Not every British monarch has exhibited the same royal reserve as Her Majesty The Queen.
In fact, over the years, there have been some extremely colourful characters ruling the land. BRITAIN brings you some little-known royal peculiarities.
1.1066 (and all that)
Before invading England, William the Conqueror was known as “William the Bastard”. Not only illegitimate, he was also (assuming dyslexia had not yet been discovered) illiterate. But he was bold, inspirational, a loyal husband – and, in his younger years, seemingly capable of leaping onto a horse in full armour. When he died at sixty in a riding accident, however, two soldiers had to jump on his stomach to squeeze his enormous corpse into the coffin, whereupon it is said to have exploded. Talk about going out with a bang!
2.The real King John
Poor old King John’s character has been generally vilified even after rebelling subjects made him sign Magna Carta in 1215. Given stories of the ‘Royal Head Holder’, employed to steady his noddle against seasickness on stormy voyages, or his blowout banquets – “200 gallons of wine, 400 oxen, 1,000 capons, 1,000 eels…”, it’s no surprise really.
3.Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown
So said Shakespeare’s Henry IV, but “uneasy lies the head that doesn’t wear the crown” might have been more appropriate in Henry VIII’s case. Not content with disposing of two wives by separating them from their heads, his estimated total of hacked-off heads numbers (hang on to your hats!) 72,000.
4.The fickle finger of fate
Descriptions of Anne Boleyn generally include a sixth finger and a large mole on her neck, which she disguised by creating new Tudor fashions. But most of what we know of her was written posthumously. Rumours about her deformities were started by Catholics who, opposed to her religious sympathies deemed them proof of her being a witch and guilty of adultery, for which (or should I say witch) spurious reasons, she was executed.
5. Head and shoulders above the rest
Mary Queen of Scots, more often remembered for her execution (we’re seeing a theme here), boasted myriad accomplishments and a ‘supermodel’ physique. Vivacious, alluring and almost 6ft tall, the sixteenthcentury beauty is said to have been multilingual, musical, literary and skilled at riding and falconry and even needlework. No wonder Elizabeth I dislodged this beautiful brainy head to secure her throne.
6. Hung, drawn and quartered!
In 1917 Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon’s home (Glamis Castle) briefly became a war hospital. She nursed wounded soldiers and collected their autographs. One soldier mysteriously penned, “May you be hung, drawn and quartered!” – then explained, “… hung in diamonds, drawn by a coach and four and quartered in the best house in the land!” As the youngest of nine aristocratic children, these words became curiously prophetic when she married England’s future King George VI.
7. The Duke’s Irish shenanigans
Irish actress, singer and courtesan Dorothea Jordan became mistress to William, Duke of Clarence (later William IV) in 1791. They had ten children, but, pressed into marrying honourably, William dumped her, offering a small annual stipend provided she did not return to the stage. When a son’s debt forced her back, he withdrew it. She fled to France and died in poverty. Notable descendants include Princess Alexandra… oh and Prime Minister David Cameron!
8. Georgie Porgy, pudding and pie…”
“…kissed the girls and made them cry.” The rhyme alludes to young George IV who, forced into a marriage in 1795 with his plain, ill-clad German cousin, Princess Caroline, consumed excessive alcohol at their first (and last) union. Caroline was eventually banished on account of her ugliness, manners and refusal to bathe, though it seems the unsympathetic monarch later disported equally dubious charm. Donning wigs, false whiskers, thick make up and becoming dissolute and obese, he was dubbed the “Prince of Whales”.
9. Shakespeare’s tribute
Queen Elizabeth I adored drama. Quite the polyglot (according to academics), she went so far as to translate a Greek tragedy by Euripides. She also recognised and championed William Shakespeare’s genius, who paid grateful tribute to his “virgin queen” in a royal performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, describing her in an exquisitely elegant speech as “a fair vestal throned by the west”. One wonders whether she had any notion then that his legacy would prove as enduring and even more ubiquitous than her own?
10. Schemer or not?
The 6th Lord Glamis married Jane Douglas, who in 1537 was burned as a witch on the orders of James V during a feud with the Douglas family. In the chapel at Glamis there is a seat at the back in which no one sits, for it is reserved for the Grey Lady – said to be Jane’s ghost
More amazing facts and figures can be found in every issue of our magazine. DOWNLOAD a copy of BRITAIN, ORDER your copy of BRITAIN from our online shop or why not get BRITAIN for your iPad?