This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. ~~William Shakespeare, Richard III

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Most Influential Monarchs in British History (to 1603)

While awaiting the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on Friday, many have wondered what kind of King and Queen these two will become and how their reign will impact Britain. I have thought the same thing but I have also thought back on the many monarchs who have already left their mark on the kingdom. Thus the idea for this post was born and below are the monarchs (up to 1603) who I feel made the biggest impact on England - for good or bad.

1. William the Conqueror
Obviously we need to start at the beginning (or close to it anyway!) and that means the Norman Conquest of 1066. One of the most well known of William's contributions is the Tower of London. He originally built it to show the native English that he was now in charge and he was there to stay. Another of William's contributions to history, and one that may be more important historically, is the Doomsday Book, which was a very complete survey of England at the time (names of towns, who lived there, what they owned, etc, etc). Many customs, especially in the royal court, were formed during William's reign. The Anglo-Saxon ways were slowly erased. The coming of the Normans changed much in England and many of those changes remained through the years.

2. John
This youngest son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II is usually seen as one of the worst kings in English history but there is one legacy from his reign that made a huge impact on the country and its future - Magna Carta. Because of the lack of trust between John and his barons, Magna Carta was eventually forced on John as a way of controlling some of the monarch's powers. While bits and pieces of this were whittled away over the years, some of the laws set down in the 13th century remain to this day. Some view Magna Carta as a "great constitutional document," the beginnings of the freedoms so many enjoy today.

3. Edward I
This warrior king changed the boundaries of England as no king before him had done. He accomplished what no king before him had managed - the conquest of Wales and Scotland. Granted, England's control of Scotland turned out to be temporary, but Edward did manage to expand England's boundaries and much of that remains in "English" hands to this day. In order to hang on to England's new territory and fill the local populaces with awe, Edward went on a building spree of massive proportions, building many castles along the Welsh border, most of which can be visited today (Caernarfon Castle for example).

4. Henry V
Another of England's warrior kings set quite a bit in motion for England's future, though at the time most of it could not have been imagined. His victory in France gave Englishmen a strong sense of pride, not to mention the desire continue the country's military successes for several generations. After his victory over France and claiming of the French crown (which many English monarchs tried to actually wear), he married the French King's daughter, who in turn gave birth to the future Henry VI, whose reign would be the main battle ground of the Wars of the Roses.

5. Henry VII
While I am not overly fond of the man, I add Henry VII to this list mainly for the fact that had he not been victorious on Bosworth Field, the next two powerful monarchs on my list would not have existed. It is hard to image British history without the presence of this king's son and granddaughter, not to mention the huge changes that occurred during their reigns.

6. Henry VIII
When talking about changes in England we can't overlook Henry's break from the Catholic Church in his quest for a divorce. One could say that, aside from the Norman Conquest in 1066, the break with the Church during Henry's reign is the most significant change in England's history. It certainly was momentous and fueled tension in the country for many years to come. Henry VIII also began the building up of England's Navy, seeing it as a way to help build and secure the empire he so desperately wanted to create.

7. Elizabeth I
Henry VIII's daughter had an equally important impact on England and its future - politically and culturally. The big triumph of Elizabeth's reign is the triumph of the English over the Spanish Armada. There is no way of knowing what England would be like today if Elizabeth and her small navy had not over come the much more powerful Spanish forces. However, Elizabeth's reign is particularly known for the achievements of artists, poets, and playwrights (does the name William Shakespeare ring any bells?); so many achievements and advancements were made during her reign that this literary time period is called the Elizabethan era.

I am well aware that these are not the only monarchs who have made an impact on England throughout its long history. I am also aware that these are just short little bits of information and many of these monarchs did much more than I have mentioned above. I simply wanted to highlight some of the kings (and queen) whose influence can still be seen through the country to this day.

Book Review: To Be Queen

To Be Queen, Christy English
4 roses

I was honored to get an early copy to review from the author. This is Ms. English's second novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine (it can be seen as a prequel to her original novel The Queen's Pawn) and focuses on her earlier years as Queen of France. Once again, the author's true love of her subject comes shining through, making for a good read.

In a refreshing change from what seems to have been the trend this past year where Eleanor is concerned, Christy English has written a novel about Eleanor's time as Queen of France and time on Crusade without turning it into a sordid tale full of the lady's "numerous" affairs. She portrays Eleanor in the beginning as determined and ambitious yet knowing she is young and in need of help and protection as Duchess of Aquitaine. Throughout the novel we see her grow and mature and at the end we can see the beginnings of the strong Queen who is willing to take chances to get what she wants. I really enjoyed her character in this novel; it was a refreshing change to see her before she had become hardened by her life with Henry. Most of her development seems to happen while she is on Crusade and it was rather fascinating to see how the author showed the changes she went through during this time. Ms. English's wonderful characterization didn't stop with Eleanor. We see her first husband, King Louis, in much more detail here than in most novels and while he is weak and overly pious, he obviously loves Eleanor and you can feel bad for him when it becomes obvious that the marriage is not going to work. We also get more detail concerning Eleanor's younger sister Petra, showing that the strength in the family didn't stop with the more famous sister. Of course, towards the end, the powerful and extremely ambitious Henry of Normandy appears and Eleanor begins to take the reins of her life into her own hands. Ms. English also does an outstanding job of helping the reader imagine what life would have been like for during this very volatile time period; her descriptions of Eleanor's experiences while on Crusade are wonderful and really make it easy to picture what sights, sounds, and smells the Crusaders would have encountered in this very foreign land.

So much of what I have read concerning this famous lady really focuses on her passionate and tumultuous marriage to Henry II, glazing over her early years as Queen of France, and so I found this take on her story quite refreshing. The author has managed to balance historical fact with fiction, keeping it within the bounds of believability while at the same time making it an entertaining and interesting read. Her love of Eleanor and her life really shows in her writing; it is obvious that she wants to show a much more believable and realistic Eleanor to the world. This is not a "heavy" read and I think it would be a great starting point for those who want to read about Eleanor of Aquitaine but aren't ready for some of the more epic sized renditions. I really enjoyed this novel and I am looking forward to this author's next episode on this very famous Queen.

*Thank you to Christy English for providing me with the advanced copy!