English Royals and Their Families

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English Royals and Their Families

Most of us get along pretty well with our immediate relatives. However, if you’re royalty, that might not be the case. Rivalry for the crown can create problems in the best of families, as the following books illustrate.
 
The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones
The first major family to rule England, the Plantagenet dynasty reigned for over 300 years, providing England with 14 kings. This was the family of Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, the Black Prince, Henry V and King John. And they were witness to great moments in history – the Crusades, the Magna Carta, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the murder of Thomas Becket, the Black Death and the building of Westminster Abbey. As the title implies, this was a violent era, a time when kings donned armor and fought on the battlefield. The queens, the wives and mothers, sometimes traveled along but often stayed behind, where they took charge, masterminding machinations both behind the scenes and sometimes in plain sight. As time passed and the dynasty expanded, they even began to fight each other for control, starting what we now call the War of the Roses. (For the continuing saga, see Jones’ The Wars of the Roses) It all ended at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, when Richard III lost his life and crown, and the Tudor dynasty was established by the victor, now Henry VII. Although the book is packed with information, it is fascinating and reads quickly. Extensive maps and genealogical tables help to keep track of territory, battles and family members.  
 
The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
When Henry VIII died in 1547, he left 3 surviving children. Not only were so many survivors somewhat unusual then, but even more unusual, all 3 eventually ruled England. The Act of Succession, passed by Parliament in 1543, reinstated both his daughters, earlier declared illegitimate, to the line of succession behind their half-brother Edward. But sometimes blood is not thicker than water. Although not a descendant, Henry left another claimant to the throne on his death, a young niece named Jane Grey. When Edward died at 15, he named his cousin, not either of his sisters, as the heir to the throne, fearing the resurrection of the Catholic faith in Protestant England. Mary, nine days later and with public support, claimed the throne, but her relationship with her own sister Elizabeth was also troubled. At one point, Mary even had Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower of London, suspecting her of plotting with rebels. Eleven years after Henry’s death, the fourth claimant, his daughter Elizabeth, ascended to the throne, ushering in the Elizabethan era in English history, a golden age which lasted 44 years.
 
Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III by Flora Fraser
George III – we know him today as the “tyrant” king of American independence, and the “mad” king of the Regency era – had 15 legitimate children, more than any other British monarch. Six of those children were girls who all survived to adulthood, unusual for that time. Their father sheltered them at Windsor Castle, finding them a comfort when problems that arose with his ministers, brothers and sons became too much to bear. He never wanted to part from them, even forbidding them to marry. So it’s not a surprise that this suffocating lifestyle eventually led to scandal, including forbidden love affairs and even an illegitimate child. These scandals contributed even more to George’s unstable mental state. Based on the girls’ extensive correspondence, it shows that being a royal princess was not always the fabulous life we imagine.
 
Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages that Shaped Europe by Deborah Cadbury
Queen Victoria had 9 children, and she and her husband, Prince Albert, had a plan – to spread Pax Britannica, their liberal views, by marrying their children into the royal houses of Europe. The 42 grandchildren those nine marriages produced also needed regal and “appropriate” spouses. The Queen used her position as the Grandmother of Europe to influence her grandchildren’s choices. Political alliances were important, but some countries were considered more desirable than others. With the many royal duchies and kingdoms in the German Confederation, there were many royal families to choose from there, and it didn’t hurt that Prince Albert himself had been German. Russia, however, was a hot spot to be avoided; anarchists were, with greater frequency, targeting the Imperial Family there. Despite her reservations, two granddaughters did marry into the Romanov family, with dire consequences. 
 
Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII by Deborah Cadbury
The 1930’s were a difficult time for Britain’s royal family. Not only did George V die after 25 years on the throne, but his successor, Edward VIII, abdicated after less than a year in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. This left his shy, stuttering younger brother, Prince Albert, unprepared for the job, to succeed him as George VI. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Europe was moving headlong into another World War and the former king, Edward, was becoming friendly with the enemy. But King George had two younger brothers, and both were called on at this difficult time to help with the war effort. They rose to the occasion, providing moral and psychological support to their brother the King.  Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, was seen as dull and not very bright, yet performed admirably in military and diplomatic capacities during and even after the war. Henry’s more dashing younger brother, Prince George, the Duke of Kent, became an RAF officer and lost his life in service to his country.