George VI – a brief summary

Sinead Fitzgibbon offers a brief summary on the life of George VI, the reluctant king.

Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, the second son of George V and Queen Mary of Teck, was born on 14 December 1895, exactly 34 years after the death of his great grandfather, Prince Albert, consort and husband of Queen Victoria. The elderly queen was delighted that her newest grandson should be named after her late husband.

As a child, the Prince, the Duke of York, known to his family as Bertie, suffered from crippling shyness and developed a debilitating stammer which affected him for a large part of his life.  He also was forced to wear painful leg braces to correct a condition that is commonly known as ‘knock knees’.

Prince in love

After a two-year courtship, during which she twice refused his proposals of marriage, Bertie finally became engaged to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in January 1923. The Duke and Duchess of York would go on to have two daughters, Princess Elizabeth (the future queen) and Princess Margaret. At the news of the birth of Princess Elizabeth on 21 April 1926, the newspapers of the time stated, somewhat mysteriously, stated that the Duchess was obliged to undergo ‘a certain line of treatment’, thought to be a euphemism for a Caesarean section.

The new king

Continue reading

Kaiser Wilhelm II – a summary

Arrogant, extremely vain, and always seeking praise, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany enjoyed a life of frivolity. His former chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, once remarked that the Kaiser would have liked every day to be his birthday.

Hot head

Wilhelm II, King George V of Britain and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia were all cousins. George and Wilhelm were both grandsons of Queen Victoria, and Nicholas’s wife, the Empress Alexandra, was Victoria’s granddaughter. They met, as a threesome, only twice. Winston Churchill described Wilhelm as a ‘very ordinary, vain but on the whole a well-meaning man’. Queen Victoria’s judgement was somewhat harsher, calling her grandson ‘such a hot-headed, conceited and wrong-headed young man’.

Much to Wilhelm’s delight, however, Victoria made him an honorary admiral of the Royal Navy. Gushing with thanks, Wilhelm promised he would always take an interest in Britain’s fleet as if it was his own.

Born on 27 January 1859 with a paralyzed left arm, considerably shorter than the right, Wilhelm needed help with eating and dressing throughout his life, and went to great lengths to hide his disability. He had, for example, a specially made fork to help him with his food. He owned over 30 castles throughout Germany and would visit them all occasionally, indulging in socialising and hunting – he was capable of killing a thousand or more animals in the course of a week-end’s hunt.

Continue reading

King George V

Sinead Fitzgibbon summarises the life of Britain’s King George V, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II.

Grandson of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria and second son of Edward VII, Prince George Frederick Ernest Albert was born on 3 June 1865.

At the age of 18, George entered the Royal Navy, an occupation he retained until the unexpected death of his elder brother, Albert, from pneumonia in 1892.  With Albert’s passing, George became second-in-line to the throne.

In 1893, George became engaged to his dead brother’s fiancée, Mary of Teck. The couple would go on to have six children.

Following Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, the throne passed to George’s father, Edward VII. However, Edward’s reign was not destined to be a long one – he died just nine years after becoming king, and the Crown passed to George V.

‘The King is a very jolly chap’

George, essentially a shy man, preferred shooting and stamp collecting than being in the company of politicians or intellectuals. Nor were politicians and intellectuals terribly impressed by the new king – during his coronation in 1911, the English writer and caricaturist, Max Beerbohm, dismissed George V as ‘such a piteous, good, feeble, heroic little figure’. And David Lloyd George, at the time the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on first meeting the king, said, ‘The King is a very jolly chap… thank God there is not much in his head’.

The House of Windsor

Continue reading

Edward the Confessor – a summary

Edward the Confessor was born in 1003 to King Aethelred II and Queen Emma. Little is known about his early years but, after the Danish invasion of 1013, Edward and his family were exiled and fled to Normandy. They returned one year later but were exiled again in 1016. With the support of Earl Godwin, the most powerful nobleman in England, Edward was able to return in 1041 and was crowned king the following year. In 1045 Edward married Edith, daughter of Earl Godwin.

Edward the Confessor1051, King Edward had been on the throne for nine years and so far, his reign had been peaceful and he had proven himself to be an able and successful monarch.

But, despite a happy union, rumours abounded that his marriage to Edith had yet to be consummated. This created a potentially serious problem – who would succeed to the throne when Edward died?

According to French writers, Edward had devised a solution to this problem; secure the succession by promising the throne to William, the Duke of Normandy. The two men were distant cousins and William had visited Edward at his court in England sometime in 1051.

Continue reading

Death of Prince Albert

The light is subdued in the Blue Room. He lies in his bed, plumped up with pillows. His breath is slow and laboured, his skin terribly white, his hair stuck down by sweat. Kneeling on the floor beside his bed, trembling, his wife – the queen. Holding his limp hand, she knows he is dying. Beside her, five of her children, their faces pinched with fear. Standing awkwardly, nearby, various ladies in waiting, equerries, doctors, and a minister or two. But she has eyes only for her darling prince. The time is almost eleven in the evening. As he slips away, she mutters, ‘Oh, this is death, I know it.’ On his passing, the queen lets rip a scream that tears down the walls of Windsor.

Prince AlbertOn the 14 December 1861, Albert, the Prince Consort, died. He was only 42. His unexpected death plunged Queen Victoria into grief so overwhelming that it endured for the rest of her life. Her pain was shared by the nation in an outpouring of angst that would not be seen again until the death, 136 years later, of Princess Diana. But after a while, public and politicians alike began to ask whether the Queen’s period of mourning would ever end?

Prince Albert and Princess Victoria meet

The 16-year-old Princess was immediately smitten – on meeting Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha for the first time, she confided in her diary that her German cousin was ‘extremely good looking’. It was 18 May 1836. They would not meet again for another 3½ years by which time, October 1839, Victoria had become queen. This time, her praise went even further – ‘It was with some emotion that I beheld Albert – who is beautiful’. Albert had the teenage queen’s heart ‘quite going’.

Continue reading

Anne Boleyn – A Mother Remembered

Elizabeth I lost her mother, Anne Boleyn, to the executioner’s block before her third birthday.  Despite this, the brief memory of her mother and loyalty to her maternal family remained powerful forces within Elizabeth.

When married to Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, Anne (pictured) had become the victim of a cruel plot to oust her as queen.  Her enemies found easy success because Henry had tired of her sharp tongue and she had not provided him a male heir. Furthermore he had fallen for one of her maids; Jane Seymour, who would become his third wife following Anne’s death.

Anne was executed on 19 May 1536 on charges relating to treason, adultery and incest.  Little Elizabeth was immediately declared illegitimate and out of royal favour.

By the time Elizabeth was allowed back to court, it was Christmas 1536.  She found herself amidst courtiers who dare not mention her mother, or in fact, the very name of Boleyn.

Continue reading

The Birth of Henry VIII

Over half a millennium ago, the child who would one day reign as Henry VIII was born June 28, 1491 at Greenwich Palace, London to parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

The Tudor Dynasty into which Henry had been born was still in its infancy.  His father, Henry VII (pictured), had usurped the crown of England from Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in August 1485.  The six years that Henry VII had held the English throne had been turbulent, to say the least.  His marriage to Elizabeth had not entirely put an end to ‘The Wars of The Roses’ but the combination of her Yorkist lineage with that of his Lancastrian descent went some way to appease the English.  They may not have relished Henry VII but no-one could dislike the gentle, demure and utterly enchanting Queen.  She was peace-loving and able to maintain a respectful distance from her mother-in-law Margaret Beaufort, accepting this powerful influence over her husband.  The King clearly loved and respected his wife very much.  He took his marriage vows very seriously and unlike the majority of monarchs, both contemporary and previous, he practised monogamy.

Despite the hazardous process of childbirth, Elizabeth of York was safely delivered of Henry, just as she had been with his older siblings; Arthur in 1486 and Margaret in 1489.  King Henry VII could now relax safe in the knowledge he had an ‘heir and a spare’.  With each child, particularly the boys, his position on the throne could grow stronger.  Elizabeth would go on to have three more children after Henry but only Mary, born in 1496, would survive to adulthood.

The Christening of the Future King

The christening service for baby Henry was conducted by Richard Foxe, Bishop of Exeter.  It was conducted with Royal protocol in mind.  According to, ‘the Ryalle book’ this would have included a stage and canopy decorated in lavish fabric as well as the sounding of trumpets to mark the occasion.

Maybe it was because little Henry was only the ‘spare’ that few concerned themselves with great outpouring over Henry’s christening.   No poet or contemporary chronicler seems to have provided a written record.  Even Henry’s own grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, makes only a minor mention of his arrival in her calendar.

The Young Henry

As a toddler all that is known about Henry is that he was a confident and attractive child whose appearance soon leaned towards his Yorkist ancestry.  He was a stocky, red-haired infant unlike his fair, slender father and elder brother Arthur. The two boys experienced incredibly different and separate nurture too.

Arthur was being specifically educated for Kingship, away from his siblings.  Alternatively, at the beginning of his life, Henry was surrounded by the feminine influence of his mother and sisters.  More formal education was introduced when he reached six-years-old.  The accomplished poet, John Skelton became his main tutor.  The theological instruction of young Henry was considered very important.  He developed a deep interest in philosophy and theology and the issues that surrounded the subjects, relishing learned debates.  His learning in this field followed the fashionable trend towards Humanist thinking.

There seems little doubt that although loving parents, Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth never lost sight of the dynastic and future importance of their children.  Although debated, some historians believe that whilst Arthur underwent training for the throne, Henry was being prepared for a high profile role within the church.  King Henry VII’s dream, it appears, was to unite the crown and the church within their familial power.

This dream was shattered on April 2, 1502 when Prince Arthur died and the ten-year-old Henry became heir apparent.

Julie Wheeler

Read more about the life of Henry VIII and his six wives in Henry VIII’s Wives: History In An Hour published by Harper Press and available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and as downloadable audio.

The Death of Anne Boleyn – Her Fall From Favour

After the loss of another baby in January 1536, Anne Boleyn’s hold over Henry VIII was desperately weakened.  He had his sights on one of her ladies; Jane Seymour.   Whilst the tempestuous nature of Anne Boleyn made her a beguiling and captivating mistress, this very nature did not lend itself to the requirements of a sixteenth-century wife.  Duty, modesty and obedience ranked higher within Jane’s skill range.  She was the very model of calm domesticity, gentle and fully aware of her ‘place’.

The Cruel Plot

Anne was not short of enemies at court.  She had a close ring of male supporters, that included her beloved brother George, but otherwise she was disliked for her ousting of Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, her religious beliefs and her sharp tongue.  Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister, who had since replaced Cardinal Wolsey in the King’s favour, also wanted the fiery Queen discredited.  He saw the King’s waning desire and engineered a cruel plot.

Continue reading

King James Bible – a summary

2011 marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible.  Regarded by many to be a literary masterpiece, this particular version of the Bible is the most widely-published book in the English language.  The influence of this Christian text has resonated down through the centuries, outgrowing its religious origins to influence many parts of our modern secular culture. From Milton’s Paradise Lost to Handel’s Messiah and Martin Luther King’s immortal I Have a Dream speech, the spirit of the King James Bible is all around us.

Perhaps its most profound influence, however, has been on the development of English as a language. The extent of its linguistic influence is often said to be challenged only by the works of William Shakespeare.  Hundreds of phrases and idioms in everyday use owe their origins to its pages.  When we refer to a ‘broken heart’, ‘labour of love’, ‘salt of the earth’or ‘skin of our teeth’, or when we speak of ‘biting the dust’ or a ‘leopard changing its spots’, we are unconsciously referencing the King James Bible.

James I of England

The man primarily responsible for the commissioning of this Bible was its namesake, King James I of England (pictured), who ascended to the throne in 1603.  The idea was borne out of his determination to end the religious disputes and theological arguments – which plagued the reign of his predecessor, Elizabeth I — a hangover from her father Henry VIII’s break with Rome and the subsequent English Reformation.  The newly-crowned king, who greatly enjoyed philosophical and spiritual debate, convened the Hampton Court Conference in January 1604, where the future of the Church of England was to be discussed.  It was at this conference that James authorized a new English translation of the Bible, which would be acceptable to both traditionalist bishops and the new breed of Protestant puritans.

Continue reading