The Assassination of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham

Duke of Buckingham

On Monday we briefly discussed the rise of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who made his start as “favorite” of James I and then sought to ingratiate himself with the Prince of Wales in the King’s twilight years via a seven-month jaunt to Madrid. Today we’re going to take a closer look at his last years in the dawn of Charles I’s reign.

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The Almost Spanish Alliance

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The “Spanish Match” as it has become known captures a bizarre and sophomoric jaunt from the future Charles I and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham through Spain and France as they hunted for the next queen of England. The King of Spain’s sister, Maria Anna, was their target, but though the potential alliance went nowhere, they did in fact stumble upon Charles’s future wife – Henrietta Maria of France. The episode’s significance stems from the political impetus behind it, while its now infamy comes from the sheer ridiculousness of the scheme.

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The Other Children of Charles I & Henrietta Maria of France

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For all that Charles I led England into a civil war and then lost his crown and, well, head, he was at least one half of a happy marriage. For an institution once upon a time comprised mainly of foreign alliances and quiet desperation, that’s something, no? After a rocky start, Charles and Henrietta Maria of France settled into the kind of complacent domesticity to which political matchmaking aspired, and from this came nine children. Two of those sons – Charles II and James II – would end up kings. A daughter, Mary, would become the mother of another – William III. And another daughter, Henrietta Anne, would marry into the French Royal Family and end up a dazzling fixture at Versailles.

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Co-Monarchs: William III & Mary II

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William III and Mary II, or William and Mary of Orange, mark Britain’s only pair of co-monarchs, but the five years in which they jointly reigned were hardly smooth-sailing after the quiet drama of the Glorious Revolution. For starters, the idea that they were in any way equal was a farce, though how that unfolded publicly versus privately looked quite different. Mary, the daughter of the deposed James II, was widely accepted as the true Protestant monarch, if you assumed that Catholics should not sit on the throne and that James II’s infant son was either a changeling or Catholic, or both. William, on the other hand, was a foreigner, a thing trusted less by the English than a woman ruler in the 17th century.

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The Glorious Revolution

(c) Palace of Westminster; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In March 1688, Queen Mary Beatrice was six months pregnant, raising the possibility that she would produce a Catholic son and heir for her husband, James II. By then, James had sat on the throne for a little over three years, his Catholicism barely tolerated by the majority of his government and the English people on the grounds that his heir was his Protestant daughter, Mary, who was married to the equally Protestant Prince William of Orange.

Worried about what the birth of a prince would mean politically, three Englishmen – Arthur Herbert and William and Edward Russell – traveled to The Hague and proposed to William of Orange that he “invade” England and “rescue” the country from the threat of papacy. On June 10, the Queen delivered a healthy son and on June 30, Herbert again arrived in Holland, this time with the Earls of Devonshire, Danby and Shrewsbury, Richard Lumley, Edward Russell, Henry Sidney and Dr Compton, Bishop of London, to request that William “save” them.

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The Marriage of James II & Mary Beatrice of Modena

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Mary Beatrice of Modena was only queen for a brief and volatile three years, but she bears the notable moniker of being the last Catholic to wear the crown, her husband, James II, serving as the last Catholic monarch. Born in Italy, her career in England was marred by growing religious paranoia and hysteria, accusations of her son being a “changeling” and exile. She would live through the reigns of her two stepdaughters – Mary II and Queen Anne – and in fact outlive them both, surviving to see the first four years of the German House of Hanover in England despite her son biding his time in exile. Today we’re going to take a look at her time as Duchess of York and queen.

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From Tudor to Stuart: When James I Arrived in England

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It is never easy to follow a popular monarch, even more so when the reign was a lengthy one. Such was the case when James I succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603, for Elizabeth’s brand of queenship was one marked by instinctually understanding the mood and needs of her people. Indeed, nationalism was a byword for her reign. Not only did Elizabeth oversee a period of immense growth and prestige, but she did it while defining herself as first and foremost an English native. She is hardly the only monarch in British history to do so, but she is certainly one of the most successful.

James, on the other hand, had no similar hands of cards to deal. Male, foreign and decidedly less sophisticated, on the face of it, he couldn’t have been more different from his Tudor cousin. Yet, there are some notable similarities between the two – both came from rather infamous parents and both, based on birth and legal hurdles, had little business sitting on the English throne at first glance.

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William & Mary in The Hague

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The House of Stuarts brought about a lot of firsts, though they’re rarely given credit for it. Indeed, stuck between the Tudors and the forebears of today’s Royal Family, they’re an in-between group of monarchs that have always failed to inspire quite as much interest as their peers. And that’s a shame, because they were certainly as dysfunctional and dramatic as those that came before and after. Even more, they were just as politically significant to the evolution of Great Britain.

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The Problematic Legacy of Anne Hyde, Duchess of York

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In October 1660, rumors began swirling that the child Anne Hyde was carrying was fathered by the King’s brother, James Stuart, Duke of York. Even worse, the child wouldn’t be a bastard because the couple secretly married the month before. James’s mother, Henrietta Maria of France, was enraged; Anne’s father, Edward Hyde, a councilor to Charles II, stated publicly that he would rather his daughter was James’s whore than his wife. In short, it wasn’t well-received.

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The Orleans at the Palais Royal

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A few weeks ago we covered the 1644 flight of Henrietta Maria of France from England to France in the middle of the Civil War. Her departure came on the heels of giving birth to her ninth and final child, a daughter she named Henrietta Anne (“Minette”). The Princess remained in England under the care of guardians for two years until she was spirited out of the country in the summer of 1646 to join her mother in France.

Her escape was like something from an adventure novel – the trusted noblewoman put in charge of her, Lady Dalkeith, disguised herself as a hunchbacked French peasant and passed off Minette as a boy named Pierre. Aided by servants who waited three days to sound the alarm that they were gone, the two managed to leave the country unscathed despite Minette’s insistence on telling everyone they encountered that her name wasn’t Pierre, but “Princess,” and her real clothes were much nicer. A girl after my own heart.

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