address the troops, despite being pregnant at the time.
Her speech was reported to the historian Peter Martyr d'Anghiera in Valladolid within a fortnight. Although an Italian newsletter said she was 100 miles (160 km) north of London when news of the victory at Battle of Flodden Field reached her, she was near Buckingham. From Woburn Abbey she sent a letter to Henry along with a piece of the bloodied coat of King James IV of Scotland, who died in the battle, for Henry to use as a banner at the siege of Tournai.
Katharine's letter to Henry VIII;
My Lord Howard hath sent me a letter open to your Grace, within one of mine, by the which you shall see at length the great Victory that our Lord hath sent your subjects in your absence; & for this cause there is no need herein to trouble your Grace with long writing, but, to my thinking, this battle hath been to your Grace and all your realm the greatest honor that could be, & more than you should win all the crown of France; thanked be God of it, & I am sure your Grace forgetteth not to do this, which shall be cause to send you many more such great victories, as I trust he shall do. My husband, for hastiness, with Rougecross I could not send your Grace the piece of the King of Scots coat which John Glynn now brings. In this your Grace shall see how I keep my promise, sending you for your banners a king’s coat. I thought to send himself unto you, but our Englishmens’ hearts would not suffer it. It should have been better for him to have been in peace than have this reward. All that God sends is for the best.
My Lord of Surrey, my Henry, would fain know your pleasure in the burying of the King of Scots’ body, for he has written to me so. With the next messenger your Grace’s pleasure may be herein known. And with this I make an end, praying God to send you home shortly, for without this no joy here can be accomplished; & for the same I pray, and now go to Our Lady of Walsingham that I promised so long ago to see. At Woburn the 16th of September.
I send your Grace herein a bill found in a Scotsman’s purse of such things as the French King sent to the said King of Scots to make war against you, beseeching you to send Mathew hither as soon as this messenger comes to bring me tidings from your Grace.
Your humble wife & true servant, Katharine.
William the Bastard (r.1066-1087)
William the Conqueror was known as ‘William the Bastard’ during his lifetime, being the result of his father’s affair with a tanner’s daughter – but never to his face. When offended, he was known to order a person’s tongue to be cut out & nailed to a door!
The White Tower, centrepiece of the Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, & was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite.
He was an exceptionally brutal monarch who, after an uprising in York, sent his army north with orders to kill every man, woman & child living there. Around 150,000 people died & much of the north of England was depopulated for generations. Contemporary chronicles vividly record the savagery of the campaign, the huge scale of the destruction & the widespread famine caused by looting, burning & slaughtering.
Chronicler Orderic Vitalis wrote;
'The King stopped at nothing to hunt his enemies. He cut down many people & destroyed homes & land. Nowhere else had he shown such cruelty. This made a real change. To his shame, William made no effort to control his fury, punishing the innocent with the guilty. He ordered that crops & herds, tools & food be burned to ashes. More than 100,000 people perished of starvation. I have often praised William in this book, but I can say nothing good about this brutal slaughter. God will punish him.'
William died putting down a rebellion in Normandy in 1087. Towards his end, William had become obese, & his body swelled further on its journey to Caen to be buried. It would not fit his coffin & had to be forced in. During the struggle to force him in, his abdomen burst open. The smell was truly horrendous & they couldn’t get the lid on fast enough! A 'fitting' end I must add!
Prince William's 'Harry Potter' Scar
On 3 June 1991, William was admitted to Royal Berkshire Hospital after being accidentally hit on the side of the forehead by a fellow student wielding a golf club. He did not lose consciousness, but suffered a depressed fracture of the skull and was operated on at Great Ormond Street Hospital, resulting in a permanent scar. In a 2009 interview, he dubbed this scar a "Harry Potter scar". He said, "I call it (the scar) that because it glows sometimes and some people notice it - other times they don't notice it at all".
Henry V's arrow wound
The then 16 year old Prince Henry, Prince of Wales was hit in the face with an arrow during the BATTLE OF SHREWSBURY, (a rebellion against his father, King Henry IV) during the fighting, sustaining a terrible facial wound. He later recovered due to the excellent treatment of the Physician General John Bradmore, who used honey, alcohol & a specially designed surgical instrument to extract the arrowhead. He was left with a permanent scar.
Henry was described as having been "very tall (6ft 3 in), slim, with dark hair cropped in a ring above the ears, & clean-shaven". His complexion was ruddy, the face lean with a prominent & pointed nose. Depending on his mood, his eyes "flashed from the mildness of a dove's to the brilliance of a lion's".
King George V the stamp collector
King George V was an avid stamp collector.
Even before becoming king, George became a keen stamp collector. The embryo collection, already of some value, was a gift from his father the Prince of Wales, (later Edward VII), who had, in turn, bought it from his uncle, Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, as the clearance of a debt. All over the world, governors & high commissioners of British Colonies were instructed to look out for new issues & dispatch them to the monarch forthwith to augment the future king's collection.
By 1904 the King had acquired both the Penny & Two Pence ‘Post Office’ Mauritius of 1847 – the world’s most prized stamps. The first of these was bought from the Earl of Kintore’s collection, while the second was acquired at auction in 1904 for a then record price of £ 1,450!
When a courtier asked the Prince if he had seen that ‘some damned fool had paid as much as £ 1,450 pounds for one stamp’, the reply from the Prince came: ‘I was that damned fool!.’ oops!
When in London, the King would spend three afternoons a week with his stamp collection & was rarely interrupted. As well as collecting, he also took a great interest in stamp designs. Stamp-sized artists’ sketches were submitted for his approval, & then returned to him for inclusion in the collection after the final versions had been printed.
When George died in 1936, the King’s collection consisted of some 250,000 stamps in 328 large red volumes, each of about 60 pages. The strength of the Royal collection lies in its completeness. Regardless of their attractiveness, George V never neglected any stamp issue with good provenance.
Later monarchs added their own albums to the Royal Philatelic Collection, & these include George VI’s Blue Albums & Elizabeth II’s Green Albums.
Buckingham Palace gardens
The site where Buckingham Palace now stands used to be a mulberry garden, planted by King James VI & I in which to rear silkworms. In 1608 the King, in an attempt to provide impetus to the British silk industry, issued an edict encouraging the cultivation of mulberry trees & paid £ 935 ‘for the charge of 4 acres of land taken for His Majesty’s use, near to the Palace of Westminster, for the planting of Mulberry tree.’ Unfortunately James chose to grow the black, not the white mulberry, & as a result silk production never took off in Britain, but one of the original trees still survives, & bears fruit, in the Palace garden.
The modern garden dates from 1825, when George IV began the conversion of the former Buckingham House to a Palace. He appointed William Townsend Aiton, the head of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, to oversee the remodelling of the grounds & the creation of the lake; many of the trees planted under Aiton’s supervision still form the structure of the garden today.
Later, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth cleared many of the dense Victorian shrubberies themselves & introduced a wide selection of decorative flowering trees & scented shrubs.
Also in the garden is a tennis court where Björn Borg, John McEnroe & Steffi Graf have all played.
Rollo - the legendary Viking warrior
Rollo (Norman: Rou; Old Norse: Hrólfr; French: Rollon; c. 860 – c. 930 AD) was a Viking who became the first ruler of Normandy, a region in northern France. He is sometimes called the first Duke of Normandy. The earliest well-attested historical event associated with Rollo is his part in leading the Vikings who besieged Paris in 885–886 but were fended off by Odo of France.
10th-century Norman historian Dudo records that when Rollo took Bayeux by force, he carried off with him the beautiful Popa or Poppa (born c. 880), a daughter of Berenger, Count of Rennes, took her in marriage & with her had their son & Rollo's heir, William Longsword.
His son & grandson, William Longsword & Richard I, used the titles "count" (Latin comes or consul) & "prince" (princeps), respectively. His great-grandson Richard II was the first to officially use the title of Duke of Normandy.
He emerged as the outstanding warrior among the Norsemen who had secured a permanent foothold on Frankish soil in the valley of the lower Seine. After the Siege of Chartres in 911, Charles the Simple, the king of West Francia (Western France), ceded them lands between the mouth of the Seine & what is now Rouen in exchange for Rollo agreeing to end his brigandage, & provide the Franks with protection against future Viking raids. Rollo is first recorded as the leader of these Viking settlers in a charter of 918, & he continued to reign over the region of Normandy until at least 928.
He was succeeded by his son William Longsword in the Duchy of Normandy that he had founded. The offspring of Rollo & his followers became known as the Normans (from Old Low Franconian Nortmann "Northman").
Did You Know? Rollo is the 31st great grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II, & Queen Elizabeth II is the 31st great granddaughter of Rollo.
Photo by; Delusion23 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
HMY Britannia was used for four royal honeymoons, but sadly all four marriages ended unhappily. For Princess Margaret & Lord Snowdon; Princess Anne & Mark Phillips, Prince Andrew & Sarah Ferguson and Prince Charles & Diana their matches all ended in divorce.
George IV was responsible for a shift in fashion. After a tax was put on wig powder by political opponents, he stopped wearing them in favour of his natural hair, helping to put an end to wearing powdered wigs.
Wearing wigs became the fashion in the 16th century as a means of compensating for hair loss or improving one's personal appearance. They also served a practical purpose: the unhygienic conditions of the time meant that hair attracted head lice, a problem that could be much reduced if natural hair were shaved & replaced with a more easily de-loused artificial hairpiece. Royal patronage was crucial to the revival of wearing wigs.
Queen Elizabeth I of England wore a red wig, tightly & elaborately curled in a "Roman" style, while among men King Louis XIII of France (1601–1643) started wig-wearing in 1624, due to hair loss. This fashion was largely promoted by his son & successor Louis XIV of France (1638–1715), which contributed to its spread in European & European-influenced countries.
Perukes or periwigs for men were introduced into the English-speaking world with other French styles when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, (in exile he's spent a lot of his time in France). These wigs were shoulder-length or longer, imitating the long hair that had become fashionable among men since the 1620's. Their use quickly became popular in the English court.
With wigs virtually obligatory for men with social rank, wigmakers gained considerable prestige. Wigmaking was a skilled job as 17th century wigs were extremely elaborate, covering the back & shoulders & flowing down the chest; not surprisingly, they were also extremely heavy & often uncomfortable to wear. These wigs were very expensive to produce. The best examples were made from natural human hair. The hair of horses & goats was often used as a cheaper alternative!
In the 18th century, men's wigs were 'powdered' to give them their distinctive white or off-white color. Women in the 18th century didn't wear wigs, but wore coiffures supplemented by artificial hair or hair from other sources. Women mainly powdered their hair grey, or blue-ish grey, & from the 1770's onwards never bright white like men.
Wig powder was made from finely ground starch that was scented with orange flower, lavender, or orris root. Wig powder sometimes coloured violet, blue, pink or yellow, but was most often off-white.
Powdered wigs (men) & powdered natural hair with supplemental hairpieces (women) became essential for full dress occasions & continued in use until almost the end of the 18th century. This form of wigs worn at the coronation of George III in 1761 was lampooned by William Hogarth in his engraving Five Orders of Periwigs. Powdering wigs & extensions was messy & inconvenient, & the development of the naturally white or off-white powderless wig (made of horsehair) for men made the retention of wigs in everyday court dress a practical possibility. By the 1780's, young men were setting a fashion trend by lightly powdering their natural hair, as women had already done from the 1770's onwards. After 1790, both wigs & powder were reserved for older, more conservative men, & were in use by ladies being presented at court. After 1790, English women rarely powdered their hair.
In 1795, the British government placed a tax on hair powder of one guinea per year. This tax effectively caused the demise of both the fashion for wigs & powder. George IV stopped wearing them as a result, the fashion thankfully died out!
George also popularised a high collar with neck cloth because it his his double chin. George became obese due to his extravagant lifestyle, more on that later on.
Portrait: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020
Other notable wearers of the high collar (due to fashion, not hiding a double chin!) were two of England's greatest heroes;
George IV's indulgent lifestyle
George IV's heavy drinking & indulgent lifestyle had taken their toll on his health by the late 1820's. Through huge banquets & huge amounts of alcohol, he had become obese, making him the target of ridicule on his rare occasions in public.
His weight had reached 17 stone 7 pounds (111 kg; 245 lb) by 1797, & by 1824 his corset waist size was 50 inches (130 cm). The artist Sir David Wilkie reported the King "was wasting away frightfully day after day", & had become so obese that he looked "like a great sausage stuffed into the covering"
The King took laudanum to counteract severe bladder pains, which left him in a drugged & mentally handicapped state for days on end. In 1830 his weight was recorded to be 20 stone (130 kg; 280 lb).
The Duke of Wellington wrote in April 1830 that the King had consumed for breakfast "a Pidgeon & Beef Steak Pye...Three parts of a bottle of Mozelle, a Glass of Dry Champagne, two Glasses of Port [and] a Glass of Brandy", followed by a large dose of laudanum!
George IV reigned as king from 29 January 1820 – 26 June 1830
Queen Elizabeth I’s education
Elizabeth's governess was Catherine Champernowne, better known by her later, married name of Catherine "Kat" Ashley, was appointed in 1537 & she remained Elizabeth's friend until her death in 1565. Champernowne taught Elizabeth four languages: French, Flemish, Italian & Spanish.
By the time William Grindal became her tutor in 1544, Elizabeth could write English, Latin, & Italian. Under Grindal, a talented & skilful tutor, she also progressed in French & Greek. After Grindal died in 1548, Elizabeth received her education under Roger Ascham, a teacher who believed that learning should be engaging. By the time her formal education ended in 1550, she was one of the most educated women of her generation.
By the end of her life, Elizabeth was also believed to speak Welsh, Cornish, Scottish & Irish in addition to English.
The Venetian ambassador stated in 1603 that she "possessed [these] languages so thoroughly that each appeared to be her native tongue". Historian Mark Stoyle suggests that she was probably taught Cornish by William Killigrew, Groom of the Privy Chamber & later Chamberlain of the Exchequer.
Queen Victoria’s love of donkeys
Queen Victoria was so fond of her donkeys that one of them, named Jacquot, even travelled abroad with her to destinations such as Florence in her later years. The duty of this intelligent creature, with a white nose & curiously knotted tail, was to pull ‘the Queen’s Chair’. A little four-wheeled carriage rather like a sprung bath chair, with rubber tyres & a low step up to an interior upholstered in plain dark blue, with cushions in the same colour.
Jacquot was special for good reason. One day, whilst driving through the outskirts of Nice, in France, Victoria saw a half starved & overworked donkey being ‘shamefully belaboured’ by two boys. After making enquiries, she purchased the animal & had him shipped to England. Thereafter Jacquot accompanied her everywhere, with Her Majesty always at the reins – but with a ‘trusty groom’ at the head & ‘a Highland attendant’ at the rear to ensure her safety & security.
Queen Victoria & her Border Collies
After her beloved Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria took great solace in the companionship of her pet Border collies, who accompanied her everywhere.
First of her favourites was Sharp, acquired in 1866 & said to be ‘discriminating in his loyalty’ with allegiance to only a few people, including John Brown (a Scottish personal attendant & favourite of Victoria).
Sharp also had a reputation for looking for fights with other dogs, but Victoria doted on him, had his portrait painted, his replica made in porcelain & silver statuettes &, after he died in 1879 at the age of 15, had a monument bearing his sculpture erected in the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Noble, another collie, was a member of the royal kennels from 1872 to 1887, & commemorated with a life-size bronze statue. He was a more docile character, described by Victoria as ‘the most “biddable” dog I ever saw & so affectionate & kind…’ When Noble became ill she even called on her personal physician, Sir James Reid, to administer medicine to the animal. When he died Victoria mourned Noble greatly, believing that he had a soul & a life after death.
Finally, Roy was the Queen’s companion Border collie, along with a fox terrier named Spot & a spitz named Marco, all three of them accompanying her on her donkey cart drives around Balmoral. The Queen possessed many other dogs during her lifetime, here a some more;
Golfing royals of Scotland
At first the Scottish monarchy was against it. Golf, James II of Scotland, said "was interfering with archery practice &, on Sundays, taking precedence over church attendance". So in 1457 he banned it.
But in 1501 James IV had his treasurer pay 14 shillings to a bowmaker in Perth to supply him with golf clubs. From then on a series of bills were paid on the King’s behalf – for golfing equipment & lost bets. James IV certainly played a game of golf with the 2nd Earl of Bothwell in 1504, & to ensure that golf ball manufacture remained local, he granted a monopoly to three Scotsmen with the proviso that the price of each ball should not exceed 4 shillings.
Mary Queen of Scots became an avid golfer, kept a cottage at St Andrews, & is said to have presented her opponent, Mary Seton, with a necklace after losing to her. Mary later became the subject of great criticism when, in 1567, the Earl of Moray accused her of playing golf at Seton House, east of Musselburgh in East Lothian, only days after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley – a murder in which Mary herself was implicated. Just 13 weeks later, on 15 May, Mary married the Earl of Bothwell – probably the murder culprit – & to appease his anger in their tempestuous relationship gave up not only golf but also other pleasures including hunting, playing cards & music.
Peggy the Shetland Pony
King George V, her grandfather, gave the Queen her first pony when she was four years old. This was a Shetland pony called 'Peggy', on which she learned to ride. The Queen continues to ride at Sandringham, Balmoral and Windsor.
The Queen & the astronauts
On 5 February 1954, the Queen received the first woman in space, Valentina Tereschkova, & almost exactly 15 years later, in 1969, met Colonel Frank Borman, who led the first team of American astronauts to circle the Moon. In the same year, a ‘micro-filmed’ message from the Queen was deposited by the Apollo 11 astronauts during the first landing on the Moon.
The message read: "On behalf of the British people I salute the skill & courage which have brought man to the Moon. May this endeavour increase the knowledge & well-being of mankind".
In October 1969 the crew of Apollo 11 visited London & were received at Buckingham Palace by the Queen & the Royal Family. The crew presented the Queen with a replica of the silicon disc that carried her message to them, which was left on the Moon.
Photograph above: HM the Queen talking to Astronauts (l-r): Mike Collins, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin during their visit to Buckingham Palace, 15 October 1969. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020
From the National Space Centre in Leicester, in August 2002, Her Majesty spoke via video link with NASA, saying that over the Jubilee summer she had travelled widely but hoped that she would be ‘forgiven for having limited my tour to the Earth’s surface!’. During a State Visit to the USA in May 2007, the Queen & the Duke of Edinburgh visited NASA Goddard Space Flight Center & spoke directly via a live video link-up to astronauts orbiting the Earth. British astronaut, Michael Foale, gave the Queen a virtual guided tour of the flight centre.
In 1886 King Leopold II of the Belgians gave racing pigeons to the Royal Family as a gift & they used them to start a racing loft on the Sandringham Estate. Both Edward VII & George V enjoyed success with their racing pigeons, including first prizes in the national race from Lerwick in the Shetland Isles.
Pigeons from the Royal loft were used as carrier pigeons during the First & Second World Wars with one bird winning the 'Dickin Medal for Gallantry' for its role in reporting a lost aircraft in 1940.
Following the war, pigeons returned to racing, gaining further wins in national & international races. Today, The Queen maintains an interest in the Royal pigeon lofts & regularly visits when in Sandringham.
160 mature pigeons are currently kept in the lofts at along with 80 young pigeons. Though some of these are ‘stock’ animals used purely for breeding, the majority are used for racing.
The Queen is President of a number of pigeon racing societies in recognition of her interest in the sport, most notably the racing Association & the National Flying Association.
The garden party
The first royal garden parties were instigated by George IV. Although she called them ‘breakfasts’, the Buckingham Palace garden parties held by Queen Victoria in the 1860's took place in the afternoon & were occasions for receiving debutantes ‘coming out’.
Today, three parties for some 8,000 guests rewarded for public service are held each year in July, whatever the weather. Following the National Anthem, the Queen & Prince Philip circulate amongst the guests.
The Royal Mews
Queen Victoria described the Royal Mews as ‘a small village which belongs to Buckingham Palace’ & it was here at the Royal Mews, which during her reign was home to some 200 horses, that her children learned to ride & where she established a school for the children of Royal Mews workers.
The Mews, which date back to the reign of Richard II (r.1377-1399) when they were based on the site of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, were originally used to house the monarch’s falcons, but from the 16th century became stabling for horses.
The present Royal Family have made good use of them, & as children Prince Charles & Princess Anne were taken there by the Queen to feed sugar lumps to the horses. From 1969 the Mews was home to Burmese, a gift to Elizabeth II from the Canadian Mounted Police & her regular mount for the Trooping of the Colour until 1986.
Several weeks ahead of the ceremony the Queen would practise riding side-saddle at the Mews. Although she now attends the ceremony in an open carriage, she still knows the name of every horse in the Mews.
Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor
When H. G. Wells wrote about Britain's "alien & uninspiring court", George replied: "I may be uninspiring, but I'll be damned if I'm alien."
On 17 July 1917, George appeased British anti-German feelings by issuing a royal proclamation that changed the name of the British royal house from the German-sounding House of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha to the House of Windsor.
The king & all his British relatives relinquished their German titles & styles, & adopted 'British'-sounding surnames.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh's maternal grandfather Admiral of the Fleet Prince Louis of Battenberg relinquished the title Prince of Battenberg in the Grand Duchy of Hesse, along with the style of Serene Highness. At the same time, Louis anglicised his family name, changing it from "Battenberg" to "Mountbatten", having considered but rejected "Battenhill" as an alternative.
George compensated his male relatives by creating them British peers. His cousin, Prince Louis of Battenberg, who earlier in the war had been forced to resign as First Sea Lord through anti-German feeling, became Louis Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Milford Haven, while Queen Mary's brothers (Teck) became Adolphus Cambridge, 1st Marquess of Cambridge, & Alexander Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone.
George V & the Great War
During the First World War King George V took his ceremonial duties seriously. Along with, Queen Mary, he made hundreds of official tours to review troops, inspect factories & shipyards, & visit hospitals.
On a tour of the Western Front in 1915, during an inspection of British troops, he was thrown from a horse & suffered a broken pelvis, he was injured to the point that he endured pain & discomfort for the rest of his life.
"The king rode along the first three or four ranks, then crossed the road to the other three of four ranks on the other side, speaking to an officer there. Our instructions had been that at the end of the conclusion of the parade we were to put our caps on the points of our fixed bayonets & wave & cheer. So that's what we did - 'Hip, hip, hooray.' Well, the King’s horse reared & he fell off. He just seemed to slide off & so the second 'Hip, hip, hooray' fizzled out. It was quite a fiasco & you should have seen the confusion as these other high-ranking officers rushed to dismount & go to the King’s assistance. They got him up & the last we saw of him was being hurriedly driven away!
- Corporal Edward Glendinning, 12th Battalion, Notts & Derby Regiment. Extract taken from Forgotten Voices of the Great War by Max Arthur.
The war directly affected the Royal Family in many other ways. The king’s two eldest sons both served in uniform: the Prince of Wales, the later Edward, Duke of Windsor (1894-1972), in a staff position with the army behind the Western Front, Prince Albert, the future George VI, King of Great Britain (1895-1952), on HMS Collingwood during the Battle of Jutland.
He also implemented an austerity regime in the Royal Household & rarely wore anything during the war other than military uniform. To aid the war effort, poussins & lamb were excluded from the royal menu & replaced by small quantities of mutton & fowls. To save on laundry, napkins were reused at family meals & kept in napkin rings.
In addition, the King helped to dig up the gardens at Windsor for planting potatoes. He rarely went out to dine or to visit the theatre, & gave away almost his entire civilian wardrobe.
On 10 August 1916, George V sailed to France on the SS Invicta. For the next five days he visited troops of various nations, including those from Australia, New Zealand & Canada, & he inspected many trenches, including Pozières, Fricourt & Mametz. George V inspected the Somme Offensive at first hand between 3 and 12 July 1917. He visited Coxyde, Helfant, the Wytschaete Ridge & the Messines battlefields.
King Richard I was known as Coeur de Lion, or Richard the Lionheart, even before his accession, because of his reputation as a great military leader & warrior. He was leading armies from the age of sixteen.
Richard takes the cross
Richard had already taken the cross (committed himself to the Crusade) as Count of Poitou in 1187, before becoming king of England in 1189. When the three greatest rulers of Europe – King Philip Augustus of France, King Richard I of England, & the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa – assumed the cross, it seemed that nothing could prevent the restoration of Christian supremacy in Syria. These great rulers set out, each at the head of a large army, for the recovery of the Holy City of Jerusalem.
After some time spent in Sicily, Richard left Messina for Acre in April 1191, but a storm separated his fleet. He later discovered that the ship carrying his sister Joan & his new fiancée, Berengaria of Navarre, was on the south coast of Cyprus, along with the wrecks of several other vessels, including the treasure ship. Survivors of the wrecks had been taken prisoner by the island's ruler, Isaac Komnenos.
Lionheart to the rescue
In early May Richard's fleet arrived in the port of Lemesos (Limassol) on Cyprus. He ordered Isaac to release the prisoners & treasure, but Isaac refused. Richard landed his troops & took Limassol. Various princes of the Holy Land arrived in Limassol at the same time, in particular Guy of Lusignan. All declared their support for Richard provided that he support Guy against his rival, Conrad of Montferrat.
Richard's troops, led by Guy de Lusignan, conquered the whole island by 1 June. Isaac surrendered & was confined with silver chains because Richard had promised that he would not place him in irons. He later sold the island to the master of Knights Templar, Robert de Sablé.
The rapid conquest of the island by Richard was of strategic importance. The island occupies a key position on the maritime lanes to the Holy Land, whose occupation by the Christians could not continue without support from the sea. Richard's exploits were well publicised & only added to his immense reputation. He also derived significant financial gains from the conquest of Cyprus. Richard left the island for Acre on 5 June with his allies.
Before leaving Cyprus, Richard married Berengaria, a daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre. Richard first grew close to her during a tournament held in Navarre. The wedding was held in Limassol on 12 May 1191 at the Chapel of St George & was attended by Richard's sister Joan, whom he had brought from Sicily. The marriage was celebrated with great pomp & splendour, many feasts & entertainments, & public parades & celebrations followed commemorating the event. Richard took his new wife on crusade with him briefly, though they returned separately. Berengaria had almost as much difficulty in making the journey home as her husband did, & she did not see England until after his death.
Richard & Saladin
For two years Richard I was engaged in almost daily combat against the Mohammedans for the possession of the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. The Mohammedans’ leader was Saladin, who was as dignified & chivalrous as Richard himself. Once, when Richard was sick with fever, Saladin sent him a gift of the choicest fruits of the land. And on another occasion, Richard’s horse having been killed in battle, Saladin sent a fine Arabian steed to the Christian camp as a present for his rival. Chivalry at its best! Richard was a central Christian commander during the Third Crusade**, leading the campaign after the departure of Philip II of France & achieving considerable victories against his Muslim counterpart, Saladin, although he did not retake Jerusalem from Saladin.
**The Third Crusade (1189–1192) was an attempt by the leaders of the three most powerful states of Western Christianity (England, France, & the Holy Roman Empire) to reconquer the Holy Land following the capture of Jerusalem by the Ayyubid sultan Saladin in 1187. Despite success, in recapturing the important cities of Acre & Jaffa, & reversing most of Saladin's conquests, it failed to recapture Jerusalem, which was the major aim of the Crusade & its religious focus.
Bad King John
John Lackland, so nicknamed because his father gave him no lands, was the fourth child of Henry II. He hated his brother Richard & plotted against him while he was away on the third crusade. Shortly after being crowned, & having lost a major battle to take France, John found himself with only England to rule, & he made of mess of that too.
John was short & fat, has been described as ‘the worst English king’, & was excommunicated by the Pope. He was cruel & avaricious. He was so disliked by the people that his barons took him to Runnymede where they forced him to sign the Magna Carta, the Great Charter, which reinstated the rights of all his subjects. The principal clause of the Magna Carta is that ‘No freeman shall be seized or imprisoned, or dispossessed, or outlawed, save by legal judgement of his peers or by the laws of the land’. King John signed Magna Carta under duress. But the Pope supported him, claiming the charter was an attack on royal authority.
Did you know? two of his daughters became Queens. Joan was Queen of Scotland (1221-1238), after marrying Alexander II, king of Scots, & Isabella was Holy Roman Empress (1235-1241), Queen of the Germans (1235-37), & queen consort of Sicily (1235-1241), after marrying Frederick, Holy Roman Emperor.
Menagerie at The Tower of London
King Henry III kept a quartet of lions in the Tower of London. They were called Fanny, Miss Fanny, Miss Howe & Miss Fanny Howe. Henry received a polar bear from the King of Norway. It was allowed to hunt for fish in the River Thames on the end of a long rope. The first elephant in England was a gift to King Henry III from the King of France.
Henry VIII - Fighting fit to incapacitation
When he came to the throne in April 1509, Henry then a 17 years old, was 6ft 2in (1.8m) tall, with a pale skin, blue eyes & auburn hair. A Venetian wrote: ‘His Majesty is the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on, a vigorous player of tennis, rider of horses, a skilled wrestler’.
By 1512, however, as judged by his suits of armour, he had a 32in (80cm) waist, which had increased to a massive 54in (1.35m) by 1545. As he aged, Henry suffered increasing bouts of ill health, with swollen joints & an ulcerated leg, possibly also caused by a jousting mishap.
By the time he was 54 he could barely walk, was carried around on a wooden chair, had to be winched onto his horse (poor thing!) & have his armour cut open to accommodate his swollen legs.
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