The Queen’s Coronation – a summary

The date for the Queen’s coronation, 2 June 1953, had been set sixteen months before. Elizabeth installed Prince Philip as Chairman of the Coronation Commission, a committee which oversaw the preparations in their entirety.

Given the complexity of an event like this, it is hardly surprising that problems and arguments abounded from the outset, not least of which was a protracted debate regarding the relative merits, or lack thereof, of allowing television cameras to broadcast the ceremony.

Televised

It had already been agreed that the ceremony would be transmitted to Britain’s eleven million radio sets, and to another several hundred thousand listeners internationally.  In addition, various newsreel companies, such as British Pathé, were permitted to record the event, which would subsequently be shown to an estimated 350-million strong audience in cinemas across the globe.

But a live television broadcast was an altogether different story.  Many, including Elizabeth herself, feared that without the benefit of editing, television cameras would shine a rather unforgiving light on the ceremony, picking up any slip or mistake the Queen might make during the long and difficult service.  The extent of the opposition was such that, despite heavy lobbying from the BBC, the organisers decided not to permit a televisual broadcast of any kind.

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Politics, Protestantism and Personality: the Causes of the English Civil War

The English are admired for the stability of their political constitution and their healthy scepticism towards any radical ideas which threaten it. Yet when King Charles I raised his Royal Standard at Nottingham and declared war on Parliament in 1642 he plunged his country into a chaos which saw families divided in mortal combat, a frenzied explosion of religious zealotry, the trial and execution of a king, the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, and the imposition of a military dictatorship.

Charles ISuch violent upheaval of the nation-state, its institutions and society was a fully-blown revolution on English soil. But what is striking is that this revolution was not inevitable: for although it was rooted in deep conflicts in political ideology and religion, the extraordinary course of events could have taken a different direction at several crucial points if key people in the drama, especially the King, had made other decisions. Simon Court explains.

Politics

Charles succeeded the throne from James I in 1625 and his early years of reign were hampered by numerous conflicts with Parliament over the raising of taxation. He was uncommunicative, uncompromising and, as we saw in my piece Killing the King: The Trial and Execution of Charles I, he was also devious and untrustworthy. When in 1629 Parliament objected to Charles’ collection of ‘tonnage and poundage’ taxes without their authorisation he took the arrogant step of dissolving Parliament and decided to rule without it. He did this because he believed that he was God’s representative on earth and demanded that his word simply be taken as law. For him the authority of a king was ordained by God and he was accountable only to God, not to his people, for “it is not the place of the subject to question the royal prerogative”. Unsurprisingly this absolutist approach to government met with increasing opposition from those who sought to limit Charles’ powers by requiring him to obtain the consent of Parliament as the elected representatives of the people.

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Killing the King: The Trial and Execution of Charles I

On the afternoon of 20 January 1649 a slightly-built 48-year-old man with long greying hair stood before a court in London, charged with treason. But this was no ordinary court of law; it was the High Court of Justice sitting in Westminster Hall. And this was no ordinary charge of treason against the Sovereign; it was treason against the people by the Sovereign. For the man who stood trial was the King himself.

The trial and execution of Charles I was a microcosm of the English Civil War which had preceded it, in that both trial and war hinged on whether the King should be accountable for his actions to his people. The war had been bitterly fought since 1642 between the Royalist supporters of Charles I and the Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell and had claimed an estimated 185,000 lives.

The Royalists defended the ‘divine right’ of the King to rule unfettered by Parliament, and to account for his actions ‘but to God alone’. By contrast, the Parliamentarians sought to limit the King’s powers by requiring him to obtain the consent of the House of Commons: what we now recognise to be a constitutional monarchy. Many of them, including Cromwell, were devout Protestants who believed that God was on their side.

The Immovable Object

By 1647 the Parliamentarians had won the military battle, scattering the Royalist armies and holding Charles in custody at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. Their leaders, Cromwell and General Henry Ireton, made a number of attempts to negotiate a new constitutional settlement with Charles but he refused to co-operate with any of them. Indeed Charles, who was by turns awkward, aloof and devious, had no compunction about lying or breaking agreements.

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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

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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

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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’.

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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.

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